Summer is Here All Too Soon! Is it Too Late to Plant Seeds in My Garden?

The end of spring is always a busy time around our house. There are field trips, recitals, cadet activities, and special presentations for weeks leading up to the end of the school year – a time when we would rather be outside getting the garden started. Now I understand why my mother never put her garden in until the end of June!

Ideal Planting Time

But by June and July, many other gardeners are already harvesting early crops such as lettuce, kale, radishes and turnips. As I write this, we have already received two weeks of our CSA deliveries from Cartwheel Farm. So is it too late to plant a garden?

Ideally, some seeds should go into the ground as soon as it can be worked. Onions, peas, and spinach are very early crops. Right around your last frost date, you can start planting root vegetables, celery, brassicas like cabbage and broccoli, and most greens. More tender vegetables follow a few weeks later, and your entire garden should be planted within a few weeks of that last frost date. That means, for most of us, our gardens should be well in order by mid-June.

Starting a Late Season Garden

How many of us start out buying our seeds or even planting those early season crops, and then get too busy to be out in the garden? And there are plenty too, who only start thinking about planting a garden once they start to see all the lovely spring produce at the farmers market.

Luckily, it’s not too late to plant a garden if you want to start now. You may want to pare down the number of crops you are growing. You may also have to hold off on plants with a longer growing season. But there are still plenty of fast-growing vegetables, as well as some that are tolerant of the cold and can be planted in the later weeks of summer.

General tips for planting late in the season:

  • Know your first frost date and check the “days to harvest” on seed packets to determine if there’s enough time left to grow the seeds you’ve chosen

  • Look for seed varieties with the word “early” on the packet

  • To get a head start on your growing season, buy and transplant vegetable starts – especially those that are already flowering or bearing small fruit

  • Choose vegetables that are cold-tolerant to extend growing into the fall

  • Plant in a sheltered place that will stay warmer towards fall

  • Think about planting in containers that can be moved to a warmer spot at the end of the season

  • Use row covers and cold frames to extend your growing season into the fall or even winter

 

4 Fast-growing crops for your late-start garden | Heirloom gardening | Vegetable garden | Starting a garden in June or July
Even in June or July, you still have time to start your vegetable garden
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Radish

At about 20-30 days to harvest, radishes are probably the fastest growing vegetables and one of the quickest to germinate too. This is one of the reasons that gardeners use radish seeds to help mark the rows for the slower-growing carrots in the vegetable patch.

Radishes can be planted in succession weekly throughout the spring, then again towards the fall. If you’re getting a late start, try planting some of your radish seeds about 1/2” deep and others a little deeper. The ones closer to the soil will germinate first but the ones you plant deeper will give you larger radishes. This extends your growing season a bit. Remember to eat the radishes you thin from your garden too! Radish greens are quite edible.

Radish varieties to try:

‘Early Scarlet Globe’ (24 days): this heirloom radish is a classic; great for bunching and market sales

‘French Breakfast’ (20-25 days): a French heirloom known under the name ‘Radis Demi-long Rose à Bout Blanc,’ this is an early market variety; oblong red radishes with white tips and white flesh; mildly spicy taste

‘Helios’ (30-35 days): a delightful heirloom variety with yellow skin and white flesh, named for the Greek god of the sun

‘Philadelphia White Box’ (30 days): a spicy white heirloom radish that grows well in the garden and can also be forced in containers

Grow radishes for the roots and their greens
Radishes are probably the fasted growing vegetables at only 20-30 days to harvest
(Image: carissarogers/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

Swiss Chard

Although chard is one of the plants you can sow very early in the season, it’s OK if it gets a late start. Chard takes 50-60 days to reach maturity, but it can be eaten when the leaves are young and tender. And it’s moderately cold-tolerant, so you don’t have to worry if you get a frost before it’s all grown. I’ve picked lovely, crisp chard from my garden late into the fall. One year, we actually had snow on the ground and the chard wasn’t bothered at all!

Not sure which chard to grow? You can go with a classic heirloom variety like ‘Fordhook Giant.’ But I love the gorgeous colours of the chard mixes that most seed catalogues offer. Look for them under names like “Rainbow,” “Celebration,” or “5 Colour.”

