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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Supposing is Good, But Finding Out is Better

We are now in a transitional period in the garden. Early crops, like lettuces, radishes, peas, etc. are now being harvested. My own early efforts were simple. I planted radishes in two waves, and mesclun, a blend of several varieties of lettuce. I have done peas in the past, and they were delightful, but shelling peas can be time consuming. With a full time job, I like to keep it reasonably simple.  
 
I cannot say enough about the pleasures of fresh lettuce. It is easy to grow and there is nothing comparable in the groceries. I just take a salad spinner right out to the garden and thin and pick. I thin out some of the plants and snip their roots off and then others I just snip off the large leaves. With just a couple of full bowl rinsings and a nice spin in the salad contraption, you are good to go. It is better to harvest lettuce in the morning when the cooler temperatures have a favorable effect on the end result.  When I started to experiment with this a few years back, it was obvious that this would be a keeper.
 
The new thing I am doing in the lettuce patch this year is the addition of carrots. As I am starting to enjoy the lettuce, in between each row I planted a strip of carrots. I have high hopes for this. The timing is good and gives that raised bed double duty. When it will be too hot for the lettuce (and this happens way too soon!), I’ll be looking at a nice stand of carrots. I’ll keep you posted.
 
My radishes are French Breakfast Radishes. I am a sucker for the name and variety. I have exclusively planted these for several years. They are aesthetically pleasing to look at and it makes me feel so soignée to eat them with butter and bread. Mark Twain would hate that. Well, because, after all they are.....FRENCH. Too bad Mark, this is Covington, not Cincinnati. We on the southern side of the river are NOT ten years behind.
 
When the first round of radishes are gone, any day now, I believe I’ll plants Beets in their place. Beets and Radishes, Beets and Radishes. This whole idea with the carrots in the lettuce patch has really got me going. I think this idea will turn out too. I really like beets. Pickled, roasted; I even like making Beet-pickled eggs. Get that sour look off of your face.
 
Even though I really like beets, I haven’t been very pleased with my results in the past. I think my soil has been too rocky (what? glass and old rusted nails cause gnarly roots?). Birds feasting at the buffet, which I’ve talked about before with Zinnias, and just plain negligence with watering erratically have caused my problems here. Now, in the raised bed with a cover of garden fabric and a commitment to better watering, I should have beets that make me happy. If only the rest of life was that simple.
 
The next really big transition is the main event. Tomatoes. All of the seedlings I had started were transferred to larger pots and hardened off. They are ready to plant in the garden. This is a big moment and it takes a little effort to get everything in place. You will need your tomato cages (or whatever you prefer) and soaker hoses at the ready, and also straw to mulch. It’s all about maintaining moisture and keeping the weeds at bay.  
 
This year, I have initiated a “new” innovation. A good Covington gardening friend of mine informed me about the virtues of newspaper in weed suppression. No, you don’t read about weeds or write negative editorials about them. You put down two or three layers on the ground under your straw, cages, and soaker hoses and it will put the kibosh on weeds. It makes total sense and I can’t believe I have never heard of this or somehow missed the life memo! Perhaps I was a little too quick to be so arrogant about Mark Twain’s alleged dictum about Cincinnati. Well, I am an Ohioan originally. I guess that explains something.
 
I used this same tactic with my Peppers and Basil as well. I think this year will be a watershed moment in my gardening orchestrations.  
 
Newspaper breaks down easily and is a good source of Carbon, or vegetable matter, in the garden.  Compost, the gardener’s best friend, is a mix of of the interactions of Carbon and Nitrogen. There are many sources of each of these, and newspaper is but one. It is a plus to have a good Carbon source be such a functional weed suppressant. 
 
Gardening is always a challenge and will always opens new doors in your understanding of how the natural world works.  Not only will you eat well, but you may even learn a little practical chemistry.  To quote Mr. Clemens, “Supposing is good, but finding out is better.”
 
 
The River City News is proud to produce this regular feature column, "The Intrepid Urban Farmer". Every couple weeks, our local expert will offer tips, stories, and more for the urban gardener. Questions for The Intrepid Urban Farmer? Email: [email protected]