Gardening On Delmarva - Early Summer 2014

by Scott Duncan

By the end of June, it appears this growing season could turn out to be a banner year for most Delmarva gardeners after all. For a while there, through much of the spring, cold, wet weather made outside work and planting almost impossible.

Since then, however, the cool days and nights (with only a few exceptions) made for ideal conditions for early crops like peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, lettuce, potatoes and spinach (photo). As a bonus, I noticed there were far fewer biting bugs than usual this time of year as well.

Of course, there are always challenges, too. I've had a lot of trouble learning how to grow carrots in my garden over the years and this year was no exception. My first corn crop had only spotty germination. And all the tomatoes and melons I planted indoors turned a sickly yellow and eventually died. Perhaps I wasn't careful enough about cleaning the plastic planting trays from last year. But otherwise the early results have been wonderful with fresh peas (photo), asparagus, Red Norland potatoes and beets harvested fresh from the garden.

The other good news is that I finally cleaned out the garden shed ( 3 photos) and my bees are also doing well.

I made a special effort this year to prevent Colorado Potato Beetle damage by covering the potato plants with a floating row cover (photo). This extremely light, gauzy fabric keeps insects out, yet allows rain and sunshine in so the plants grow normally. I discovered a few beetles that managed to find a way inside but the damage was very light and the potato plants look very healthy (photo). Later I'm going to try this method on my squash plants, too, to see if the covers will foil the dreaded squash bug which in the past has severely curtailed the squash harvest.

Another new initiative this year is to find out what some other Delmarva gardeners do in their gardens. I figure this will increase my knowledge while I pass along some of their best ideas and gardening wisdom to Delmarva Almanac readers.
Three people have volunteered to help out: Joel Simpson from the Virginia eastern shore, south of Chincoteague, Sue Bromm from Mardela Springs, MD and Michael Richards near Camden, DE.

Their gardening areas range from very large to small plots, their experience from pretty new to many, many years, and growing conditions from almost perfect to challenging. I visited each of them in early May and plan to make repeat visits in July and September to include their experiences in addition to my own in future episodes of this blog.

Joel has been gardening since he was a kid and has been at his present location for 10 years. He has two plots, each about 2,500 s.f. , but the challenge for him is a lot of shade trees bordering his garden area. A large part of one area is devoted to winter wheat (photo) which Joel harvests to make his own bread. In the remaining area he has white Hayman potatoes, pole limas, bush string beans, tomatoes, black-eyed peas and cucumbers.

He's a dedicated seed saver - this spring he used bean seeds from his 2009-10 crop, and also gets seeds from seed exchanges. He cans or freezes much of his harvest. An engineer, Joel has fashioned both a plow and a disc attachment for his lawn tractor (photos) to speed soil cultivation.

Sue is the newest gardener, having only recently moved into a house with some space for gardening. She trucked in loads of topsoil to cover what was basically a suburban backyard, mixing in lots of compost and mulch to get the soil ready for planting. The unique thing about her gardening area is that a large part of it was formerly a swimming pool which she filled in to create space to grow a lot of different vegetables. (photo) Sue has an ambitious list of vegetables she wants to cultivate and also intends to raise apples, pears, peaches and grapes.

Michael has the largest planting area of all of us, carved out from two former fruit farms operated back in the day by his grandfathers in the Camden area. After adding steer manure brought from a neighbor's farm, he hires someone to till the soil every year and then plants a large variety of vegetables, fruits, berries and flowers. He admits it's a lot of work to keep such a large garden going and has recently brought in someone to help him one day a week.

Michael started his corn plants in mid-April, with plans to continue another batch every 10 days for a total of seven plantings. He also showed me a storage pit where he preserves turnips over the winter, covered by a deep layer of pine straw (photo). Another prominent feature of his garden is a very large bed dedicated to lima beans, (photo) supported by sturdy tree trunks and old telephone poles.

I've very much enjoyed meeting each of these gardeners and look forward to providing regular updates of their experiences this summer to readers of Gardening On Delmarva.