In the Vegetable Garden: Summer Planting and Status Updates



A homemade planting board makes spacing plants a breeze

This past Sunday, I visited my local flea market in Cedar Lake, Indiana.  I’ve been going to this market for more than thirty years.  Prior to being a flea market, it was a chicken ranch – the sheds now hold treasures rather than hens.  In the warm months, the vendors set up outside as well.  My mission that day was to get some seasonal flowers for outdoor pots and some pepper plants.  In early April, I started some seeds indoors, you can read more about that here.  Knowing my luck starting seeds inside, and having them be robust plants by the end of May, I decided not to start my green peppers from seed, but rather get them from the vendor that sells them at the flea market – 24 pepper plants for $5.50, and the plants were much larger than the hot peppers that I did start from seed, as seen in the photo below – so unusual plants, I’ll start from seeds indoors (as well as easy to start plants such as cucumbers and squash), but common plants such as green peppers, I’d rather buy.


The little pepper plants in the foreground were started indoors six weeks ago. The larger plants, behind them were purchased for less than a quarter a piece. Both methods, have their advantages.

The pepper plants were spaced a foot apart in rows 18 inches apart using a homemade planting board.


The “bare” area in the foreground has the tiny pepper plants and a row of potatoes just showing some green

Growing Peanuts in the North, Don’t Cha Know

The vendor doesn’t sell anything too unusual, so my indoor starts also included some winter and summer squash, cucumbers, parsley, and … Spanish peanuts.   In northern Illinois short growing season, I thought that I might have a better chance of getting a crop of peanuts if I started the seeds indoors, a month ahead of setting them out in the garden. 

Of all places, I purchased my peanut seeds from Farm & Fleet, in their candy and nut aisle.  A pound of raw peanuts was $2.00.  I set aside about a dozen seeds, wrapped them in a moist paper towel, rolled the towel up an placed it in an unsealed plastic bag – the seeds tend to get funky (as I found out) if they don’t get some air – they actually ferment, which is death to the peanut.  After a week or so on my kitchen counter top, the seeds had sent out a tap root and were ready to be planted in to pots to grow on until the weather was warm enough to plant them in the garden.  The rest of the peanuts from the store were made into sweet and salty beer nuts.

Peanut seeds

The raw peanuts were pre-sprouted in moist paper towel, then planted into pots, a week later

sprouted peanuts

Approximately a week after being wrapped in moist toweling, little radical roots appeared


The peanut plants, on the right side of the flat of plants, a month after sprouting indoors, and now ready to plant out in the garden

The peanuts had a good root system, which was encouraging since this is the first time I have tried to grow peanuts in my vegetable garden – more out of curiosity than for any more sensible reason.


Peanuts are not know to transplant well, but with a short northern growing season, I felt my odds of getting a crop before frost were increased by starting the seeds indoors, a month before setting them out in the garden.

My vegetable garden space is limited, and I felt a bit foolish taking up this valuable real estate with a novelty crop, but I’ve been wanting to try growing peanuts for almost twenty years now, so this is the year.


The peanut plants were given about one square foot of soil a piece – a bit more might be be better – but we’ll see how this method works out

…And a Few Updates

The carrot and beet seeds planted in early April took their time coming up, about three weeks, but are now in need of thinning to about 2 to 3 inches apart.  I may wait a bit longer to do this task, as beet greens are good in salads, along with mini carrots, so maybe on the first of June, these plants will get thinned out and put into a salad bowl.


Beets in the foreground with carrots behind.  The hops vine in creeping in from the right.

Cucumbers and zucchini plants were planted between the rows of beets and carrots this week.  Hopefully, the beets and carrots will have been harvested before the cucumbers and zucchini get too big.  A trellis will be installed for the cucumbers to climb up on.


a zucchini seedling planted indoors about 10 days ago, and now ready to go into the garden soil

The lettuce, seen below, was planted at the same time as the beet and carrot seed in the next bed over – about six weeks ago – it should be ready for a first picking very soon.  Four Broccoli plants, that I purchased from a family owned garden center, are doing well and even have little heads already.  Last year I purchased my broccoli plants from a big box store, because they looked so nice – they died, one by one, shortly after I planted them in the garden – club root? I’m not sure, but no more Scottish grown plants for me.


Lettuce seeds were planted the sixth of April – about six weeks ago.  The onion-like shallots growing in the rear of the bed were planed last fall, and will be harvested in late summer, when the tops die down.  Dill is also coming up from seed dropped last year – swallowtail butterfly larvae eat the leaves of dill, so I let it grow where it is not a problem.

The seven varieties of potatoes that I planted are also growing well and were in need of their first (last?) hilling up.  All this means, in my case, is that some composted wood chips were thrown on top of the plants so that the tubers are protected from the sun (which turns them green and inedible) and allows more roots to form along the potato stems which, hopefully, will lead to more potatoes in late summer/fall.  Last year, I used straw, instead of composted wood chips and had the worst potato crop ever, while slugs and pill bugs had a feast on the tubers that did form.  Sorry Ruth Stout, your method did not work for me.


