Growing wheat in Gaithersburg

Wheat sheaves hanging up on a stick to dry
Wheat sheaves hanging to dry. Photo: L. Davis

Wheat is in the news this year (recall export restrictions from Ukraine and India). We don’t usually think of wheat as a home garden crop, but it does grow well in this area.

In 2017, 2019, and 2021 I planted wheat on a small section of my community garden plot in Gaithersburg. I planted hard red winter wheat in late October in a 5′ x 7′ plot in full sun. Winter wheat needs about 8-10 weeks of growth before the ground freezes, at which time it should be about 5-6″ tall. Rows can be 6″ apart, so it also serves as a cover crop over the winter. I surrounded it with a rabbit barrier of chicken wire.

Full grown wheat
Full-grown wheat. Photo: L. Davis

In spring, the wheat grew to about 4′ in height and began to form kernels in May, and I encountered my first challenge – birds. Sparrows swooped in and started eating the young seed heads. Recycling some cicada netting over the top and draping it over the chicken-wire fence surrounding the wheat was effective for a while, but when the stalks began to mature and dry, the pesky little sparrows found ways to get in. I had to use clothespins to secure the netting to the chicken wire.

Harvesting wheat with a scythe
Harvesting the wheat. Photo: L. Davis

Harvest time was in early June. I found an old scythe in my community garden toolshed, sharpened it in my kitchen, and cut the wheat stalks about 18″ long. After gathering them into sheaves and tying each bundle with a shoestring, I hung them to dry for a couple of weeks. The second challenge was threshing.

There are lots of ideas on the internet for threshing; that is, removing the grain from the stalks. An ancient no-machinery method is to walk on the wheat heads, or hitch your animals to a circular contraption and have them walk around and around over it. We preferred a more sanitary way. Other methods repurpose bicycles and other machinery to release the grains. Or you can beat the stalks against the inside of a bucket. In my case, I put my husband to work bashing a pillowcase of wheat heads against the floor and then stomping on the pillowcase.

Next comes winnowing. I set a simple household fan on the kitchen counter and poured the wheat berries into another bowl in front of the fan. The heavy kernels dropped into the new bowl and the chaff, which was much lighter, blew away. (This required a major cleanup of my kitchen. It could definitely be done outdoors!)

To preserve the wheat berries, I packed them into jars and plastic containers and stuffed what I could into the freezer. When we are ready to make bread, I thaw a jar of the wheat and grind it with a NutriMill electric grain grinder. That does an excellent job, and I make bread using half whole wheat and half good quality white bread flour. Pass the raspberry jam!

Linda Davis is a Master Gardener living in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She completed the Master Gardener course in Virginia in 1997.

How to soil test and actually utilize the results – a challenging task

As a newer gardener, I have not previously gotten around to using soil test information. I’ve been planning an ornamental overhaul in a small area of my yard and wanted to soil test to make sure the plants added to the area had the best chance of success. The HGIC website has a lot of soil test information, but I’ve never looked at it closely myself until now. Even though our content is well-written and organized, the subject is intimidating with many choices to make, multiple steps, math homework to figure out how much fertilizer to use in your space, and as I learned, many caveats or roadblocks. I can see plenty of people just giving up and not adding any soil amendments, or just going to the hardware store and buying a bag of fertilizer and applying without thinking too much about it.

Even after reading our material thoroughly, I still needed several questions answered from our experts. I’ve got a handle on it now, for the most part. With this post, I hope to detail how I figured out what fertilizers I needed, how to apply it, and then the most important things I learned that I didn’t feel are made clear.

The goal

I’ve got this space in my backyard that wasn’t being used for much. In the summer of 2020, mid-pandemic, pre-offspring, I decided to revisit a teenage hobby of mine – remote control cars. I took a shovel and cleared out an area and built ramps and hills out of dirt, for my very-own mini-dirt track. 2 years later, my wife asks me “are you going to keep the track? It’s ugly.” So, my task is to beautify it with improved landscaping and added vegetation. We also have a bunch of hostas in our front yard garden that keep getting eaten by deer. Our backyard is smaller and enclosed, so we hope the hostas will avoid attack in their new backyard, trackside location. We are also adding other plants good for shade conditions.

