Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Will peanuts grow in the Berkshires? We'll see ...

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I like to think of my vegetable garden as a laboratory — a laboratory in the sense of experimenting with new crops, new varieties of a particular vegetable, and new ways to approach planting, growing and pest management.

A new vegetable I'll be growing this year is peanut. I tried about 30 years ago to grow peanuts, but failed miserably. Since I am a firm believer in the adage, "If at first you don't succeed, wait 30 years and try again," I'm trying again, this time with my daughter's assistance. We began by sowing peanut seeds in peat pots in mid-April and they are currently growing vigorously. Because they are not frost hardy, they won't be transplanted to the garden until the end of May. Typically, the Valencia type peanut, which we are growing, requires about 90 to 110 days of warm weather to reach maturity.Will they make it? It's an experiment.

As for new varieties, "Plum Regal," a plum tomato, will be planted and compared to the "San Marzano" tomato I've been growing for many, many years. "San Marzano" is our favorite tomato for canning and for making sauce. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how "Plum Regal" matches up. It's an experiment.

In an attempt to manage cabbage worm, which is an annual problem for our cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower crops, I'll be planting a strip of buckwheat around the beds of these brassicas and intermingle the beds with a smattering of marigolds. The buckwheat acts a host for beneficial insects, some of which prey on vegetable pests. Marigolds are thought to repel certain vegetable pests. Will these plants protect my vegetable plants from the ravages of cabbage worms? It's an experiment.

Clearly, not everything I try will be successful. Last year, I planted fava beans in a few rows of sweet corn after reading that growth of corn would be enhanced by the nitrogen-fixing legumes. That turned out not to be the case. In fact, the corn was stunted. On the other hand, corn that had pole beans planted next to it did well, as did the pole beans. It was an experiment with mixed results and perhaps worthy of trying again. After all, replication is a crucial step in the scientific method.

Sometimes we make discoveries not by experimentation, but by simply being vigilant. Recently, I inadvertently left an emptied can of cat food in the garden. I had removed the can from the recycling bin and had planned to use it to catch oil drips from my rototiller when checking the level of gear oil. As it turned out, I didn't use the can and left it on the ground and promptly forgot about it. A few days later I discovered the can. Upon picking it up, I noticed that the inside of the can was inhabited by a large number of flea beetles, the bane of my radish, spinach and kale seedlings. Interestingly, the inside of the can is white and it is known that many pest insects are attracted to the colors of white and yellow. (That's why yellow sticky traps have become popular as a way to controlling such plant pests as winged aphids, fungus gnats, leaf miners and whiteflies.) As an experiment, I placed the can in a raised bed near some radish seedlings. Daily checks show that flea beetles are, indeed, taking refuge in the can. So, the next step is to coat the inside of the can with honey, Vaseline or other sticky substance to snare the little critters. It will be an experiment.

STILL MORE TASKS AWAIT

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No need to experiment with these tasks this week. Just get on with them:

- Harvest asparagus spears when they are 6 to 8 inches tall by cutting or snapping them off at ground level. With beds older than 4 years, the harvest may continue for 6 to 8 weeks. Refrain from any harvesting in newly established asparagus beds until the third year after planting and then only harvest for 2 to 4 weeks.

- Increase your crop yield by using the wide-row planting technique for beans, beets, carrots, chard, leeks, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach and turnips. To make a wide row, just prepare a smooth seed bed that is anywhere from 10 to 24 inches wide and then broadcast the seed thickly, but evenly over the area. You'll have to thin the planting once seedlings are up about one inch.

- Harden off seedlings of vegetable and flower seedlings started indoors before setting them out in gardens. Otherwise, the sudden change in climate conditions can cause damage to the seedlings. To harden off seedlings, wait until outdoor temperatures reach at least 50 degrees F and then move them out to a shady spot protected from heavy winds. Do this for an hour on the first day and then gradually increase the time outdoors by an hour each day. Also, gradually increase the amount of sunlight the seedlings receive.

- Consider installing a windbreak if your vegetable is in direct line with prevailing winds. In Berkshire County, winds usually blow in from the west, though that may vary somewhat depending on local topography. Not only is there the risk of stem breakage, but wind will increase moisture loss from plant foliage causing the leaves to turn brown, a condition commonly referred to as wind burn.Temporary windbreaks can be made from any type of slatted fence, such as snow fence. For a permanent wind break, consider planting a line of upright shrubs.

- Divide perennial chrysanthemums. Dig up the old clump and separate the small, vigorous shoots at the outer edge of the clump. Replant these shoots in a nursery bed. From there, they can be moved to flower beds in late August. Perennial chrysanthemums grow best if divided every year.

- Prune out any dead twigs on junipers when the plants are dry. Tip blights are quite common on many juniper species. Removing the blighted twigs will help keep the disease under control because those twigs represent a source of spores for further infections.

- Pull up garlic mustard plants wherever you find them. Though its name implies a desirable culinary plant, garlic mustard is an invasive weed that is choking out many native plants. The roots of garlic mustard release a chemical which inhibits the growth of adjacent plants. Garlic mustard is now in bloom and if allowed to mature, each plant can release thousands of seeds.


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