There are basically two times during the season when I feel totally overwhelmed with my garden.
The last week of May is the first time. ''Get it in the ground'' is my mantra between now and the second week of June. Every year, trying to balance a full-time job with gardening and what needs done around the house can sometimes be more than I can think about all at once. So I admit that while many people have been planting their tomatoes and peppers for the past two weeks, I'm still trying to find time to visit a garden center for plants.
''I do it all Memorial Day weekend,'' one avid vegetable gardener recently told me. ''Everything goes in before June 1 and I don't worry about it the rest of the summer.''
I have a hard time with that philosophy. We can begin planting some things as early as mid-March, so why waste valuable gardening time? Not to mention we could be eating freshly harvested spinach, leaf lettuce and radishes even before all those Memorial Day gardeners ever touch a seed to soil.
But it never fails that time gets away from me, even if 80 degree days in March made it possible to rototill the soil and dig furrows to be used later. I was a Girl Scout in my younger years, but for some reason, I'm never prepared. My apologies to Juliette Gordon Low.
I have already planted a few rows of seeds because I hate being the last one to''get my garden in,'' but it is around Memorial Day when I realize I'm not finished and likely won't be finished for some time. Once the hot weather plants (tomatoes, peppers, basil, beans and summer squash), go into the garden, some of those cool weather plant harvests will leave empty spaces for even more plants or seeds to go into the ground. Just like Mother Nature, I don't like empty spaces in the vegetable garden. When there's an empty row and a few weeks of a growing season left, there has to be something that can take its place.
If someone told me I only could grow one thing in my vegetable garden, it wouldn't be tomatoes. It would be kale. This once only-for-garnish green, leafy vegetable was vindicated recently when studies praised its high nutrition. Television cooks helped push along its popularity as well by adding it to everything from soup to eggs. And so do I.
Just one cup of kale contains only 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and tons of vitamins, including K, C and A. It also contains several important minerals and antioxidants. It is said that kale helps lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. It's practically one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.
Usually described as a cool season crop, I've grown kale in a hot greenhouse in the middle of summer and harvested young leaves for a stir-fry. But cold weather certainly doesn't bother this plant that is directly related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. And while the summer harvest can be pretty tasty, most growers prefer the later harvest because cool weather sweetens the leaves and takes much of the bitterness away.
Kale is one of those ''don't wait until Memorial Day to plant it'' vegetables. It's also one of those fill in plants for when the radishes and lettuce harvests leave empty spaces in the garden. Kale can be planted in early spring for a summer harvest and again in mid summer for a fall harvest.
Kale will cross-pollinate with those other Brassica oleracea plants, which is why we sometimes see purple and green cauliflower in the grocery stores. These plants have been crossed and crossed again to get what the growers are looking for. But because kale is a biennial and unless you plan on saving seeds, it won't matter if you plant it with other plants from the Brassicaceae family. I prefer to put all my plants of the same family in the same garden bed to make planting rotation easier.
When my kale gets about two inches tall, I like to cover it with floating row cover. This helps keep flea beetles from munching on the tender young leaves but allows sunshine and water to get in.