The location is on a bit of an incline, with the higher elevation area being more sandy and rocky, and the bottom softer and wetter. There is an “infield” of the track that is often stood on that is grass, but has been overtaken with weeds. I am planting nice plants and shrubs around the outside, and re-seeding the infield with grass. Since I know from a lot of digging to make the track that the soil is quite different in different areas, I wanted to soil test so that I could find out what exactly I might need to do to make sure the plants have the soil they need in their different locations.

Soil test basics

If you aren’t familiar, soil testing is when you take samples of soil from an area in your yard or garden and send that off to a lab that will reply with data and recommendations for what you need to add the the soil for the crop or plants you have or will have growing in that area. You can send multiple samples (labeled) from different areas and get specific data for specific areas of your property.

Amending the soil based on these results can help your ornamental plants, lawn, and food gardens.

We have a list of 6 recommended labs that will give you soil test results. You’ll have to choose which type of tests you want. You’ll want to choose the ones labeled for homeowners. Beyond that, the test facility may ask what type of “crop” you are growing; lawn, ornamentals, trees, etc. This is nice to have because they will then send you recommendations tailored to that specific crop. My coworkers at the HGIC told me that lawn and ornamentals will have similar recommendations, so I decided to just mark all locations as “lawn” for crops.

I took samples from the high up sandy area, the infield grass area, and the wetter, lower area, and prepared to send to a lab. I labeled them A, B, and C, and took a picture of each bag in the test location so I could remember where each one was.

A location
B location
C location

I then spent $10 shipping dirt through the mail!

I got my test results

….and whewee! – it was time to dive in and figure out what to do with this information.

Results for my area “b”

There is a LOT of information presented on these results. HGIC has a great infographic explaining all parts of soil test results at this link. In your results, you’ll be presented with lists of data of how much of certain nutrients or pH levels you have, graphs of your levels, and a lot of what I think is pretty extraneous for what myself and most homeowners need. I found the boiled-down information in the “recommendations” section of my test to be what I needed to use to take action. The lab has interpreted all my levels they measured and produced a list of recommended amounts of nutrients to add that would help the basic “crops” I selected grow.

Below are my recommendations for my three locations.

A location
B location
C location

What to do with this data?

Comparing my results, it looks like all three locations can use similar levels of N, P2O5, and K20, – around 3-4 lbs per 1000 square feet of land. My A location requires 5.3 lbs of S (sulfur), additionally. All three locations suggest some low amount of Mg, but it is so low, that I am not going to take action on that. So, what are these?

Through my research on our fertilizer page, a basic thing I have learned is that :

The three numbers on fertilizer products (e.g., 3-4-3) represent the percentage, by weight, of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus) expressed as P2O5 (phosphate), and K (potassium) expressed as K20(potash). For example, a 5 lb. bag of 10-5-5 fertilizer contains 0.5 lbs. of N, 0.25 lb. of P2O5, and 0.25 lb. of K20.

The N, P, and K numbers on the packaging refer to the percentage of each nutrient found in the bag. I’m assuming that if that does not add up to 100%, the rest is filler.

Hey – look at that: N, P, and K are right next to each other and in the same order on the results I received. So, it looks like I need to find a fertilizer product or products that will let me add roughly 3.5 lbs per 1000 square feet of each N, P, and K to all my locations.

Location A up on the hill additionally needs 5.3 lbs/1000sqft of sulfur, which I learned is an acidifier that raises soil pH.

They suggest “5D” of CaCO3, in my location B results, which confused me for a minute until I saw the note below the chart saying “lime expressed in pure CaCO3. D= Dolomitic.” However, since I know lime is used to adjust pH, and that area was listed as inside the optimal pH range, I’m not even going to bother with lime.

pH results for location B.

Shopping for fertilizer

Instead of going to the hardware store and browsing immediately since I’ve never really shopped for fertilizer, I decide to shop around online to see what types of products are generally available, what their nutrient numbers are, and do math to see what I would need.

After some confusing math and shopping, I decided to run a question by the expert consultants at the HGIC to check my work and offer advice. I had asked if a 10-10-10 product I found was right for me.

They came back with a bit of a surprise:

The N rec of 4 lbs. should be disregarded. People should always follow the UME N fertilizer guidelines for turf which comply with state law (max. 2.7 lbs. of N/1,000 sq. ft. per year and maximum 0.9 lbs. of N/1,000 sq. ft. per single application).

If P is low in the soil, it is added separately and not as part of the N fertilization that occurs mostly in fall for lawns. Using 10-10-10 could deliver the total correct amount of P & K but would add more N than is allowed by law. So, you would apply N with a separate turf fertilizer. You could reduce the N fert amount by half if the turf is well-established and you leave your clippings in place.