Peas

Peas take around 60-70 days to mature, so it’s still safe to plant if you have that long until first frost. Don’t have long enough? That’s OK. You can grow the plants for the pea shoots and tendrils. It only takes about a month before you can start harvesting your first, small pea shoots. If your pea plants happen to flower, you can eat the pea blossoms too!

Pea varieties to try:

‘Amish snap’ (60 days): An heirloom snap pea that grows very tall vines; known for its superior sweetness; these peas were grown by the Amish even before the official discovery of sugar snap peas in the 1970s

‘Blue Pod Capucijner‘ (70 days): These delightful purple-podded peas are a Dutch heirloom; flowers are bicolour pink and wine, and fade to blue as they wilt; use as a sugar snap pea prior to the full development of seeds, or allow the pods to grow leathery and harvest as a soup pea (also good in casseroles and porridge)

‘Tom Thumb’ (50-55 days): The tiniest shelling pea, this heirloom is perfect for growing in containers and is especially known as a winter pea that can be grown in cold frames; William Woys Weaver says the peas will survive for several days below freezing; the tiny white blossoms are tinged with green; vines only reach 6”- 9” in height;

Important note: Do not try to eat ornamental sweet peas, as these are not safe for consumption.

Lettuce

Some lettuces are quick to bolt once the summer heat sets in. So if you decide to plant lettuce later in the season, look for varieties that are slow to bolt. Leaf lettuce is easier to grow than head lettuce if you’re getting a late start. Remember that lettuce – and really all of the greens in your late-start vegetable patch – can be stretched by picking it in a cut-and-come-again fashion. Just trim away a few of the outer leaves from each plant and let the rest grow a while longer.

Lettuce varieties to try:

‘Black-Seeded Simpson’ (45 days): This heirloom looseleaf lettuce is very popular; known for its tender, ruffled leaves and delicate flavour; easy to grow from seed

‘Gaviota’ (28-35 days): This is slow-bolting tango-type lettuce with deeply lobed, curly leaves; best for baby greens that add loft and bright green colour to a salad

‘Red Sails’ (45-55 days): An All-American Selection in 1985, this red-tipped savoy lettuce is pretty enough to be used as an edging plant; plant in containers or straight in the garden; baby greens are ready in just 28 days

Other Vegetables to Try Late in the Season

  • Arugula

  • Beets

  • Brussels Sprouts

  • Bush beans

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Collard greens

  • Kale

  • Parsnips

  • Spinach

  • Turnips

  • Zucchini

Did you know you can still be planting seeds in your garden in July? Check out this awesome July planting guide with ideas for every region of the US. And come August, it’s time to plant late-season greens and root vegetables for a fall harvest. So you’ve still got lots of time to enjoy your vegetable garden!

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featured image created in Canva using a CC0 photo from Pixabay user Patricia Maine

Food History: Meet the Once-Famous Fruit that Survived Near Extinction

A culinary delicacy that was once served alongside champagne and beluga caviar in upscale hotel restaurants, the Montreal market melon is probably the least known of Canada’s contributions to the world of food. At the beginning of the 20th century, this gourmet treat was much sought after. It sold for upwards of $1 a slice, about twice the price of a full-course meal at the time.

 

Montreal melon: The caviar of cantaloupe
The Montreal melon was a delicacy on par with champagne and caviar

 

The Caviar of Cantaloupe

BuzzFeed has called the Montreal market melon “the caviar of cantaloupe,” and rightly so! You couldn’t get this rare and exotic fruit just anywhere: it was difficult to grow and didn’t stand up to transport over long distances. But in Montreal, Boston, and New York City, diners in the best restaurants could feast on a juicy slice of this green-fleshed melon if they were willing to pay the price.

The melons were grown by farmers on the slopes of Mount Royal and shipped to the United States daily. The seed was sold in America by a number of merchants, notably Atlee Burpee, who had discovered a specimen at the Ste Anne’s Market in 1880. But the Queen of Melons, as the variety came to be known, never did as well in New England as it did in the rich soil of its homeland. Perhaps it was due to the extreme care taken by farmers in Montreal’s Notre Dame de Grâce who grew the fruit. But maybe it’s a bit of a lesson to all gardeners about landraces: is local better, even when it comes to choosing seeds for our gardens?

