I opened my hoop house doors at noon today and knew immediately I should have done it a bit earlier in the day. It has been a gorgeous late-winter day. There’s still the nip of winter in the air, but the sun has a spring warmth to it. As I pried open the door, a gush of steam greeted me as the warm air in the hoop house collided with the cool outside air. I had to wait a while before I could head in to pick—it was that hot.
The work of winter and spring are colliding just like that warm and cold air. I’m still harvesting nice winter greens to sell, although many of the plants are doing what they need to do to keep their species in existence: The seed stalks are shooting up. Some mustards and arugulas have flowers, and there are some small (and tasty!) seed heads.
My leeks and onions have been in for a while now, and I have some lovely baby green onion tops to add to my favorite dishes. Onions, when growing from seed, need a regular “haircut” to keep their tops at 1 to 2 inches. This directs the plants’ energy back to the roots, helping the onions size up nicely. I’ll direct seed my favorite onion—the fabulous ‘Long Red Florence’—right in the garden as well, so I can harvest early, from transplants, and late, from seed.
I also have some herbs growing along nicely. Oregano, parlsey, thyme, sorrel, plus a few oddities. There’s my cultivated apple seed from Germany and an early-maturing type of cotton that I hope produces the most wonderful fluffy cotton balls ever on my Wellandport plantation. One must try these things. Or at least I must.
I love having one of my grow-light stands in the kitchen, right near the woodstove. Two weeks ago I seeded all my eggplants, early brassicas, and lettuces for transplanting into the garden in April. Amazingly enough, a mere 24 hours later, some of the kale varieties were up. With the woodstove kicking out heat, those little kale seeds decided to pop. Miraculous.
Then there’s my favorite early tomato, ‘Stupice’. I have a 4-inch pot that must have 200 or so little baby ‘Stupice’ sprouts in it. These will be my June tomatoes, I hope. I’ll get them planted in my hoop house in April. Then, with a bit of luck and some row cover fabric thrown over them for extra protection, I should have ripe tomatoes 55 or so days later. Those first tomatoes are always the best!
As for the peppers, hot and sweet, they will all go in tomorrow. I’ll soak the super-hots, like ‘Scorpion’ and ‘Carolina Reaper’, for a better germination rate. I wish I’d planted them a little bit earlier, but I’ll get that fire rolling in the kitchen and hopefully they’ll jump up quickly. I just hope the weather stays cool so I need and want the fire. If you come to visit and I’m wearing my bathing suit, you’ll know why—I’m just trying to get those hot peppers going!
It’s so wonderful to see all these things sprouting and growing. Great also to feel the warmth of the sun and to dream about what this year’s garden can do. I never get tired of it because it is different every year. My gardens…my blank canvases await! —Linda Crago, Wellandport, Ontario
In Wisconsin we’ve been sweating in above-average heat, and watering due to below-average rainfall, to say the least. I do have to say that the melon vines are more vigorous than any we’ve ever grown so I’m hoping we get a good crop.
We harvested the first ‘Capitano’ beans (left) and the flavor is better than I expected since bush varieties usually fall short in the flavor comparison to our pole beans.
The ‘Cherry Stuffer’ pepper has come in second place for earliest pepper, and we actually picked it red! The first in were ‘Garden Sunshine’ peppers, which we picked in the yellow phase. I can’t wait for them to turn color before picking them. We’re still waiting on the other peppers as well as the tomato varieties.
And also the zucchinis, believe it or not. They got ignored and made it through blisteringly hot temperatures with no watering only because they were mulched. They’re starting to look like real zucchini plants again (right) and we should have zukes shortly.
I should also tell you that the zinnias (left) and salvias are blooming their heads off.
Well, back to eating salads, cucumber salsa, gazpacho, and grilled summer veggies (I love this time of year!) while keeping cool. —Kathy Shaw, Neenah, Wisconsin
Spring weather here in southern Ontario has been very odd. We had a week of mild (read HOT) weather in March, followed by a deep freeze in April. It managed to wipe out most of the cherry crop in Niagara, as well as wreak havoc on the tender fruit, pears, and apples. So it will be a tough year for a whole lot of growers here.
My test garden crops have been in the ground for about 3 weeks now, through a very dry spring. And again, unseasonably warm. I think the plants just don’t know what to do. Most things in the test garden look good, although something lopped the tops off the ‘Cayenetta’ peppers. The eggplants are poor because of the darned flea beetles, which are terrible this year. Our (non-) winter was so mild that there was very little kill-off of overwintering pests. So I’m on guard!
I had the best year ever for my heirloom tomato transplant sales, so in that way the spring has been kind to me. I grew over 600 different varieties this year, and there are some that I have just discovered myself this year that I am trialling. The heirloom tomato world is pretty exciting! —Linda Crago, Wellandport, Ontario
I just came in from checking my garden. Here’s my report, five weeks post-transplant. Overall, things are thriving! I’m amazed at how quickly everything is growing and starting to produce. I picked a ‘Salt and Pepper’ cuke that was delicious—crisp and sweet. There was one that was overripe so I probably could have picked it four or five days ago had I noticed it hiding among the foliage. That would be a month from transplant to harvest!
Tomatoes are growing like gangbusters and all are flowering. Some have tiny fruits. The peppers are just starting to open their buds; eggplants are just forming buds. The eggplant plants are humongous!
I have a couple of lime basil plants. I tasted one today, and I have to say that I don’t “get it.” Why would anyone grow lime basil when they can grow the amazingly pungent and mouth-watering Italian-type basils? I’m not sure what I’m missing, but the lime basil is just boring to me. Can anyone enlighten me? —Nan Sterman, Encinitas, California
One of my garden goals was realized this year. Due to the varieties grown and our above-average rain and warmth this year, we have achieved “Squash-henge,” the name our family has given to the pergola completely covered with squash and gourd vines. Surprisingly, most of the upright-growing squashes don’t have any powdery mildew even though we had over 12 inches of rain in July. The exception is the ‘Kumi Kumi’ squash we are testing this year—a bit of it is visible on the upper left foreground of the photo below.
I also am posting a picture of one night’s harvest a couple of weeks ago, below. Included in the picture are some of this year’s test varieties: green ‘Cajun Belle’ peppers, ‘Pinot Noir’ peppers, and ‘Midnight Lightning’ zucchini. We love to make “no-fry stir-fry” for supper. Make some couscous, cut up all the veggies like you would to stir-fry them, add the swelled couscous, and dress the mixture with a blend of olive oil, toasted sesame oil, garlic, ginger, soy, and lemon juice or whatever seasonings you like in your stir-fry. Let it sit and marinate for a half hour then eat. Yum! And no standing over a hot stove in the summer.
The ‘Cajun Belle’ peppers are a winner here. Good size for use at the green or lightly colored stage in a single serving salad, and when they get red and hot, they are a great addition to our salsas and other recipes where heat is welcome. They are not as hot as a jalapeño and the burn goes away quite quickly. They are prolific enough that we may try drying some red ones and making some chili powder out of them. The ‘Pinot Noir’ bells were very quick to take off, however they slowed way down after their first flush of fruit. I will probably grow these again since they were earlier than the other varieties I grow.
The ‘Midnight Lightning’ zucchini is another winner. This plant started producing earlier than any of our others and is still pumping out several zukes a week. The plant itself has stayed pretty compact for a summer squash too.