There are regulations in the state of Maryland about the amount of N fertilizer you can add at a time. See: MD Fertilizer law in a nutshell. Over-fertilizing is bad for the environment – excess can wash into waterways and affect wildlife. I just need to find P and K to add and I’ll leave the N alone I need a product with “0” as the first of the three numbers.

I head to the store

I find a bag that says it’s got sulfur – it’s soil acidifier. Check that one.

Soil acidifier

I find a liquid bottle of “Morbloom Concentrate” with numbers 0-10-10. Great! No nitrogen, and equal numbers P and K!

Morbloom with application instructions

But wait – I get home and start doing the math about how much of this morbloom I need, and it becomes confusing because this is a concentrate, it’s measured in ounces, not pounds, and this is a liquid.

I run this by our experts, and apparently liquids are not great for increasing P and K levels in the soil amendment like this. They are ideal for quick nutrient boosts for potted plants. The liquids absorb quickly and wash away in regular soil, so this is not a longer-term solution. I’ll be returning this to the store.

HGIC recommends to me to get specific products. It sounds like there isn’t a fertilizer product that will have the equal P and K levels I am looking for. I’ll have to buy, measure, and apply P and K separately. I am recommended to get Muriate of Potash (K) which I found at 0-0-60 levels, and after scrounging a bit, I found bone meal (N and P) at 4-12-0 levels in my garage. The bone meal has nitrogen in it, which I was somewhat avoiding, but it is at a relatively low level compared to the P, so I believe this will be fine.

Bone meal bag
Muriate of potash bag

Time for math

I’ve got my fertilizers – time to do the math to figure out how much of each to apply in my specific spaces. I know how many lbs per 1000 square feet are recommended to add from the soil test results, but I need to figure out:

  1. How many lbs of each nutrient I need for each of my specific spaces based on their area.
  2. What actual amount of the product I bought (volume or weight) do I actually need to scoop out and sprinkle around my locations, calculated based off the percentage of the nutrients listed on the bag.

First, I needed the areas in square feet of my locations. For this article, I’ll just stick with my location B to which I will be adding grass. Refer to your middle school geometry text books on calculating area. I am not going very accurate on this, so with tape measure and some rough math, I came to 50 square feet (not a large space).

My “B” space. The “infield” to my race track!

Since my recommendations are for 3.5 lbs of phosphate and 3.8 lbs of potash per 1000 square feet, I need to figure out the relative amounts of each for a my smaller 50 sqft area.

So: 50 sq. ft./1000 sq. ft. = .05 or 5%. I need 5% of 3.5 and 3.8. That is 0.175 lbs. of phosphate and 0.19 lbs. of potash.

Second, I need to figure out how much of the  bone meal (10% phosphate) and muriate of potash (60% of potash. )I need to get 0.175 lbs. and 0.19 lbs., respectively.

The N-P-K numbers represent what percentage of each nutrient the product is comprised of. So, this means that the 4-10-0 bone meal is 4% nitrogen and 10% phosphate (P2O5) and the 0-0-60 muriate of potash is 60% potash (K20) and.

So, I need to divide the amount of each nutrient I want to add to my garden by the percentage of those nutrients in the two fertilizers:

0.175 lbs. of phosphate needed divided  by the percentage of phosphate in the bone meal: 0.175 lbs. /0.10 = 1.75 lbs. of bone meal for the 50 sq. ft. area..

0.19 lbs. of potash needed divided by the percentage of potash in the muriate of potash: 0.19 lbs./0.60 = 0.31 lbs. of muriate of potash for the 50 sq. ft. area

After calculations, unfortunately the required amount of bone meal fertilizer would deliver more N (1.4 lbs./1,000 sq. ft.) than is allowable in a single application under Maryland Law,but I’ve decided to apply it anyways. This is a small area that is pretty closed off and isolated from roadways and ways for things to wash into the water supply, so I think any environmental affects will be minimized.

Mass or volume

I’ve got my amounts calculated by weight, but I wasn’t planning on taking a scale out to the garden and weighing out the correct portions. Luckily, our page has links to documents with charts showing mass and volume conversions for common fertilizers. According to this document:

  • Bone meal: 1/3 lb. = 1 cup
  • Muriate of potash: 1/2 lb. = 1 cup

So, I need

  • 5.7 cups bone meal
  • 0.58 cups muriate of potash

WHEW!

