If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
Josh Billings (1818-1885)
A new year and time to start thinking about and planning for the garden. The seed catalogues are filling mail boxes. Oh how pretty the pictures of the plants look. Just perfect in every way. Truth be known, not everyone has picture perfect results from their garden. Not all soil nor gardeners are created equal!
Corn: The number of sweet corn varieties that will do well in the South have increased significantly in the last few years. Historically, the primary area for growing corn is in the Midwest and Northeast, and sweet corn genetics have tended to emphasize varieties that will do well in those areas. Unfortunately, many of these varieties do not like southern growing conditions and will do very poorly in the South. Plants are sometimes stunted, and, more importantly, ear size is much smaller. Some that are adapted to southern conditions are: Kandy Korn, Bodacious, Silver Queen, and G90.
Southern Peas: Nutritionally, Southern peas are a good source of protein and one of the best sources of dietary fiber available. They are very high in folates, a form of B vitamin that in important in the prevention of anemia, cancer, and birth defects. Southern peas love heat and should not be planted until all danger of frost has passed. Good choices are: Crowder peas, Purple Hull, Cream peas, and Black-eyed peas.
Beets: Beets are high in soluble fiber, vitamins A and C, and have more iron than spinach. A real “Super Vegetable,” beets are high in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, niacin, folic acid, and cancer preventing antioxidants. Beets grow best in cool weather. Sow seeds as early as soil can be worked in spring, or 8-12 weeks before frost for a fall crop. Beets do not like to dry out. To keep them tender, water regularly and/or mulch to retain moisture. Detroit Red is a good choice.
Green Beans: Though not always green, these long and slender beans are an American garden staple. High in vitamins and packed with dietary fiber, cancer preventing antioxidants, and omega3 fatty acids. Green beans don’t get the publicity they should. Hardly ever on a list of trendy super foods, they are one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. Plus, one cup of green beans contains only 44 calories.
An often overlooked way to grow green beans is to plant abut 75 days before the first frost in the fall. Many insects begin to hibernate as the days shorten, so there is less insect pressure. Also, it is great to pick fresh beans after the hottest days of summer have passed. Contenders Blue Lake, Top Crop Bush Beans, and Roma Bush Beans are good choices.
Okra: With no serious disease or insect problems, okra thrives in hot weather and can grow in just about any soil. Most varieties should be picked when pods are not more than 4″ long-over 4″ and most okra (including widely grown Clemson Spineless) become tough and stringy. Whether boiled, fried, or used in stews, casseroles, and gumbo (gumbo just isn’t gumbo without okra), this veggie is loaded with cancer fighting flavonoids. Freeze seed or soak in warm water to break the hard seed coat and improve germination before planting.
Carrots: Not only are carrots high in vitamin A, they are also high in beneficial carotenes and lycopenes. Today’s hybrid carrots contain 75% more beta carotene than those available just 35 years ago. Plus, the new hybrids are also the best choice if you are looking for sweet crisp flavors, straight, long roots, and improved disease resistance. Many of the older open pollinated carrots are high in terpenoids which can give them a bitter chemical-like flavor. Tender Sweet and Danvers Half Long are good choices.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes love heat and don’t really get going until temperatures regularly reach the 80s. Many gardeners plant tomato seed directly into their garden soil. Most tomato seeds germinate like weeds. Try this, it’s a lot less work and cost.
Summer and fall plantings are best made using varieties that are bred to tolerate high heat, set temperatures, and still set fruit. For most varieties of tomatoes, when temperatures are too high (over 95 degree daytime highs or above 77 degree night time lows) tomatoes will not set fruit.
Blight and other diseases can be devastating for tomatoes. A wonderful advantage of fall is disease pressure is normally lower.
Heirloom tomato varieties are experiencing a surge in popularity. Varieties like Beefsteak, Brandy-wine, and Cherokee Purple, are renowned and can be fun to grow, but beware of counting on them for a main crop. Most heirloom varieties are susceptible to multiple diseases and don’t do very well. Try with caution.
Marigolds are a natural pest deterrent and make a pretty companion plant for tomatoes.