After a slow start... -- 5-26-14

(This week’s illustration is one of the two raised beds installed by Michael Maginnis at his home near Greencastle, Pa. Supervising the activity is his daughter, Elora Katherine.)

The region’s recent mixture of heavy rains followed by cool nights and drying winds have put the brakes on progress at my son’s raised beds near Greencastle, Pa. It’s still early in the season, however, and there are some possible fixes for what ails these two plots.

The Maryland Master Gardeners who run the “Grow It! Eat It!” blog ( report similar difficulties.

Erica Smith wrote: “Spring has given us the usual roller coaster of temperatures and conditions, though on the whole chilly and wet has been winning out over hot and dry. One result of this has been a big difference in the success rate of various spring crops, seemingly due to when they were planted and how much protection from weather they've received (as well as to multiple other factors, as is always the case with gardening!).”

So let’s tackle my son’s questions:

1. How many hours of direct sunlight does the dwarf corn need? I'm wondering if I should put them on the south facing side of the house because they need as much as possible and they don't get afternoon sun on the back porch.
The web site information on Burpee’s On Deck Hybrid doesn’t say that this needs full sun, but most corn does. Move it to where it gets the most sun, but if it’s out of your sight, make a mental note to check it whenever you work in your plots.

2. See the attached photo of the tomato bed. The nine plants are alive, but I wouldn't say they are thriving. I put down mulch five days ago in the bed and also fertilized them with 2 tbsp of Tomato Tone fertilizer per plant. My concern is that they look the same as when I planted them like three weeks ago now.

Tomatoes love the heat and if they go into the ground when it’s still cold, they’ll sit there for a while. You could get some plastic gallon jugs, cut the bottoms out and place them over the tomatoes, with the caps off, of course. That way they would get sunlight while being predicted from cold breezes. Once it gets really hot, there should be no problems.

3. See attached photo of the veggie bed. My concern here is greatest because I planted all the rows of stuff almost 10 days ago and I'm not seeing any sprouts of any kind from the various plants planted there. I read in your article that having a deluge followed by sun that cracks the top surface of the soil can be a concern, which can be alleviated by later mulch application. But I wasn't going to apply mulch before I saw plants that have been established a bit. There continue to be small weeds throughout that I don't want to turn the soil to get rid of for fear of digging up my plantings. Any help here?

If you have any seeds left, re-plant part of a row and see what happens. If the second batch of seeds comes up, you’ll be fairly certain that the first ones drowned and/or rotted. Look also at the seed packets and see what they say about how soon they should germinate. If you’d rather not do either, you could make up for lost time by picking up some transplants at a local garden center.

As for the tiny weeds, if you don’t want to work up the ground, wait for some activity -- or replanting -- and them mulch.

There is no guarantee of success in gardening. My wife and I planted 50 pounds of potatoes one year and our harvest amounted to -- drum roll please -- 50 pounds of potatoes. Sometimes, as the Red Queen told Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, "(I)t takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.

After I first wrote this, my son updated me, offering better news that he had delivered at first:

“I weeded the veggie bed and picked out all the tiny little weeds and found that actually spaghetti squash and cucumbers and beans have all sprouted. What hasn't sprouted was a half row of cucumbers, the onions and the basil. I replanted the onions because I had more seed. I marked the dirt for planting a second variety of cucumber, and I'm going to look at Burpee for a replacement basil to order...something slow to bolt or even maybe they've gotten more of that non-flowering Bam variety.”

I have often looked more closely at a project I’m working on and found a flaw. But sometimes, like my son, a closer look shows me things are going better than I thought.



As reported in the May 24 edition of The Herald-Mail, about 2,000 acres of forested land in the southern part of Washington County have infested with cankerworm, common known as inchworms. These nasty little critters -- which are sometimes green, sometimes brown -- invade periodically and can defoliate a tree if left untouched.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture -- ands most other agencies -- do not recommend that homeowners spray for cankerworms. Instead, they suggest placing sticky strips around the trunks of trees to capture females as they climb the trees to lay eggs.

The MDA also says that natural enemies usually limit the outbreaks of these worms, which are actually the larvae of a moth.



The baby robins in the nest in front of the garage have flown, which means that we can get that new garage door installed, so my wife can put her new car inside more easily. For some reason, birds seem to like to defecate on black vehicles and the abundance of pollen this year can make the car resemble a black jelly bean dipped in powdered sugar.

No groundhog sightings yet this year, though there is a fresh hole in the small portion of our land that we have let go to woods. Exploring there, sniffing every weed top and groundhog hole -- whether recent or years old -- is one of my dog’s favorite treats. When I’m tempted to hurry her, I remember that if I do, I just might miss a wildflower or creature I haven’t seen before. Leaving things alone is sometimes procrastination and sometimes preservation.

(Did you enjoy this column? Please submit suggestions and constructive criticism to You may use a “pen name” or a pseudonym if you choose.)





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