I started this report on June 18, a few days before the beginning of summer after an unusually hot and dry spring, given temperatures during May and June running well above average, as if it were July, and rainfall well below average. Today, for example, it has been in the mid to upper 90s, and similar temperatures are predicted for the next few days—not particularly hospitable to spring vegetables. But given the very mild winter and early spring, I was able to seed radishes and spinach outside in mid March, resulting in a long and productive crop of both. I harvested the last of the radishes in late May, and they were delightfully crisp, moist, and mild throughout the harvest period, thanks to the special qualities of the variety that I grow—German Giant, widely available, which remains mild despite increasing size and age. Last week, I also harvested the last of my spinach, a flat-leafed variety, Corvair (available from Johnny’s) that was starting to go to seed. Throughout the harvest, it has been abundant and tasty, especially good for cooking.
At the same time that I seeded radishes and spinach outside, I started seedlings inside of my other spring vegetables—arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, napa cabbage, radicchio, and romaine—which I transplanted outside from mid to late April. The arugula, earliest of the greens, which I’ve been harvesting continuously since early May, is a new variety, Apollo, available from Seed Savers in Decorah, and it’s delightfully long-lasting without turning bitter, as well as being distinguished by its uncommonly large leaves. The romaine, Little Gem, whose small heads came to maturity in early to mid June, was so moist and tasty that I served the heads sliced in half with a light lemon vinaigrette. The radicchio, Chiogga (available from Johnny’s), is always later to mature and is just now beginning to firm up. Also just beginning to head up is the cauliflower, White Bishop and Snow Crown (both available from Johnny’s). But the broccoli produced beautifully firm green heads during the first two weeks of June and is now beginning to produce good side-shoots, as is typical of the varieties that I grow, Blue Wind (available from Jung) and Packman (available from Johnny’s). And just this week I harvested the first firm head of napa cabbage, Minuet (available from Johnny’s), which I use for fresh salads with a tangy vinaigrette of lime juice, rice vinegar, tamari sauce, grated fresh ginger, and vegetable oil. All these cool-weather vegetables thrived despite the hot/droughty weather, because I mulched them early on with a few inches of straw, which I’ve never done before, and watered more frequently than usual.
As for the summer vegetables, I started seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants indoors in late March, then transplanted the tomatoes during the third week of May, the peppers and eggplants during the first week of June. During mid May, I seeded swiss chard outside (rhubarb color, widely available) and had a first picking of it last week. During late May, I seeded bush green beans outside (Jade, widely available). The tomatoes have been setting fruit the last ten days or so, the peppers are just beginning to blossom, and the eggplants have not yet begun to form blossoms. I’m growing several varieties of tomatoes and peppers and will report on them and their fruition (as well as my growing techniques) in my next post. Until then, I would strongly recommend the use of a straw mulch and weekly watering for anyone vegetable gardening in the midst of the current heat wave and drought.