Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: 'Is that a flower garden or a vegetable garden?'

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A casual visitor seeing my vegetable garden might ask, "Is that a flower garden or a vegetable garden?" My answer would be an unequivocal, "Yes!"

The confusion is understandable. I often plant annual flowers throughout the garden, but really went overboard this year. Annuals, including bachelor's button, cosmos, marigolds, zinnias, salvias, poppies, calendulas, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), snapdragons, and sunflowers are scattered throughout the garden and many intermingle with the vegetables. There are also some perennial Asiatic lilies with huge flowers just coming into bloom.

So, what is the reason for this intermingling of flowers and vegetables? For one, I just love the beauty of annual flowers as do numerous insects, which are involved in pollinating many vegetable crops. Another reason is that these plantings also serve as a source of cut flowers for indoor floral arrangements. Finally, such plantings are also part of my on-going experiments with companion planting, that is, planting specific flowers with specific vegetables as a means of deterring pests. For example, marigolds are scattered between cabbage family crops with the goal of reducing the damage from cabbage worms. To date, this has been a total flop, but at least the marigolds look great.

Another combination, which didn't work in one way, has surprised me in another way. For many years, I would sow seeds of dill in the vegetable garden since my wife uses dill shoots when pickling cucumbers. Then, one year I had the bright idea of letting some of the plants to go to full maturity and allowing them to drop their seeds to the ground, thus saving me the trouble of re-sowing dill every spring. It worked well ... too well. Now there are dill plants throughout a good portion of the garden. Most I treat as weeds and pull them up, but still leave many for pickling cucumbers. Hmmm, dill and cucumbers ... why not plant cucumbers where some rogue dill plants grow? Maybe the dill will deter cucumber beetles. It didn't. In fact, several of my cucumber plants succumbed to bacterial wilt, a disease transmitted by cucumber beetles.

I was disappointed in the dill for its failure as an insect repellent, but my appreciation of the herb was restored this week when I saw my daughter cutting off the flower heads and using them in flower bouquets. She created a stunning arrangement by placing the yellow dill flowers in the center of the vase and surrounding it with stems of purple salvia and white cosmos. Each individual flower of dill looked like an exploding star.

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Gardening certainly offers unending opportunities to experiment and to make interesting discoveries even from initially perceived failures.

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Here are some gardening activities that may lead to discovery or failure, but always learning opportunities:

- Don't hesitate to pull up a garlic plant or two when needed in the kitchen or to ward off vampires. However, don't harvest the main crop until the lower 1/3 of leaves on the plants are brown. The timing of this will vary depending upon the variety. Another test of maturity is to dig up a bulb or two and slice across the middle of the bulb. If the cloves have completely filled the outer skins of the bulb, the crop is ready to harvest, or at least those of that variety are, assuming you have planted more than one variety.

- Pick blueberries. Yes, I mentioned that last week but many people don't have blueberry bushes in their gardens. However, there are pick-your-own blueberry farms within easy traveling distance. To find one near you go to: www.mass.gov/guides/pick-your-own-farms#-blueberries. An interesting tip on handling blueberries harvested at pick-your-own farms came to my daughter and me on the Facebook page for our book, "Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener's Handbook." The tip writer, Frank Kujawski, takes an ice chest, half filled with cold water, when he goes picking. Once they're weighed, Frank tosses the berries in the cooler where they slosh around on the 45-minute return trip home. This method not only cleans the fruit but also keeps the berries cool. At home, any floating debris is tossed and the now washed berries are scooped out with a strainer, drained, and tossed in one quart bags for freezing. By the way, Frank, who resides in Pennsylvania, is not related to me, but that's not unusual when you have a name as common as Smith, Jones or Kujawski.

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- Don't toss over-ripe peas remaining on the plants. These are the ones with dry, yellowy or white pods. Early in the harvest season I would have removed and discarded these since leaving them on the plants slows production of more peas. At this point in the season, production has slowed and the plants and pea pods are drying. The peas within these have lost their sweet flavor and are starchy. Nevertheless, they can be left on the plants until fully dry and then harvested as dry peas and used in soup recipes.

- Use the space vacated by early season crops such as peas, lettuce, and short-season root crops to plant vegetables for fall harvest. Basically, the same vegetables planted in early spring can be planted now for late season harvest. The exception would be cabbage and related crops due to their long growing season. Leafy greens, green onions, and root crops would be most likely to provide a decent fall harvest. I plan to plant some peas though the heat of late July and August may short-circuit that experiment.

- Continue deadheading spent flowers on both annuals and perennials. Removing these will encourage more flowering in most annuals while directing energy to the development of shoots and roots in perennials.

- Think twice before flooding wilting plants growing in containers and window boxes if they are located where exposed to direct sun and wind. With the recent stretch of brutally hot weather, wilting of leaves and stems of plants in containers is quite common. However, do not assume that the plants need to be watered. Wilting will occur if soils are dry but it may also be that moisture is evaporating faster from the plant foliage than is being replaced by that taken up by the plant roots. Root development of plants growing in containers is often limited by the volume of the container. Therefore, check the moisture content of the soil before watering. If the soil is moist, then either shade the plants and/or protect them from wind. Overwatering can be as damaging to the plant as exposure to sun and wind.


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