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*  Planning the garden
*  Ordering seeds
*  Seeding ornamentals for May

Planning the Garden

Research at the University of Illinois indicates that repeated visits of pollinators, such as honey bees, native "squash bees," and bumble bees, increase the percentage of flowers setting fruit and the average fruit size of pumpkins.  Save some space in or near the vegetable garden for flowers!

A garden map is essential to get maximum yields.  Rotating crops every year is good for insect pest management, but difficult if space is limited.  The best we can do, even in our approximately 3000 sq. ft. of vegetable growing space, is to rotate our anchor crops -- tomatoes and peppers together and beans and greens together.  Annual herbs stay in the same spot, because many of them reseed themselves.  Lettuce sets can be popped in where a space opens up.

North Carolina Extension Service has a good map for succession planting that would provide enough vegetables for canning, freezing, and fresh use for two people for a year in southern zones (6-10).  Northern gardeners might get away with a late crop of greens following some snow peas, but our options are more limited.

Plant families generally like similar growing conditions.  If you like to grow a lot of different things, it helps to know the following: 

Solanaceae (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes) are warm-weather plants and, with the exception of eggplant, need a long growing season (avg. 70-100   days) and a minimum 10 hours a day of sunlight. 

Cucurbitaceae (cukes, melon, squash, and pumpkin) also need warm weather and good sunlight, as well as a support system.  Cukes and summer squash have a shorter growing season.   Winter squash and melons, like Solanaceae, require a longer growing season.  Keep this in mind when planning garden space. 


Cruciferae family or brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage or Pak Choi types, cabbage, and greens) are cool weather crops.  Cutworms are also a spring crop, and they compete fiercely for our broccoli and collard greens. 

Timing the transplants is critical for this family.  It should be late enough to catch the end of the larval stage (when they do the most damage), but early enough to catch the cool weather. 

Beans and Corn.  Grow yellow corn varieties; they are higher in vitamin A than those with white kernels.

Greens For those who, like this cook, have turned to a diet of more vegetables and fish and less beef to address soaring cholesterol levels and concerns over the mass production of animals, greens are the obvious solution.  Though spinach is the winner overall in nutrients, the thinning is too hard on our backs.  Kale, collards, and Swiss chard are strong alternatives.   Aside from their nutritious value, they are super simple to cook and can be easily frozen.

Red Russian kale is a strong anti-oxidant, and, it's ornamental as well.  It is very hardy and does well as a container plant.  It could be set out in early March, if it is in a sheltered location and given adequate protection till the frost-free date.  We left one plant from a previous year in the garden, and it survived the winter and produced new growth the following year.  A definite candidate for overwintering .  

Leave some space open for succession  plantings every two weeks until June.  Begin again in late July for a cool weather crop.  This will keep you in lettuce when the tomatoes are ripening and in greens when everything else is pooping out in the fall.

Oriental greens provide variety and nutrients to  our greens menu.  Some are sensitive to heat and do best in cool weather as a fall crop or spring in the more northern regions.  Excellent for stir fries or simply sauteed in herbal vinegar and served with fish.   Most are not good for freezing, so plan on eating enough to get you through till early summer.

Root Crops.   The heat of summer makes radishes turn very hot and pithy. European radishes are supposed to remain sweet and solid, not pithy. Tops are very tall, averaging 12 inches in length.

Ordering Seeds

See Seeding Tips and Seeding Schedule to get an idea of what's involved in doing your own seeding.   Over the years, we have developed our own list of favorite varieties.   The seeding industry is no different than others, unfortunately, and are constantly trying to second-guess consumers, or come up with a new and improved variety.  Unable to find one company that offered my favorites, I developed a  Seed Catalogue table in 2002 to get a profile.  Out of about 8 catalogues, I now know where to go for favorite varieties. 

Seed Slow-growing Ornamentals Early

Every spring, this gardener regrets not seeding  slow-growing annual ornamentals early in the New Year, so they will mature by May, when spring fever sets in and the retailers are tempting you with outrageous prices. 

Our favorite varieties are 'Pretty Purple' and 'Thai' peppers (both ornamental and edible), 'Crystal Palace' lobelia, 'Imagination' verbena, and a bedding ageratum.  NuMex 'Twilight' pepper was tested in Planter Garden 2004.  It performed well as a container plant and lasted as long outside as 'Pretty Purple' .  But, it succumbed much earlier to aphids, once we brought it inside.  Petunias should be seeded now, too, since they have a long germination period.  Their seeds are tiny and require patience and a surgeon's touch. 

Perennials should be seeded now for spring planting, although I seed them  in July for fall transplanting.  They prefer cooler temperatures anyway, and our time, space and energy is limited!

Weather log:

Early in the month, a warm spell with high temps in the 40's.  Later in the month, about 12" of snow fell, part of the "Blizzard of '05" that dumped a foot of snow in New York and between two and feet of snow in Boston.