06 June 2012
I hung up my spring laundry line the other day. It is not for laundry. It is my current device for dealing with our fluctuations in temperature. In an attempt to get cool weather vegetables with temperatures varying by 30 degrees, I try everything. I planted a flat of broccoli in February which is now producing though it has been frozen and fried. Early in the season, I cover it on frosty nights and later in the season I hang my line over it. Same with spinach and peas.
I try to plant potatoes early but they come up when they want to sometimes as much as a month after planting. Daylight and soil temperature seem to be the determining factors. Cool weather crops like collards, chard, lettuce and cabbage do not like 30 degree nights followed by 85 degree days and when it hits 90 in mid-April, I put up my clothes line but not for clothes. I string four rows of baling twine over my garden from fence post to fence post right across the middle of the garden along the paths between my raised beds. I hang 15’ lengths of burlap from the line and poke it up high over the garden, just as you would a clothes line, so the 4’ wide burlap blows back and forth about four feet above the plants. It is high enough so that I can weed under it on hot days with the shade of the burlap crossing back and forth over me and the plants.
I turn on the big overhead sprayer for a few hours in the early morning on a day when I expect the temperature to climb towards 90. The soaking burlap dries out during the day and evaporating moisture lowers the air temperature around my heat sensitive crops. When the weather gets back to normal, I hike up the burlap and pin it up close to the line, ready to lower when the next hot spell hits. I do this until I have peas on the table and all the spinach has finally bolted.
Winter spinach bolts first having produced well from February until April. Spring planted spinach needs my clothes line protection to produce until June. After the first pick of early broccoli, these plants continue to produce side shoots while later planted broccoli is just forming heads. I try to prolong lettuce production in order to get at least one BLT when the tomatoes finally ripen in July. I’m growing cauliflower again as I finally learned to cook it so everyone likes it. Break the head up into florets and steam them for a few minutes until tender. Place them in a baking dish. Beat two egg whites until stiff. Mix 1/4 cup mayonniase and 1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese and fold mixture into egg whites. Fold in one teaspoon of lemon juice. Paint this mixture on the cauliflower pieces and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Place under broiler until it puffs up and browns; less than five minutes. Watch it so it doesn’t burn. Cheesy-puff cauliflower is delicious.
Sunny Lenz is a professional gardener and landscape painter working in and around central Virginia.