Hopefully these April showers will let up sometime soon so I can get into the garden and start planting spring leafy greens. My vegetable garden is in the lower, moister section of the yard, which is great in dry years but difficult to get into during wet springs.

Being a big fan of salads as well as stir-fries, leafy greens are a quick easy crop to grow in the spring and again in the fall. With few exceptions, leafy greens are cool season crops. They will bolt, or go to seed, during hot weather. When selecting greens for spring planting, look for bolt resistant or slow to bolt varieties.

Lettuce bolting

Lettuce plants elongating as they start to bolt. Photo by dmp, 2019

While leafy greens can tolerate more shade than tomatoes or squash, they are most productive when they receive 6 or more hours of direct sunlight each day. Select a site with a well-drained, fertile soil with a pH in the mid 6’s. Work in a bit of compost or other form of organic matter before planting.

Most greens are easily started from seed sown as soon as the soil is dry enough to work. Seeds can be sown in rows or broadcast over sections of planting beds depending on your garden layout. Typically, seeds would be planted about a quarter to half inch deep. Try to space the larger seeds an inch or so apart if planting in rows. Tiny seeds are hard to plant singly but do your best to distribute them as evenly as you can down the row. If broadcasting, scratch up the prepared soil with a rake or cultivator and lightly scatter the seeds. Then lightly rake over them again to cover lightly with soil.

chard seeds

Planting chard seeds. Photo by dmp, 2019

The most difficult part when growing greens is to decide which varieties to plants. Luscious lettuces come in leaf, buttercrunch and romaine types. Leaves may be light green, dark green, red, splotched or speckled. With so many choices, why not try a leaf lettuce mix. I usually get one from Pine Tree Seeds (www.superseeds.com) but other seed catalogs likely carry mixtures as well. Whether you are growing a lettuce mix or a single variety, the plants all seem to mature at once so make 2 or 3 smaller plantings at 2-week intervals for a longer harvest. Unlike many vegetables, lettuce really can’t be stored that long and even we salad lovers can only consume so much salad!

Lettuce mix

Leafy lettuce mix. Photo by dmp, 2019

While I really like spinach, between planting it late because of wet soil condition and attacks by leaf miners, I find chard to be a pretty palatable substitute. Plus, chard tolerates heat better. Being related to beets, its flavor is similar to spinach but perhaps a bit saltier and earthy. While I find the white stemmed ‘Fordhook’ variety to be most productive, the varieties with pink, yellow, orange or red stems look great in the garden and also, on the dinner plate. Young leaves may be eaten raw but the older leaves and stems are best cooked.

Red chard

Red veined chard. Photo by dmp, 2019

A remarkable number of Asian greens are available to the home gardener in both leafy green selections, like Pak choy and heading sorts such as Chinese cabbage. The same brassica pests that attack my cabbages and broccoli love many of the Asian greens so I have been growing very quick to mature selections like Fun Jen, which matures in 35 days. Seeds of Asian greens usually germinate very quickly – 5 days or less.

Chinese cabbage

Chinese cabbage. Photo by dmp, 2019

Mustards add zest to salads, stir-fries and other dishes. Both red and green varieties germinate in 3 to 5 days under ideal conditions. Plants can get sizeable so give them at least 12 inches between plants unless you are continuously cutting them back for baby greens. As the temperatures climb higher, they get hotter and more pungent; and then they bloom. Late summer sown crops tend to become mellower so I leave a few plants to blossom and set seed. New seedlings germinate usually in late July and August and I just move them into a bed and enjoy harvest number 2 in October.

mustard in bloom

Mustard in bloom. Photo by dmp, 2019

So many people I know rave about kale and collard greens. They are great sources of fiber and nutrients but these are greens I need to cook – either sautéed in stir-fries or as a side dish, or as an addition to soups and stews. The plants often get quite large and can often hang on until the cooler fall temperatures arrive. Remember to pick 2 or 3 leaves per plant each week to encourage new growth. Watch for the same caterpillars that feed on your other cole crops. I have noted that the red kale varieties seem to be less attractive to insect pests than the green ones.

collards w holes

Collard greens with holes, photo by dmp, 2019

It’s hard to decide which is tastier – beets or beet greens. Why settle for one when with careful selection, you can have both. ‘Bull’s Blood’ with its succulent dark red foliage is my favorite but several other beet varieties produce both tasty leaves as well as dense, sweet roots.

beets & carrots LR

Beets and carrots. Photo by Lisa Rivers.

