Potager Progress Report during May 2023
Hurray! Everything planted in early Spring is thriving in the potager. Let's look at French heirlooms and other varieties of fruits and vegetables planted in this Zone 7 kitchen garden.
The marjoram and thyme are doing okay now that the seedlings have been transferred outdoors. The weather has not turned extremely hot yet, which is unusual, but the growth rate should accelerate in the next few weeks. The oregano is performing better in terra-cotta containers compared to the ground, which is possibly too moist. The basil has just started to emerge in containers, so a few extra seeds were planted into the ground with the other herbs. The rosemary, planted during previous years, has gone out of control, so a severe pruning is necessary. Luckily, there should be plenty to share with others.
The peach trees are loaded with fruit, and they have not been blemished, yet. Realistically, the pest problems will begin in June. The fig tree has slowly developed new leaves in this cool weather, but new growth should increase when we have more heat and sunshine. The mulberry tree is full of berries, but only one was ripe enough within reach. It had a very watery taste, which was not surprising due to steady rains for the past several days.
Here is a favorite category in the southern United States! All melons are showing promising growth, regardless of whether they were sown into the ground by seed or started indoors. However, I must confess that I lost track of what melons were placed in the ground, because my husband eagerly started planting them. Meanwhile, I was dillydallying over my pronunciation of the French melons, Charentais and Petit Gris de Rennes. While conveying the much-lauded attributes of these melons and double-checking my pronunciation, I looked down to see a nice long row of seedlings with no labels. It's just so much easier for my southern accent to pronounce the watermelon varieties called Strawberry and Sugar Baby. Let's hope the Honey Rock Cantaloupe makes an appearance, too, because my husband will be disappointed if it does not arrive before my fancy French melons. Anyway, let's hope these melons look like the pictures on the seed packets, or they will have to be called Les Melons Mystères.
Botanists say tomatoes are a fruit, and others still say they are vegetables, so they have their own category in this list. Originally, tomatoes were destined for the original potager site, but an "annex" has been created by my ambitious husband. As usual, he was right about its effectiveness. The annex consists of a tall fence surrounding an ever increasing number of grow bags. This is the first time we have used these bags, and the tomatoes are loving them! The varieties are Brandywine, Roma, and Rutgers. Each variety has at least one tomato growing already. The Rutgers tomatoes were started by seeds indoors while the other two varieties were purchased as young plants from a local nursery. They are steadily climbing the string attached to rafters placed across the top of the potager annex, or as my husband calls it, the "grow cage." There are several mystery cherry tomato plants that were started as indoor seedlings, too, but they are growing more slowly. Then there's the impulse purchase of a 25-cent seed packet of cherry tomatoes with no name, just "Large Red Cherry." The seeds were sown directly into the grow bag, but the cool weather slowed their pace. As of the end of May, a few seedlings have emerged with crinkly growth patterns. Are they even tomatoes at all? Time will tell.
A few varieties of green beans have flourished unbelievably. Little blooms are already appearing in the container, and the ones in grow bags are also doing well. Some of the beans were planted with corn, so they should climb up the cornstalks. So far, the corn is outpacing them. However, the lima beans have yet to appear. I am hoping they are waiting for that southern heat to appear, because the rain has brought plenty of moisture, so watering is not the reason.
The French heirloom carrots appear to have nice foliage, but who knows what is happening under the soil in the water-regulated grow box? There are sprouts of Chantenay Red Core, Jaune Obtuse du Doubs, Parisienne, and St. Valery. The clay and rocky soil are not conducive to carrots, although we may consider a row later, because one section of the potager was amended with river sand. For now, they will stay in containers.
The cooler temperatures have been kind to the D'Elne Celery, a French variety known for having a good flavor and a shorter harvest time compared to other varieties. Luckily, the seeds were started indoors in February, so they were ready for their outdoor debut in April. They are located in the partially shady section of the potager annex. The heat and humidity of upcoming months could change their trajectory, but I am cautiously optimistic with their 8-10 inch growth in grow bags. Celery is a good item for the grow bag, because the handles will make it easier to transfer from the annex to a cooler location, if necessary.
The cucumbers are moving right along. I am experimenting with the Parisian Pickling Cucumbers in hanging baskets with the Coleus, and they seem happy, reaching about a half-inch so far. A hybrid cucumber has been planted in grow bags, just in case the Paris Pickle decides to be fickle!
The eggplant seedlings were started rather late indoors, but they have been transferred to grow bags, and they seem okay. They are not anywhere near the growth rate of the neighboring gourds and pumpkins, which have huge leaves.
A kitchen garden in the southern United States is not complete without okra, in my husband's view, anyway. I don't eat it, but I still like to plant it for its reliability during challenging growing seasons. This year's lineup includes seeds from last year's okra as well as a newcomer, the Louisiana 16-inch Long Pod. According to the packet from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, this okra comes from the Evangeline Parish via Kurt Bridges, a Cajun and Creole seed collector. Unlike typical okra, this one still tastes good after reaching 10 inches or so. The Louisiana seedlings have surpassed last year's okra despite cool weather, so let's see what happens when it feels at home in the humidity!
The various peppers are off to a slow start, but at least they have emerged from their direct-sown positions. It doesn't seem to make sense to sow them early, because they really want warm weather. However, the potatoes are very happy with lush foliage and some flowers. The Russet Burbank seed potatoes were sown just in time before the ground warmed up too much, which was late April.
Most of the Zebrune Shallots are growing. Two out of four emerged from indoor seedlings, and they are far ahead of their direct-seeded peers. However, it is nice to see that almost all the seeds emerged outside. They say it is easier to grow from bulbs, but seeds appear promising, too.
The squash plants had many promising blossoms in early May, but perhaps the weather has not been warm enough to produce squash. The ones started indoors are not that far ahead of the hybrids directly sown into the ground and grow bags. I am particularly looking forward to the Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop variety, also known as PattyPan Squash.
The greens appear to be flourishing, but the taste has been hit-or-miss. The Merlot and Ice Queen varieties are beautiful but rather bitter. They started as indoor seedlings, and I am not sure they enjoyed the change, but the cool weather has led to nice foliage, especially the dark red Merlot, arguably the most gorgeous leafy lettuce I have ever seen. The direct-sown Sanguine Ameliore is much milder in taste, but it is showing the first signs of struggling with warmer temperatures at the end of May. The Merveille des Quatre Saisons started to bolt when transferred from indoors to a grow bag, but the taste is really delicious.
It has been a happy start for cool-loving vegetables like celery, but the hot-weather fans like eggplant and okra are biding time. Well, maybe not the Louisiana Okra, because it seems to celebrate any tiny bit of sunshine, which isn't so surprising for anything from that state, now is it?