“In the Yard” column for April 26, 2013

Advocate file photo -- Okra and hot peppers are vegetables that can be planted now.
Advocate file photo -- Okra and hot peppers are vegetables that can be planted now.

For those who like to raise their own vegetables (and fruit), May is the month to plant things like collards, eggplant, hot peppers, okra, cantaloupe and watermelon.

A vegetable garden should be situated in a place where it will get at least six hours of sunlight and be well-drained, says Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter horticulturist.

For those starting a garden from scratch, clearing the garden patch of grass and weeds is, of course, the first big — and labor-intensive — step.

One way to make it a little easier, instead of pulling thriving grass with hearty roots from the ground, is to spray the intended garden area with the herbicide glyphosate, Gill says.

When the vegetation is dead, you can turn the soil with a shovel or tiller to a depth of about 8 inches.

In my own experience, I’ve also marked out intended gardens ahead of time, by laying down black plastic garbage bags, weighted down with bricks, and left them that way for a while. It has the same effect of killing the grass and making it easier to pull it out and get to dirt.

If you’re planting okra seeds, they can be soaked overnight to soften the seed coat before planting, according to Gill.

Later, the plants should be thinned to stand 12 inches apart, plenty of space to thrive and produce their beautiful white flowers, with their deep purple-red throats, before the okra comes in, beginning around June.

By the way, one hot pepper plant is probably all you’ll need in your garden, Gill says. Popular types include Tabasco, Jalapeno, Cayenne and Habanera.

FIRE ANTS: According to the LSU AgCenter, using a bait product, which doesn’t affect other, helpful insects, is about the best way to treat fire ants.

Bait products are picked up by the ants looking for food and taken back to the nest. Once the chemical finds its way to the queen, the colony is done for.

Baits usually take a period of time to knock out a colony, anywhere from a week to a month, according to the particular chemical in the bait, according to the AgCenter.

Make it a double whammy by working with neighbors to treat yards at the same time, it recommends.

Ellyn Couvillion

Advocate staff writer