Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Arlington, VA
By Nancy Dowling, Certified Master Gardener
Walking into the Organic Vegetable Garden (OVG) in early June after having been gone for nearly a month, I was amazed by the changes that had taken place in just a few short weeks. When I left in mid-May, most of the beds were still filled with cover crops – winter rye and peas, crimson clover, and hairy vetch. Of course, the strawberries were lush, the radishes were ready for harvesting and the wintered kale, chard, lettuces, and spinach were being harvested, but the balance of the garden was still in transition.
Now, in June, the OVG has transformed, with the help of our skilled volunteers, into a vegetable garden on steroids! The spring peas are being harvested, pole beans are climbing trellises, the bush bean varieties are already flowering (meaning their beans are soon to come), and all of the tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are in the ground and gaining inches every day. Our chard is particularly successful this year. Because this crop likes to be planted with root crops, we planted onions and leeks from seed in part of one bed, surrounded by chard, and the chard has flourished. The Yukon potatoes we planted in felt bags are 18 inches high. It’s just a wonder that within weeks, a garden begins to take form to produce its bounty.
By mid-June, we were harvesting beets, bunching onions that were planted from starts (bulbs), chard, lettuce, kale, coriander, and the last of the peas. We are planting more beans than usual because in addition to providing us with food, they are good for the soil. The roots of legumes break up hard clumps of clay and also attract beneficial organisms that fix nitrogen into the soil for whatever is rotated into that bed next year. So wherever you plant legumes, think about planting something else there next year that needs nitrogen and watch that plant take off!
Vegetable gardeners are advised to keep a 3- to 4-year plan of their beds to make sure they have rotations set up to reduce the chance of disease and pests in the garden, a practice we follow in the OVG. Because of our efforts to plant winter cover crops and rotate our beds in a 3 to 4 year cycle, the soil has improved significantly with few other amendments necessary. The only additions we make to our beds are compost from our own bins and blood meal. That’s it!
We continue to plant squash of several kinds, okra, and cucumbers. There is still time to plant many hot weather crops in the garden, but we do have to hold off on the cool weather crops such as lettuce, radishes, kale, etc., until late July and August, when the days get shorter and the heat wanes. Here in Arlington, Virginia, we are lucky to be able to plant year round, using plastic covers to protect our cold-loving crops during the coldest time of the year. For now, the weather is perfect and there’s still time to plant summer crops. Come visit our garden and pick up some ideas.