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Longer days signal a transition for the garden.

Now that the summer solstice is approaching, I couldn't be happier. I adore these increasingly long hours of daylight.

Not so with the spinach plants growing in my vegetable garden. The lengthening days signal to them that their end is coming. The plants are hurrying to send up their seed stalks to produce seeds before time runs out. As spinach "bolts," the leaves turn too bitter to eat.

If you want to harvest a lot of spinach, you have to get the crop planted as early in spring as possible, just as soon as the snow melts and the soil dries out enough to cultivate. (Don't despair if you didn't get enough spinach; you'll get a second chance to plant in late summer for fall harvest.)

Many lettuces are going to seed and turning bitter now, too, but their response has more to do with the temperature of the soil than the length of daylight. You may be able to prolong the lettuce harvest if you provide light shading for the plants.

There are also some bolt-resistant lettuce varieties that can help keep your salad bowl filled in the summertime. Buttercrunch is a readily available classic known for its resistance to bolting. Batavia lettuces such as green Nevada and red-tinged Rossia are also well suited to performing in the heat of summer. Often referred to as summer crisp lettuces, they are both sweet and crisp like romaine lettuces but also as easy to grow in the garden as loose-leaf varieties.

Spinach and most lettuces are "cut and come again" crops. You can keep seed stalks from forming for a while by continuously harvesting fresh leaves and allowing the plants to sprout new ones. But eventually both kinds of crops will bolt.

The production of most fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers depends more on maturity of the plants than day length. They're sometimes referred to as day-neutral.

But day length is very important to onion plants. If you choose a short-day variety like Texas Super Sweet or Yellow Granex for a garden in the upper Midwest, you'll find your plants trying to make bulbs too early, before the plants have had enough time to grow big and strong. The result: puny bulbs.

Leave these short-day varieties for southern gardeners and look for long-day varieties such as Alisa Craig or Walla Walla, or day-neutral onions such as Candy for this region.

Strawberries are also affected by day length. June-bearing strawberries form fruit buds during the cool days of the previous autumn, then produce their whole crop in June. Everbearing types form fruit buds during the longer days of summer. And day neutrals such as Tristar and Tribute can form fruit buds regardless of day length; they then produce an extra-long harvest from spring through fall.

* Write to Jan Riggenbach at 2319 S. 105th Ave., Omaha, NE 68124. Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Find more online at www.midwestgardening.com.

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Title Annotation:Home Garden
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Jun 9, 2019
Words:490
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