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Diggin' It

The Deep South vegetable garden in April

As spring turns to summer in the Deep South, cool-season vegetables and warm-season crops mingle.

By Nellie Neal / April 19, 2011



If I didn’t have vegetables, I wouldn’t know what to eat.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am almost omnivorous. I enjoy milk products, dairy, grains, most meats, fish and seafood. But none of them makes a meal without vegetables.

Fresh is best, but since I cook four to five dinners weekly for four adults or more, I am good with dried, frozen, and, occasionally, canned vegetables, too. I grew up picking whatever was ripe from my grandfather’s garden, and nothing pleases me more than doing the same nowadays from my own garden.

Right now, we’re at the junction of the spring and summer gardens in what I call the Deep and Deeper South, Zones 8 and 9. That makes for odd bedmates as head lettuce gets replaced by summer’s pepper plants while the spring mesclun keeps on growing next door to them.

Planning for constant harvest

I try to keep the entire pot or spot in the bed covered as much of the time as possible. It keeps the weeds down and makes me keep picking. I sowed radish seeds around an almost-mature Chinese cabbage plant about three weeks ago.

I really went thick – enough to cover the surface to the edge of the big pot. They sprouted quickly, and were ready to pick for salad sprouts as they got crowded – delicious and perky.

Now there’s enough room for the radishes to mature in a ring around the cabbage to be picked in about two weeks.

If you cannot get them ready to harvest by early May in my part of the country, cabbage and other cole crops will bolt like lettuce or parsley, shooting up flower stalks that portend the end for them.

Cole crops are cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and their kin. I grow all of them, and do best with them as a fall crop that sometimes extends into winter and spring.

Today is bean planting day here at Chez Ingram. One long double row now has bush snap beans (‘Contender’) but down the middle there are still Brussels sprouts. As soon as the last of those get picked, the space will be filled with pepper plants now waiting in the greenhouse (‘Tabasco’, ‘Aristotle’ bell pepper, ‘Joe’s Cayenne’ and pepperoni).

Yellow wax beans share space with kohlrabi that is almost ready. Lima beans are another love of mine so there’s 15 feet of ‘Nemagreen’. I don’t know that I need nematode resistance, but it’s a great lima. Along with some bush long green beans, they also fill the space between young blueberry bushes and old figs.

Yes, both berries and figs are fruiting, creating lots of excitement around here for June.

Tomatoes and peas growing together

Perhaps my favorite of these odd matches is the sight of English peas and sugar snap peas ready to be picked just as the first tomatoes are blooming. I like the old variety ‘Little Marvel’ green pea and also grow whatever sugar snap or edible podded pea I can find. Perhaps I’m not a connoisseur but they all taste the same to me.

I toss peas and their pods, if edible, into salads and stir-fry them with broccoli, shallots, greens, and beef. I do plant them in the fall, but seem to get better results by starting the peas in peat pots and setting them out in early March.

The basket of ‘Terenzo’ tomatoes now in bloom began life in January inside my house. I start seeds under a simple grow light fixture in a pot of sterile seed starting mix sitting atop a heating mat.

I’d like to say that I always water from the bottom as directed, but my dear husband waters from the top, and the plants don’t seem to care. They look great with this system, which enables me to grow almost completely organically.

The newly-potted baskets of baby tomato plants spent March in the greenhouse, and last week I hung them on the timbers supporting the pea trellis. When the peas are done in another 10 days, I’ll replace them with cucumbers. Soon the summer bowl of marinated cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices will take its appointed place on the top shelf of the refrigerator.

That sort of anticipation is another reason I garden -- and the gratification that soon follows.

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Nellie Neal gardens in beds and containers and on windowsills in central Mississippi and south Louisiana. She never met a plant she didn’t want to propagate. Her website is GardenMama.com. To read more by Nellie here at Diggin' It, click here.

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