Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Chard — a green good all summer

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"Eat your greens" seems to be the current chant from nutritionists. They are just catching up on what my mother demanded of me a long, long time ago. The term "greens" generally means leafy greens, such as leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard greens, arugula, etc. Most of these are used for salads or they may be steamed or sautéed.

I can't say that I cared much for greens other than lettuce when Mom dictated our daily diet, but somewhere on the road to nutrition consciousness, I've developed an appreciation and a taste for greens. These are now a mainstay in our vegetable garden.

However, many greens thrive only in the cooler temperatures or spring and fall. They either bolt (flower and go to seed) or become bitter with the long, hot days of summer. One exception to that generalization is chard. Chard not only grows well and tastes good throughout the growing season, but you can get by with only one sowing.

The trick is to keep harvesting the outer leaves of the plants as they grow. Every few days I cut off three or four outer leaves on each plant, while making sure to leave the inner leaves intact. As such, one planting in spring will keep my dinner plate piled high with greens until late fall.

Put these tasks on your plate

• Use a combination of trailing plants for hanging baskets. Calibrachoa (million bells), trailing verbena, bacopa, brachycome, lantana, lobelia and scaevola are easy-care choices.

• Create a weed-free seed bed somewhere in your garden for the purpose of starting biennials and perennials. Sowing seeds of these now will result in mature plants ready to transplant to flower gardens in September.

• Apply a 3-inch-deep layer of mulch, such as pine needles, composted wood chips, shredded leaves or bark nuggets, around azaleas, laurels and rhododendrons in shrubs borders, and around blueberry plants. All of these are shallow-rooted and the mulch will keep soils moist and cool during the summer. Another benefit of the mulch is weed control. Mulch should eliminate the need for cultivating or hoeing out weeds, which can be damaging to the shallow roots.

• Wait until oregano is about to flower before snipping shoots to use fresh or to dry. The flavor of oregano, thyme, sage and other herbs is most intense just before they flower. However, if you have an immediate need for an herb to flavor your culinary creations, harvest them at any time.

• Transplant tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings to the garden. Plant these three crops, as well as cucumbers and squash, in an area of the garden where they have not been grown within the past two years, at least. Rotating planting areas in this way can help prevent diseases, such as Phytophthora blight, a serious and increasingly common disease of these particular crops.

• Sow seeds of pole beans, even if you've planted some bush beans. Generally, pole beans mature later than bush beans and will continue to provide beans long after bush beans have stopped producing. Pole beans will need a trellis or poles that are at least 6-feet high as support.

• Save a little space on your plate for Family Fun Day, June 4, at Pleasant Valley Sanctuary on West Mountain Road, Lenox. It's a chance to reconnect with the unrestrained natural world. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is free.

Remember our veterans

Enjoy your Memorial Day family traditions of parade watching, cookouts, etc. but keep mind what this holiday is meant to be. Give pause to remember those in the military who gave their lives so that we can live ours.


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