May and June is the perfect time to plant heat loving summer vegetables. Planted too early they sulk – too late and their season is cut short. Some plants just tolerate summer, but these sizzlers actually prefer the heat, bright light and long days of the hot summer months ahead.
Some of these summer specialties are started from transplants, but others are best from seed.
It seems that growing plants from seed is almost a lost art in many gardens. However, with only slightly more effort, growing a few vegetables from seed will reward you with many more choices and even better flavor.
Sow seeds now of lima and snap beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, soybeans and squash. These are all large seeds that are easy to plant and quick to germinate.
Another advantage of most summer vegetables is that they offer a long harvest. Unlike the all-at-once scenario of many cool-season crops like lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, radish and others, most of these summer vegetables will offer their bounty over a two or three month period.
My favorite vegetable of the summer is fresh beans. On seed rack you will find nearly endless green bean choices (also called “snap beans”). While perusing the choices, search for any variety labeled either Haricot Verts or French Filet Beans; these are the same bean as those served at fine restaurants. It is a slender, flavorful and stringless green bean. Pick Haricot Verts fresh from the garden all summer and simply add them straight to boiling salted water. Cook for about four minutes, until they are crisp-tender. Don’t overcook or fresh beans will become limp and mushy. Then immediately shock them in an ice bath to set their color and stop the cooking. To serve warm, sauté the beans gently in butter or olive oil and season with only salt and pepper. Haricot Verts are THE green bean.
A perfect companion for beans in the summer garden is squash, especially Zucchini and its many cousins. The best of all the summer squash is also a French heirloom by the name Ronde de Nice, but sometimes called ‘Baby Round’. Only grown from seed, the thin skin and delicate flesh will bruise easily, so you’ll never find these delicacies in supermarkets. All Summer Squash, like Ronde de Nice, are simple to grow from seed.
Harvest Ronde de Nice squash while still young and extra-tender, about three or four inches in diameter. Serve them gently steamed or sautéed with other vegetables in a medley of other summer vegetables. While sautéing, add a dash of butter and some chicken broth and chopped herbs for a delicious side dish.
Now is the time to get some cucumbers into the soil as well. Of all the cucumbers on the market the Lemon Cucumber may be the most interesting. Considered an heirloom variety, Lemon Cucumbers were originally brought to the United States in 1894. Some experts say the seed originated in Australia, others believe it came from Russia. Either way, the round, baseball sized fruit of Lemon Cucumbers are a soft yellow color with a delicious flavor. You’ll almost never find Lemon Cucumbers on the supermarket shelf or available as transplants, so you’ll want to check the seed racks for these as well.
A great summer salad can be made with Lemon Cucumbers. To the sliced cucumbers add red onion, colorful home-grown tomatoes, sweet corn, some greens and some rice vinegar. Sprinkle with a little lemon thyme vinaigrette and you’re ready for a great summer specialty.
Great taste is one of the biggest reasons to grow your own vegetables, and this is especially true with melons. The most flavorful melons are too fragile to ship and absent from supermarkets. But home gardeners willing to grow from seed have no limitations. The small French cantaloupes are at the top of the flavor charts and the most famous of all is a 1920’s heirloom selection called Charentais (pronounced sha-rhan-tay).
Give melons the sunniest, warmest spot in your garden and a little room to sprawl. Then get ready for a flavor explosion when you cut your first melon open and scoop out the sweet, intensely flavored flesh. Now that’s what summer vegetable growing is all about.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar