Way back in March, we began sowing vegetable crops in 72-cell trays and setting them on heat mats in the barn. There were trays everywhere: tomatoes, chili peppers, shallots, leeks, and finally lettuce. For each one, I wrote down the probable first harvest date, based on the days to maturity noted on Johnny’s seed packets.
I had no idea how much faith to put in those figures, but it appeared lettuce would be the first to arrive. Sowed on March 31, Adriana (a butterhead) and Newham (a little gem), were expected anywhere from May 18-22. In late April things were moving along nicely, and I transplanted the little lettuce shoots into the raised beds, interplanting them with shallots.
We turned our attention to planting other crops and flowers and keeping everything watered. The lettuce kept growing and eventually began forming small heads.
This is the stage of vegetable gardening where I do a little happy dance. For some reason, I always start out skeptical that we will actually harvest edible produce. Surely there will be weeds or some dreaded pest that destroys it all. So when things go well, I am somewhat in awe. By May 10, I knew we’d soon be eating salad and it was time to do something I’ve never done before: sow a second crop. The Newham and Adriana should be ready around July 1. This time I also sowed a couple rows of All-Star Mix, a “cut and come again” blend that we hope to harvest in early June.
The next part of this experiment involves eating what we’ve grown before it spoils. The first sowing yielded about 35 heads of lettuce — small heads, but still, there are only two of us. We harvested the first lettuce on May 20 and have made salad a regular part of our diet ever since. The trick is having just enough to last until the new lettuce matures. Whatever happens, we will learn something about how to tweak future lettuce crops.
The beets were up next, based on Johnny’s guide to maturity. And oh did they look mighty fine in the beds: nice, tall stalks with plentiful greens. On the appointed day, anticipating a roasted beet salad for dinner, I pulled up one of the best-looking plants. Hmm … maybe I should try another one. Nope. Cue Charlie Brown sad walk music …
The only remotely beety-looking beet was about 1/2” in diameter. How could the plants look so productive on top and fall so short of expectations? A bit of furious Googling ensued, the result of which is that either the plants are spaced too close together, or our soil is low in phosphorous. Or both. While I swear I sowed exactly as Johnny’s instructed, a bit of thinning seemed in order. We’ll try harvesting again in a couple of weeks and if that hasn’t helped, we’ll salvage the greens and sow beets again as a fall crop, making sure to add phosphorous.
With the seed packets as a guide, here’s what might be on our table over the summer, besides that second sowing of lettuce.
Early June should bring peas, which have already flowered and are looking gorgeous. Carrots and beans will follow. In July we’re hoping for cantaloupe, shallots, leeks, and potatoes. I think the tomatoes and chili peppers will also be ready in July, although we’re conducting a bit of experiment—likely the subject of a future newsletter. Parsnips and Butterbaby squash should follow in August. But we’ll see … if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Great Spring Beet Tragedy, it’s that in gardening, nothing is certain.