Wednesday was summer solstice, the longest day of the year. This marks nearly midsummer in Kona. If your summer edibles aren’t planted yet, it’s time to get going. Many edible plants are ready to harvest in 90 days. Planting now means you can feast from your summer garden before Kona’s drier fall season sets in.
Good planning is an important part of gardening success. Growing from seed allows you to preselect varieties that both suit your taste and match your particular growing conditions.
In these days, when toxic scares seem to be bombarding us from all sides, you might want to play it safe and choose seeds from one of the many companies that carry organic and nongenetically modified varieties.
Next, you’ll want to select seeds for plants you will enjoy growing and eating fresh. There’s no need to grow potatoes if you prefer to eat rice. If you’re tired of struggling to get good tomatoes, try tomatillos or a rainbow mix of cherry tomatoes. If you love carrots, you may be surprised to find some seed companies carry 10 or more varieties in all sizes, shapes, colors and flavors. More than 50 kinds of salad greens can be grown, depending on your microclimate and personal taste. At least 10 basil varieties are available, allowing you to find the perfect flavor to fit your favorite recipes. Researching new and unusual varieties is at least half the fun of growing your own.
Some reliable sources with many varieties of good organic seed and lots of growing information can be found online. Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply at groworganic.com has a good video on organic seed selection, as well as lots of seed varieties. At wildgardenseed.com you’ll find interesting seeds and informative articles. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds — rareseeds.com — recently opened a seed bank in Petaluma, Calif., and its website has a great selection of seeds and ample growing information.
If you like to creatively add flavor with herbs, you might want to check out the offerings at two Northern California seed companies: Horizon Herbs carried by Peaceful Valley or Bountiful Gardens Herbs at bountifulgardens.org. A large and varied selection of organic herb seeds can also be found at territorialseed.com and horizonherbs.com.
If you buy seeds from a rack, be sure to check the date on the packet. Though some older seeds will germinate, it may take a long time. Also, the number of viable seeds diminishes with time.
In the tropics, we always need to consider varieties that are heat-tolerant and disease-resistant. You don’t need to plant genetically modified seed to get needed tolerances and resistances. Standard plant breeding practices can achieve good results without the cellular invasion by foreign genes or the patent infringement possibilities that go with GMO seeds.
Read the varietal description online or on the seed packet. That would lead you to select champion collard greens with a waxy leaf coat that protects them from cabbage worm and more heat tolerance than any other cabbage family member. Try growing African marigold to deter pests, consider the bull’s blood beet, which has high heat tolerance. Contender would be a good green bean to consider with its tolerance for hot weather and mildew.
Though we have warm weather year-round, we do have seasonal changes and many microclimates. Summer in Kona usually means hot, wet weather. These differences are subtle, but plants are very sensitive to them.
For summer gardens, choose varieties that are heat-tolerant and resistant to mildew and other diseases that warm, moist weather spawns. Look for seeds described as “slow to bolt,” especially when buying lettuce and some herbs. This means they will stay in production and not go to seed quickly, despite the heat.
Several local nurseries carry organic seeds, usually just a few of the most popular varieties from Seeds of Change. For a more diverse selection, check out organic online seed companies. A list is available at nongmosourcebook.com. Check all the sources and try something new for your end of summer harvest.
Tropical gardening helpline
Howie and Ron ask: My worm bin has been invaded by ants. I think they are eating the worm’s food and maybe even their eggs. The worm population in my bin is way down. What should I do?
Answer: Usually ants are not a problem in worm bins. They will come and go. If you are adding to your worm bin regularly and moving the material around, the ants will usually leave and look for a more settled and stable home.
Ants also do not usually want to set up house in a damp environment. Maintaining your bin at the moisture of a damp sponge will help discourage them. Do be careful not to get the material too wet, however, or anaerobic decomposition may get started. That would cause your worms to try to leave.
Some other ways to deter ants include putting your bin on a stand and setting the legs of the stand in buckets or on trays of water. You’d have to check regularly to be sure the ants didn’t create a bridge to cross the water, however. You might consider applying a commercial or homemade sticky substance to the legs to provide additional protection.
Several nontoxic, ant killing products are on the market or you can make your own using boric acid. Read the labels for proper outdoor use or check online for homemade recipes. Wikihow.com has 18 ways to get rid of ants described. Check it out.
If you want to get a worm bin going or learn more about troubleshooting your bin, watch for classes on worm composting.
Email plant questions to email@example.com for answers by certified master gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.