Welcome back to our “Year in the Organic Garden Series!” In April, our cool season garden hit its stride, we covered the basics on fertilization and started our warm season seedlings indoors. If you missed the post, or want to refresh your memory, please take a look at April in the Organic Garden.
May is a month of transition. Our cool season crops will soon be slowing down &/or going to seed as the weather warms. When they’re done, simply pull them and add them to the compost heap so that they can help to nourish next year’s garden.
Now is when we turn our attention to the bigger fruiting edibles and summer flowers! While the crops we’re working with are different, the techniques for sowing and growing that we used earlier in the season are the same. It’s a great chance to build upon our successes and refine our skills. On with the Show!
Plant your Warm Season Starts into the Ground
Now is the right time to plant your tomato, eggplant, pepper and other warm season starts outdoors. Just like with your cool season crops, they will need to be hardened off before being planted.
To harden off your warm season crops:
- Over a ~10 day period gradually expose your starts to outdoor conditions
- Wind, sun and rain are the elements that we’re working to get your seedlings conditioned to
- Be sure to keep your starts properly watered as warm weather can quickly dry out soil in small pots
- It’s a good idea to keep your starts off the ground too so that squirrels and rabbits don’t get too curious
- Start with an hour or two on day one and build up time until they are able to spend a full 24 hours outside and still look great
- As always, if unusually harsh weather is predicted during your hardening off period, it’s best to extend your timeline until better conditions are predicted
If your starts were purchased at a garden center, this process can be skipped as they should be ready to go!
For all starts:
- Plant level to your soil or just minimally above so that water doesn’t pool and rot roots
- Go ahead and add a balanced organic fertilizer
- Water your plants in to help them transition to their new home
- Pinch off leaves and shoots on bottom ⅔ of the stem…they will become roots when planted
- Plant deep…leave only the top ⅓ of the plant above soil
- Make sure that your fertilizer has Calcium or supplement with organic bone meal to minimize blossom end rot when the plant fruits
- Wait until nighttime temperatures are anticipated to stay 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to plant and avoid stunted growth
- It’s a good idea to go ahead and place a tomato cage or other support mechanism next to the plant as they grow very quickly!
- No need to pinch off leaves or plant deep
- Like tomatoes, blossom end rot can impact peppers. You’ll need a Calcium source here too either as a supplement to your balanced fertilizer or within it depending upon which you use
- Water in to make sure the roots contact soil well
- If you can, and we know this is hard, your plants will do better if you wait until nighttime temperatures are 60 degrees or more!
- A support stake is a good idea too…sometimes not necessary, but a windy day or a hard rain and a tender pepper start don’t always make the best combination. Better safe than sorry!
- If you have squash, cucumber, melon, zucchini, basil or other warm season starts, now is their time too.
- Be sure to follow good spacing guidelines and prepare trellises for climbing crops. Fewer, properly spaced plants will yield more than crowded ones and be healthier along the way!
- Fertilize and water here too!
Planting from Seed
Many organic gardeners prefer to start much of their warm season garden from seed. Popular directly sown crops include: squash, cucumber, melon, zucchini, beans and more. Simply follow the instructions on the seed package and be sure to leave sufficient space for the mature plant to thrive. Like we did earlier in the season, we recommend planting more seeds than you want to ultimately let mature. Simply thin the weaker seedlings to leave the strongest to survive.
Time for Flowers Too!
In May, we’re well past any threat of frost and the full array of summer flowers is available. These can either be transplanted into the garden or started from seed as well. The list of potential summer flowers is long! Some favorites to consider include: Marigolds, Morning Glories, Ornamental Peppers, Poppies, Black-Eyed Susans, Daisies, Snapdragons, Sunflowers and Zinnias. Try a combination of your favorites and some experiments to keep your gardens looking great and to supply a steady stream of cut flowers for the home!
A Word on Watering
As the weather warms, you’ll need to stay on top of watering your garden. As a general rule, most plants will require ~1 inch of water per week. If you planted fruit trees or other perennials this year, they will likely require more to become established. We recommend a rain gauge to know what nature itself is providing. When that’s not enough, remember to water at the base of the plant rather than the plant itself to minimize disease spread. Also, infrequent, slow, deep watering is preferred to a little bit each day. This way your plants will develop stronger, deeper roots than if they get all the moisture they need at the surface.
Also, consider mulching your garden to help retain moisture, keep the soil cooler for the coming summer and to minimize weeds.
A Word on Pests
By May, insects and other pests are active as well. Some are friends to your garden (pollinators) and others are foes! Attracting beneficial insects while minimizing threats is always a delicate balance.
- Flowering crops can be grown under an insect row cover until blooms appear, minimizing the time available for pests to find them while providing access to pollinators when needed
- Berries (eg. blueberries, strawberries) should be covered with bird netting prior to ripening
- Borage, marigolds and other flowers can be interplanted with your edibles to attract pollinators to the area
Looking Forward to June!
In June, we can expect to harvest strawberries and blueberries. It’s also a chance to plant a second wave of warm season crops while the first wave is maturing. We’ll be back to cover our suggestions and highlights in a month.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this guide. We welcome your comments and questions. Happy organic gardening!