To Do In The Northwest Edible Garden: June 2011

Well, here it is, almost the beginning of May and things are right on schedule. Wait, what? It’s the beginning of June? As in, it’s almost summer? How the heck is it almost June? Certainly none of my plants think it’s June, so I’m terribly sorry but you must just be mistaken.

OK, back to reality. It’s almost June and it’s been a great spring for salad greens, brassicas (my broccoli is fantastic this spring) and cool weather crops. My spinach lasted an unheard of number of weeks before bolting.

You guys know how I am fanatical about cloching and season extension. Here’s the downside to my enthusiastic use of the tunnel cloche: one good bright sunny day (it doesn’t even have to be that hot) can turn a closed off tunnel cloche into a plant oven in a hurry. We get a lot of days at this time of year with 3 or 4 bright sunny hours book-ended by overcast or drizzle. Your cloches really need to be vented if it turns sunny. At this time of year I usually just leave the ends of my tunnel cloches open on all but the most tender of plants.

Keeping the poly-tunnels on the warm weather beds as long as possible, even with open ends, really does a lot for the plants, though. A few degrees is a big deal to a tomato or squash or cucumber that languishes at overnight temps of 53 degrees and grows happily (well, grudgingly, at least) at 57 degrees. Just watch for that overheating during the day.

Plan & Purchase:

Fall seeds! Yup, time for another seed order. Can’t say I mind! I’m out of fall and winter cabbages so that’s what I’ll be ordering. Territorial has a dedicated fall gardening catalogue that I love, but if you want to get a jump on your decision making, they list most (all?) of the winter-appropriate varieties on the website too.

Sow Indoors:
This is going to sound nuts, but in mid-to-late June it’s time start the first wave of fall and winter crops. Brussels sprouts take forever to grow, so if you want them for Thanksgiving (and you really do) you’ve got to start them now. Fall and winter cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli and kohlrabi (the big winter-keeper types) can be started from mid-month onward through mid-July.

At this time of year, if you have a greenhouse or sunny porch, you can start the fall crops outside, either in a nursery bed or in little pots. They will dry out quickly, though, so be diligent about watering. You can also turn the seed lights back on and start them indoors. Be aware of what varieties you are planting. Spring brassicas aren’t bred to hold up in winter weather, so seek out varieties that will work for when you plan to harvest them.

Sow & Plant Outside

  • Beans – Even with this cruddy spring, the soil should be warm enough to plant beans. A trick to speed things along is to lay a sheet of clear plastic over the soil (an old dry cleaners bag works well). This gets a bit of extra heat into the ground to help the beans germinate quickly. When you see the beans poking up out of the soil remove the plastic. I like pole beans because you get a lot more beans over a longer harvest time as compared to bush beans.
  • Summer & Winter Squash – I transplanted my started squashes into the garden over Memorial Day weekend. They were already to gallon pots, and the zucchini have miniature fruit on them. I’ve got plastic pots and cloches over all the squashes I can. Some just aren’t planted in spots that make cloching realistic so we’ll see how they do. It isn’t too late to start summer squashes from seed. Just pop a few seeds in and see how they go. If you are starting winter squash from seed now, just check how long your variety takes to mature. Pick a shorter season variety because winter squash really needs those couple weeks at the end of the season to cure up for storage. As always, black plastic or cloches to warm the soil will help.
  • Melons – I don’t grow melons but I think you still have time if you grow a short season variety and work some serious black plastic magic to keep the soil as warm as possible. Don’t delay, though, you’ll need every day from here on out.
  • Cucumbers – Sow directly and try trellising! Cucumbers are easy to grow vertically and you get much straighter cukes that way. I’m growing a bunch for pickling.
  • Brassicas – Asian greens like pac choi and chinese cabbage, etc. can be direct sown now. 
  • Root Vegetables – You will have the best results in loose open soil and I encourage you to cover your carrot and parsnip seedlings with row cover to prevent the carrot root maggot from destroying your veggies. A last crop of potatoes can also be put in at the beginning of the month. Mid-to-late June you can start to put in your fall crop of root veggies. Your main sowing of carrots can go in, along with parsnips (last chance on these), beets, rutabaga and turnips. If you are plum out of room in the garden, these crops can be sown through July but yield and harvest size will be smaller.
  • Corn – Beginning of June is the last opportunity for late season corn, so I’m told. Apparently corn should be “Knee-high by the 4th of July.” Right now, from where I’m sitting that seems ambitious, but then again I do not grow corn myself and apparently it is incredibly fast once it takes off.
  • Greens – lettuce (new month = new sowing of lettuces), fall greens like mache, endive, radicchio,  mustards, arugula, cress and greens mixes. If you started greens in containers last month harden them off before you settle them into their outside bed. 
  • Swiss Chard – There’s still time to plant Swiss Chard for bountiful late summer and fall harvest. I’ve had a terrible time getting my nice fresh chard seed to come up this year. I think the slugs are chomping the seedlings as fast as they germinate. Thankfully my friend sowed her Bright Lights Swiss Chard a little too thickly. I transplanted her thinnings and they are growing in my yard now. 
  • Onions – green onions and overwintering leeks can be sown. Chives and garlic chives can be started for a harvest next year.
  • Herbs: Chives, parsley, mints, marjoram, oregano, dill, fennel, borage and the like can all be sown out. Cilantro, fennel, dill, and of course basil can all be grown.

