Let's kick it up a notch


Last updated 4/26/2007 at Noon

Corn, potatoes and our first melons – it’s time to introduce them to our gardens this year. It’s still a little cool and early for peppers and eggplants, so we will catch up to them next time.

Since there is still plenty of spring left, continue planting lettuce, Asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, onion, leeks, beets, carrots, Frisee endive, herbs, cilantro, parsley and more. Plant a little tighter (a few inches closer together) because things will grow faster now and crowd each other.

Now, if you have room, planting some corn is a must. Nothing tastes as delightful as fresh-picked corn. Corn is probably one of the oldest plants cultivated by humanity. It goes back thousands of years.

Variety is critical in corn. Look for the varieties that are “shrunken gene” (SH), as they will hang on the plant longer and, once harvested, keep sugars from turning to starch for days. The new hybrids have special flavors and sugars and are delightful. I prefer bi-color (both white and yellow) on each cob.

This time of year, corn plants do better than seed. All the nurseries are carrying them now. Later, the plantings should be direct-seeded, as the corn does better.

Don’t feed early corn too heavily yet; it forces growth when it is still cool and could leave you open to frost damage. Normally we want really rich, fertile soil for corn from day one. Plant the plant or seed in a six-inch-deep furrow. As the plants mature and grow, fill in the furrow and pack the soil next to the plant’s stalk. This helps to support the stalk and bury weeds to control them. Side dress the plants in the furrow each time you cultivate to keep the feeding program strong.

Plant corn every two to three weeks to keep steady supplies coming. Each plant can have two ears of corn. Plant corn 14 inches apart in rows two feet apart. Plant in the north side of the garden so as not to shade other sun-loving plants. Lots of spring crops – lettuce and fresh green cilantro, for instance – do great in the shade of corn during the heat of summer. The local farm supply companies carry lightweight row covers or bird netting to protect young corn from frost or being eaten.

If you have never grown potatoes, the thrill is in the harvesting and, ultimately, the eating. We grow them similarly to corn in a six-inch-deep furrow. Drop a potato (or potato eye) into the bottom of the furrow. Cover lightly. As the plant grows, keep mounding soil around it until it has grown above the top of all ground levels. Then, side dress with more phosphorus fertilizer and water well.

After the plants flower, scratch the ground away a little near the roots to look for young potatoes. When you see something that looks close to golf ball size or larger, they are ready to harvest.

There is an amazing variety of potatoes: large russet, red, yellow, purple and small fingerlings of all shapes and colors. The early spring potato is a real treat.

Just a quick word about Musk Melons (I will get into them in depth next week): Ambrosia and Haogen are two of the most flavorful I know of. Plant six seeds of each variety in a different hole four feet apart. When they germinate, thin to one plant. If the cool spring weather continues, cover them in a tunnel with a plastic row cover (any type) for a couple more weeks to move them forward.

Until next week, enjoy the spirit of the garden.


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