Updates in the Vegetable Garden (July 31, 2013)

This past July we’ve gotten some more unusual weather. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “unusual” as that seems to be the norm now, but it does help to compare vegetable garden conditions year-to-year when we talk about how the current weather differs from the expected weather patterns. Anyways, after a wet June, we had two weeks of hot summer weather without much rain. Then we had two weeks of cloudy and chilly weather with sporadic rain. We still haven’t needed our air conditioner much this summer and have broken out the sweatshirts and pants occassionally. The vegetable plants seem to be feeling it too since it feels like they’re moving slower this month.

Broccoli, peas, nasturtium, and cilantro. We usually don't have much to pick at once, but it's such a blessing.

Broccoli, peas, nasturtium, and cilantro. We usually don’t have much to pick at once, but it’s such a blessing.

In mid-July, I set up an irrigation system to water the plants. I purchased a soaker hose and set it along the plants in the larger vegetable garden. I also added a light layer of chopped straw around the plants to retain water. I watered every few days mid-July but now I haven’t used the soaker hose in the last couple weeks since we’ve been getting some occassional rain.

One big change in the garden is that the cover crops have all been cut down. After they started going to seed, I used a scissors to cut them off near the ground and then composted the material. The garden sure looked bare after I did that! It made me realize just how much space really is in the garden. I guess it wasn’t planted very efficiently with vegetables.

The cover crop peas produced many nice looking pods. I picked a bowl of them (176 grams) and brought them in the house to try. I wasn’t expecting that they would taste good since they were a cover crop, and it was true. They weren’t sweet and we ended up composting them.

The garden is a bit overrun with weeds right now. After the cover crops were finished, I thought I could plant more crops in their place. But beneath the cover crops were many weeds and the kids kept me so busy this month that I haven’t had time to tackle them or plan out what to plant next. In the spring, I had a great deal of energy for the garden, but now I find my energy dwindling. Next year I’ll have to remember that.

Having only lived in our house for a year, the large lavender plant blooming behind our garage was a pleasant surprise.

Having only lived in our house for a year, the large lavender plant blooming behind our garage was a pleasant surprise.

Here are the harvest totals so far:
* Swiss Chard: 272 g (more could be picked)
* Carrots: 141 g
* Nasturtium: 9 g (more could be picked)
* Peas: 40 g (done now)
* Broccoli: 99 g (2 heads)
* Cilantro: 9 g (more could be picked)
* Sun Gold Tomatoes: 236 g
* Red Sweetie Tomatoes: 157 g
* Ground Cherries: 66 g
This brings the harvest total up to 1029 grams (2.27 pounds).

Here are some plant-specific updates this month:

Cherry Tomatoes: The Sun Gold and Red Sweetie plants in the nightshade garden are doing wonderfully. We’ve enjoyed going out to pick the ripe ones every day for the last couple weeks. My son has been eating most of them as soon as I weigh and wash them. My daughter liked them a lot last year but hasn’t been as interested in them this year.

Ground Cherries: Oh, what a wonderful plant these are! Three of the ground cherry plants are large and producing many sweet fruits. Every day we look for the ripe cherries on the ground and eat them as soon as we weigh and wash them. We can’t get enough of them. We’ll have to plant more next year. Yesterday morning I noticed a bunny taking one of the ground cherries off the ground, so we’ll have to watch out for those bunnies. The seedlings that were transplanted later have not amounted to anything. The ones that have survived are still very small.

Broccoli: We had two nice broccoli heads this month. The plants’ leaves had become riddled with holes but they seemed to be just surviving. After cutting off the two tops, I thought I’d see some side shoots start to grow. The other two broccoli plants have smaller heads that are only now ready to harvest.

Five peppers growing on a small plant in our own backyard.

Five peppers growing on a small plant in our own backyard.

Peppers: There are green peppers growing on the pepper plant, maybe five all in a small clump. I’d like to wait until they turn red to pick them.

Cucumber: The cucumber plants are growing up the bamboo teepee and have developed many yellow flowers and two little pickle-sized cucumbers. I’ll wait for them to grow before I pick them.

