The Sweet & Savory Soapboxes of May: Harvesting & Pest Control

May has been all about Warm Season garden planting and early prevention measures for pest control. Some of us made a spring planting just in time and have lettuce and radishes coming in, among other veggies. We’ve also seen harvest from fall planted carrots and lettuce! One of our gardeners has even had tomatoes and cucumbers from older transplants. 

Among the seeding and transplanting this month, we have also been installing Hortonova Trellis netting and practicing the Florida Weave. Oak Ridge has had a lot of rain this last month, so our tomato plants have really grown up, some already needing rows of twine just a week after planting.  

On May 15th, we had our Harvest & Heart Healthy Cooking workshop. We had a cooking demonstration led by a registered dietician. One program member demonstrated a Pesto Genovese recipe (copied below). Our dietician instructor created recipes based on what our gardeners are growing. In addition to the Quinoa salad we had last year, we had a Watermelon Salad with onion and blue cheese, such an interesting savory and sweet combination. That recipe is also copied below. 

A soapbox about how to break down harvesting in simple terms… 

On May 15th, we discussed harvesting and using Days to Maturity to anticipate harvest. This year, we got seeds from 4 different seed distributors. Most seed packets list Days to Maturity. Johnny’s Selected Seed packets often have really detailed instructions for harvesting & explanations of how to use produce size to tell when produce is ready to picked. But that is not always the case! 

Some seed packets may only list days to maturity and no other information. In that situation, we’ve found that looking up the description of the variety will often tell you what a mature fruit would look like. For instance, beans! Our Kentucky Wonder Pole Bean packet only lists Days to Maturity, but through Dr. Google, we found a description of the mature bean, which is 7”-9” long and .5” wide. If harvested when young, these beans can actually be stringless. 

Another little soap box about the squash vine borer….

Did you know that the squash vine borer is the larva for a diurnal moth? Diurnal meaning the moth is actually active during the day. In May and June, they lay tiny, bronze eggs, singly on the bottom leaves and lower stems of squash plants. (See the photo below.) Oddly enough, it does not usually infest melon and cucumber plants–other members of the Cucurbit family. 

After the egg hatches, the larva burrow into the squash plant and feed, excreting “frass,” as they move throughout the squash stem. They feed for about 4-6 weeks and then go underground where they form their cocoons, hatching about 3 weeks later as the moth. At that point, they lay another round of eggs and repeat their cycle. 

Scouting for squash vine borer eggs is a good preventative measure. Recognizing and removing the tiny bronze eggs on young squash plants may help limit infestation. Gardeners can also put a physical barrier around the base of their squash plant stems to prevent the larva from burrowing into the stem. 

This publication from UT Extension goes more in depth about their life cycle and control methods, an important read when trying to learn how to disrupt their feeding and have a healthy squash plant! 

Watermelon Salad

Ingredients – 4 portions
6 cups Leafy greens
2 cups Watermelon, cubed
1 small Red onion
½ cup Toasted almonds
½ cup Blue cheese (or feta)

Put all the ingredients into a salad bowl.  Toss with lemon vinaigrette dressing.

Homemade Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients – 1 portions
2-3 Lemons, juiced (@ ¼ cup)
¼ cup Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, pressed
½ tsp  Sea Salt
  1. Juice your lemons.  Feel free to zest them as well and add the zest to the dressing
  2. Combine all ingredients together in a container with a tight fitting lid.  A mason jar works great!
  3. With the lid on tightly, shake the contents of your jar vigorously for 30 seconds.
  4. Drizzle vinaigrette over the salad. Store any leftovers in the fridge.

Pesto Genovese (Classic Basil Pesto) By Marcella Hazan

Servings: 2-8 (makes about 1 cup)

2 cups (2 ounces) packed fresh basil leaves and tender stems

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons (1 ounce) pine nuts, preferably toasted

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt, plus more as needed

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) grated parmesan cheese, or a combination of Parmesan and pecorino Romano

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft but not melted (optional)

Step 1

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil (blanched, if desired; see Notes), olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt. Process until smooth, 30 seconds to 1 minute, stopping to scrape down the bowl, if necessary.

Step 2

Transfer the basil puree to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese and softened butter, if using. Taste, and add additional salt if desired. Serve or refrigerate until needed.


To make pesto that will stay green for up to a week, blanch the basil: Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Bring a quart of water and 2 teaspoons of fine sea or table salt to a rolling boil over high heat. Gently stir in the basil, and cook for 45 seconds; it will become deep green and wilted. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the basil to the ice bath. Once it’s cold, strain and use your hands to squeeze out any excess water before proceeding with the recipe.