The Garden Patch: Grow the ingredients for salad and dessert

Hello! Fellow gardeners and wannabes! We’re on a roll right now so let’s continue with lettuce from the garden and for the table! Here we go …

The best tasting salads start with fresh lettuce right from the garden! It’s easy to grow and a great way to start your garden in the spring.

Sun and Soil. Average garden soil is fine for lettuce, but sandy loam is ideal. Lettuce grows well in full sun in cool conditions, but in hot weather, it does better in partial shade. Choose a site that receives about 4 hours of direct sun daily. In summer heat, plant lettuce between or under larger plants to shade it from strong sun.

Planting. Two weeks before the last expected spring frost, sow seeds directly into the garden or plant transplants. You can also sow lettuce in late summer.

Growing. Lettuce needs about 1 inch of water each week to thrive and will wilt very quickly if it dries out. Water it with compost tea or fish emulsion once a week until it’s 4 inches tall.

Problem Solving. Powdery mildew gives plants a white, powdery coating. If your plants have yellow or light green spots on them, you most likely have downy mildew. In either case, pick off infected plant parts and remove them from the garden. Switch to drip irrigation or use a handheld hose. Apply copper as a last resort to prevent the disease from ruining a crop.

052514-garden-excericiseThe notorious cutworm may strike, cutting off your little seedlings at the soil line. When you plant lettuce again, make collars from paper towel tubes or plastic food containers with the ends cut out, and place one in the ground at the base of each plant. If your plants are yellow and stunted or wilt during the day and recover at night, they’re probably suffering from wireworms. You can apply steinernema nematodes to combat both types of worms.

Harvesting. Pick individual leaves when they reach your preferred size. Lettuce grows from the middle, so pick from the bottom of the plant to deep it growing. Head lettuce is ready as soon as heads are full and feel solid.

OK! Now, let’s move on to dessert (we’ve had our salad) and enjoy the final part of our meal! Let’s eat melons

Melons need heat to be sweet, and some need as much as 3 months of warm weather to reach maturity.

Sun and Soil. Plant melons in full sun in the warmest part of your garden. Melons do best in loose, rich soil. If your soil isn’t rich in organic matter, spread 2 to 4 inches of compost and work it in to the top foot of soil. Melons are deep rooted and that is important to survive summer heat. Work in up to 6 inches of compost if possible.

Planting. Melons need 75 to 100 days of warm weather from seeding to harvest. Check maturity dates before you buy seeds. Direct seed or set out transplants after the danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.

Growing. Cover seeded rows or seedlings with row cover and seal the edges to keep out insect pests. As the plant grows, train the vines on a sturdy trellis. When melons start to form, place each one on a large metal can, on a rock, or atop two side by side bricks to keep them clean, discourage rot, and encourage faster ripening. Maintain steady soil moisture until 2 weeks before you expect to harvest your melons and then stop watering. The reduction in water supply will boost sugar content. Pinch off shoots and prune baby melons so each vine has no more than six melons (2 or 3 for large watermelons).

Problem Solving. Squash vine borer injury or bacterial wilt can cause vines to wilt suddenly. Check the base of the plant for borer holes with yellowish debris around them. If the problem is borers, you may be able to revive the vine. If you don’t see evidence of borers and you see thick ooze when you cut through a stem, the problem is bacterial wilt or Fusarium wilt. Uproot and compost the diseased vines. Cucumber beetles spread bacterial wilt as they feed.

Harvesting. Ripe muskmelons give off a strong fragrance and will slip off the vine with a very light touch. Honeydew and Crenshaw melons become white or yellow, and the blossom end will be a little soft. To determine if a watermelon is ripe, check the spot where it touches the ground; it should change from white to yellow. Also, the tendril closest to the fruit will turn dark.

That’s it for this time folks! Stay tuned, we’ll be talking about onions, peppers, potatoes, squash and tomatoes in upcoming editions! Before long, it’ll be time to put all this info to good use! C’mon spring! Thanks for reading … Till next time!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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