Berkshire Garden Journal: Time to set out warm season crops


Where else but in the Berkshires can you experience all four seasons -- in one week?

As you read this, we should be in the summer portion of the se quence. I have no clue what lies
a head as we move into June tomorrow, but with the trend toward warm nights I'm ready to throw cau tion to the wind and set out transplants of all my warm season crops. These include summer and winter squash, melons, pumpkins, okra, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.

The cue to set out these tender seedlings is night-time temperatures. Once they are consistently above 50 degrees, these crops will thrive and grow rapidly. It is exposure to cool nights in the 30s and 40s that disrupt the growth of warm season crops. Often, these crops are slow to resume growth. In the long run, this results in lower yields.

Another factor in promoting good growth and high yields of tomatoes is the method of planting the seedlings. When planting a tomato seedling, dig a shallow trench about 2 inches deep. Lay the seedling on its side in the trench and cover with soil, leaving the leafy upper portion of the stem exposed. Soon, roots will form along the stem below ground. This enhances the plant's ability to take up water and nutrients. Also, with shallow planting, the roots will be near the surface where soil is warmest, something that tomato, a sub-tropical plant, likes.

Here are some weekend gardening activities you'll like:

 Plant pole beans next to supports that are at least 5 feet tall. Most poles beans will grow 5 to 8 feet high. A teepee-like structure of wooden poles can be used as support or string some netting be tween two posts. Pole beans take longer to mature than bush beans, but once they start producing they'll keep going until frost. I plant bush beans for early harvests and pole beans for late harvests.

 Make additional sowings of carrots, beets and turnips. Keep these crops well-watered throughout the summer.

 Begin monitoring vegetable crops carefully. June is a peak month for many insect pests. Two pests plaguing my garden now are flea beetles on leafy greens of the mustard family, radishes, cole crops (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), and asparagus beetles on stems of asparagus. Applications of neem or pyrethrum will help control both pests.

 Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut off the outer leaves from leaf lettuce, arugula and other leafy greens. If harvested in this manner, the plants' crowns remain intact and productive for a long time.

 Clean out leaves trapped among the stems of lavender, cot o neaster and other twiggy, low-growing shrubs. The trapped leaves tend to create high levels of moisture around the plant stems, a situation that promotes stem rot diseases.

 Prune multi-stemmed shrubs, such as forsythia, beauty bush, weigela and spirea, after they finish blooming by cutting back to ground level one third of the
oldest canes.

 Inspect plants of the Lilium species (not to be confused with daylilies. Lily leaf beetles are feeding on the leaves of lilies. Adult lily leaf beetle is a quarter-inch long with a bright scarlet body and black legs, head, antennae. The larvae, also active now, resemble slugs with swollen orange, brown or yellowish bodies and black heads. This pest can destroy lilies, so handpick the critters or apply neem every week until they are eliminated.

 Apply a general purpose garden fertilizer, e.g. 10-10-10, or compost to soil around lilacs. If the soil is acidic, work some limestone or wood ash into the soil.

Something else you and your family will like is the annual Family Fun Day at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox. The event this year will be held on Saturday, June 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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