The potato tubers were planted in shallow holes four inches deep, now that the tubers are growing, soil needs to be tossed on top of the new growth, which ultimately will push though this new layer soil/composted wood chips.  This process, call “hilling” helps to increase the potato yield.


The new growth will push up through the new layer of compost laid on top of the potato bed

The other potato bed was given the same treatment as the first:


9732The garlic is looking great.  I give my garlic two seasons to grow before harvesting, the garlic shown in the photo below will be pulled in August, when the tops go dormant.  In September, a new bed of garlic will be planted from cloves of this year’s crop.


The hardneck garlic is looking robust in its second season of growth

The garlic planted last September is nowhere near as large – this being only its first season, it will be harvested in August of next year, after its second season of growth – the garlic heads will be much larger at the end of the second season – in a pinch, garlic can be harvested for kitchen use at any time the ground isn’t frozen solid.  For garlic that is to be stored dry, it needs to be harvested as soon as the leaves turn yellow in late summer, otherwise, it will sprout new leaves soon after.


Garlic at the beginning of its first season, after being planted last fall

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Early May Blooms, Mixing Natives with Other Plants in the Shady Perennial Garden

9259In early spring many of the Midwestern woodland wildflowers bloom before the trees (mostly oaks) fully leaf out and create a shady canopy.  There are also a few garden perennials from other parts of the world that bring color in to the early May garden.  Let’s take a look a few that are at their peak of bloom right now. 

In the picture above, common violets intermingle with Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans).  Violets come in many shade of blue and purple, as well as yellow and bicolor blue and white.  The violets above were propagated from a naturally occurring population that had reddish purple coloration (difficult to capture in an image) that complements many other early bloomers, including Ruby Epimedium (Epimedium x rubrum), seen below.




The leaves emerge a bright chartreuse green on the Ruby Epimedium – planted where the morning sun highlights this stunning color.  The leaves turn a more standard green as they mature.  Epimedium sulfureum, a similar species, flowers  in yellow but does not seem to be as robust.  At a foot or so tall and wide, epimedium works well in part shade in groupings of five to nine (or more)  interplanted with other perennials. 

Trilliums, such at the White Trillium (T. grandiflorum) seen below, are often collected from the wild and sold in garden centers, there are, however, some ethical nurseries that propagate their plants from seed or divisions – easy to do, and should be purchased from those sources.  Timing is critical when collecting the seed, generally eight weeks past flowering, since the pods will eventually shatter and the seeds will drop to the ground – as long as the seeds are turning brown, they can be collected and planted in seed flats to expand a population of plants.


White Trillium, aka. Large Flowered Trillium – a easy to grow shade plant


Toad Trillium, T. sessile can have dark purple/black leaves as they emerge in the spring.

Trillium plants will fade after flowering and go dormant until reemerging the following spring, therefore it is best to plant them where the soil will not be disturbed – such as near the base of trees or large rocks.  Other native woodland plants such as Hepatica, seen below, actually send out their new leaves for the season right after flowering, and look great all summer, and stay green through the winter season, only fading the following spring.  Flowers, which range in color from pink, to white, to purpley blue, sometimes emerge as snow is still on the ground in late April.


Hepatica acutiloba now known as Anemone acutiloba, showing seed clusters

Rue Anemone, like hepatica, is a member of the short flowing buttercup family.  The flowers are pure white to slightly pink, with blue green leaves that remain throughout the summer if the soil does not dry out for an extended period.  Rue Anemone looks great tucked into nooks and crannies throughout the shade garden.  Leaves turn yellow in the fall months.



Rue Anemone, Anemone thalictroides aka, Thalictrum thalictroides.

Lenten Rose (Helleborus sp.) is native to Europe and blooms along with the native woodland flowers.  The large, coarse flowers can be an interesting complement to the other finer textured flowers in the shade garden.  These easy to grow perennials can be divided after flowering, by cutting apart divisions with a bread knife, to create more plants.


The flowers of Lenten Rose, ‘Ivory Queen’ last for several weeks

The low groundcover Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is widely found growing in moist woods throughout Europe and Asia, it also mixes well with our Midwestern natives as seen below with Woodland Ginger (Asarum canadense). The leaves of both the Woodland Ginger and the Sweetwoodruff wil stay green all summer if the soil is kept moist during dry spells.


Wood Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and Christmas Fern (Polystichum achrosticoides) are two easy to grow evergreen ferns native to the Midwestern woods.  Wood Shield Fern’s, upright vase shaped growth, can reach two feet tall, while the Christmas Fern is more low spreading.  Below both are seen mixing well with Woodland Ginger (Asarum canadense), Wild Ramp (Allium tricoccum), and Woodland Geranium (Geranium maculatum) with its pink flowers just coming into bloom in Mid-May.