Applying the fertilizer

I’ll scoop the amount needed of each and sprinkle it as evenly as I can around the areas. Certain spots have been mulched already which isn’t ideal, but I’ll try to sweep some mulch areas away temporarily to sprinkle the fertilizers directly onto the soil, then sweep the mulch back.

If it is not forecasted to rain soon, I’ll give the areas a bit of a water to start the fertilizer dissolving and dissipating into the soil.

I needed something to scoop and measure with, though, so I grabbed a plastic solo cup. I got out a measuring cup and poured two cups of water into the solo cup which filled it to one of the rings at the top. With that in mind, I scooped 1/4 of a solo cup of murate of potash, and a bit less than 3 cups of bone meal.

Solo cup with muriate of potash.

Key takeaways from a first time fertilizing job

Certain things stuck out in my mind during this process as things I should remember moving forward:

Liquid vs solid/powder/granular fertilizers.

The liquid stuff is not the best choice for maintaining adequate nutrient levels in  your landscape!

Fudging the numbers

There’s so much room for small errors and variations throughout the process, that I don’t think absolute accuracy in deciding how much to apply is very important. I have a feeling that the fertilizer conversion to cups is more of a rule of thumb than a precise conversion. Measuring the area of your landscape is hard to do extremely accurately.

There’s got to be a lot of variability in how much product actually absorbs and stays in the soil due to the make up that soil, weather that may wash away some part of it, and more. You absolutely don’t want to throw double what is needed on your soil (in fact, there are laws about how much nitrogen you can apply to turfgrass in Maryland), but for me, I think getting in the ballpark and sometimes eyeballing it may work well enough. I’m a casual gardener trying to improve my soil, not optimize it.

Focus on recommendations from the soil test

A ton of data is presented to you in your soil test results, but all you need to take action with is what they recommend you add.

Disregard the Nitrogen (N) recommendations from the soil test

I’ve got my compost pile, and my mower mulches grass clippings and leaves that I can scoop up and apply to an area that needs it. Unless the soil test says I am very deficient, the normal, natural ways of adding compostable materials should be enough. And I can always fertilize with some nitrogen fertilizer if plant leaves are small with a  pale color.

Manage bagworms now so they don’t harm trees

“Why are the pinecones on my tree moving?” a client asks.
“Because those aren’t pinecones, they’re bagworms,” I reply.  

Dangling from evergreens like teardrop-shaped Christmas tree ornaments, bagworms cause many a homeowner to scratch their head in wonder. Pinecones that dance?

Bagworms dangle from a juniper branch.
Credit: Erik Rebek, Bugwood

But the tell-tale thinning of trees that can follow is no laughing matter. Covered with bits of needles and leaves, the bags that give bagworms their name serve as protection for the caterpillars inside. Bagworm caterpillars are the juvenile form of a moth.  

That sounds innocent enough, but like all caterpillar-like insects, they are born hungry. Walking stomachs, they prowl among your trees, munching away to cause sometimes serious defoliation. They particularly enjoy evergreens such as arborvitae, cedars, junipers, and pines. But they will also dine on maples, locusts, lindens, and other deciduous trees.  

Eggs hatch out from bagworms’ bags in May. Tiny larvae spin an eighth-inch bag with bits of needles or leaves glued together with webbing. Like tiny backpackers, bagworms tote those bags around as they feed. As they grow, the bags get bigger and bigger and your tree foliage gets thinner and thinner.  

I don’t know if bagworms have an adventuresome streak, but they do a bit of hang-gliding. They spin a fine web and use the wind to glide to other trees in a stunt called “ballooning.” 

By August or September, the bags – and bagworms – are 1- to 2-inches long.  They stop wandering and feeding and tie up to a twig using tough silky threads. In late summer, they transform into moths. But get this, ladies, only the males have wings.  So the gals just hang out in their bags and wait for the boys to, um, visit. Post rendezvous, each female bagworm lays 200 to 1,000 eggs in its bag. Next spring, the eggs hatch to start the cycle over again.

Stopping that cycle is important and now is a crucial time. Mid-June to mid-July is the best time to treat trees with bagworms with a very effective organic control called Bt. A naturally occurring soil bacteria, Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis kills only small caterpillars. And guess what? Bagworms are just the right size right now.  Bt doesn’t harm humans or animals and is easy to find. It’s sold in hardware stores and garden centers under names like Dipel and Thuricide. Applying Bt is a do-it-yourself job if you can reach your trees with a sprayer. If not, call in a pro.

