Margaret Lauterbach

It’s time to plant tomatoes and other warm-weather veggies

It’s time to plant outdoors if you want these later this summer.
It’s time to plant outdoors if you want these later this summer. TNS

We’ve had a pleasant spring so far, and unless you garden in a “frost-pocket” area of the Valley, it’s time to plant your frost-tender plants into your garden. I confess I put my transplants out earlier, because I had started plants from seeds, so had duplicates to replace any killed by frost. It would have been better for pepper plants to wait until nights are reliably above 45 degrees F. before planting out, but I needed the space for tomato plants. Cold nights (below 45 degrees) disrupt the pepper plants’ diurnal rhythms, lasting until harvest. That upset reportedly reduces yield.

Since I’m unable to move plants in and out for proper hardening-off (that is, acclimating them), I have a shelf set-up under my clothesline, with a large old greenhouse shadecloth pinned overhead. The west side is open to breezes and some sunlight, so a week or 10 days of exposure has plants sufficiently weathered to set out without harming them. I also have a bench set up in dappled shade, under a large apple tree for that purpose. If you set out plants without hardening them off, direct sunlight and/or wind bleaches chlorophyll from leaves, killing plants.

I’ve been busy sowing seeds and transplanting, while enticed and intrigued by a new book written by Lee Reich, another garden writer who actually gardens. Some garden writers do not garden, so are not writing from experience. Reich writes from experience and education (doctorate in horticulture), and has several books in print.

His new book, “The Ever Curious Gardener,” delves into the mysteries of apical dominance, fruit thining, pruning, and hastening of ripening, and many other aspects of his experience that have tweaked his thoughts, leading to the subtitle of his book, “using a little natural science for a much better garden.” People in our area can just ignore his soil sweetening advice for folks who garden in acidic soil. Our soil is naturally “sweet,” in some cases too sweet.

The rest of his book, though, is invaluable, explaining aspects of gardening many of us have wondered about. I look forward to time when I can thoroughly digest this reference. For instance, seeds’ light requirement for germination depends on whether the plant is photoperiodic, and why the length of daylight hours is so important for many of our food and ornamental plants. He makes a case for alternative ways of reproducing plants, including growing citrus from seeds, that most references discourage because seeds usually don’t produce fruit true to their parent.

The mysteries of water moving in soil, whether outdoors or in, is another explored topic. Reich is a master of growing fruit trees, using and adapting the trees’ natural auxins to produce the best fruit. Tree care is apparently one of his passions, and he devotes significant space to that culture in this book.

Chervil

We just removed a few bushels of a delightful herb from my garden, and set them to compost. It’s chervil, a gourmet version of parsley, that self-seeds and grows in raised beds as well as pathways. I’ve made chimichurri with it and dried a quantity, but haven’t yet made pesto. I still have basil pesto in the freezer.

I first planted chervil next to my lean-to greenhouse many years ago, perhaps 40 feet from the garden area. Somehow seeds got to the garden, and they grew over winter, flowering and setting seeds before the garden was in full use. Chervil and parsley both are particular about their growth sites, so I let them grow where they choose. I don’t consider chervil a thug, since it’s easily removed and a nice-to-use herb. Each year I have more than I could use. Lemon balm and garlic chives are difficult to remove, and thuggishly spread everywhere, taking over the entire yard unless we exert some control.

Don’t thin fruit trees yet

Fruit trees are loaded, but I’d suggest waiting until after “June drop” to thin fruit. During the “June drop” event, natural selection expels many fruits.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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