Cilantro: We mostly picked cilantro for nibbling on this month, but did use some in a batch of guacamole. More could have been picked, but now it has gone to seed.

The Hidatsa beans look beautiful on the bamboo teepee.

The Hidatsa beans look beautiful on the bamboo teepee.

Hidatsa Beans: The bean plants climbed all the way up the bamboo teepee and have formed many long green beans. I’m going to wait for the plant and beans to dry out so I can try to harvest some dry beans.

Zucchini: The zucchini plants are coming along and developing small green zucchinis.

Nasturtium: The three nasturtium plants have done well. If we liked the hot taste of the peppery leaves and flowers, we might have picked more to eat. But I’m enjoying them for their beautiful flowers and companion planting.

Lavender: We discovered that we have a large lavender plant behind our garage! What a nice surprise.

Our backyard bouquet of zinnia, cilantro, and hosta flowers. With a homemade loaf of bread right out of the oven, the kitchen felt so cozy.

Our backyard bouquet of zinnia, cilantro, and hosta flowers. With a homemade loaf of bread right out of the oven, the kitchen felt so cozy.

Mystery Flower: My daughter’s mystery flower has revealed itself! We had four purple zinnias open up this month. Just last week, we cut them off and arranged them in a bouquet in the house with some cilantro flowers and hosta flowers. It’s unusual for us to have flowers in the house. Given that the flowers are right from our backyard, it has been a much enjoyed centerpiece for the kitchen table.

Tomatillo: The yellow flowers are starting to turn into small fruits.

Tomatoes (from church): Even though our nightshade garden’s cherry tomatoes are quickly producing many fruits, the tomato plants from church are moving slowly with just a few green tomatoes. These seedlings had gotten off to a leggy start and were planted later.

This was delicious! Swiss chard, broccoli, and turnips sauteed in some oil.

This was delicious! Swiss chard, broccoli, and turnips sauteed in some oil.

Swiss Chard: We picked some more swiss chard from my kids’ container garden. It’s still growing strong. Leaf miners had gotten some of the leaves so those had to be tossed. The seedlings that were transplanted in the vegetable garden are small and leggy, but they might come around.

Carrots: We’ve continued to pull some small carrots from my kids’ container garden. They are fun to pick because they’re so orange. It’s nice to see carrots with roots and leaves instead of the grocery store ‘baby cut’ variety that we usually buy.

Apples and Pears: The apple and pear trees have much fruit on them, but much of the fruit looks to have worm holes. The squirrels and rabbits don’t seem to mind. They eat any of the unripe fruit that they can get their hands on. The rabbits stand on their hind legs and eat the apple tree leaves too. With the squirrels stealing from the tree, I don’t know if we’ll have many pears to pick this year.

Apples on our 'red' variety of apple tree.

Apples on our ‘red’ variety of apple tree.

Skinny pears growing on the pear tree.

Skinny pears growing on the pear tree.

Lessons learned:
* Remember that I have a lot of energy in the spring but not much as the summer goes on. Don’t procrastinate garden planning or succession planting.
* Use row covers over the broccoli and swiss chard to keep pests off (cabbage moth, leaf miner, etc.).
* The bamboo teepees are nice. They look beautiful with their rustic height, the beans have had much room to grow upwards, and they’ve been sturdy.
* Plant more ground cherries next year and fence in the nightshade garden to keep bunnies out.
* If rain isn’t coming, be prepared. Set up the irrigation earlier and track rainfall. Use a thicker layer of mulch to retain moisture and block weeds.
* Planting cover crops among the vegetable plants makes it hard to use that soil later in the season. It gets weedy and you can’t till the soil or pull the cover crop stems out without disturbing the vegetable plants’ roots.
* Square foot gardening = more efficent than random gardening. Even though it’s good I started “small,” there is a lot of wasted space.
* It’s easy to have vegetables, fruits, or herbs when you don’t need them (or to need them when you don’t have them). Gardening means following nature rather than buying things on demand at the grocery store. It’s good to pay attention to the garden so that recipes and time can be organized in preparation.

So many things that I’m learning this year in the garden!

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