Gardening - Not Too Late to Plant Vegetables
Cultivating Life by Sean Conway
Basil needs warm soil to grow, so in most parts
of the country it's only coming into its own in July
If you're just realizing that summer is here and you never got around to planting a vegetable garden, don't despair.
While it may be too late to plant cool season crops such as peas, lettuce and broccoli, it is still not too late to plant heat-loving vegetables.
With the longer daylight of summer, warmer soil temperatures and adequate moisture, heat-loving vegetables will put on an amazing amount of growth in a short amount of time.
The trick to maximizing growth in your garden is soil that is rich in organic matter, that drains well and is evenly moist.
By far the most popular plants in almost every vegetable garden are those that thrive when the warmth of summer arrives.
Plants such as tomatoes, basil, eggplant and peppers really don't start growing in earnest until temperatures -- particularly soil temperatures -- start to rise.
Cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash and watermelon are also warm weather favorites. These stalwarts of summer all require air and soil temperatures that I call t-shirt comfortable. If you are comfortable in a t-shirt during the evening, your warm weather vegetable plants will be happy, too.
While there is still time enough to plant seed for some quick-to-germinate varieties of vegetables such as beans, summer squash and cucumbers, as well as herbs such as dill, at this time of year it would be better to buy pre-started vegetable plants. Making a trip to your local garden center to buy young plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant will help make up for your tardiness.
Buy good-sized plants to give your garden several weeks' head start toward producing your desired bounty; you'll have a better chance of enjoying the perfect caprese salad or fresh roasted peppers on the grill.
If you are planting your very first garden this year, you are not alone. One result of the recession is that vegetable gardening has become very popular. Even the residents of the most famous house in the country planted a vegetable garden this year, and with the Secret Service guarding the White House grounds, there shouldn't be much need for a scarecrow.
To supply the higher demand for vegetable plants, many nurseries have had to sow and transplant seed multiple times. This is a welcome contrast to days gone by when garden centers were wiped out of vegetable plants by Memorial Day.
If you don't have the space for a garden in your yard, you might consider growing your vegetables in containers. Containerized vegetables have a lot of advantages. They are easy to care for, require less weeding and take up less space. For many people, one cherry tomato plant in a pot is enough. But for those who want more, a few large containers on the deck or patio can generate an abundance of produce.
Taking advantage of how plants grow can maximize space in your containers. Climbing plants such as pole beans can be trained up trellises placed in pots. Vines such as mini-watermelons, sweet potatoes and cucumbers can be planted at the edges of containers spilling over to scramble along the deck or patio.
Planting in hanging baskets allows you to take advantage of vertical space. Some varieties of tomatoes are happy to cascade from pots suspended in midair. Varieties with smaller fruit are best. I plant mine in the sides of a large, moss-lined wire basket and use the top of the basket to plant basil in. Be sure to use a basket large enough to accommodate root growth for several plants or simply use fewer plants with a small basket.
So, before lamenting that you missed the vegetable gardening boat this year, take a quick trip to your local garden center and plant a few heat loving vegetables. When you slice into one of your own vine-ripened tomatoes, you'll be glad you did.
Gardening - Clay, the Unsung Mineral Beneath Your Feet
Cultivating Life by Sean Conway
The amount of clay in our soil has a lot to do with how well the soil drains, and how well plants will grow in it. Most soils are composed of sand, silt, clay and organic matter. Good garden soil contains a balance of these components, but when there is an overabundance of one or the other, many plants simply will not grow -- or grow well -- in it.
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Sean Conway's television series, "Cultivating Life," airs Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. ET on WGN America. His new book, "Sean Conway's Cultivating Life" (Artisan Books, 2009), describes 125 projects for backyard living.
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