Customizing your garden commitment

BY EMMETT SNEAD

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

I GET a lot of questions about when and how to plant a garden. I do not know all the answers to all the questions. However, I can make up good answers in the form of glittering generalities to any questions I do not know the answers to. I developed this talent while in college.

I have narrowed gardening down to six general categories.

The first is spring planting for a full season, with a lot of space available. This would be for the more experienced gardener. Some suggested crops would be beets, cukes, watermelons, cantaloupes, butter beans, sweet corn (warning: varmints will always pick sweet corn exactly one day before you think it’s ready), strawberries (it always rains at least three days in a row at their peak of ripeness), blueberries and carrots, which I have never been able to grow successfully (climate and soil in the area?).

The second is spring planting for a full season, for beginners with small spaces. A few good choices are herbs, okra, tomatoes, pumpkins and all kinds of winter squash (planted mid-June) and potatoes. Potatoes can be especially fun when you involve children in gardening.

Every time you go out to work in your garden, figure out a way to encourage your child or children to go with you. The big payoff will come the day that you decide to dig a hill of new potatoes. Potato plants are rather mundane-looking to a child. When you dig that first hill in front of your child and all those potatoes roll out, the gasps and squeals of delight make it all worthwhile. Then you/they get to eat the fruits of (mostly) your labor.

The best eating potatoes are always the ones you grew yourself. For proof of this ahead of time, check out a book in the library to read your child called “The Little Red Hen.” My fondest gardening memories as a child are digging potatoes with my grandfather and picking strawberries with him.

The third category is beautification/border crops, which you should plant in convenient places somewhere in your yard. Some suggestions are rhubarb, asparagus (not near trees), blackberries, raspberries, grapes (trellised), pears, peaches, apples, figs (planted on the southern side of your house) and persimmons (make wonderful pudding and do not need to be sprayed).

The fourth is cover crops planted when the earth would normally be nekkid (“nekkid” sounds more vulnerable than “naked” or “bare,” and hopefully will encourage the use of cover crops). Sunflowers and buckwheat can be planted together between May 1 and Aug. 1, or buckwheat by itself until Oct. 1.

Rape is a good cover crop for winter if planted about mid-August. All these crops double as excellent bee and bird food. Sunflowers, with seeds still in their heads, should be left standing all winter for songbirds to enjoy.

The last two categories, which should be combined into one program, are for both beginners and more experienced gardeners.

For a short-season spring garden, some crops you could grow would be onions, lettuce, squash, zucchini, Swiss chard, cabbage, kohlrabi (similar in taste to a turnip) and string beans. These crops will come off in plenty of time to allow you to plant another whole garden on the same land—in the same year.

You would then need to get the land in shape to be planted by Aug. 15 with such crops as collards, cress, curly kale, spinach, turnips, rutabagas, broccoli, cauliflower and string beans. These would be harvested during fall and early winter.

Just so you understand: The more people I can encourage to garden, the more I am appreciated.

Emmett Snead operates Snead’s Farm along Tidewater Trail in Caroline County.

 

 

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