Is there still time to get plants in the ground?

As May turns into June, we have the opportunity to start plants that may hesitate in lukewarm temperatures but are so quick to surge ahead on hot days that we don’t doubt crops will result.

Zucchinis are like this. In the open garden, seed emerges fastest on hills of soil. The bush zucchinis grow nicely there as well as in large containers where slug protection is easier with copper mesh or tape than in the open garden. Also in pots, it’s easier to move zucchinis into a warm sunny spot. If you keep picking, production goes on till frost.

It’s time now to plant snap beans like the popular ‘Blue Lake’ type or ‘Gold Rush’ or both green and yellow types for colourful salads. The purple-pod ones like ‘Royal Burgundy’ are pretty when growing but the pods turn green when cooked.

If you haven’t started potatoes yet, now is the time if you still hope to get a crop before blight hits. If it does, it’s best to remove the infested top growth immediately. Then, if you need to leave the potatoes in the ground a little longer, you can. Minus the infected tops, many tubers won’t be blighty.

The other pesky potato problem is green tubers. These should not be eaten because green skin indicates presence of a toxin. This can be prevented if you mulch potato plants with two to three inches (five to seven centimetres) of soil when the plants are half-grown. It’s tempting to substitute grass mulch but this dries and shrinks, leaving gaps which expose the shallow tubers.

It’s too late to start pepper seed, but transplants are a perfect choice for containers that can be placed out in the sunshine. Hot peppers, especially the Jalapeno type, are resilient to adversity and enormously productive. But all pepper plants are pretty as well as useful, especially when fruits slowly ripen and go through various colours.

Tomato transplants are another superb choice for containers against a sunny south or west wall – and especially under a roof overhang where tomato blight can be kept a bay. In a pot, tomatoes need rich soil and lots of water.

In buying transplants it’s important to check whether they’re intermediate or determinate kinds.

Determinate ones have one stem and produce tomatoes tidily on the flower cluster at the top.

Intermediates produce suckers between the main stem and the leaf nodes. It’s important to remove all suckers except the first two or three. These are the only ones with a reasonable chance of producing ripe tomatoes. Otherwise suckers produce their own suckers and intermediates become huge, tangled bushes.

Cucumbers can be sown or transplanted around mid-June. They need sun, warmth, lime, compost or all-purpose organic fertilizer, and may need protection if nights get cold. Lots of water helps prevent bitterness.

Many leafy vegetables have problems in hot weather, but New Zealand spinach loves heat, and can grow well in sun or partial shade. Slugs and other pests don’t bother it. It’s a low-grower, tasty and sweet. The stems spread into leafy mats and need frequent picking because if it gets a chance to make seed, this plant gives up. Germination rates tend to be low but once it starts, growth is rapid.

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