The seeds of all of these leafy greens are sown closer than the recommended spacing anticipating that crowded young seedlings will be thinned to roomier spacings. Use the tender thinnings in salads and space smaller greens at 6-inch intervals and larger greens, like Chinese cabbage, collards and kale at 10 to 12 inch spacings.

Each year I like to try to grow some different leafy green. This year it is watercress, which I think will do best in a pot sitting in a saucer of water. I need 2 cups of watercress for my tarragon chicken salad and if successful, will share growing tips and the recipe with you next year.

Good gardening!

Dawn P.

Mid August brings heat and harvest chores.  I must pick daily to keep up with the plants. Cucumbers, summer squash, beans, peppers and tomatoes fill the baskets. It seems the vegetables are growing fast but then I see the weeds are growing faster!

I went to Maine for a visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. I highly recommend a visit if you find your self in the Boothbay area. I saw gardens of all kinds and sculptures artfully placed in outdoor spaces. Children are invited to create fairy houses with natural material for the fairies that live in this glorious setting. Another excursion was to Endless Summer Flower Farm, a dahlia and perennial farm located in Camden, Maine. Owner Phil Clark graciously engaged us with his 230 varieties of dahlias, all growing in his back yard and side field. Just glorious, enticing me to purchase tubers to be delivered in the spring. A flower bouquet of cut dahlias was brought back to my hosts. The flowers were very beautiful. Maine gardeners have a slightly shorter growing season and many of the same weeds as I do in Connecticut.

Now is the time to keep up the the weeds. Any plant allowed to produce will become weeds in the next several growing years. This year I discovered cilantro in every nook of open soil. While I didn’t mind the herb earlier in the season, now they have all grown four foot high with seed pods containing the spice coriander. I am trying to collect the seeds in paper bags before they burst. Once captured I store them in glass jars in the spice cabinet for crushing the seed with a mortar and pestle when I have a recipe calling for ground coriander. The leaves can be dried and saved as an herb, but should be done before the flowers form. Dill spreads in much the same way as cilantro. Both herbs have become a weed in my vegetable garden.

Other weeds having a ‘field day’, (pun intended), are crabgrass and galinsoga. Galinsoga will set flowers at the tender age of eight weeks.  It produces over 7500 seeds per plant. Seeds require no cold period, so they can germinate as soon as they mature and drop to the ground. Many seeds will overwinter, germinating next year and in subsequent years. Crabgrass is an annual that will die with the first hard frost. If allowed to produce seed, you can be sure seed produced this year will germinate in early spring next year making the weed problem worse.

I use mulch in the pathways to keep the weeds down, but the wood chips brought in harbored their own set of weed seeds. I now have fox grape, a semi-woody vine, that is difficult to pull out. I feel I will be fighting this one for a few years to come. Some people use hay on the gardens as mulch. Use straw instead, it contains less seed. Hay will add not only weed seeds but grassy seeds intended as animal food. Straw is more woody, breaks down slower than hay and is usually cut before it gets to the seed production stage. Bark mulch is a great alternative usually not infected with any weed seeds. A living mulch of clover can be used in pathways, especially if you have raised beds. Once the clover grows taller, mow or weed wack it down to a desirable height.

All of this pick of produce and pulling of weeds makes some glad the summer season is closing. But the fall growing season is just beginning. As the weather cools down, all the crops grown in the spring time can be grown again in the fall. They are, after all, cool weather crops. I start lettuce, spinach and kale directly in the garden for fall harvest. Root crops of carrots, beets, parsnip and turnip can be planted now. If the ground temperature is too warm for germination, start flats inside the house out of the sun’s direct heat. Transplant when at the two leaf stage.

I keep a bed of mixed lettuce specially chosen for cold tolerance. The other half of the bed is put in spinach. I have a 2 x 4 wood frame attached to PVC pipes covered with painter’s plastic to create a small greenhouse tent. Hinges were added so it can be easily lifted and opened. This fall crop of greens will keep producing well into December before it goes dormant for a few months. Come the last week of February and the first bit of longer sunny days, and these same plants come back to life. I prop the cover open on bricks if full sun is in the forecast so the plants don’t overheat. 100_8306100_8303