Even easier is picking off the bags if you have only a few bagworms. Snip them off with scissors or pruners, bag and trash them. Don’t leave them on the ground where the eggs can hatch. Since there can be as many as 1,000 eggs in each bag, removal is important. Get those bags gone. And gone before the eggs hatch in May.  

Tiny bagworms are hard to spot when they first appear in May on plants such as this Colorado blue spruce.
Credit:  Dave Lantz

Learn more about bagworms and see some great photos on the HGIC website.

You can beat bagworms and keep your trees safe. Fortunately, this is one insect for which there is an easy – and organic – fix.  So get out there and bag some bagworms.

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media.

Do plants get food from the soil?

cabbage plant
Cabbage. Photo: A. Bodkins

People often say you have to feed your plants, but in reality plants make their own food through the process of photosynthesis, which yields oxygen and glucose. Glucose is the food that plants use for energy and growth, they don’t need us to actually feed them. Since plants can make their own food, they are called autotrophs.  The green pigments in plants, called chlorophyll, capture light energy from the sun. The process isn’t nearly as simple as I’ve described it. 

Plants can further be divided into two classifications, C3 or C4, which is determined based on how efficiently the plant can photosynthesize and whether the plant has to go through the process of photorespiration, which is required for C3 plants. This makes C4 plants, like corn, sorghum and  sugarcane more drought resistant because of the complex processes that occur within the plant at molecular levels. The majority of plants are C3 plants. For more information on this topic check out the article from University of Illinois, The difference between C3 and C4 plants

So why do plants need a soil that is sufficient in macronutrients and micronutrients if that is not their food?  Well, the short answer is that nutrients help plants grow and keep them healthy so that they can photosynthesize efficiently. As the plant mass increases, the plant leaf size/surface area increases, which allows the plant to capture more sunlight and turn it into more food.  

You can check out the Home and Garden Information Center’s webpage about fertilizer to learn more about macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are those elements that the plant needs the most of to be healthy. Water provides hydrogen and oxygen. Carbon dioxide provides oxygen and carbon which are part of the required macronutrients for all plants. The remaining macronutrients are provided by soil (unless the plant is being grown hydroponically, of course). Plants can only take up or use nutrients that are dissolved in soil water. This is why it is so important to make sure that your soil gets sufficient water. Some plants are called heavy feeders and this is generally in relation to their need for larger amounts of the macronutrients, especially nitrogen. Some examples are tomatoes, everything in the cabbage family, and beets.  The University of Maryland provides more information on fertilizing vegetables.  

By providing an optimum growing environment, through correct amounts of light, moisture, and nutrients, the plant will have the best chance at reaching its full potential. As I eagerly wait for the first produce from my vegetable garden this season, I want to be sure that all my plants reach their full potential and produce a large amount of food for me and my family to enjoy this growing season. 

Please comment below with what you are doing this year to ensure that your plants are healthy and happy and growing well. Do you test your soil every 3 years or whenever you are planting a garden in a new area?  Do you research the plant needs (full sun, part sun, or shade) before planting? What questions do you have about managing soil fertility and nutrients? 

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland. Read more posts by Ashley.


This year, the University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener Grow It Eat It Program celebrates the resource that supports all life on earth – soil! Look for soil education programs offered by your local Master Gardener program, and visit the Home & Garden Information Center website for more information about soil health.

2022 is the year of soil health

Abiotic Disorder – The Garden Thyme Podcast

Listen to podcast

It has been a weird spring weather wise, and that weird weather may have stressed some of your plants out.  In this months episode we are talking all about abiotic disorder in the garden.  Abiotic disorder in plants are caused by non-living factors such as weather,  and the enviroment .   We will give some examples of what we have seen so far this year,  and what you should be looking for in your garden . 

We also have our: 

  •  Native Plant of the Month  (Bottlebrush grass)at 26:45
  • Bug of the Month (Green Lacewing) at 30:15
  • Garden Tips of the Month at 36:45

 If you have any garden-related questions, please email us at UMEGardenPodcast@gmail.com or look us up on Facebook.

The Garden Thyme Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Hosts are Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Senior Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne’s County), and Emily Zobel-Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County).

