Whats Growing – Spring 2020

It has been a long cold spring here in the Mid-Atlantic, both literally and metaphorically (thanks to SARS-CoV-2), and my garden is off to a slow start. That being said, I thought now may be a good time to check in and tell you what I have growing, how long they’ve been growing and what kind of progress they’ve made.

Let’s start with with warm weather crops that were started inside.

Peppers: We have 10 varieties of peppers that were started from seed on February 1st, their intended transplant date being May 1st. They are on schedule but given the consistently cool temperatures and high winds, I will most likely push their transplant date back two weeks. Our pepper varieties this year include:

  1. Buena Mulata – 100,000 SHU
  2. Aji Pineapple – 30,000 SHU
  3. Fish Pepper – 30,000 SHU
  4. Thai Chili – 100,000 SHU
  5. Pueblo Chili – 20,000 SHU
  6. Chile de Arbol – 30,000 SHU
  7. Brazilian Starfish – 50,000 SHU
  8. Hot Cherry – 5,000 SHU
  9. Golden California Wonder – sweet bell (yellow)
  10. Keystone Resistant Giant – sweet bell (red)
    ** I will have seeds for all of the varieties listed above available for swapping this fall, if interested in a 1:1 swap feel free to comment below or reach out via the contact link at the top of the page.

Tomatoes: Many tomato varieties experience reduced productivity when temperatures are consistently over 90F. After consulting a colleague of mine, I decided to wait to start my tomatoes in hopes that they would be growing, rather than producing, during July and August. This would get them through the hottest part of our season before they would transition into fruit production mode, thus avoiding the limitation mentioned above. I also plan to plant them in an area that gets evening shade. In previous years, I would have started them inside at the same time as my peppers but based on my colleague’s late planting theory, this year they were started March 17th. At the end of the season I’ll provide an update on the success (or lack thereof) of this delayed method. Here are the cultivars I decided to try – Defiant F1, Gold Medal (heirloom) & Blueberries cherry tomatoes (heirloom).

Black Beauty Eggplant: Started inside on February 1st, my solo eggplant seedling will be transplanted outside June 1st in a part of the yard that gets evening shade. Much like most tomato cultivars, I have found that my eggplants struggle in the dog days of summer so by giving them some shade in the evening I am hoping to see better productivity through our hottest months.

Nastrutium: I received some Jewel Mix nastrutium seeds in a swap last fall and decided to use them for containers this year. They germinated within 4 days of planting and got too big for their space quickly so I transplanted them to their final destinations just two weeks after they sprouted. They transitioned quite easily and have been tolerant of our cool temperatures, coming inside when overnight lows fall below 40F.

Now for the cold weather crops that seem to be tolerant but not necessarily happy.

Onions: I attempted to start onions from seed inside and failed miserably (I guess now you know what my mission is for next year…) so I ordered onion plants from Johnny’s and planted them out on March 14th. I decided to go with the Red marble cipollini heirloom and Patterson F1 yellow onions; the Pattersons are said to have outstanding storage qualities. Both varieties have ample amounts of new green growth, though the exposed group (both varieties) sown in my plot at the community garden seems to have struggled more than the well protected group planted in a grow bag at home.

Carrots: I have four varieties of carrots, all sown on March 14th and all of them had respectable germination rates after roughly two weeks. At this point they have been thinned, via clipping, and have at least one set of true leaves. I planted the following varieties:

  1. Black Nebula
  2. Touchon
  3. Envy Hybrid
  4. Yellow (mystery variety received in a swap)

All-American Parsnips: This is my first time growing parsnips and I’m oddly excited about this not uncommon root vegetable. These also went in on March 14th and germination rates were around 75%. I didn’t put much thought into this and sowed these in a raised bed. Oops…I hope ten inches is deep enough. [fingers crossed]

Purple top turnips: Of all the things I have growing outside the turnips are hands down leading the charge. They went in the soil around March 1st and came up as the tiniest little seedlings, but their foliage is now lush and their roots are starting to fill out with that distinct purple and white coloration. I’m beginning to think that turnips deserve a spot on the “Failproof Veggies” list. Thoughts?

Lettuce: Little Gem, Butterhead and Bronze Mignonette. I obviously started too early with these this year. I planted the Little Gem (a variety said to be a cross between leaf and Romaine) first, around March 1st, and then waited two weeks before sowing the Butterhead and another two weeks before planting the Bronze Mignonette. The first two all came up at the same time and if I’m being honest, all three are roughly the same size now. My succession planting efforts were a bust. Failures are important too, right!?

Potatoes: These babies are how I know it’s too cold. I have NEVER, in all my years, had issues with potatoes getting started but when I checked on mine yesterday they had obviously started to germinate and then our recent frosts (multiples in the last seven days) did some significant damage to the exposed leaves. I put my potatoes in the ground March 26th, a full 10 days later than normal, after about 20 days of chitting. In a typical spring with a mix of warm and cool days and only the occasional cold snap (because we always get a couple) I would expect to have little green mounds of healthy leaves above ground at this point. Hopefully May will bring warmer weather!

Dragon’s Tongue bush beans: This is the first of two varieties of beans that I’ll be growing this year, both were received in swaps last fall. These beans are known for their unique coloring, yellow with pink/purple striations. They were started inside to avoid our unusually late frosts and transplanted out one week later when the coast was clear. I planted the entire paper cup, shown here, to avoid disrupting their root system. Legumes don’t fare well when their roots are exposed, their growth becomes stunted, which is why I typically sow them directly. However, if the appropriate precautions are taken (plantable pots) they can make the transition seamlessly, which allows for earlier start times…and I’m obviously impatient.

Marketmore & Muncher cucumbers: Marketmore cucumbers were cultivated for high disease resistance and they are heirlooms (not hybrids) so I was thrilled to receive some seeds from a fellow gardener early this year. I sowed three of these seeds and had 100% germination. My Muncher variety, on the other hand, only yielded one of three. I was hoping for two of each but will settle for 3:1, no need to sow more seeds. The seedlings were transplanted out today after just one week and some light hardening-off. They are both vining varieties so they were planted with some cotton trellis netting for climbing. I will provide updates on the Marketmores later this season.

What is left to plant? Here is my warm weather line-up:

  • May 1st: Ronde De Nice squash & start melons inside
  • May 15th: transplant peppers & melons and direct sow Glass Gem (pop)corn & sunflowers
  • June 1st: transplant eggplant and direct sow Lisa Sisco’s Bird Egg beans
  • July 1st: plant pumpkins, transplant tomatoes and direct sow dwarf blue sweetcorn
  • Labor Day Weekend: fall veggie planting — stay tuned!

I did not touch on all of the herbs that I started inside because most herbs can be started at any time but I do have a list here, if you’re curious…

  1. Genovese basil
  2. Cinnamon basil
  3. Greek oregano
  4. Thyme
  5. Sage
  6. Bouquet dill
  7. Lemongrass
  8. Rosemary
  9. Mint
  10. Lemon balm
  11. Chives

I always laugh when a friend or family member tells me I’m “good at gardening” (usually because I claim it’s easy when telling them they should give it a try) because my first instinct is to reflect on all of the failures I’ve already experienced at that point in the season. A LOT. Then again, I suppose that is part of the appeal…each year, regardless of how experienced a gardener may become, will present its own set of challenges. Without fail. But despite the frustration, Mother Nature keeps us hooked by blessing us with the unparalleled sense of accomplishment that we feel when we have reaped the fruits of our labor. No matter how small the harvest, it’s yours. You did it. Enjoy it. Cheers, friends!

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