Easter is a demarcation time in the garden calendar. Although the vegetables in our gardens are looking fine and producing well, for many their days are numbered. It is now too late to plant seeds for most popular vegetables and we have to carefully consider what to grow during the summer months.
Three vegetables that can be planted from seeds right now and will be productive in the summer months are peppers, eggplants and cucumbers. Although bell peppers are the standard sweet type you may consider growing Sweet Banana or Cubanelle peppers in addition as these go great with summer meals – barbecues and salads. Most hot peppers do well in warm conditions and everyone should have at least one bird pepper or finger pepper plant, such as Tabasco.
Eggplants are warm weather lovers and the standard variety is Black Beauty, a shiny dark purple giant that is rewarding to grow. Cucumber vines will not last as long in the heat as they do in winter so plant more vines than you think you may need. Patio varieties can be grown in containers and produce fruits the same size as field cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers are even more reliable. Although the fruits are smaller they are more abundant. Slice them up and cover them in a vinegar pickling mix for a few hours and you have cu-cumbers that are crispy and tasty.
The favourite vegetables for hot summer months are okra, snake beans, Malabar spinach and collards. These can be started from seed now and will be productive when most other vegetables have given up the ghost. Okra comes in both bush and tall varieties. If you love okra you need to grow a tall variety that takes a little longer to produce the first fruits but thereafter is a much heavier and longer bearer. Okra pods should be harvested only a few days after the flower drops and refrigerated if you are not using them immediately.
Snake beans are also called Asparagus beans, Yard-Long beans and sometimes just Long beans. They have become immensely popular in US restaurants and guarantee fresh green vegetables through the summer. Their vines are long so should be grown against a chain link fence or on a tepee frame made from three or four 10-foot fiber poles. Snake beans are best picked when 12-16 inches long which occurs only a few days after dropping their flowers.
Malabar spinach also likes support, usually in the form of netting in a frame, but can be allowed to sprawl. The leaves should be harvested early while tender for salad makings. Larger tougher leaves can be cooked as for regular spinach. Collard greens are a type of cabbage that can be used the same way with very young leaves used for salads.
This is a good time of year to severely prune rose bushes. Reduce the foliage by about one-third and snip away thin branches growing from the main stems.
You will be expecting lots of fruit from your orchard so do not forget to fertilize regularly. I find the most convenient method is to hammer in fertilizer spikes available from Pinewoods Nursery, Ace Hardware and Standard Hardware. At the same time you can treat your fruit trees – especially citrus varieties – with a minor element spray.
Do not forget to give your flowering shrubs a fertilizer boost before summer comes. Healthy shrubs are more resistant to insect predation and diseases. Prune away small branches in the centre of the plants and give a dressing of dormant oil or spray of systemic insecticide if you have signs of scale insects.