With the May long weekend looming it’s time to plant tomatoes and basil in the raised beds. Whenever I plant these two family favourites I’m thinking ahead to late summer, when the tomatoes are hanging ripe and heavy on the vines and the fragrance of the basil can be detected several feet away. Tutti bene, it’s all good!
I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a house where vegetable gardening was, and still is, a major activity. I learned so much from my parents about growing and my good fortune continues to this day because their advice and living classroom is less than two kilometers away. I also have a number of great reference books to consult; being of the generation that still refers to books for information! One of the best is “Down-to-Earth Vegetable Gardening Know-How” by Dick Raymond.
I’ve had this book for two decades and it’s packed with tips and techniques for the vegetable garden and I’d like to share a few of Dick’s gems of wisdom that might help produce a bumper crop this year or in the future.
Peppers like acidic soil; our soils tend to be alkaline. An easy solution is to rip some matches out of a matchbook and set them in the bottom of the hole before transplanting. The sulfur in the match heads will make the soil slightly acidic.
I have never had success with watermelons in my garden, but I might try again using Dick’s tin can trick. When the melons get a little bigger than a baseball gently lift them off the ground and push an empty tin can into the soil so that only a few inches are showing. Place the melon on top of the can and the melon will ripen faster and taste sweeter because it’s off the cold ground.
Fresh asparagus is divine. If you want to extend the harvest plant a third of the row six or seven inches deep, another third a couple of inches higher and the last third at two or three inches deep. The plants that are closest to the surface will come up first, giving you an early harvest. The deeper plants will be up two or three weeks later.
Controlling the growth of cucumber vines will result in better quality fruit. When the vines get three feet long don’t cut them, pick off the fuzzy ends of the vines instead. Pinching these off with your fingers will stop the growth of the vine, concentrating the plant’s energy on maturing fruit.
You would expect Dick to have a tip or two relating to tomatoes, and he does. He removes all but the top leaves when transplanting and lays the stem on its side in a trench he’s dug in the garden. At the bottom of the six inch deep trench he puts a couple of inches of compost or manure, then another couple of inches of soil on which he lays the tomato stem. He then covers the stem with two inches of soil. The plant grows straight up and because tomatoes produce roots from their stems in no time the tomato has developed a substantial root system.
I’m not sure if “Down-to-Earth Vegetable Gardening Know-How” is still in print, but you can find used copies on used book seller websites like www.abebooks.com. If one of his tips works out it’s worth the effort of trying to find a copy.

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