Mary’s gardening columns were originally published in the Roane County (WV) Reporter and Times Record. Support local journalism! Subscribe to your local newspaper. Note: Mary’s column is still being published weekly in 2023 – we hope to have all 150 or so columns posted here by the end of 2023.
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I only know of one kind of mushroom that grows well in a garden (winecaps), but since mushrooms are a food crop you can grow, I’m going to write about them. They have the virtue of making use of sites that are otherwise “wasted”—places in full shade. This could be a patch of woods near your house, but if you don’t have such a site, you can grow mushrooms under your porch—some people even grow them in basements.
Cover Crops and Garlic
Cover crops, also called green manure crops, are those planted for their effect on the soil and enhancement of subsequent crops rather than for direct use. There are a variety of types and species, and this is a complex subject which I’m still learning about.
This week I’m going to discuss some crops you may not have grown before. We already talked about sorghum and sweet potatoes. I’ve mentioned peanuts but will talk more about them here; also popcorn, ginger and sesame.
Because of the virus, there was a big upsurge in gardening this spring, and as a result, many seed companies ran low and there were long delays on seed orders. There was also a shortage this summer of canning lids. Since the virus is still with us, and other scary things loom on the horizon, we may well see similar situations next year.
Season extension refers to ways of growing things later into fall after a frost, or starting earlier in spring. It’s still summer now, but if you want to be able to harvest crops in November and December—or to get started in February next year—it’s not too early to contemplate some ways of protecting vegetables from winter.
Sorry about this, but I’m going to take you out of the garden, away from the sunlight and breeze, the bugs and the weeds, the burgeoning squash and the luscious tomatoes and beans. Into that dark dwelling with you; we’re going to talk about record-keeping.
The Tall Ones
This week we’re going to look at some plants that tower over others in your vegetable garden: sunflowers, sorghum, and field corn. Sunflowers are fun and fairly easy to grow; children especially enjoy growing them.
The time has come to plant some late crops. Many of these are brassicas—broccoli, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower and kale—and these are more easily started in pots indoors. Yes, you can start them right in place, but if it gets hot and dry they may not germinate, and you will have to defend your tiny seedlings against weeds and bugs and perhaps other hazards. It’s easier to start them inside and then transplant them out when they’re big enough to defend themselves, plus it will begin to cool off not long after that.
Yes, yes, this is supposed to be a garden column, but bear with me. There are good reasons for people with gardens to keep chickens. First of all, if putting a dent in your food budget and heaving healthier, fresher food for your family is a top reason for gardening, you can’t go wrong with eggs fresh from the hen.
Preserving the Harvest
It’s too hot and too dry and there are still too many bugs. Nonetheless, I hope you are now harvesting lots of vegetables from your garden. If you have too much at once, how can you preserve it for later when you need it—winter, maybe?
Alliums are members of the onion family, including onions, garlic, leeks, elephant garlic…and some perennial onions like potato onions, shallots and Egyptian Walking onions which I won’t discuss as I have not successfully grown them.
Chiggers and Ticks
This week I’m going to talk about the bugs that bother, not gardens, but gardeners. There may occasionally be mosquitoes or gnats, but they are not prevalent around here. Deer flies are problematic in spring but only in sunshine and they usually are solitary.
Let’s talk about insects, or bugs (entomologists have specific definition for these words, but you and I need not be so formal. If it’s small, runs around or flies, and has more than four legs, it’s a bug to me). Right away, having escaped the academic morass of definitions, we get into moral quandaries. What is a “good bug” and what is a “bad bug”?
Patience and Persistence
Few if any gardeners are blessed with an unbroken stream of thriving, productive crops. Every year some things do especially well, better than I expected, and others flop. I’ve learned to accept the duds, and often learn something. Some of it is about patience and persistence.
There are gardeners who do everything else right—choose their seed carefully, plant and weed and water and mulch…and then neglect to harvest the crops. You may be busy when your crops are ready for harvest, but this is the payoff, the point of the whole effort, so don’t neglect gathering your produce. Some crops lose quality very quickly if not harvested at the right time.
One way to get the most out of limited garden space is to plan for a second crop in the same space as one you harvest early. One set of crops that are done early and thus make way for others is the salad bed: lettuce, spinach and radishes, often planted together.
Cucurbits are the vine crops: summer and winter squashes, pumpkins (which are winter squashes) and melons and cucumbers. All are tender plants which can’t be planted or set out until after the last spring frost, but I don’t bother starting them early inside. There’s no need in our climate; we have plenty of time to bring them to maturity planting them in May, or even June.
“Tomatoes! When’s she gonna talk about tomatoes?” Actually the plant family known as solanaceae or nightshades, includes four common garden vegetables: potatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. All are tender plants, but frost dates should be long gone until fall.
Flowers and Herbs in the Garden
In this blog I’m going to suggest that you consider growing a few flowers or herbs in your vegetable garden, if you have room. It’s not only because you can enjoy a vase of colorful flowers, or herbs to put in your cooking; these additions can actually help your vegetables. How?
Fruit in the Garden
This blog mostly focuses on vegetables, but what about fruit? Yes, you can grow your own! If you want reliable fruit, and you want to have it in one year, strawberries and raspberries are your best choices. Fruit trees may yield quite a lot of fruit—eventually—but it takes years and there is a lot that can go wrong. I still recommend planting them if you have room, for the long term, but meanwhile—let’s talk about strawberries.