Though I cherish our vegetable garden for the fresh food it provides, I also love the fact that it is my laboratory, a place to experiment. There are always new varieties to try -- 10 new varieties of tomatoes this year -- and new techniques to explore. In recent years, I've had great success in increasing yields of certain crops by using colored plastic mulches and unorthodox spacing of plants. Most of my experiments are planned, but on occasion a last second or casual idea yields surprising results. Such was the case last year.

For years, I've competed with raccoons over who gets the bulk of the sweet corn harvest. I've always finished in second place. Last year, my daughter gave me several seed packets of giant sunflower, a favorite of hers, and asked me to plant them in the vegetable garden. Since space was limited, I sowed the seeds about nine inches apart around the perimeter of my corn planting as sort of a fence. As I did this, it occurred to me that this floral fence may hide my corn from the raccoons. Lo and behold, not one ear of corn made to a raccoon's dining table. Was this dumb luck, or did the raccoons simply feel sorry for my past futility? One test is never enough, so I'll try it again this year.

I sure hope there are no raccoons reading this column.

n

If raccoons are reading this, maybe I can distract them with this list of tasks:

n Sow seeds of dill and cilantro, either in the garden or in pots. Plants from sowings in early spring are likely to be flowering now and will soon set seed.


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That's OK if you want to collect and save the seed. But, I also like to use fresh leaves of dill and cilantro to season foods. When in flower, the plants do not produce many leaves. Therefore, I have to start new plants every four to six weeks.

n Make another sowing of bush beans and continue making additional sowings at two-week intervals through the first week of July.

n Remove the flowering stalks (called scapes) from garlic plants. Save the scapes for pickling, use in stir fry or to make a rich vegetable broth.

n Pull up radishes, spinach, arugula and leaf lettuces that are bolting (sending up flower stalks) and plant carrots, beans or summer squash in their place.

n Be careful not to cut lawns too low. Preferred mowing height for the grass species commonly used for lawns in this part of the country is between two and three inches. Many people think low cutting will reduce the need for frequent mowing. It will, but only because the grass will die when stressed during hot, dry weather. Then it won't have to be mowed at all.

n Apply a tablespoon of general purpose garden fertilizer around perennial plants in flower borders. One application is usually enough to support growth of perennial plants through the season. If you apply organic mulch annually around plants in flower borders, you can skip the fertilizer, unless plants are showing signs of poor growth.

n Water roses deeply. They are heavy drinkers. Since they can't break the habit, a deep watering once per week is recommended. Frequency of watering can be reduced if roses are mulched with a two-inch deep layer of dry grass clippings or composted wood chips.

n Continue planting gladiolus corms every seven to 10 days until early July for a continuous supply of cut flowers through summer. I like gladiolus flowers, but when I hear "Good grief, not another vase of gladiolus," I know it's time to gift these cut flowers to friends.

n Re-pot and groom houseplants. Then send them outdoors to a shady spot for their summer vacation. Even houseplants need a break from their normal routine.