Ron Kujawski: Tips for tackling peak pea picking
Listen up, pea pickers! Pea picking is peaking, just in time for the traditional New England Fourth of July feast of salmon, peas and new potatoes.
As any expert pea picker knows, pea pods need to be picked promptly, at least every other day to get the most tender and sweetest peas. Otherwise, they get to be what my family calls "bowling balls." Though almost flavorless, bowling balls can be used in stews and soups.
Some pea pickers can be picky. My wife insists that I start picking each row of peas from the opposite end from where I started the previous time. Since we have long rows of peas, it is her contention that by time I get to the end of a row I lose focus and overlook pea pods in their prime. Picky, picky, picky!
The other accompaniment for the feast on the Fourth is new potatoes. These are simply small, immature and thin-skinned potatoes. The trick to getting new potatoes is knowing when to dig. With some potato varieties, new potatoes start to form when the plants begin to flower. This is true for early varieties such as "Red Norland," my standard for new potatoes. However, some potato varieties do not flower or flower very late. As a rule, new potatoes on these can be dug about 65-70 days after planting.
Don't dig up entire plants when harvesting new potatoes. Carefully use your hand to probe soil under each plant for the small spuds. Since new potatoes don't keep well in captivity -- uh, in storage -- dig up only what you'll need for a meal that day or the next. Leaving the plant intact will allow the remaining potatoes to be harvested later in the season when fully mature and ready for storage.
Before you have your fill on the Fourth, take care of these timely tasks:
n Sow seeds of parsley, dill and cilantro in pots. You'll need these to replace your older plants of these herbs since they tend to bolt -- produce flower stalks -- in mid-summer.
n Keep soil evenly moist to prevent the cucumber fruit from becoming bitter.
n Watch for adult squash vine borers as you work in the garden. The adult is a moth and has an orange body with metallic-green wings; it resembles a large wasp. Unlike other moths, squash vine borer moths fly about during the day. When you see them, place a row cover over the squash plants to keep the moths from laying their eggs. There is one problem with this method. Squash are bee pollinated. Row covers will have to be removed when plants are in flower or the flowers will have to be hand-pollinated.
n Keep an eye out, maybe two, for Japanese beetles. Early application of a botanical insecticide, such as neem or natural pyrethrum, will deter the beetles. The effect of these organic insecticides is short-lived, so repeat applications will be needed. Check the product label for specific instructions on application.
n Start pruning spring flowering shrubs such as rhododendrons, viburnums, lilacs and mockorange if they are in need of pruning. If you wait too long to prune, you may be removing the buds for next year's flowers. Even if not pruning, remove as many deadheads as you can from these shrubs.
n Prune hedges to encourage dense growth. A key to pruning hedges is to trim the top so that it is narrower than the bottom. Otherwise, branches at the bottom will be shaded and will drop their leaves. When it comes to hedges, wide bottoms are perfectly acceptable.
n Tidy up your houseplants. Use hand pruners or scissors to trim yellow or brown leaves from houseplants. Check plants to see if they need re-potting. That could be why leaves are yellowing or browning.