In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
April, 2011
Regional Report

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Each pot of tomatoes and peppers is staked or caged, or both, and watered with drip irrigation.

Vegetables, Herbs, and April

Food gardening must keep up with the times in these days of on-demand movies and instant download MP3 music files. It's fine to celebrate the existential joys of tilling the soil, but truth is, people want homegrown food -- now!

Container Veggies
Entire books and programs are devoted to making vegetable gardening easier to do, as if generations of farmers and gardeners don't know otherwise. To speed the process of growing food and to avoid many of its pitfalls, try container edibles. You'll be able to make soil anytime, instead of waiting for favorable weather to till or dig traditional vegetable and herb beds. Your own container growing mix will have fewer weeds than the native dirt, and fewer soil-borne pest organisms, such as the fungus that causes tomato blight. Seedlings are less likely to suffer cutworms or damping-off fungus in containers.

Water issues are simpler in containers: fill pots completely with water until it exits the drain holes and then fill the headspace between the top of the soil and the top of the pot. Do not allow the pots to dry out completely, but do not water again until the soil feels dry up to your first knuckle. If you like to take your morning coffee out and water in the summer, you can, but automated systems are a speedy alternative. Big black pots have another advantage that can speed vegetable growth and that is their color. Sunlight warms the pots, which can warm the soil faster and encourage root growth in heat loving vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and okra.

Beans and Clean Vegetables
From a pot of parsley to a front yard full of tomatoes, you'll eat better when you grow your own in containers or garden beds. Green, yellow, and purple beans and white, green, and speckled lima beans, both pole and bush types, can be planted now. I grow mine in a large raised bed. Sow bush beans 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart in a row. A wide, ten foot bed planted on two sides will make enough beans for a family of four. In that same space, 10 feet long and 4 feet wide, you could plant four tipis for pole beans and feed at least two more people. Bush beans tend to produce sooner, but pole beans bear longer and ultimately more.

It takes more space to grow southern peas, at least twice as much as green or lima beans to feed four, but they are well worth it. Tastes that go far beyond purple hull peas can be yours with varieties such as lady peas, crowder, pink eyes, and cream peas. Grow them like bush beans and remember that these legumes do not need additional fertilizer in most garden soils.

Vegetables planted last month can be fertilized again this month and should be if the weather has been rainy. Squash plants should be large enough now to take off any protective grow cloth or screen used to exclude insects. Inspect the plants regularly for amber beads, the eggs of squash vine borers, and remove them at once. Cucumbers, except for container varieties, will need support. String trellises work well for true vines like these with tendrils eager to grab on and large enough to need plenty of room to climb. However it's done, elevating cucumbers and tomatoes improves air circulation around the vines to reduce diseases and keeps the fruit clean.

Herb Harvests
Growing culinary herbs as different as rosemary and basil is not difficult if you know their natures. Woody rosemary needs sun, well-drained soil, and regular but not excessive water. That's the beauty of good drainage for this and other herbs. They can take the torrential rainstorms of our regions without becoming waterlogged if the soil can shed it quickly. Basil can be considered the opposite of long-lived perennial rosemary in the herb world, an annual green plant that grows quickly for fresh harvest in a matter of weeks. Yet its needs are essentially the same. Many prefer to grow thyme, sage, and other herbs in pots to be sure their drainage needs are met and allow the herbs to be sheltered in very rainy weather to preserve their flavors. Herbs of all kinds are best harvested when they are slightly on the dry side, while their essential oils remain concentrated in the stems and leaves. Water the herbs the day before you want to pick them, and harvest late in the day while the sun is high to get the most out of them.


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