Margaret Lauterbach

Enclosed gardening could catch on in the Treasure Valley

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

A recent headline in a gardening publication announced that there is an effort underway to make broccoli rabe or raab the new kale.

I don’t think it will succeed in our climate. That is the touchiest plant for bolting I’ve ever grown. Many years I’ve started it from seed, transplanted it in late February or early March, and after an unusually warm day, such as is common in our spring, the plants bolt.

A more realistic anticipated trend for this area is more widespread use of high tunnels for year-round growing. If you don’t know how to build a high tunnel, do an online search for videos that will take you step-by-step through the entire process.

We do have severe cold in our winters, in spite of our softening climate. Eliot Coleman eats and sells produce grown year-round in Maine (much colder than our area) by careful timing of plantings, selection of hardy varieties and high tunnels, moving them to cover crops prior to the onset of severe cold.

If you’re interested in trying winter gardening, study his books: “Four Season Harvest,” “Winter Harvest Handbook” and “The New Organic Grower.” Note that our days of less than 10 hours of sunshine per day run from November to early February. If possible, supplemental lighting would help.

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Keep your squashes, eggplants, snap beans and any peppers or chiles you plan to use in their green stage picked so the plant will continue to produce. Once a plant sets seed pods (fruit, for example) that begin to mature, most plants then die. Many of us have digestive problems when we try to eat green bell peppers, so wait until they ripen (most turn red when ripe) before harvesting. Those are much easier to digest. Exceptions to red-ripe are the thin-fleshed purple, yellow and orange peppers and those chiles that turn brown when ripe, such as Mulatos and Pasillas.

If you’re growing corn, feel the end of the ear. If it’s rounded, the corn should be ripe enough to harvest. If it’s pointed, it hasn’t filled out enough. Don’t worry if earwigs have eaten the drooping brown silks back to the husk. Chances are very good the silks have been fertilized already, one silk to each kernel on the cob.

Melons should be ready now or if not now, soon. Ways to tell whether a watermelon is ripe include knocking and listening for a hollow sound or measuring girth of the fruit at its thickest each morning. When the measure is the same for a few days in a row, the melon should be ripe. Some experts advise watching the vine tendril nearest the melon for drying and dying back. The complete dying process starts at the end, and takes about two weeks to completely dry and die, and then the watermelon is perfectly ripe. Another factor is the yellow belly of the melon where it’s been resting on the soil, but this is not a foolproof method of detecting ripeness. Some ripe melons don’t have the yellow belly, and some unripe ones do.

Cantaloupes begin to detach themselves from their stems when they ripen. Just a touch dislodges them, indicating they’re ripe. Some folks like to shove heavy cardboard or wood shingles under developing melons to bar damage from burrowing insects. Charentais and some other melons do not detach themselves, but you may detect ripeness if there’s a little “give” at the blossom end (at the opposite end from the stem attachment), and the aroma is enticing. Please do not mistake a Plum Granny or pocket melon for an edible treat. Pocket melons smell delicious, but they’re yucky inedible. They were only intended to obscure unpleasant body odors when worn in an apron pocket in the days before frequent bathing.

Or you could, like we once did, wait until your dog takes a bite from a melon, exposing the rich orange flesh to view. Dogs and cats and perhaps other pets love melons.

Honeydews feel hard and slick before ripeness, and the rind progresses to a matte, suede-like finish when they’re ripe. More unusual melons and all squashes should be appropriately colored before even being tested for picking. If a melon is supposed to be white, don’t pick it until it is white. It should not have tinges of green on the skin. Winter squashes may be picked when fully colored, and impervious to a thumbnail puncture. If you test it early, and your thumbnail does penetrate, it will heal.

Many years ago, we used to cut a plug out of a vine-attached watermelon to see if it was ripe. If too green, we replaced the plug, but I suspect that was an invitation to invasion by ants and other insects. That’s just one of the gardening practices that have changed over time.

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