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Malabar spinach is an edible perennial vine.

Gardening with Jack: April Gardening

Although there are two or three months of production left in our vegetable gardens there are already signs that many crops are coming to an end. Lettuces, for instance, turn bitter as the temperature rises and many of our staples become stressed. Tomatoes started from seed at the beginning of April will produce flowers in late May and by that time our nights will be warm. Regular-sized tomatoes need temperatures below 68 degrees to set fruit. The best bets for late tomato production are cherry tomatoes, particularly of the large-fruited or grape varieties.

Vegetable crops that enjoy warm weather include peppers, eggplants, corn and watermelons. In addition to regular bell peppers the home gardener can grow the elongated Banana or Cubanelle peppers that resist sun scald better. If you like a little heat try Anaheim peppers. Eggplants that are large and black such as Black Beauty are the most productive though long white and mauve Asian and French types make a pleasant change from routine. Sweet corn must be grown in blocks and needs well fertilized soil to be successful. Watermelons need enriched soil too and benefit from sandy conditions without any applications of manure or compost.

Those vegetables that are productive at the moment will last longer if fruits and leaves are harvested regularly. Greens and any remaining lettuces should be cut often and stored in the refrigerator in plastic bags if not immediately needed. Zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers may stop production if the fruits are allowed to mature on the vine. The secret is to pick early and often, before the seeds develop toughness. Cucumbers should be picked as soon as the thorny spikes on the surface can be brushed off lightly with your fingertips. Winter squash varieties and pumpkins are much more forgiving and can be allowed to mature fully on their vines.

A whole new set of vegetables that are heat tolerant can be started in April and May. These include asparagus (snake) beans, okra, lima beans and cow peas. We need to make the decision to grow these or give ourselves a rest.

The cool season annuals such as impatiens and petunias will start to become ragged. Do not be in too much of a hurry to pull them up because at this point they are dropping seeds. Flowering annuals that do well in our summer conditions include zinnias, vinca, marigolds and tithonia (Mexican sunflower). Gaillardia is a perennial but flowers in its first year. When potted petunias and impatiens die off they can be replaced by geraniums and portulaca.

It is now officially spring and we should bear in mind our seasonal treatment of citrus and fruit trees. A drench of chelated iron (Sequestrene 138), the hammering in of fertilizer spikes, and a spray of minor nutrients will help keep our trees in full health and productivity. In order to reach the top foliage of fruit trees we need a hose-end sprayer with a long throw. These usually have red removable tops and are available from Pinewoods Nursery, Abaco Hardware and Standard Hardware.

Now the bad news. Grass is growing and a new season of mowing is upon us. As early as possible change the oil in your mower, put in a new air filter, and attach a new blade. The air filter should be cleaned after every long mowing session. Another good idea is to fill the gas tank before putting the lawn mower away every time you use it. Our air is humid and an almost empty gas tank will encourage drops of water to form.

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