Transplant Out
Look, I know we are overdue to plant out tomatoes and peppers (and good luck, those of you doing eggplant – I salute you!). I wish I had better news but night-time temps in my neck of the woods are still in the high 40s. At this point I don’t think the tomatoes or peppers will die for being planted out, but I do think you should expect a few weeks of shock as they adjust to having chilly feet.

My tomatoes are in their final location, growing in 4-gallon self-watering buckets, covered with a make-shift 6-foot tall greenhouse (scrap lumber, scrap 4-mil plastic and a bunch of large binder clips to hold it all together). I think they are doing ok. Peppers are still in their 1-gallon pots in the greenhouse, waiting for balmier conditions outside. At this point, I think they will likely stay in the greenhouse.

How’s your June (!) garden growing?

Comments

  1. Looks like we're about 1 week ahead of you here – I just transplanted my tomatoes and peppers in my walk in polytunnel, and started my brussel sprouts etc. I actually sowed my parsnips a few weeks ago, and they are coming in well. Squash this last weekend.

    I started my cucumbers and melons indoors about 3 weeks ago and they sprouted BEAUTIFULLY. I transplanted half my cucumbers to see how they would do. I'm growing marketmore for pickling and long english for eating. My melons I'm giving a little longer indoors (black mountain watermelon). All the melons and cukes are going in the walk in polytunnel as well, but the melons will be sort of hanging out the open end of the tunnel.

    I need to learn a little more about seed lights. I obviously scorched my tomatoes this year and don't really understand how – I did try to keep the water off the leaves. Are some lights better than others?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Enjoying reading your blog! I transplanted some cukes last week and it's just too cold out for them right now. I'm watching them die off one by one. The acorn squash isn't exactly loving the weather, but it's not giving up the ghost, either.

  3. Ha, I can tell you got this from exhaustive research. Well done! Unfortunately we have yet to have much of a Spring. Aside from my salad greens, nothing is growing but weeds. Carrots still haven't sprouted and even my brassicas are languishing. Nada! As for summer crops, I know I SHOULD have planted a while ago, but what would be the point? Even if they did germinate, they would slowly die like my tomatoes are doing. I need to plant cukes and squash but I will wait. No sense wasting seed.

    Lastly, I know the books say to plant fall brassicas in June, but I still have my main crop under lights from Spring. I haven't planted them out for fear they'd just be slug fodder like my others.

    In short, unless you like lettuce salads, this has been the worst Spring imaginable. I'm still waiting for it.

