Did you know that eggplant is actually a fruit (vs. a vegetable) and that Thomas Jefferson introduced eggplant to North America? It is called eggplant because...well, the variety with which we're most familiar is egg-shaped; and there is a white variety that is grown for its ornamental value. But, for food gardeners who want to grow a delicious, nutritious summer veggie (or, perhaps we should say fruit), Master Gardener Ellie Samuel has eggplant variety recommendations and growing instructions. Learn more.
In the Garden
Are you new to vegetable gardening? Then check out this list of ten vegetables typically found in a Sonoma County summer vegetable garden.
Chipped Branch Wood (CBW)
by Master Gardeners Tommie Smith and Bernadette Nouel
Food Gardening with Less Water
Food Garden Tips
Weed, weed, weed! Weeds are competing with your crops for sun, water and nutrients. And, weeds can harbor some nasty food garden pests.
Despite our el Nino winter, there are long-term drought predictions not to mention our usual long hot, dry season each year. Continue to compost, compost, compost and mulch, mulch, mulch! Both will retain soil moisture along with other benefits. Some crops, such as tomatoes and corn, are heavy feeders and will benefit from the compost (2-4 inches). Don’t over-compost or add additional fertilizer high in nitrogen – it will only cause a flush of green growth requiring extra water and will attract pests.
Many Sonoma County gardeners buy warm weather veggie transplants this month. Don’t buy a plant forming fruit – it’s been in the container way too long. Tomatoes and peppers should be wider than they are tall. Check not only for healthy green foliage, gently slide the plant out of the container to make sure that roots are healthy and not matted.
Speaking of transplants, how about choosing varieties with less days-to-maturity (less water before it produces), that are “drought-resistant” or “drought-tolerant” in the variety description, that are California-bred suitable for our climate or, in the case of tomatoes, are determinants (where the fruit matures about the same time – harvest and pull it out).
Normally, we would advise you to plant citrus this month. However, citrus requires lots of water to become established. Best to wait until the fall rains.
If mature citrus sustained frost damage over the winter, you can tip prune the deadwood once all threat of frost has passed. Prune damaged parts down to the new growth buds. After pruning, water deeply and apply a balanced fertilizer (how about less than what the manufacturer recommends in this drought year?). Also, add 3-4 inches of mulch – staying away from the woody trunk – to retain moisture and keep the soil cool this summer.
If May weather turns unusually hot, put shade cloth on tender seedlings for a few weeks and do your best to keep the root area stays moist, not wet.
Over-vigorous fruit trees or trees that are too large may be summer pruned the end of May to June/July (however, it reduces the production of fruit). This may be a good strategy in a drought year (less fruit requires less water). At a minimum, remove upright watershoots emerging from branches and suckers emerging from the tree roots/base. They do not flower or fruit and they compete for water and nutrients.
Most fruit trees (not all) benefit from thinning – especially in a drought year. Favorable fruit-to-leaf ratio promotes large fruit. In general, space fruit every 4-6 inches along a branch or leave one fruit per spur; but leave the largest fruit even if unevenly spaced. Remove small and damaged fruit.
Beneficials are insects that feed on common garden pests, like aphids and caterpillars. Attract bees and beneficial insects to your food garden by including ornamentals and flowering herbs that provide nectar and/or pollen. Choose some low-water plants this year such as California pipevine, yarrow, thyme, salvia (sage), lavender, rosemary and dwarf germander – to name a few.
Depending on the weather, May can see some heavy infestations of aphids. Use a spray of water to remove aphids; usually, they can’t find their way back up the plant. Soap sprays can be used, but the infestations must be thoroughly covered and repeat applications may be necessary.
Know what pest you are fighting so that you can select effective pest management strategies. Check out University of California’s natural enemies gallery.
Inspect crops regularly throughout their growing season for early problem diagnosis and resolution. Refer to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site. Control ants to help control damaging insects that produce honeydew, such as aphids and scale. Ants are protecting these harmful insects from their natural predators.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH*
ONIONS, BULB, Jan-May, C, D/T, 100-120 days to maturity
POTATOES, Feb-May, C, D, 100-120 days to maturity
LEEKS, Feb-Jul, C, T, 120-150 days to maturity
SWISS CHARD, Feb-Aug, C, D/T, 60-80 days to maturity
LETTUCE (heat-tolerant varieties this month), Feb-Oct, C, D/T, 50-60 days to maturity
BEETS, Mar-Aug, C, D, 55-70 days to maturity
CARROTS, Mar-Sep, C, D, 70-90 days to maturity
ONION, BUNCHING, Mar-Oct, C, D/T, 70-80 days to maturity
KALE, Mar-Nov, C, D/T, 65-75 days to maturity
ASPARAGUS (seedlings), Apr-Jun, C, T, 4 yrs to maturity from seedlings
CELERIAC, Apr-Jun, C, T, 150-160 days to maturity
OKRA, Apr-Jun, W, T, 70-80 days to maturity
PEPPERS, Apr-Jun, W+, T, 65-85 days to maturity
PUMPKINS, Apr-Jun, W, D/T, 100-115 days to maturity
TOMATILLOS, Apr-Jun, W, T, 70-80 days to maturity
TOMATOES, Apr-Jun, W+, T, 50-90 days to maturity
CORN, SWEET, Apr-Jul, W, D, 65-110 days to maturity
CUCUMBERS, Apr-Jul, W+, D/T, 50-70 days to maturity
SQUASH, SUMMER, Apr-Jul, W, D/T, 50-60 days to maturity
EGGPLANT, May, W+, T, 70-80 days to maturity
MELONS, May-Jun, W+, D/T, 85-120 days to maturity
PARSNIPS, May-Jun, C, D, 90-120 days to maturity
SQUASH, WINTER, May-Jun, W, D/T, 80-120 days to maturity
BEAN, POLE, May-Jul, W, D, 60-70 days to maturity
BEAN, BUSH, May-Sep, W, D, 55-65 days to maturity
CARDOON, May-Sep, C, T, 180 days to maturity
ARTICHOKES, May-Sep, C, D/T, 130-190 days to maturity
*NOTE: Planting dates are approximate for Sonoma County; weather patterns, microclimate and other growing conditions must be considered when direct seeding and transplanting. “Days to maturity” is approximate and depends on the vegetable variety and your garden’s specific growing conditions. This information will facilitate planting dates that lead to successful production before the growing season ends.
C = cool season crops that grow best in soil temps of 60-65 degrees and air temps of 65-75 degrees.
W = warm season crops that grow best in soil temps of 65-80 degrees and air temps of 75-90 degrees and little cooling at night
W+ = warm season crops that need extra protection to keep them warm if planted early in season.
D = seed is usually sown directly in the garden
T = crops are usually planted from transplants
D/T = seeds can be planted directly into soil or transplants can be used