 

Montreal market melon, from 19th century advertising card
Rendering of the melon, listed as the “new Montreal Nutmeg,” from an 1887 advertising card for Rice’s vegetable seeds
(Image: Boston Public Library/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Developing a Premium Market Melon

So what does this infamous melon look like, and where did it come from?

The Montreal market melon, also sometimes called the Montreal muskmelon or the Montreal nutmeg melon, is a cross between the green-fleshed nutmeg melon and European cantaloupes that were brought to the New World by French settlers in the 17th century. Nobody seems to know when exactly the first Montreal melons were grown, but they were definitely noticed when cantaloupes and muskmelons became a market crop at the end of the 19th century.

The Montreal melon is a green-fleshed, netted melon with a slightly spicy taste like nutmeg. Grown under the right conditions, it is enormous. Some sources say the melon grows to about 15 – 25 lb. At least one reference speaks of melons as big as 40 lb. Like its European ancestors, the melon is ribbed and has a grey-green skin that is netted like that of the salmon-fleshed cantaloupe most North Americans know and love.

Montreal melons were once the pride of the country. Back when they were first sold by Burpee Seeds, their catalogue described the fruits as “remarkably thick, light green, melting, and of a delicious flavor.” They called it the “handsomest possible melon,” and by 1883 were offering cash prizes to farmers who were able to produce the largest melons. Burpee referred to the fruit as the Montreal Green Nutmeg Melon.

Atlee Burpee wasn’t the only one singing the praises of the Montreal melon. A USDA farming bulletin published in 1909 called it a “melon of unusual excellence.” In his review of heirloom melon varieties, food historian William Woys Weaver says of the Montreal melon, “It became the most widely grown muskmelon in New England, Canada, and the Upper Midwest, not only because of its large size but because it yielded the best-flavored melons for short-season gardens.”

Near-Extinction of the Montreal Melon

Montreal’s market melon was once grown over acres and acres of farmland between Mount Royal and the St. Lawrence River. But over the years many of the farms were lost to urban expansion. Cars replaced horses, and all but one of the racetracks that once supplied manure for the heavy-feeding melon crops closed their doors. The Decarie Expressway now cuts through what used to be the farm of one noted melon-growing family; row upon row of duplexes line streets with names like Old Orchard Avenue, a faint memory of the farms that once dominated the landscape of Montreal’s N.D.G.

Green melons fell out of favour sometime after World War II, and the delicate skin of the Montreal market melon didn’t stand up to transport. As the melon was more suitable to family-based cultivation than to agribusiness, it just gradually stopped being grown. Even Burpee Seeds dropped the melon from its catalogue in the 1950s. At one point it was believed to be extinct: one of the many cultivars that were lost as the 20th century saw 75% of the world’s food crops simply drop out of existence. Biodiversity was losing ground to agribusiness and the pressures of global climate change.

 

Heirloom gardening: Montreal market melon, developed by crossing traditional French cantaloupes with spicy, green-fleshed nutmeg melons
The Montreal melon was developed by crossing traditional French cantaloupes like this Charentais melon with spicy, green nutmeg melons
If you enjoyed learning about the Montreal market melon, please feel free to use this image when you pin the article on Pinterest
Graphic made in Canva using a CC0 photo by Pixabay user Anybid

 

A Lazarus Species

Luckily, a few seeds for the Montreal market melon were tucked away in a USDA seed repository in Ames, Iowa. In the late 1990s, they were given to scientist and farmer Ken Taylor, a man whom I had the pleasure to know all too briefly while I was at college in Ste. Anne de Bellevue in the 80s. The melons were grown at Windmill Point Farm, about an hour from the slopes where the cultivar originated. The seeds grew true to type, and Taylor was able to produce a stable strain that attracted attention from local and national media, as well as organizations such as Seeds of Diversity. At one point, the Montreal melon was even selected for the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

Once sufficient seeds had been saved, Taylor started spreading them around in an effort to preserve the rare genes. He worked on the crop for several years and even crossed it with other melons to produce a smaller variety that has the same taste as the original Montreal muskmelon. But the melon never enjoyed the same commercial success it had in the early 20th century. Taylor has since stopped growing it altogether, and now it’s hard to find a mention of it except as a historical curiosity.

