Notes from the June Garden

Red admiral butterflies are frequent foragers on chive blossoms.

Growing Chives in the Garden

In the second week of June, at the end of a small vegetable garden bed once devoted to an assortment of herbs but recently turned over to rhubarb, a clump of chives is in full flower.  It survived the transition because both Marjorie and I are fond of its June flowers.  Garden seasons go by without harvesting any of the leaves, but we are drawn to the lavender-pink flower clusters and the pollinators that they attract.  Bumblebees and red admiral butterflies are frequent foragers.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are among the easiest of plants to grow.  All they need is plenty of sunlight and a slightly acid (pH 6.2-6.8) soil with plenty of organic matter.  The later requirement can be easily met by annual mulching with compost or aged manure and by digging in more organic matter when dividing the clumps.  Established plants should be dug, divided, and replanted every three to five years.

Over fertilizing chives to push growth is detrimental.  Slower, compact growth leads to stronger flavor in the leaves and healthier plants.

When we do harvest the leaves, we cut them back to an inch or two above the soil.  A new plant should only be harvested once in its first year; in subsequent years, the leaves can be harvested monthly.

There is only the one clump in our garden, so most of the leaves are used as they are cut, spicing up salads (along with a few chive flowers, also edible) or dressing up baked potatoes.  Extra leaves, pre-washed and chopped into small pieces, are frozen.

As an edible crop, chives are a good source of dietary fiber, thiamin, and vitamins A, C, and B-6.  They also contain significant amounts of riboflavin, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and copper.

Chive plants are available at many garden centers in pots, ready for planting at any time during the garden season.  In addition to the lavender-pink-flowered species, there are two cultivars, ‘Forescate‘ with rose-red flowers and ‘Corsica‘ with white flowers.  The variety albaflorumn also has white blooms.

Flowers But No Fruits – What’s Wrong with My Tomatoes?

One of the most frequent questions I receive from readers goes something like this: “I have plenty of flowers on my tomato plants, but no tomatoes.  What’s wrong?”  Really observant gardeners may note that the flower stems turn yellow just before the flowers drop to the ground.

The diagnosis is not easy, since there are several possible causes of blossom drop in tomatoes.  It is often the result of extreme temperatures during the day or night.  Development of the pollen tube, a post-pollination event essential to fruit development that must occur within 24 hours of pollination, is inhibited in many tomato varieties by daytime temperatures above 85 degrees, night-time temperatures above 70, and, most often, night-time temperatures below 55. The later is a possibility in any summer month for northern New England.

Also, if nighttime temperatures are less than 55 or greater than 75, or daytime temperatures are greater than 85, recently deposited pollen may become tacky and non-viable.  Fruits that do develop are more likely to be misshapen or cat-faced when night temperatures are below 55.

These temperature-related causes of poor fruit set can be minimized by selection of tomato varieties that are suited to cool summers.  When perusing seed catalogs, choose varieties with the shortest number of days to maturity, an indication of suitability for gardens with cool, short summers.  But don’t believe the actual number, as ripening will happen more slowly in a cool summer.

Blossom drop may result from lack of pollination, the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower (the anther) to the female part (the stigma).  Tomatoes flowers must be vibrated or shaken for this transfer to occur and this is normally done by wind or bumblebees.  If both are lacking in the garden, frequent gently shaking of the flowers by hand may work to improve  pollination.

Other cultural causes of blossom drop include nitrogen levels that are too high or too low.  Given too much nitrogen, the plant diverts most of its energy to vegetative growth; given too little, it may be too spindly and weak to sustain many developing fruits.

Lack of water will also lead to blossom drop.  Tomato plants have deep roots, some as deep as five feet.  Shallow watering stresses and weakens plants.  Tomatoes respond best to deep irrigation once each week, unless the garden gets a soaking rain.

Hilling Potatoes

Potatoes planted in April will need hilling now.  New potatoes form on thin stolons (underground stems) that emerge from the main stems and these stolons should be covered with soil to protect the young potatoes from sunlight.  Do the first hilling when the plants are about a foot tall, mounding soil against the lower half of each plant.  Repeat once or twice more during the growing season as the plants grow taller.

Bolting Spinach

Spinach plants grown from seed sown in early May are likely to start flowering now, if they have not already formed flower spikes, a process called “bolting”.  Even the most bolt-resistant varieties, such as Bloomsdale Long Standing, will eventually respond to increasing daylength by flowering and setting seed, putting an end to the harvest.

We did manage to get one good harvest of young spinach leaves before the plants bolted this week.  Now it’s out with the spinach, in with the summer crop of basil.

This early end to the harvest of spring-sown spinach is why many gardeners in northern New England are waiting until August to sow spinach.  Late-summer-sown spinach will continue to produce leaves until the plants succumb to freezing temperatures.

For more June gardening tips, visit the Facebook page of my upcoming book, The New England Gardener’s Year (http://facebook.com/negardener).

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About Reeser Manley

I was born in Laramie Wyoming but moved to the southeast at an early age. I was educated through my B.S. in Biology in the Columbus, Georgia area, then crossed the Chattahoochee River to earn my M.S. in Botany at Auburn University. For the next ten years, I worked as Horticultural Manager for the George W. Park Seed Co. in Greenwood, S.C. At 40 years of age, I decided to return to graduate school and in 1994, I earned a Ph.D. in Horticultural Science from Washington State University, Pullman, Washington. Fast forward through 10 years at university (7 at UMaine, Orono) and you find me teaching high school science in Eastport, Maine, the edge of the world, and writing a weekly garden column for the Bangor Daily News. My new book, The New England Gardener's Year, a Month-by-Month Guide for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Upstate New York”, will be published later this year by Cadent Publishing. You can learn more about the book by visiting its Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-England-Gardeners-Year/187285218055676.)