Theme Song: By Jason Inc

Heat-tolerant greens

Tender spring lettuce and spinach leaves are just a memory for many Maryland gardeners. As we move into the summer season the types and flavors of garden greens expands significantly. While some, like Swiss chard and kale, can be cut or torn and dropped into fresh salads and dishes, most will benefit from some level of cooking, like sautéing on their own or being added to stovetop or baked dishes. Most of the summer greens below grow quickly and have a long harvest period. They help us improve food security and adapt to climate change.

General growing tips for summer greens:

  • Water, water, water and fertilize to promote rapid, healthy growth and  maintain leaf and stem succulence
  • No row cover! They can cause a heat build-up. Instead, use insect netting to exclude insect pests
  • Plant summer greens in containers and move them to shady spots close to your front or back door 
  • Create some shade for lettuces and other marginal crops like cilantro … plant on the north side of taller crops or try 30% to 50% shade cloth material 
  • Most leafy greens below can be treated as cut-and-come-again crops: they put on new growth below each harvesting cut. Older, stressed foliage is less palatable
  • Explore seed racks and online seed catalogs for heat-tolerant crops and varieties

Leafy amaranth

Two well-adapted species for Maryland gardens are Amaranthus viridis (callaloo, also known as slender amaranth) and Amaranthus tricolor (Chinese spinach; leaves somewhat smaller than A. viridis).

Several species are very popular in Central and South America, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Nutritionally, they compare favorably with spinach and Swiss chard. Plants in this family use a special C4 photosynthetic pathway, also present in corn and sugarcane, which allows for vigorous growth under hot, dry growing conditions. 

Leafy amaranth is basically a tasty and productive pigweed. Flowering accelerates with shorter days after the summer solstice. Frequent harvesting delays flowering and promotes branching. Immediately remove any flower stalks that emerge to prevent re-seeding.

Callaloo growing in 3-gallon bags in a high tunnel. UME Small Farms Program
Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Callaloo can quickly become a weed problem. Don’t let plants flower. Each plant can produce >100,000 tiny seeds dispersed by water, wind, tools, and animals. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Tri-color amaranth. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Other heat-tolerant greens in the Amaranthus family:

Swiss chard and Perpetual Spinach (a.k.a. leaf beet) fall within the beet species- Beta vulgaris- and will produce large amounts of leafy goodness from spring through early fall. Orach (Atriplex hortensis) is another family member that grows best in spring and fall but can tolerate summer heat.

Two varieties of Swiss chard in the UMD Community Learning Garden. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Leafy Brassicas

Several crops in the Brassicaceae plant family tolerate Maryland summers. Collard plants produce reliable and abundant harvests from summer through fall. ‘Morris Heading’ is an heirloom “cabbage-collard” variety found in Baltimore City community gardens throughout the growing season. ‘Green Glaze’ is touted as being heat-tolerant but I am not aware of studies that looked at temperature effects on the productivity of collard varieties. 

Collard plant in late July surrounded by common purslane, and edible weed. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Mustard and kale are somewhat less heat-tolerant than collards. ‘Green Wave’ and ‘Red Giant’ mustards and ‘Lacinato’ kale are common varieties grown in summer gardens in Maryland. I’m very curious about Portuguese kale (Couve tronchuda). It resembles collard and is described as sweet and tender and more heat-tolerant than other kales. If you grow it please leave a comment about your experience.

‘Lacinato’ kale (a.k.a Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale, black kale) growing in Baltimore City in late July. Leaves are harvested from the bottom. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Check seed catalogs for mild-flavored leafy Asian greens that hold up well in warm weather like Tokyo Bekana (Brassica rapa var. Chinensis), ‘Komatsuna’ (Brassica rapa var. perviridis), Vitamin Green and Tatsoi (Brassica rapa Napa group), and ‘Chijimisai’ (tatsoi x komatsuna). 

Malabar spinach

Basella alba (green stem) and Basella rubra (red stem) below are “summer spinaches” that produces a vigorous leafy vine. Leaves and stems can be sautéed or used to thicken soups and stews.

New Zealand spinach

New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) below is a low growing annual with a spreading habit that has somewhat fuzzy, arrow shaped leaves, and mild spinach flavor.

Photo credits: Jon Traunfeld

Molokhia (Corchorus olitorius), known as Egyptian spinach and jute leaf, is an important food plant in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. It’s higher in vitamins and minerals than most other leafy greens. This is the jute plant, known for its strong stem fibers. Young leaves can be eaten fresh, sautéed, or used to thicken soups and stews.

