25 Feb 2011

Vegetable Gardening at Latitude 20 Degrees North – March 2011: What to do now

March is hump month, the beginning of the second half of the vegetable growing season for cooler season crops and for tomatoes at latitude 20 degrees north. The Gardens at Plantation House look somewhat ragged as harvesting has created gaps throughout. The advancing sun brings longer and hotter days and shorter and warmer nights as we move into spring 2011 in the northern hemisphere, ushered in by a full moon in perigee on March 20.

In general, the main 2010/11 vegetable growing season has been good thus far despite the almost complete absence of rainfall. This, when combined with the persistent strong drying winds we have been experiencing, has warranted almost daily irrigation in order to keep our crops going. On the positive side however, our nights remain relatively cool thereby allowing our tomato plants to continue to flower and daytime temperatures also remain low enough which helps the new buds to stay on during the days after flowering. You should therefore expect to see local tomatoes on sale until well into the springtime, maybe as late as June.

With March being the “hump month” we are left guessing whether or not to put in more cool weather lovers like lettuce, kohlrabi, kale, turnip or to stick in second crops of the intermediates like beetroot, beans, corn and cucumber or to make a complete jump to heat lovers like okra, pumpkin and sweet potato. My guess is that we go for the intermediates as the weather seems to be playing fairer than normal thus far as have the lower than normal pest levels in our gardens.

At Plantation House the tomatoes, Florence fennel, Swiss chard, Tuscan kale, lettuce, mustard green, kohlrabi, radish, sweet pepper, pak (bok) choi, tatsoi, papaya, rosemary, basil (sweet, Thai, and purple), lemon grass, curry leaf and pimento leaf are in abundance now with corn, cucumber, courgette, cabbage, sprouting broccoli, expected to begin maturing during March and April.

As for fruit, the mango blooms have arrived 4-6 weeks earlier this season and you should expect to get tree-ripened fruit by as early as April. This is un-usual considering that May/June is normally when locally grown mangoes hit the shelves. Papaya, breadfruit, passion fruit, longan, rollinia (biriba), and custard apple (anon), sugar apple (sweetsop), bilimbi, guava, botler, naseberry (sapodilla), banana and plantain are also available at the moment. In addition, star-apple (caimito), java apple (white and red), java plum (white and sweet), grumichama, cherry of the rio grande, pitomba, camu-camu and jaboticaba are in bloom.

During the cooler months we do most of our pruning of the fruit, nut and spice trees, and ornamentals and 20 or so grapevines at Plantation House. This is the best time as most trees do grow slower (or become dormant) during the cooler months and there is less humidity around to promote fungal infection of the pruning cuts. All in all, pruning should be encouraged more in home gardens as it helps maintain better tree form, keeps fruit within reasonable picking heights and generally results in a healthier and more productive plant.

Another chore for this time of year is the harvesting of our mature compost cubes. We have 16 or so of these cubes around our gardens. These are simply made from four un-treated palettes screwed together. Into the cubes we throw our green waste and let it rot down on its own with the help of the many worms and the like that naturally will show up, but without turning, wetting or the addition of compost activators.

Until next time, happy gardening from all of us at Plantation House Organic Gardens here in Cayman.