Monday, May 2, 2011

May 2011: Warm-Weather Crops

Garden To Be’s famous Sun Gold sweet cherry tomato starter plants will be available for purchase at the May 22nd Eagle Heights Plant Sale in addition to Roma, yellow, heirloom, and slicing tomatoes. Pepper plants available at the sale include sweet bell, Anaheim, Italian frying, and jalapeños. Other plants available are eggplant, basil, cucumber, gourd, melon, pumpkin, and squash. Prices range from $1.75 to about $4.

You can also find Garden To Be at the Dane County Farmer’s Market. More information about the vendor and specific plants available for purchase can be found on the Garden To Be Facebook page and at,, or by email:

As cold crops are ushered out to make room for new warm-weather ones, so must Eagle Heights Garden staff and volunteers occasionally go through a period of rotation. This time it’s my turn. As a result of a job opportunity elsewhere, I’ll be leaving the gardens and retiring my duties as columnist and blogger by the end of the summer. If you are interested in writing for the gardens, please send a paragraph describing your interest and writing experience and writing sample (500 – 1,000 words) to Depending on your level of commitment, it could even count toward workday credit for the 2012 season!

The end of May and June are the perfect time to start putting in your warm-weather crops like beans, cucumbers, eggplants, herbs, flowers, melons, peppers, pumpkins, summer and winter squash, and tomatoes. You can also continue to plant fast-growing multi-season vegetables like carrots and radishes. Bear in mind that it’s too late to plant seeds for peppers and tomatoes at this point. For these plants, go with trusted local organic seedlings that are well-established, like those you may have started indoors in March or those available from Mt. Horeb vendor Garden To Be.

While you are waiting to put in your warm-weather plants, be sure to devote some time to deterring weeds and pests. Dig out any weeds you spot all the way down to the roots. After a rain is an excellent time to do this. If weeds are allowed to mature and flower, they will produce more weeds and invade your plot. Take care to haul all weeds to the designated community weed pile instead of composting them in your plot. Composting weeds in-plot is tricky and you could end up with a healthy weed crop in and around your compost pile. A good way to reduce the number of weeds in your plot is too keep any unplanted areas well-mulched and to grow plants with shade-producing foliage throughout your plot.   

In addition to weeds, pests and diseases can also pose a problem in any garden. Flea beetles have been known to completely ravage the foliage on eggplant and arugula crops. To deter these tiny beetles, plant eggplant and arugula seeds in raised mounds of dirt. Consider using floating row cover with the arugula and cover your dirt mound with black plastic for the eggplant. You can also purchase or make an organic spray to keep insects like them away. Mice have been another major pest in the gardens. Last year, mice ate all of my pea and pepper seedlings, most of my beets, and a number of other things. Unfortunately, since we are technically gardening on the mice’s turf, we must learn to share with them. Companion planting, scaring devices, and pest-resistant varieties of certified seed and seedlings are other recommended ways to deal with the various pests you may encounter in your plot.

Late potato blight, which afflicts both potatoes and tomatoes, is another thing that can affect the productivity of your garden. The blight is a soil-borne white mold that develops under the leaves of potato and tomato plants. It can also surface in the fruit of the plants in the form of a dry, leathery skin and rotten inside. To prevent late potato blight, purchase potato and tomato seedlings only from trusted local vendors, don’t water your plants in the evening (cooling temperatures foster mold-producing conditions), and don’t plant your tomatoes and potatoes in the same spot from year-to-year. Also, be sure to remove and moldy leaves immediately (do not compost) and thoroughly clean any tools used on sick plants.

Crop rotation, as mentioned for preventing late potato blight, is also a great general practice to get into with gardening. Moving the sites you choose for specific plants from season to season promotes soil health and helps combat weeds, pests, and diseases. Perennials can occupy the same location for a few years before the soil they are in becomes exhausted. Annuals, however, should be planted in new spots each year and should include a few bean varieties or other nitrogen-enriching crops. Also, strive to cut down on the time your soil is left unplanted and be sure to put in some plants with foliage that helps shade weeds out. Some annuals that can help fill any empty spaces you may have in your plot are Chinese artichoke, corn salad (mâche), summer and winter purslane, and sweet corn. Consider sketching out plans of where and what you want to plant for spring, summer, and fall and bring them with you when you’re ready to put seeds and seedlings in the ground. Keep expected harvest times in mind and be ready to replace plants when production dwindles. Rotating the spot you use for an in-plot compost pile from one season to the next is also a great habit.