In this post I will go into painful detail about my Summer vegetable garden. If you find this kind of thing bores you, then go ahead and skip to the end where you will find photos of our Summer vacation and the alarming new shoes I bought for my birthday.
This week the foothills have been experiencing the worst heat wave of the Summer. It's been around 105F for 4 days now and the forecast is about the same for the rest of the week. It's a good time to round up the photos I've taken and put the information together in a way that will be useful later. This is a shot of the vegetable garden this morning looking West. You might notice the sunflower in the bed on the right. It's a seedling from the 'Sunzilla' sunflowers I grew last year. It's about 15' tall. I don't know why I left it there to grow and shade out the tomatoes again. It's pretty magnificent, don't you think?
Learned: transplant sunflower volunteers well away from vegetable garden.
|'Early Jersey Wakefield' cabbage|
Speaking of giant things, here's some of the cabbage I harvested back in June. I planted it in January thinking it would grow over the Winter and be ready to harvest early in the Spring. What actually happened was a bit different. It didn't even start growing until Spring, and when it did, it got so enormous that there was hardly any room to squeeze in the pepper plants when it was time.
Learned: cabbage is huge. Plant it around the edges.
|'Dragon Tongue' and 'Roma II' bush beans.|
Learned: All bean seeds need to be sown by the 1st of July. After that the weather gets too hot for them to germinate well and if they do, the sowbugs get them. I'll try sowing beans for early Fall harvest into pony packs when the heat breaks and transplanting them with a collar.
|Well-behaved sowbugs eating decaying plant material and ignoring lettuce seedling.|
Speaking of sowbugs, in July the garden experienced a population explosion. This happened when I sifted some compost from the big pile to give the beds a Summer boost. Apparently several thousand of these little crustaceans hitched a ride in my wheelbarrow. Usually sowbugs are beneficial and serve as decomposers in the garden much like earthworms. In the heat, and in too large a population, they will eat anything. I should state here that this garden is organic, but not only that, it's part of the larger ecosystem that exists all around it. For years I've been planting nectar plants for beneficial insects and making my own (buggy) compost. The photos of the resulting produce should be testament enough for anyone.
Learned: just buy a few bags of bug free compost in the Summer.
I set traps for them in straight sided containers using a bit of cucumber as bait. I could no sooner kill roly polys than I could polywogs or any little creatures from happy childhood memories.
|There you go little fellas. Back into the compost from whence you came.|
Also in July were cucumbers. Lots and lots of cucumbers.
I made pickles, both dill and sweet. I'm still getting more cucumbers than we can eat. 'Agnes' is a great all-around cucumber for us here. It's still growing and producing right through the heat and we haven't had a bitter one yet.
Learned: even though it's nice to have enough cucumbers all at once to make pickles, you get pickled-out after a while. I'll just plant one row next year.
Over the years I've had lots of disappointments with tomatoes and peppers from seed. Our short growing season and crazy weather fluctuations early in the Spring and late in the Fall really mess things up. This year I had decided just to buy transplants and was resigned to growing 'Better Boys' and 'Romas'. In April I was at the hardware store and found a nice selection of "heirloom" tomatoes, well grown, in quart size coco fiber pots. I bought a bunch of them and our first tomato was 'Jet Setter'. I don't know why this hybrid was with them, but I'm glad it was. It's much better than 'Early Girl'. I'll be looking for these next year.
'Cherokee Purple' was the next to ripen. These are so wonderful! Best I've ever tasted. Very early and still going strong. If transplants aren't available next Spring, I'll start these from seed. I also bought: 'Black Krim', pretty color, just okay taste,
''Nebraska Wedding', same as above,
'Hillbilly', still waiting ...
'Old German', still waiting ...
It's really nice to have the opportunity to try these different heirlooms all at once. This cuts out years of trial and error and I really appreciate that.
|'Black Krim' and 'Nebraska Wedding'|
|'Mexican Midget' cherry tomato|
|'Green Zebra' blossoms|
A few more heirlooms I started from seed this year.
For cooking tomatoes, I bought 'San Marzano' in 4 inch pots. I grew them last year from seed. They didn't start to ripen until late in August. In October, they were just covered in green tomatoes. I had to bring them all in green one afternoon before the first frost. We had tomatoes covering every windowsill, table, and counter top for weeks as they ripened. I was so happy to see these plants in April. I've already made several batches of salsa and put up the first gallon of diced tomatoes today.
'San Marzanos' ripen in waves.
An easy way to deal with them is to pick a basket or so. Dead ripe ones are easiest to handle.
Cut off the stem end and freeze them on a cookie sheet. After that you can peel and dice them at your leisure. If you're not going to peel them right away, just pack them away in a gallon freezer bag for later.
When you want to peel them, set them out on the counter for a half hour or so. You want the skin thawed but the inside still frozen. The skins will slip right off.
I like to dice the frozen tomatoes up and pack them into quart freezer bags. I think the fresh tomato flavor is so nice when the tomatoes only get cooked once.
There's the first gallon all ready to go. It only took a half hour or so and the kitchen stayed cool on a hot day. I'll keep doing this all Summer, I hope! Those are frozen pesto balls on top. I made those yesterday.
Learned: plant 2 rows of 'San Marzano' next year, and most important, 'Cherokee Purple' is the tomato Holy Grail I've been searching for.
Also at the hardware store were 'Sweet Banana' peppers. I've grown these from seed for many years. They're always wonderful. My kids say they taste like flowers. It's so nice to have so many so early. I've just been slicing them for salads. I bought 16 plants.
I bought 6 'Giant Marconi' sweet peppers too. These are great! They're the first pepper I've grown that actually has a juicy crunch to it.
Bought a few little 'Jalapenos' too.
Learned: 16 is just the right number of 'Sweet Banana', must have at least 24 'Giant Marconi' next year so I can roast them red and freeze some, 'Jalapenos' aren't hot enough, need lots more hot peppers.
|'Horn of Plenty' crookneck|
What's Summer without too much squash? Nice! I really tried hard to limit the squash this year and things are working out well.
|'Sunburst' scallop squash|
|'Benning Green Tint' scallop squash|
Here are the fearsome four squashes for the year. We've had more than enough with just a few plants of each planted at the short ends of the garden beds.
Learned: 'Benning Green Tint' is masterful at hiding its squashes under leaves until they are giant and the plants themselves are incredibly giant, 'Sunburst' is not a bit prolific, 'Salman' and 'Horn of Plenty' crookneck more than make up for that.
|'Early Rose' and 'La Rata' potatoes|
Old standbys. I tried planting them in January this year.
Learned: after being frozen to the ground twice in the Spring, then fried to a crisp early in the Summer, this wasn't a good idea. Next year plant them in March but grow something on their South side to shade them.
|'Dr. Wyche's Yellow' tomatillo|
|'Jersey Knight' asparagus|
|'Eden's Gem' melon|
Some pretty new faces in my garden this year. I have high hopes for all of them!
My little garden has been incredibly generous this year and I've spent many happy hours working and learning.
For those of you non-gardening folk who skipped down, shame on you!
This year for our 25th anniversary we rented a shack on the Mendocino coast. This is "Sea Pines" cottage. While the foothills were enduring a heat wave, the temperatures here were in the high 60's. My husband built a little fire every morning and evening and we listened to seals barking.
It was also my birthday so we visited the Gualala Nursery. You can't miss it. Just look for the dinosaurs. I bought several pretty colors of Agastache. Thanks girls!
|Dinner at St. Orres|
|My birthday shoes.|
|Will be laughing about this for a long, long time. Thanks Mom!|