Christmas fern at lower left and Wood Shield Fern at upper right

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) is a neat low mounded woodland plant covered in sky blue flowers for a week, or so, in May.  The rest of the summer, the pinnate foliage looks great and work well, planted along the edge of the shade garden as a nice transition to lawn or other pathway materials.  The Jacob’s ladder often found in garden centers is a taller European variety, with variegated foliage – inferior in appearance to our Midwestern plants.


Polemonium reptans halfway through its bloom cycle

 Blue Wood Phlox can be found blooming at the same time as Jacob’s Ladder, and slightly after Jacob’s Ladder is finished blooming.  In May wiry flower stems shoot up a foot above the low evergreen foliage and put on a bright blue display that works well with other more sun tolerant Dutch bulbs such as Grape Hyacinth (Muscari sp.) and Tulips.  9453A mix of blues and whites in a rock garden I constructed at my home, gets plenty of sun in the spring, but is somewhat shaded by the overhanging Silver Maple in the summer:


9462In one part of the rock garden, the shade tolerant Sedum ternatum, native to Midwestern woods and limestone bluffs is just starting to put out its white, star shaped flowers.  The sedum stays evergreen the year around and works well as a groundcover in the shade garden.


Illinois Stonecrop, can be found on limestone bluffs as well as floodplains (Swink & Wilhelm)

Most sedums, this one included, can be propagated by pinching off a short stem and pushing the base of the stem into the ground where more plants are desired.  Occasional watering of the cuttings will promote quicker rooting.


Sedum ternatum with Blue Wood Phlox in the shade garden

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) is such a ubiquitous old fashioned perennial, that many gardeners are unaware that it also is a American woodland native – mostly found in flood plains, but very adaptable to well drained garden soils.  The charming bell-shaped blue flowers only last a week, then the plants begin to wane, turn yellow, and go dormant for the summer, it is therefore a good idea to note where these plants occur, so that the plants are not inadvertently disturbed while gardening in the summer months.  Interplanting Virginia Bluebells with others perennials that will help mask the fading foliage is something to consider as well.9438Virginia Bluebells can form large colonies by dropping its seeds in bare soil surrounding the mother plant, these volunteers are easily removed if desired.  The roots are fleshy and can be divided after the plants are finished blooming to create more plants.  Virginia Bluebells will do well in most decent garden soils.


A mass of Virginia Bluebells overtake the low evergreens when in bloom, only to quickly retreat with equal vigor

Another early blooming European native is the old fashioned Money Plant (Lunaria annua.)  Grown for the silver dollar sized papery seed pods (silicles) that are used in dried arrangements.  This plant will reseed around the mother plant, and in some soil types this may be a nuisance.  In my experience, the mother plants have survived many winters (unlike what the name implies) to rebloom in the spring and provided more dried arrangement material the following fall.


German Money Plant in the back of the herb garden – growing in very dry crumby soil


The four petals indicate that the Money Plant in a member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae)

For a punch of bright orange in May, Trollius europaeus, or Globeflower, cannot be beat.  The plant, hailing from Europe,  prefers a bit of shade and consistently moist soil but otherwise is a rather carefree perennial.  It blooms at the same time as some of the Giant Purple Alliums  and Chives and the purplely pinks allium blooms could make for an interesting combination with the bright orange blooms of the Trollius.


9479Lastly, we get back to some Midwestern natives for the shade.  Many sedges do well in dry shade, Penn Sedge (Carex Pensylvanica) being one of them.  This sedge is one of the “sod” formers, as opposed to forming neat tufted “clumps.”  Use this growth habit to your advantage by interplanting such shade plants as the trilliums, noted earlier, violets, whose electric blue flowers play well with the bright green foliage of the Penn Sedge.


The course foliage of Ramps (middle right) works well with the grasslike foliage of Penn Sedge

The flowers of the Penn Sedge are a bit underwhelming, but the yellow anthers can sometimes be considered a bit showy in mass plantings.


Penn Sedge spikelet – not showing yellow anthers in this photo – few seeds, seen in front of lower finger, are produced and are difficult to collect, as they drop immediately when ripe

All Violets (Viola palmata shown below) look great interplanted with other woodland plants, especially Penn Sedge.


Palm Violet

  As do specimen plants such as Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum).  While the plant itself goes dormant after bloom, a showy red seed mass forms to catch the viewers attention in late summer, very cool:

9371 Or Sessile Bellwort (Uvularia sessilfolia) whose foliage looks good througout the summer.  The dainty pendulous yellow flowers are curious, if not overly showy.



 These are just some of the interesting plants that come into flower early and can be combined with each other and with later flowering plants to great effect.

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