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In the Summer Garden

Keeping up, veggie by veggie

This has been a great year for asparagus. Spears are popping out of the ground daily, growing four to six inches in one day. I find it best to cut the asparagus just below the soil line and harvest spears that are at least six inches above ground. This allows you to snap the bottom of the stem, which guarantees they will be free of woody tissues. Keep asparagus beds free of weeds by hoeing weekly. To avoid promoting additional weed growth, scrape away the weeds with minimal disturbance of the soil.
    If your asparagus bed has been growing for three years or more, it is safe to harvest spears until early July.
    Within days after the last harvest, top dress the bed with either organic or chemical fertilizer, and cultivate the fertilizer into the soil to minimize the loss of nitrogen into the atmosphere. Soil incorporation of fertilizers is the only effective way of minimizing de-nitrification. To minimize weeding, mulch the asparagus bed with a layer of shredded paper about four inches thick.
    Soon broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi will be ready to harvest. A good replacement crop to occupy this vacant space is okra. For a jumpstart on okra, sow individual seeds in two- or three-inch pots filled with potting soil. Place one seed per pot because okra seeds germinate 100 percent within 10 days. As soon as the seeds germinate, place the pots in full sun outdoors and water as needed. In three to four weeks, the plants will be ready to transplant 18 inches apart in the garden. Okra plants grow best when the weather gets hot. Plants started in a protected area will quickly establish themselves in the garden.
    If you planted garlic in the fall, be on the lookout for firm round stems growing from the middle of the whorl of leaves. These round stems are an indication that the plants are going to flower. As soon as you see swelling near the end of the round stem, cut just below the swollen area to remove the premature flower head. Allowing garlic to flower and produce seeds will result in smaller garlic bulbs and cloves.
    As soon as the foliage of garlic plants starts to wilt and turns brownish-green, it is ready to harvest. Soft-neck garlic can be braided at this time. Hard-neck garlic cannot be braided and is best stored by tying in loose bunches before hanging in a shaded and well-ventilated area.
    If you use stakes or cages to support your tomato plants, treat the cages and stakes with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.
    Watch the bottom leaves on your tomato plants. When they start to turn yellow-green, it is time to side-dress the plants with additional nitrogen. If you are an organic gardener, your best source of nitrogen is blood meal. If you are a traditional gardener, use calcium nitrate. Either way, apply one-fourth cup fertilizer per plant and cultivate into the soil.
    As soon as cucumbers, melons and squash start to produce vines, they should be given additional nitrogen if they are to yield their best crop. Vine crops also benefit from additional nitrogen when they are extending their vines and producing fruit at the same time.


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