It’s Time to Plant Summer Starts! (Plus a plant-approved playlist)

It’s official, this is the year of the home garden!  With so many people spending time at home and regular supply chains being interrupted, if you are growing a garden for the first time this year, you are not alone.  Seasoned growers are expanding plots and new gardens are popping up nationwide.

If you are part of the Sierra Gardens Program, you’ll be receiving your summer starts from Edy this coming week.  While it almost seems late to be getting them, we promise it’s not!  The last few weeks have been so warm that many people have already planted their frost sensitive summer crops, but spring is a finicky season!  Many people wait until Mother’s Day to plant heat loving plants and this timing is just fine. 

One of my favorite things to observe are the phenological signs in our environment that give subtle clues about planting.   Phenology is defined as, “the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.”  Worried about if your timing is right?  Check in with the blackberries! If your blackberries are blooming, the risk of frost has passed.  

Now that you’ve added being an amateur phenologist to your pandemic life skills, you’re ready to plant!  The following is a list of varieties that Sierra Gardens participants will be receiving.  All plants come in different varietals and these types were chosen because they grow well in our climate, have consistent yields and disease resistance, and produce yummy food!

We will talk deeper about watering/irrigation in another post- but the thing to know when you are planting out transplants is to keep them moist.  They are just babies that are establishing their roots and growing, so you want to make that as easy for them as possible.  Later in the season when plants are mature, you can ease up- but when you get your starts in the ground, make sure you have a plan to keep them watered!  Will you hand water?  Use a sprinkler?  Or drip irrigation?  Better to think about that now!

Sierra Gardens Summer Varieties and Growing Requirements:

Peppers (Sweet):  Lunchbox (Little multicolored crunchers), Carmen (Long red roaster), Corno di Toro (“Horn of the Bull” stuffing/frying pepper)

  • Growing Requirements: Peppers grow into little bushes that sometimes need some trellising/stakes around them to help them stand.  It’s nice to grow them fairly close so that their leaves make a shady canopy to prevent sunburn of the fruits (and the plants can support each other a bit).  Aim for 12-18″ spacing between plants.  Consider playing Opera or Flamenco music as you plant, as sweet peppers enjoy this sort of thing.

Peppers (Hot): Jalapeno (Moderately spicy, eat red or green), Padron (Small fryers, one in 10 is spicy! Unless they grow big and then they are definitely spicy! Classic Spanish tapa) , Ancho Poblano (Chile Rellenos anyone?  Delicious mildly spicy dark green stuffing pepper)

  • Growing Requirements: Pretty much the same as sweet peppers, but consider changing up the music to something more lively like the Buena Vista Social Club or Manu Chao.

Tomatoes (Heirlooms/slicers):  Striped German (Fabulous red/yellow heirloom slicer), Black Krim (Gorgeous maroon heirloom slicer), Cherokee Purple (Beautiful dusky pink/purply heirloom), Stupice (Early red slicer, heavy producer), New Girl (Early red slicer, excellent flavor and vigor)

  • Growing Requirements: Tomatoes would like to be planted roughly 2 feet apart, but you can go even closer if you’re short on space.  18″ spacing is about the limit though.  Tomatoes can get huge so as you are planting, consider how you are going to support these beasts when they become unwieldy (which I promise will happen).  Consider tomato cages, bamboo stakes, homemade cages out of fencing or even the classic farmer favorite the “Florida Weave.”  As heirlooms are varieties that have been passed down for generations, they prefer old-timey music (or new songs sung in vintage ways). 

Tomatoes (Cherry): Yellow Pear (The name says it all) , Sungold (Little orange sweet bombs you will recognize from the farmer’s market), Sweetie (Classic red cherry), Pink Bumblebee (Gorgeous striped pink grape tomato)

  • Growing Requirements: The same as slicers but cherry tomatoes obviously prefer poppy, upbeat music such as “I’m Walkin’ On Sunshine” or anything uplifting and danceable.

Tomatoes (Roma): Amish Paste (Heirloom that is not very watery- perfect for canning, sauces and salsas)

Eggplant: Black Beauty (Globe shaped black egg- classic Italian variety), Ping Tung Long (Long and delicious, perfect for stir fry)

  • Growing Requirements: You can get away with 12″ spacing for eggplants, and they are generally sturdy enough that they don’t need trellising!  Hooray!  Not surprisingly, eggplants prefer to listen to Blackalicious almost exclusively.

