Friday, August 31, 2012

What a summer!

I can't believe it's been over a month since I posted! Where has the summer gone?

Like everywhere else, it’s been a very strange gardening year. It got warm so very early that we actually started planting in April! It paid off, and some things took off, grew well and are done and gone now. Then it got way too hot and dry. Fortunately, we have a little irrigation system, so were able to keep it hydrated and most stuff did very well. We lost our collards (collards!) to the heat when they got verticillium wilt and just keeled over. The whole place is getting jungly now though, with the vines on the gate growing almost all the way to the top, the volunteer amaranth with its red crowns, sunflowers and the tropical castor beans providing the lush backdrop.

It’s been a good year to learn about the tolerances of our plants. When it’s usually hot and dry, it got wet and cool here and powdery mildew took some of the cucumbers, watermelon and summer squash. Others are doing well, pattypans and delicata, in particular.

Particularly surprising are the volunteer things. We don’t till here, preferring to grow most things in raised beds, and others we hand dig to loosen the soil and mulch everywhere. We didn’t plant any potatoes this year, but the ones we missed from last year came up everywhere and we’ve harvested about 30 pounds of delicious red and white new potatoes. Most of the carefully grown from seed watermelons gave up the ghost, but this one volunteer is going gangbusters and has a beautiful big one we will harvest for the family gathering tomorrow.

I built a trellis for the pole beans out of hazelnut branches that turned out to be too flimsy and the Kentucky wonder vines are just running amok. A storm knocked the two trellises together, so the whole mass now looks like some kind of two humped bean monster, with thousands of green beans hidden in the snarl somewhere. They’ll be ready to harvest, I'll can most for winter suppers and dill pickle a few in about 3 days.

The most fun to watch has been the water hill. We wanted to place some water for the bees to get at handily, so built up a low hump of soil, set an old concrete birdbath bowl on top of it and planted it around with moss roses. We added two bricks so they could safely get to the water. We empty the mosquito larvae every 3 days, and refill. It’s become a humming center of activity as our honeybees and all kinds of wild bees and birds stop by for a drink and wallow in the pollen of the flowers.

The Scarlet Runner Beans on the big tripod by the shed are growing onto the top of the shed, and the hummingbirds hover around that like bees. They land nearby and chitter at me when I come to harvest the beans. We always include a few new experimental things. The Ground Cherries will be a permanent addition. They're tough to get started, but I think will volunteer and return each year. Those little husks open up to reveal one delicious round berry each, that tastes like pineapple. Yum, and the grandkids love opening them up like little presents.

With all that’s growing here, I love the SunGold Tomatoes the best. They’re stretching over the fence and I stop there first every morning, harvesting a few handfuls of the delicious orange bites, eating a few before putting the rest in my basket. I have several plastic bags of them in the freezer already, along with the grape tomatoes, and basil pesto, ready for that fresh taste of summer when the snow flies.In every corner of the garden there are peppers growing, some sweet but a lot of hot ones. Jim and his friend made their own hot sauce a few years ago by filling a wooden keg with ground peppers, fermenting them for several months, then pressing and bottling the deliciousness. They plan to do that again this year, and the tiny hot ones look unbelievably productive. The okra is coming on well. We're using it in soups and breading and frying some. I hope to hot pickle some when I get enough at one time to make a batch.My best thing this year has been the garlic. Finally, I was able to get a good crop of garlic out of our garden. I bought some at a local farmer’s market that was grown just a few miles from here, and had been growing on that farm for many years. That means it’s totally acclimated to this microclimate and should grow well for us. I planted it last September, and this month pulled those big generous cloves of wonderful flavor. We eat a lot of garlic in this house, and prize the good stuff, so I pulled it and the onions, tied them into strings and hung them above the window on the back porch, where the air will keep them dry and ready. Yesterday I also cut some of the herbs and hung them to dry in the fresh air too. What a marvelous lot of flavor in that one little space.

I’ve already started planting fall crops, onions, radish and turnips, and plan to add more in the next few weeks, hoping to extend our growing season longer. I planted the onions with newspaper mulch in hopes of keeping the weeds down, and so far, it looks like it's working. It’s just so great to have fresh things available right out there in our own garden. We’re adding more raised beds now and will plant more garlic, of course, kale, turnips, beets, lettuces, spinach and cabbage, in hopes of having some very late crops.