  4. Sinfonian – It's been a rough one, that's for sure. That's why I am SUCH a fan of season extension techniques. I'm eating lettuce and broccoli, radishes, kale and of course herbs. Peas are in flower, earliest cabbages are heading up. I have some small fruit set on a few of the tomato plants and mini zukes on the zucchini plants. Beans are up, not thriving but germinated at least, I've actually had good luck with carrot germination this year (but I have a wicket carrot rust fly problem, so we'll see whats harvestable in 3 or 4 months), cukes are coming up now (in the greenhouse this year)…I'm definitely not going to say it's a bumper spring, but tunnel cloching has helped enormously. Things have gone really wrong, too: I haven't been able to keep chard or brassica seedlings alive to the true leaf stage when direct sown. Slugs are gobbling them too fast. I've resigned myself to indoor starts of even the cool weather stuff, and a friend kindly passed along enough chard seedlings to stock my bed. The winter squashes are a gamble: sun scorched when I set them out, and now some of them dealing with unprotected high-40s lows….but my main crop of delicatas and butternuts look ok – I kept them under plastic too. Tunnel cloching also helps with slugs because it keeps the top layer of soil dry, which of course the slugs don't like to travel over. Of course, there are months when it looks like I'm growning a plastic farms, so that's not good in a whole lot a ways. Just gotta be ok with the compromise, I guess. I heard this is the new pattern we should expect in this area with climate change – longer, cooler, wetter summers and hotter, drier summers. Good luck! It will improve (right?) :)

  5. I used hoop covers to extend my season, but to date refuse to let them CREATE my season. I took them down in early March when the weather was supposed to improve, and I refuse to water when it's raining, hehe. I guess I should abandon my hopes for my side yard being used by my two boys to play and place a western facing greenhouse and several more garden beds there instead to grow plastic gardens like you. ROFL. Glad you've had luck despite the crappy season. Bravo! I will plant cukes, zukes etc. And hope for the best.

  6. Yeah, I hear you. It's a lot of extra work to do the up and down of the cloches and the venting etc. etc. But since my goals are to be more or less vegetable independent (ie, go to the grocery store as little as humanly possibly, and preferably only for dairy) those extra 4 weeks of pea or beans or broccoli or whatever make a big payoff for us in the fresh-eating department. I have yet to grow enough to keep us going in frozen veg over the winter, but thankfully I really like kale.

    I'm not suggesting you rip out your play-space. The boys need it. I have a patch of lawn for my kids too. But I would suggest that you be suspicious if someone tells you the weather is going to be good come March. ;)

    The watering thing has been interesting this year, I've been much more intensive about my management of it. Since my beds went thru the winter uncovered (not something I'd recommend by I had a baby in September, so fall bed maintenance fell thru the cracks) they were TOTALLY waterlogged when I got around to clocheing them in – oh, March, I guess. I actually covered them primarilly to help the dry out because the wet wet soil was my mail concern.

    As of now, early June, I've barely watered. The cool season stuff is uncovered now, but earlier in the season I think the beds themselves acted as wicking containers…there was so much below-the-surface water that capillary action kept everything moist for quite awhile. So as a consequence I've only watered in seedlings or stuff I've direct seeded like carrots. All the transplants have made it just fine on sub-surface moisture.

    Anyway, it's been interesting. What I *don't* care for about the tunnel cloches is the plastic and the cost. I can cloche 2 4×8 beds with one roll of 10×25 4 or 6 mil poly. One roll of that costs about $12, so it's $6 per bed for me to cloche. Honestly, 2 seasons out of a cover is about the max, so now we're looking at $3 per bed per season. There's also the cost of the bungee and rope I use to secure the plastic, but that's almost indefinitely usable. So, $3 per bed. Not a lot, but I might cloche 10 or 12 beds at a time so now we're at $30 or $36 a year in plastic cost. Plus the obvious issue with all that plastic from an environmental perspective….I haven't figured that part out….

    This has become so long I think I'll pop it up on FB and see what else other people have to say!

    Thanks for the interesting discussion.

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