Magical earth: It’s not too late to get growing

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While many people try to get their vegetable garden planted by Memorial Day, if any of you haven’t had a chance yet, it’s still not too late.

Over the years, I have started many plants inside in March, but except for tomatoes and a few others, those started inside or direct seeded seem to produce their vegetables at the same time.

The first time I tried starting pumpkins and winter squash inside, which take a sometimes longer growing season than we have in Maine, I was shocked that both those with the head start and those seeds planted directly in the garden in late May or early June produced their fruit at the same time.

So, those of you a bit behind this year, never fear. Chances are that winter squash and pumpkins, along with nearly everything else, will be there for the picking come late August or early September.

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I think — no, I know! — that vegetables and nearly every other species of plant behave as they darn well please!

If a variety of greens are the only vegetables you desire this year, they can be planted nearly anytime from April to September, particularly now that our first frosts seem to arrive later and later.

Of course, if plants are attacked by flea beetles (tomatoes seem to be particularly susceptible to them), Japanese beetles or any of a number of other voracious insects, then they will not survive or do very poorly.

I have found that hanging Japanese beetle catchers near the garden substantially reduces the damage done by those awful insects.

I also try to use environmentally friendly pesticides when necessary. A visit to the local farmer’s union and a chat with a knowledgeable clerk will help any gardener find the right product.

Planting marigolds among the vegetables also tends to reduce the number of damaging insects. Bugs don’t like marigolds.

Along with getting the garden in for the year, now is the time to look around and see which perennials have appeared this season.

My rhubarb patch is almost ready for the cutting and making into pies or jam. Wild purple or white violets are appearing all over the lawn and make a lovely little bouquet. Meanwhile, the lilacs have almost passed for yet another year, small clusters of wild strawberries are popping up everywhere, and the domestic poppies are showing their huge heads as they gather strength to burst into bright red blossoms in a few weeks.

The dandelions dotting the lawn have bloomed, so probably it’s too late to gather their greens. However, a few fiddleheads may still be furled and OK for cutting along stream banks.

At my house, the potatoes are all planted and safely covered with hay, while more hay bales are waiting to be broken down and placed around the tomato plants. I usually surround each tomato plant with newspapers, then cover the newspapers with hay.

Those gardeners who have planted radishes or such greens as lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard have but a very few weeks to wait before those will be ready for eating. For me, there’s nothing quite as delicious as cutting greens for that first, incredibly fresh green salad of the year.

The garlic bed is doing particularly well. Both the soft-necked and hard-necked varieties are growing abundantly, promising another bumper crop in late July.

Unfortunately, in my garden, but I hope not in yours, the asparagus bed is pretty sad. We’ve had a few meals, but apparently I didn’t give it enough fertilizer, so we’ll have to make do with what we have this year, plant more asparagus roots in the autumn, and hope that future crops will be better.

Meanwhile in the perennial flower beds, the hostas are going nuts and wild violets are everywhere. The daffodils and tulips have passed for another season.

Here’s a few tips for early June:

* Get the rest of the garden in; some vegetables, such as corn, like warmer weather.

* Create a climbing fence or trellis for cucumbers and small squashes. This saves garden space and allows such vined plants to spread themselves out.

* Talk to the neighbors to learn some of their gardening tips.

* Place more hay over the potato plants as they start to bud.

* Create a “map” of where every vegetable is planted.

* Pray for just enough, but not too much, rain. When the rain comes way too often, young plants sometimes mold.

* Begin weeding early so the vegetables won’t have to compete with grass and weeds.

Happy planting!

Eileen M. Adams has been gardening for years. She may be reached at petsplants@midmaine.com

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