Summer Squash: Green Zucchini (Abundant, classic summer favorite), Sunburst (Pattypan style, little flying saucers of magic), YStar PattyPan (Early flying saucer type) , Yellow Crookneck (Tender and delicious little yellow crookneck type- don’t let them grow too big or they become gourdlike!), Goldy (Imagine a classic zucchini that’s bright yellow!  Spineless and fancy)

  • Growing Requirements: If you’ve never grown summer squash before just know they can get BIG!  24″-36″ spacing is recommended.  The good news is that they don’t need any trellising.  The bad news is that they only prefer classic rock.

Winter Squash:  New England Pie Pumpkin (Classic pumpkin pie favorite), Delicata/Bush Delicata (Lovely little striped squashes, great roasted, edible skins), Buttercup (Also called turban squash, sweet and creamy and keeps well), Butternut (The quintessential winter squash, smooth skinned orange flesh- great for roasting and soups)

  • Growing Requirements: Like their cousins the summer squash, winter squash want to take up space!  If there’s an area you can let them vine out and run where you don’t have to do a lot of walking, that’s a good idea.  Unless it’s a”bush” variety, expect that it wants to sprawl out.  Give 24″-36″ spacing and expect some jungle effect.  Music suggestion: “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses.

Cucumbers:  Armenian (Also called snake melon?! A magical, giant juicy wonder), Muncher (As it sounds- one for snacking.  Great for fresh eating and pickles, nearly spineless), Green Finger (Little to no seeds, super cute tiny, tasty morsels) , Lemon Cuke (Looks like a lemon- tastes like a cuke- great yields and no bitterness)

  • Growing Requirements: Like other cucurbits (i.e. squashes) cukes want to take up space, but they want to climb!  So get the trellis ready to support a spiny wall of freshness.  Since they want to grow vertically, you can get away with planting cucumbers closer together 12″ is doable.  Cucumbers thrive when they get consistent water and regular picking.  As expected cool cukes prefer smooth jazz.

Melons:  PMR Delicious (Early, sweet, aromatic cantaloupe), Golden Perfection (French heirloom muskmelon that’s prolific, hardy and sweet)

  • Growing Requirements: Melons are miracles from the desert that are also members of the cucurbit family (cousins of squashes and cukes).  Like their cousins, melons would like to vine out, though not as aggressively as the others.  You could get away with 18″ spacing.  Apparently, it’s possible to trellis melons, but not common.  These types of melons are ready when they smell amazing and slip right off the vine.  Musical preference- the Desert blues: Tinariwen.

Watermelons: Klondike Blue (Big ol’ heirloom watermelon, scarlet flesh and dark stripes), Sugar Baby (Small, super sweet “icebox” watermelon- just the right size for a picnic)

  • Growing Requirements: Like the other cucurbits, these melons want to ramble.  If you can give them at least 24″-36″ of space, they will take it.  The magic of figuring out when watermelons are ready is part science and part art.  There’s a little tendril by the fruit that dries down from green to brown- check for that, then check the color- usually there’s a lighter spot that turns a bit yellow on the bottom.  Finally, give it a gentle thump- if it sounds hollow and resonant, you’re ready to go.  Suggested tunes: Ramblin’ Man by the Allman Brothers.

Basil (Fragrant and aromatic, a staple of fresh summer flavors, great for pesto, Caprese salad or on stir fry)

  • Growing Requirements: Basil is easy to grow!  Space 6″-12″ apart.  If the starts you get have multiple plants all in one, soak the start and separate the plants from each other.  As your basil grows, when it starts to make flowers at the tip, pinch off the flowering tops and the first few sets of leaves- this will give you a yummy harvest and encourage your basil to become a bushy shrub of smelly goodness.  You will have pesto for days.  Of course, a nice Genovese basil wants a classic Italian crooner.

Tomatillos (You many be thinking- what on earth will I do with these?  The answer my friend is salsa verde.  Once you get hooked on tomatillos, you’ll grow them every year.  These beauties are productive, delicious, and vigorous!  Sort of sour and a little sweet, they will be your new favorite.  Most of all, they will do all the work for you)

  • Growing Requirements: Space tomatillos at least 12″ apart.  Some people trellis them, but you can let them go wild and they won’t get too crazy.  Fruits are ready when they are bursting out of their papery husks.  Roast with some garlic and a jalapeno and blend for the easiest, tangiest salsa you’ve ever had.  You’ll be making enchiladas suizas with the best of them.  Not surprisingly, the hardy tomatillo loves the sounds of Ozomatli.

Alright gardeners, if you have questions drop them in the comments.  Enjoy this time with your hands in the dirt, before we know it the summer will be in full swing and you’ll be harvesting more than you can handle.  And for your pleasure, enjoy this freshly planted mix of plant approved tunes!