But the melon is still regarded as a “Lazarus species,” one rescued from extinction and restored to life. It may not be available in your local supermarket, or even at your farmers market, but there is sufficient supply of the seed to ensure that heirloom gardeners will be able to grow the crop at home.

Growing the Montreal Market Melon in the 21st Century

Want to grow the caviar of cantaloupe in your heirloom garden? You can now purchase seeds for the Montreal market melon from a number of online seed catalogues across Canada. I haven’t been able to locate a supplier for the melon seeds in either the US or Europe, but please post a comment if you know of one! Montreal muskmelons need full sun and lots of pampering. But if you are up to the challenge of growing these historic beauties, in about 85-90 days you, too, can enjoy an exotic taste from the past. Remember, these are really huge fruits! Even though most growing them nowadays say they aren’t able to produce a melon on the same scale as those of days gone by, they are still growing to a weight of 5 lbs. As the melons don’t store well, it’s best to eat them soon after harvest. So be sure to share them around! Let your friends and neighbours get a taste of the fruit that came back from the dead.

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featured Image: Collage created in Canva using CC0 photos from Pixabay users Isasza, seagul, and Robert Owen-Wahl

What Do You Need to Know About Heirloom Vegetables?

Heirloom vegetables are a popular option for home gardeners today. “Heirloom” marked on a seed packet is probably second only to “Organic,” in terms of popularity. But have you ever wondered what it really means?

Simply put, an heirloom variety is an old-fashioned version of a vegetable or other plant that you’ve always known and loved. Heirloom vegetables are the plants your grandparents and great-grandparents would have grown in their gardens. They existed before biotech companies were patenting seeds, and before anyone had heard of GMOs. Heirloom vegetables link us back to a time before anyone thought to ask if something was grown organically – before we’d even heard the word “agribusiness.”

Many people grow heirloom vegetables because they prefer the old-fashioned taste over the flavour of today’s commercial varieties – most of which have been bred for traits such as uniformity, a single determinate harvest, and the ability to withstand the rigours of shipping over long distances. Two other traits that mark an heirloom variety are its history and the fact that it is “open pollinated.”

What makes a vegetable an heirloom? | #gardening #veggies
Heirloom vegetables link us back to a time when everything was organically grown
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(Image made from a photo by Dumbony/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Unique Vegetables – with a History!

An heirloom vegetable is a variety of plant – called a cultivar – that has a fairly long and stable history. Unlike a more recently developed hybrid, the heirloom has looked and tasted pretty much the same for decades, and sometimes even centuries. And unlike the vegetables you buy in the grocery store, an heirloom variety generally has one or two unique features that make it stand out from the rest. It might be a red, yellow, or purple carrot. It might be a tomato whose skin and flesh are green when completely ripe. Or perhaps it’s a red-skinned pumpkin or a purple-podded bean.

Most of the heirloom cultivars were grown before the 1950s, and many of them are even older than that. Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, for example, were grown as early as the 1830s. Green Hubbard squash was introduced to the American seed trade in the 1840s but had been grown in North America since 1739. The Montreal market melon was widely cultivated in the 1880s and was later saved from the brink of extinction in the late 1990s. Oftentimes, the stories behind these heirloom varieties are even more interesting than the plants themselves!

Heirloom Vegetables Are Open Pollinated

Besides a long history, the other thing that makes a plant an heirloom vegetable is open pollination. This term is a bit misleading, but what it means is that the seeds can be saved from one season to another. Plants grown from the seeds of this year’s crop will grow true to type.

That means if your tomato is a large, pink-fleshed beefsteak and you save its seeds, that’s what the seeds should produce again next year. Open pollinated crops will reliably produce the same results year after year, allowing the grower to save – and trade – seeds from one harvest to the next.

“Open Pollinated” is another designation you’ll sometimes encounter when buying seeds or plant starts. This label can be applied to any hybrid that has been stable long enough to reliably reproduce true to type, as well as to any cultivar that has an established history of successful seed saving.

The main difference between a variety marked “Open Pollinated” and one marked “Heirloom” is age. Heirloom vegetables tend to have been around longer, though just as with words like “vintage” or “antique,” there seems to be little agreement about just how long a history a plant must have before it earns the status of an heirloom vegetable.

Original content © 2015, 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This is an expanded version of an article I originally published on the now-defunct site Elite Writers in January of 2015. It now appears on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!