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) – shoot tips, young leaves, and tender stems are excellent in many top-of-the-stove dishes. Harvesting young foliage, even on a regular basis, will not reduce your harvest of sweet potato roots later in the season.

Sweet potato plants with a less typical cut-leaf shape. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Hibiscus as a Leafy Green?

Sunset hibiscus (Abelmoschus manihot) and roselle hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) leaves have a compelling lemon-sour flavor similar to garden sorrel. These plants are in the Malvaceae family along with cotton and okra, planted throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. Roselle is also grown for its strong fibers and its fleshy calyx which farmers and gardeners use to make tea, juice, and preserves.

Green stem hibiscus plant harvested for its leaves used in many Indian foods. 
Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Don’t Dismiss the Lettuces!

Lettuces are generally a cool-season crop but these varieties have demonstrated some level of heat tolerance:

‘Merlot,’ ‘Speckled Bibb,’ ‘Adriana,’ ‘Jericho,’, ‘Coastal Star,’ ‘New Red Fire,’ ‘Starfighter,’ ‘Tropicana,’ ‘Red Cross,’ ‘Magenta,’ ‘Cherokee,’ ‘Green Star,’ ‘Summer Crisp,’ ‘Little Gem,’ ‘Muir,’ ‘Burgundy,’ ‘Bronze Beauty,’ ‘Forlina,’ and most oakleaf types of leaf lettuce. Asian sword leaf lettuces, (pointed lettuce) have long, thin leaves and are described as crisp and tender with a mild bitterness.

One of the sword lettuces growing mid-summer in a Howard Co. community garden. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

An Auburn University study found that ‘Aerostar’, ‘Monte Carlo’, ‘Nevada’, ‘Parris Island’, ‘Rex’, ‘Salvius’, and ‘Sparx’ grown in a “hot greenhouse” out-performed 10 other heat-tolerant lettuce cultivars and received the highest flavor and texture ratings.

Give some of these greens a try this summer. The investment in seed, space, and time is minimal and you may discover some surprising new textures and flavors.

Resources:

Callaloo recipes– Dr.Nadine Burton, Alternative Crops Specialist, UMES Extension

The Difference Between C3 and C4 Plants– University of Illinois

The Heirloom Collard Project collects and increases collard seed and documents the history of many American South varieties 

Malabar spinach, Basella alba. University of Wisconsin

Lettuce All Year in a Changing Climate– Sustainable Market Farming- Pam Dawling

World Vegetables: Principles, Production, and Nutritive Values. V. Rubatzky, M. Yamaguchi. 1997

By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist, University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center.

Read more posts by Jon.

Q&A: Why do my cucumber and zucchini plants wilt?

One Spotted and multiple Striped Cucumber Beetles, feeding on overripe pumpkin. Photo: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Q: Last summer I had cucumbers and zucchini wilting and dying even though I’m pretty certain I didn’t have root rot or squash vine borer. What should I try this year so I can hopefully get a harvest?

A: Bacterial wilt disease, transmitted by cucumber beetles is the prime suspect for crop failure in this instance. Both of these garden pests – Striped Cucumber Beetle and Spotted Cucumber Beetle – are native to North America and can cause serious damage to vegetables in the squash/cucumber family, though they can also feed on unrelated fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants.

Although their feeding causes direct plant damage, the main issue comes from their introduction of one or more plant pathogens. These beetles can transmit diseases like bacterial wilt and viruses, none of which are curable.

Delaying the planting of squash and cucumber transplants until mid-June may evade the host-seeking adults. Until they bloom, cover plants with insect netting or row cover (the former is ideal as it doesn’t trap heat). Bees will need to reach the flowers for pollination, but once the fruits start to develop, plants tend to be less susceptible to infection. Since more than one beetle generation can occur per year, clean-up veggie garden debris in autumn to deny remaining adults overwintering shelter.

For now, ‘County Fair’ is the only available variety resistant to bacterial wilt. This pickling cucumber is parthenocarpic– it produces mostly female flowers that don’t require pollination to set fruit. The Cucumber Beetles page at the Home & Garden Information Center has more information about these insects and their management.

By Miri Talabac, Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Miri writes the Garden Q&A for The Baltimore Sun. Read more by Miri.

Send home gardening questions to Ask Extension at the Home & Garden Information Center