May Garden Planner

Reader Contribution by Melodie Metje

May Day is when the old timers say is the best time to plant your summer garden in the Midwest.  Prior to May 1, there is still a good chance of poor weather, chilly temps, and frost in our Zone 6 gardens.  This can be catastrophic for tomatoes, eggplants, basil and other heat lovers.

Today, we have the added advantage of the 10 day forecast!  Check out your 10 day forecast to know if it looks safe to plant those tender summer veggies.

This Year’s Vegetable Varieties

So, what are we planting this year? Of course, we planted the number one veggie in the USA-tomatoes!  This year, we are planting all bush types again because they are so compact that they do not need a cage to contain them and they produced well last year. We will use Bush Early Girl (only 54 days till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, Tumbling Tom and Lizzano.  I think I will throw in a black cherry or pear type tomato as well. Loving the black tomatoes with all their fantastic antioxidants! Typically, you can expect to have your first ripe tomatoes around the 4th of July.

We also will plant a variety of peppers-Sweet Red Banana, Jalapeño, Anaheim, Cayenne, Pimento Elite, and a variety pack of sweet bell peppers.  It will be fun to see what colors they turn out to be!

We have two eggplants-white Casper, Rosa Bianca and something new like Turkish Orange.  We will go with Green Bush zucchini and Patio Snacker cucumber, both of which can be grown in a pot.

Our rosemary did not survive the winter so I will replant with either ARP, hardy to Zone 5, or Barbeque, hardy to Zone 6 (come back year after year in our area).

I am definitely planting basil, three of the Sweet Basil and a Blue Spicy Vanilla Basil to use in household cleaners and potpourri. It is edible, too, which could be really fun in homemade ice cream or other desserts.

It was also time for another round of greens.  The first planting of arugula and spinach is bolting.  We planted Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach which will last about two weeks longer in the heat than other types of spinach.  For lettuce, we went with Jericho Romaine which has been tested to last 3 months before bolting as well as Red Sails loose leaf lettuce which tasted sweet even when bolting last year.

Preparing Spring Garden Soil

We have already fertilized and added mushroom compost at the end of March. When we plant our veggies, I’ll add biochar at the bottom of each hole, a handful of worm castings, and powdered the roots of each plant with mycorrhizal microbes.  Mycorrhizal fixes nitrogen to the roots of the plant, helping it to grow sturdier, bigger and faster.

Biochar is being rediscovered.  It was used for centuries by Amazon farmers.  Basically, it is wood charcoal.  It provides similar benefits as humus except it lasts forever and it is a great way to store carbon, to boot.  It is new in the US, but many are reporting significant improvement in growth and vegetable size.

Before you send your new transplants into the garden, insure they have been sufficiently “hardened off.”  If you started your own seeds indoors, take your plants out daily over a week or so into a partially shady spot, letting them get used to the strong sun and wind. If you purchased your transplants and they were already outdoors, they are ready to be plopped into the ground or pot and grow!

It almost seems as if you can actually see the greens and veggies growing right before your eyes this time of year.  Cool season crops are peaking, herbs are all going strong and summer veggies are quickly filling out.

For more tips on small space gardening, see Melodie’s blog