What to plant, eat and drink from the garden in June

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As summer sets in for our part of Texas, use what our gardens have to offer to cool off.

Slice and partially mash fruits and herbs for an easy and nutritious flavored water. The best items to use are the ones you have on hand. Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes. Refrigerate for food safety as you would any other food preparation. Best used within 1-2 days.

Infused water can be as simple as an ingredient, such as mint (lemon verbena, lemongrass, or basil), or blended for a more complex flavor. Try a combination of citrus, berries, and herbs, or vegetables, citrus, berries, and herbs. Examples of a combo mix might include cucumber and rosemary, basil and citrus, blackberry and sage, or strawberry and mint.

General planting

Plant the following vegetables by seed: melons, okra, southern peas (black-eyed, purple-hulled, crowded), pumpkin, summer vegetables, and winter squash.

Although conditions aren’t as ideal, gardeners can still sow summer squash and watermelon seeds from June through July and plant eggplant and pepper transplants.

Ingredients

2 cups cheese tortellini, tricolor

½ cup mozzarella cheese, balled/cubed

1 cup black olives, canned, pitted and whole, reduced sodium

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

¼ tsp salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Instructions

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. In a bowl, mix the mozzarella cheese with the olive oil, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Leave to marinate for at least 15 minutes. If you are making marinated cheese at least two hours in advance, place it in the refrigerator to marinate.

3. Spread the ingredients on bamboo skewers – 2 tortellini, 2 cheeses, 4 olives, 4 tomatoes on each skewer. Repeat on each skewer.

Servings: 8

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Dinner Tonight program was developed to provide busy families with quick, healthy, and economical recipes that taste great. For more information on recipes, including infused water, visit: dinnertonight.tamu.edu.


Yam

(Ipomoea batatas)

June is the last full month of the year to plant sweet potato cuttings. Cuttings are root grafts from sprouting sweet potatoes. They can be purchased online or at a local garden store or produced at home. Cuttings are easy to grow near a windowsill at home using a store-bought sweet potato. For more tips, visit aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.

Okra

When temperatures push us indoors, okra relishes our absence. Not only is it easy to grow, but the flowers are beautiful, although they are short-lived (less than a day), like its relative the hibiscus.

“Regular” ants visit okra for the honeydew produced by aphids and other sucking insects. Fire ants, however, feed on the base of developing buds and can cause bud abortion. Control fire ants in the garden by treating the mound with bait.

Okra varieties vary in color and shape. ‘Cajun Delight’, ‘Emerald’ and ‘Silver Queen’ performed well in Harris County trials. Skip Richter, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension-Horticulture Agent in Brazos County also recommends ‘Cajun Jewel’ and ‘Jambalaya’ for compact growing habits; ‘Bull Dog’ and ‘Candle Fire’ for their ornamental value; and “Jade” for productivity.

Tomatoes

Kim Perry, director of food access at Urban Harvest and former master gardener, recently harvested “Matt’s Wild Cherry” tomatoes. It is an indeterminate variety, climbing up to 4-8 feet. These are prolific ½ inch round cherry tomatoes with a high sugar content. Perry says, “This is a fantastic strain for the urban grower with limited space. It is a heavy grower, does well in a container and the fruit ripens early. This year’s plant was actually a volunteer from last year’s crop.

Herbs

According to the South Texas Unit of the Herb Society of America, arugula, basil, garlic chives, and anise hyssop can still be planted by seed. Plant succession crops like arugula and basil every 2-3 weeks for a continuous harvest.

The ideal time to prune basil for more branching is before it gets too tall. A plant needs at least 6-10 inches tall or at least 6 sets of true leaves. However, most plants are well past this point now if planted in the spring. If so, you can prune up to a third of the plant. Cut a quarter inch above a set of leaves. Tender stems can be pinched off with your fingers, but older woody stems will require pruners for a clean cut. Pruning helps prolong flowering, which prolongs the quality of the oils in the leaves. It also helps stimulate growth to prevent the plant from becoming lean and long.

Prune even if you don’t plan to use it. Maybe a neighbor, family member, or co-worker would love the chance to use it fresh, especially with the price of small sprigs in the store.

To harvest

Do you need new ideas for using the fresh produce you have harvested? Try the Dinner Tonight tortellini skewers recipe above with tomatoes and basil.

Brandi Keller is a Harris County Horticultural Agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

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