Sunday, August 2, 2009

how things grow

It's not at all surprising, really, how much things can change in a couple of weeks--or a couple of seconds, for that matter--but it still amazes me to see it happen. It's been two weeks since we were here last and the garden is a whole different place, again. Everything is twice the size it was, fruiting and flowering, lush. The corn is taller than I am, now, and just starting to tassle. The tomatillos, spindly and noodle-thin when they were planted, are now chest-high and branching out confidently, dressed in showy yellow flowers and tiny lantern fruits. Summer and winter squashes are thick with blossoms and putting on weight. Borage is in full fantastic bloom, soft and starry, abuzz with bees. Cabbages and broccoli are heading up, peas are podding. Beans are blossoming in red and purple, white and yellow and black. Lettuces are still blushed and leafy sweet, most likely because of the cool weather (and possibly in part due to my fine selection of varieties, with which everyone has been quite pleased. Thanks, Fedco.). Everything seems to have benefitted from the mild and rainy conditions we've had this summer, although I'm a bit worried that we could end up with another unripened tomato and pepper crop this year, or that we'll lose the squashes and dent corn... I'm hoping now for a heat-wave in August (a couple swimming days would be welcome, especially with the addition of a nice used pontoon to the fleet) and a long, frost-free fall (with perhaps just a couple cold nights so we can try out the Agribon row covers that Dad bought), to help get us there.

Happily, most of the seedlings I started this spring have come along quite nicely and far exceeded my (previously somewhat unrealistically high and then dramatically low) expectations. Many have matured at different rates, even among the same varieties, which could be something of a boon as crops come in. My little tomatoes, which were (I felt, embarrassingly) behind schedule when planted, have more or less caught up to the larger ones my folks planted at the same time. Okra's been slow to grow, probably due to the cold--not a big deal since it was mainly planted for its looks (do I even like okra? I don't know). The melons, likewise, are probably not going to reach maturity before the season's over--something of a disappointment, after such a promising start, but they were set back considerably by an early planting followed by temperatures below their tolerance. I knew I was probably pushing my luck with the melons, but there's something so sensual, almost magical, about them that it inspires me to try, to hope for that luscious bounty. Next year I'm going to have a wheelbarrow full of them, mark my words.

In the meantime, we've got root vegetables. Yesterday I did a first thinning of the radishes (some having already been eaten), turnips, beets and carrots. Some folks say to thin early, but there are a couple good reasons to do it later: one, no one felt like doing it before and there was enough else to tend to; two, instead of pulling a bunch of puny seed leaves you yank out a nice crop of baby veggies. Actually, if we'd thinned the seedlings to begin with the second thinning might have produced a slightly better crop, but it's hard to say. Also doesn't matter. What matters is that we got eight pounds of roots, four pounds of beet greens and three pounds of turnip greens out of the garden.

top left around to bottom left: danvers and scarlet nantes carrots, chioggia beets, detroit dark red beets, purple-top turnips, early wonder beets, yellow intermediate mangel beets, lutz salad leaf beets, plum purple radish, misato rose radish

It borders on silly, how much it excites me, the surprise of their emergence from the ground, the shape of them, their color, the culinary possibilities, much less actually eating them... I'll admit I was slightly less thrilled after spending a couple of hours cutting and washing all the greens, and then trimming and chopping (and cooking them into the largest "chard" casserole that's ever been attempted), but there are reasons we do this, beyond simple pleasure. I don't think I need to name them.


Cosmic Monkey said...

In this climate, we need to put peppers and tomatoes under a hoop house for sure. Now is the time.

DesertVerdin said...

Hi again. I'm the poster formerly known as Anonymous!

Now that I have a large chunk of unfettered time, I'm going to read your other posts because as I said I really enjoy your writing style.

And so I have a question - what do you yourself do with your dent corn? I have some at ~6" or so. When I bought the seeds I didn't realize exactly what I was buying. I'm not sure how many ways I can prepare it.

Thanks for writing. I love the internet - it has allowed so many great writers to have a sharable platform!

fremenine said...

CM: I totally agree. Ideally I think we need a moveable hoop house system (a la Eliot Coleman) in order to get the most out of our short and variable growing season here. In the short-term, we need to start building something for this fall, soon.

DV: welcome back. Good question about the corn...I've never grown dent corn before, but from what I gather the ears should be harvested when the kernels have fully dried on the stalk (probably late Fall, depending on where you live). My intent is to grind it into cornmeal, for making cornbread and polenta. I'll be posting on the harvest and our findings, so stay tuned. And thanks for reading... hope you continue to find something of interest here.

DesertVerdin said...


As you might have deduced from my nic, I'm gardening in the desert. This is our second try - our first try was many years ago and very defeating. We've bucked up now and are giving it a go.

We have pretty much year-round gardening here. Right now it's like winter in that I'm preparing beds and soil and getting seeds into pots indoors. Some things I won't plant for another month. We pretty much have to make soil from scratch as the dirt here is basically powdered rock.

Anyway, good luck - especially with your tomatoes! We hope to get some here in October which is still warm here.