– Carol

It used to be that the only thing I needed to worry about when growing lilies was those darn voles eating my lily bulbs. The resident raptors, neighbor’s cat and a package of VoleBlock finally got them under control. Now I can have beautiful lilies, I foolishly thought! Imagine my chagrin a few years ago when I go out to admired my lilies and find nothing but brown, shriveled stalks. Turns out that a voracious beetle, of European descent, managed to work its way down from Canada feasting all the while on what else but lilies! The one thing that lily leaf beetles have working against them is their color – bright, vibrant red which makes grabbing one, even when they fall to the ground after being disturbed, pretty darn easy. I’m getting pretty good at hand-picking and squishing the little red devils. At first I was squeamish about this task. To make matters worse, the little buggers belong to a species of beetles that actually squeak pitifully when they are in distress! Talk about a gardener’s conscience! After witnessing their quick destruction of my beautiful plants, however, reality set in and I go out just about every day this time of year with nothing but their extermination in mind.
Lily Leaf Beetle
 Now, you know nothing in gardening, or life for that matter, is ever that simple. You see, lily leaf beetles overwinter as adults in leaf litter and mulch and start feeding as your lilies (or fritillarias or Solomon’s seal) begin earnest growth. Then they lay eggs on the underside of leaves which hatch in about 3 weeks. Ugly little larvae that look like slugs and cover themselves in their own poop then begin feeding again on the undersides of leaves making it difficult to spot the unwelcome diners. These I squish with gloves or clip the leaf part off that they are attached to and drop it on to the ground where I can step on them. Yuck! Any remaining larvae will hide in the mulch or leaf litter after about 3 weeks of feeding, then pupate for another 3 weeks and finally emerge as hungry adult lily leaf beetles that will keep eating until they run out of lilies or a hard frost. These will then find a hiding spot for the winter and next spring the cycle begins again.

 On to my next red hot item – aphids. Aphids are not nearly as destructive as lily leaf beetles, at least on the plants in my garden. Mostly they are annoying as they cause new growth and flowers to be distorted and unattractive. Aphids are sucking insects and are quite adept at extracting the sap from plant stems and other growing points. They also produce that shiny, sticky excrement we call honeydew. Ants are much enamored by this food source and will protect aphid colonies from predators so that they can keep all the honeydew to themselves.

Red aphid photo by Deborah Tyser

Red aphid photo by Deborah Tyser

 

Aphids do have some curious traits not common to many other garden insects. First they seldom lay eggs but rather give birth to live young; all daughters which can themselves begin reproducing in about a week’s time. Each female aphid can produce from 50 to 100 daughter aphids! So if you see just a few aphids on your plants one day and dozens the next, now you know why. Many female aphids can also reproduce without mating! If their populations become too high at a certain locations, winged forms are produced which can fly away to establish new colonies elsewhere.

 

Aphids come in many colors but you can see that the ones I am dealing with on my heliopsis are red. Fortunately aphids are easily controlled by hitting them with a good spray of water. Generally one has to repeat this water treatment several times as aphids can be persistent. Do keep in mind that aphids are attracted to lush new growth. Overfertilization, especially with nitrogen, stimulates this type of growth so only apply the amount of fertilizer, natural or synthetic, as recommended by a soil test or on the package.

 

I am not sure what is eating my lettuce seedlings but I have planted several types of lettuce several times and one day I see little seedlings poking their heads up through the soil and the next day they are gone. I have been planting lettuce in a similar fashion in the same area for almost 20 years and have never had so little success. So I decided to replant with Swiss chard and just buy some lettuce transplants. As I was perusing my choices at the local garden center, ‘Freckles’ and ‘Galactic’ caught my eye. One is a beautiful maroon red leaf lettuce, the other a red spotted romaine. A head of lettuce in the grocery store costs the same as one six pack of lettuce plants and I’ll be able to enjoy so many more salads for the same price that is if nothing eats these! Red leaf lettuce is higher in antioxidants than green leaf lettuce plus it adds visual interest to the garden. For information on the health benefits of lettuce check out,  http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/FOODNUT/09373.html.

Freckles romaine and galactic red leaf lettuce

Freckles romaine and galactic red leaf lettuce

 

Time in the garden always seems to be in short supply so I try as many maintenance reduction tools as possible. Mulches work especially well on decreasing the amount of time needed for watering and weeding. I also feel that mulch should enhance plantings and add that final aesthetically pleasing look. Others may disagree with me but I find red colored mulches are often too bright and draw attention away from the plants and put it on the mulch which by itself is not particularly interesting. I know there are red mulch aficionados out there and diversity makes gardens and life interesting but for now I’ll just pass on this shade of red in my garden beds.