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Beacon Senior News

Made in the shade

Jun 06, 2019 02:24PM ● By Paige Slaughter

Our high desert sun is intense, and while many warm season crops, like tomatoes, peppers, corn and squash can handle full sun, many of our favorites enjoy a bit of shade.

This is good news for those of us who want to transform our gardens into diverse backyard ecosystems. Embracing shade means we can tend to our garden in layers, utilize vertical space, create habitats for toads and beneficial insects, and relish the abundance.

Getting away from the idea that every garden plant needs full sun moves us towards creating more robust and resilient garden ecosystems with varying degrees of light, moisture and warmth.

You might even discover that your greens are tenderer, certain flowers look more vibrant, or that you don’t have to water as much as you thought you did.

THINK LIKE A FOREST

One of the most central ideas in permaculture is mimicking a forest.

Imagine it: You’re walking through a forest of evergreens and aspen, and you look up to see trees of varying heights, each reaching their leaves up toward the sun. You’re enjoying a shady walk, but specks of sunlight still beam down on you. As you look around, shrubs and wildflowers are everywhere, and beneath them are grasses and shorter, sprawling flowers and ferns. Pine cones and decomposing leaves lie beneath the smallest plants and cover the forest floor, blanketing a layer of dark brown, moist soil. Don’t forget about the worms, birds, deer and critters contributing to and benefiting from this forest ecosystem.

No one is tending to the forest but Mother Nature. As you cultivate your garden, think about the many layers you have to work with. Is mulch blanketing your soil to help retain moisture and provide habitat for earthworms? Are you growing tall flowers beside your greens?

There are infinite ways to add diversity to your garden and make use of vertical space to mimic the layers of a forest.

Sunflowers, corn, trellised cucumbers or squash can cast shade on shorter plants to protect them from the hot afternoon sun. Seed buckwheat with carrots to create a shady canopy for the carrots to germinate under.

A little bit of shade for broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower will help slow flowering and encourage tighter heads.

You may not have much planting to do this month, but take a look at your garden and don’t be afraid to try something new. Maybe you can add mulch or a layer of grass clippings. Maybe you’ll fill in the gaps in your garden with lettuce seed so you can enjoy more tender leafy greens throughout the summer. Maybe you’ll add nasturtium to your squash patch, if you haven’t already.

HARVESTING POTATOES

If you planted potatoes in early spring, they might be ready to harvest.

Knowing when to harvest potatoes depends on when you want to eat them and whether you want to store them. “New potatoes” are harvested early; they’re smaller in size and have tender skin. These can be harvested two to three weeks after the plants stop flowering. New potatoes are for fresh eating, so enjoy them within a few days of harvest.

Mature potatoes can be harvested two to three weeks after the plant’s foliage has turned yellow and died.

Whether you’re harvesting new potatoes or mature ones, choose a dry day to harvest. Use a pitchfork to gently dig up the plants from beneath, being careful not to stab your potatoes, which will be attached to the roots of the plant.

If you want to store your mature potatoes after harvest, set them out in a cool, dry place for up to two weeks to allow their skins to cure. After curing, brush off any lingering soil and store them in a cool, somewhat humid, dark place.

TENDING TO GARLIC

Garlic puts out scapes that will eventually flower. Scapes are stalks that come up from the center of the garlic plant. They’re delicious to eat, and removing them will encourage bigger and tastier bulbs!

Coming up on mid-June, taper off watering garlic, but don’t stop watering completely. As July nears, you’ll notice leaves starting to yellow. That means harvest time is coming! ■