Companion Planting: Planting New Memories
There’s something to be said about those feelings and experiences from your younger days that lock a moment in time. They can hold a spot within us where everything was a little easier, or you were with a special person, or at a special place. They can also take all forms and flavors. For me, lots of my special moments were on camping trips with my family when I was a kid. The car ride, setting up the tent, the frozen orange juice in the cooler, and of course, hot dogs around the fire.
While I now describe myself as a recovering vegetable grower, (and anyone who has produced vegetables for a living can relate to this on some level,) and have always been about providing healthy food for my community, my path to where I am today has taken many turns.
Having grown up a little, and wanting to be more in control of my food, I have taken to producing as much as I can on my farm. And while I still love a good hot dog, and they definitely take me back, I wanted to provide a more healthful alternative to my family as we cemented our new traditions. That was when I took it upon myself to produce my own. Turns out its easier than I thought.
Like everything in the garden, finding a quality seed provider will be important. While there are some varieties that are more regionally adapted, (like the bright pink ones you will find in Maine,) most varieties will do well in all parts of the country. I like a natural casing and prefer the variety called McKenzie. They are well adapted to Vermont, but should perform anywhere the summers are generally pleasant.
Cut the seed dog into 1’' pieces and plant about 3 weeks before the last frost date. They are tender annuals, and won’t take temperatures below freezing. Using a row cover will definitely help, and we will often times put a smaller planting out under cover to get the all important first hot dog for July 4th. All you market growers out there know the value of early produce from the farm.
They are vigorous growers and will require good fertility. Compost is always a good starting point, but it may not be enough. When you are looking for a fertilizer, look for an even balance of MPK (mustard, pickles, ketchup) to promote even growth and ripening. Resist the urge to over fertilize. Too much M can cause the leaves to yellow and the plants will look anemic.
You can choose to harvest at whatever size you like; I generally try to have them be about 110% of the size of the bun. I like the presentation that way, but that’s just me. One of the questions I get all the time is, "trellis or not?" It is true, trellising will give you straighter fruits. Also, any variety listed as “suitable for hot house” will most likely need to be trellised to have unblemished and straight fruit. I have found that, for the amount that I am looking to produce, and the variety that I use, growing them right on the ground works perfect for me. My variety, being from Vermont, is known for its resourcefulness and ability to rise to the challenge in less than ideal circumstances.
Getting the rolls to happen at the same time as the hot dogs can be tricky, but with a little succession planting they generally line up. I typically direct seed the rolls. Mix 1 packet of dry yeast with 2 cups all purpose flour and a pinch of salt. Create your row and then split the top, banding the flour mixture evenly. I cover the band lightly with soil and then water well. I generally thin to about 16”.
It’s really important that the soil be at least 65 F or the yeast won’t properly rise, and you will end up with, small, dense fruits. They really take off once they come up, and soon you will have fruits in various stages of ripening. When it comes time to harvest, take the ones that are a good size for your dogs. Don’t worry if you miss one or two every once in a while, just remove them and use them for toast. Do be sure to keep the fruits harvested to promote continued production.
I have always cherished the specialty crops we produce from the garden. Being self sufficient also creates the opportunity to share along the way. I hope that this upcoming season is a great one for you, your family, and your farm.
For more informative "How To" articles from Farmer Paul Betz featuring some essential DIY growing techniques visit: