Finally, the real food has begun to come in from the garden. Enough of this lettuce, radish and spring onions stuff.
This week the broccoli is ready to be picked. Peas have been in picking form for a couple of weeks and will be continuing for quite a while, not counting later plantings. Onions planted last fall have matured enough to be pulled. And young new potatoes from eyes that were put in by Saint Patrick's Day are ready to be robbed from well-mulched roots. Be careful, though -- green-skinned potatoes can be very bitter and give you an upset stomach.
All this, plus spinach planted early by those wiser than I. My spinach is being enjoyed more by the bugs than by me. Young chard and Chinese cabbage is ready, but don't rob it all. Pick as though thinning the rows, leaving behind the strong plants, which will grow large and delicious. I have had good luck treating chard as a perennial, although by its third year I found the the big waxy leaves growing bitter. I am working on a new batch this year, which I will winter over. Because chard grows about three feet tall I put it toward the back of the garden or in some unused corner; it is a forgiving vegetable.
Deciding whether or not to pick that first early broccoli and cauliflower is always a problem for me. It certainly doesn't harm the plants if you begin taking off the little florets, but if you can wait a week or two you will be rewarded by very large, very full clumps of broccoli and handsome heads of cauliflower, bleached by the overgrowth of surrounding leaves. If you pick broccoli as it comes in, new florets will form, and you can expect a pretty continuous crop until the hot weather really hits.
Plan on side-dressing your brassicas (cabbage family) if you haven't already, and if you have, do it again in late June. The cooler the roots the more fruit the plants will bear. Use an organic mulch, or compost, bringing your mulch up around the base of the plant a good three or four inches.
CORNY: Young corn's biggest enemy is weeds, so cultivate between rows, or pull weeds, when corn is six inches to a foot tall. Once the corn is about two feet tall, you can worry less about weeds. My garden is plagued by wild morning glory (bindweed), which grows everywhere and takes over if given even the slightest chance. This weed can cause some real problems even for mature corn. It climbs up the corn and smothers it enough to prevent really good ears from growing. Another reason to cultivate is that many gardeners plant peas between the corn rows in late summer. As ears are picked, rather than taking down the stalks, use them as supports for tall snap peas. This practice makes sense for the soil, too: the peas fix nitrogen in the soil, which is depleted by nitrogen-loving corn. If the rows are cultivated it makes planting peas a lot easier later.
NOTE: Don't pull suckers off corn plants. If you planted corn close together, it'll need thinning, but if it's at least six inches apart, you may see some shoots emerging next to the main stalks. Don't pull these off. They are beneficial to the corn plant, and plucking will hurt the corn.
TOP TOMATOES: Some gardeners wait until tomato plants are well established before placing cages over them. If you haven't already done so, now is the time to cage your tomatoes. I use concrete reenforcing wire, available at hardware or home building stores. Most storekeepers will be glad to cut the wire into six-foot lengths. Bend the wire into large round cages, using pliers to twist wire around wire and keep them in firmly in the soil.
RAIN CHECK: If peas or beans have been beaten down by rain, get them up off the ground or you may lose a lot to ground rot. If you don't have self-blanching varieties of cauliflower, and choose to blanch them yourself (by loosely tying outside leaves together over the young cauliflower florets) make sure you do this when the plant is dry, or you may induce rot. Apply Thuricide to brassicas (for cabbage loopers) or Sevin (for corn borers, potato beetles, cucumber beetles, which later spread cucumber wilt, squash beetles on summer squash and flea beetles on eggplants) in the evening when there is no rain due. This will ensure that the plants are protected as well as the bees, which, like all good creatures, go to bed at dusk.