It’s Not Beets

As much as POD loves dirt, beets, which taste like dirt, aren’t well-loved in the kitchen below the little blue deck. (A side-by-side dirt/beet comparison hasn’t been recently conducted, but stories abound about a certain dirt-eating childhood misadventure.)

Swiss Chard Seedlings
Swiss chard seedlings say: "Hi, hi!"

Swiss chard (a beet without the beet), however, is well-revered on deck and well-received below deck.

The tasty greens flourish along red and white (and sometimes orange, yellow, and pink) stalks and can stand in for spinach in just about any recipe. Planted on April 20, these red Charolette (POD was unable to resist a chard named Charolette) and white Erbette seeds sprouted less than a week later. Both are touted as heat resistant and are likely to last through most of the summer.

Like just about anything planted in a container, chard prefers a soil that’s rich in organic matter and a regular feeding schedule. They’re a lot less picky than other veggies, though, and can probably tolerate last year’s (sterilized) and re-enriched soil. A few tablespoons of coffee grounds were mixed in for a little extra nitrogen kick. Well-watered soil is absolutely key for keeping chard from becoming too bitter during the hot summer months. It can tolerate partial shade, which is great, because POD sun allotment can be rather erratic.

Don’t be surprised if more than one delicious sprout emerges from the ground: each seed pod may contain multiple seeds. Here’s where it gets tricky: who likes thinning plants? It’s murder, right?!

Fortunately, chard is pretty hardy so many duplicates were carefully pinched from the soil and replanted elsewhere (alongside the cucumbers, for example). Chard doesn’t mind a little crowding (which makes it an excellent container vegetable) but somehow you’ll have to bring yourself to thin to 3-4″ between plants.

Since you can harvest chard at any point, POD plans on yanking several out, roots and all, when they’re at the leaf lettuce stage. They’ll taste great in a salad and this should leave plenty of room for the remaining plants to produce larger, more traditionally-sized stalks. Then, simply harvest the outer stalks as necessary, allowing the inner shoots to grow rapidly to maturity.

Delicate Roots

True Lemon Cucumber SeedlingLast week we had lows dipping into the 30s and this week we hit 91 degrees. The farmer’s tan has commenced.

This afternoon the remaining pots were prepped (emptied of old dirt, cleaned, sprayed with foul-smelling organic anti-fungal, lined with a couple inches of evil styrofoam, filled with organic dirt, pre-watered, and topped with a tomato cage) and planted.

Very happy Boothby Blonde and True Lemon cucumbers from Happy Cat Organics have taken up residence on the little blue deck and have been surrounded with one orange cosmo each (to help attract bees), Swiss chard, and lettuce.  Rather than using the horribly ugly jury-rigged bamboo trellis that was employed last year, POD sprang for a few more tomato cages to enclose the cucumbers and melons. One suspects it’ll be easier to train the climbers with the additional support.

For those of you who started your cucumbers or melons from seed, you’ll want to carefully transplant them, disturbing the roots as little as possible. (Peat pots can be planted directly, but alas, they generally suck.)

Last year two plants per 5-gallon bucket were given the go-ahead but this year, once the seedlings have survived the transplant, only one will be allowed to continue. (When last year’s plants were removed from the buckets they were pretty rootbound. And, since fungi and mildew always seem to attack them, the extra air circulation may come in handy as well). Because the root systems of cucurbits are pretty touchy, resist yanking the doomed seedling from the dirt — just nip it off at the soil line.

As POD had run out of space (and energy) indoor seed-starting, the melons were direct seeded this afternoon. Happy summer.