Garden Notes May 2018: Bring it On, Summer Squash

All of a sudden it’s time for tomatoes. Peppers, too, and a chance for early basil; beans and corn and summer squash. Eggplant and melons will be following close behind, but they’re a little cold tender, so it’s best to wait a few weeks to get them planted.

Before these heavy feeders can sink their roots in deep, though, it’s time for compost, a rich, dark layer over the surface of the soil, or dug in and mixed with the soil, depending on your gardening philosophy. We’re lucky to get dairy compost in totes here at the store, and we make our own as well, from the spent vegetables and trimmings from the nursery. This time of year, we like to spread a layer 3-4 inches deep over the whole garden. As we dig holes to plant into, we mix the compost into the soil around the individual plants. When we’ve planted an entire area, with a mix of seeds and starts, we’ll spread woodchips, rice hulls, or straw over the surface, to prevent the compost from drying out and losing nutrients. planting directly in compostThere’s something deeply satisfying about spreading compost, like tucking a child into bed and feeding friends and having dessert, all at once. And the garden is a kind of child, in that it grows anew every year, and needs constant tending that is rewarding in and of itself. (Yes, OK, sometimes it is also terribly frustrating when we battle bugs or rodents or birds…which of course, is totally unlike child-rearing.) It is like a friend that gives and gives of itself; we admire and adore it despite its foibles, shortcomings, and faults. Yes, and spreading compost is like dessert because even if plants will grow without compost, they grow fatter and happier and more luscious with compost; it’s the special something extra that makes all the foods and flowers and plants and worms and good bugs and therefore people just a little happier.

happy plants
The dairy compost is well broken down and smells of nothing but fresh earth, despite its bovine origins. It’s a good reminder of how agriculture and livestock are so mutually linked; it’s hard, though not impossible, to provide the best possible nutrients to grow veggies from purely vegetable sources. Manure alone is an invaluable garden resource, and the blood and bone meal that make up most organic fertilizers are among the richest sources of nitrogen, and calcium and phosphorous, respectively. When we plant, we like to sprinkle a bit of vegetable fertilizer into the hole and mix it into the soil, underground where the roots will have to stretch down to reach for the nutrients. We’ve also started watering deeply, as we do every year in this season, not so much because the soil is particularly dry, but in order to get the moisture deep into the soil as a reservoir for later in the year. Both of these practices call the roots downward, early in the season, establishing a robust root system that can weather the vagrancies of drought and heat stress.

deep watering
The perennial plants that have overwintered are doing well, although we lost the cape gooseberry plant to cold over the winter. It’s only a perennial in this climate if it makes it through the winter, sadly. Just up the hill in Boulder Creek, though, a sister plant that came from the same cutting made it through with just a little leaf loss, and has already set the first fruit, so all is not lost! The cardoon, as ever, is trying to take up three times its allotted space. An absolutely gorgeous Purple of Romagna artichoke, that languished in a back corner of the garden for years, is suddenly bearing the most incredible crop of deep purple, almost black artichoke heads. The root system has finally broken into the poor soil at that end of the garden, and of course, the years of compost layered around the artichoke have helped, too. Tarragon and hyssop are looking lush and lovely, and the lemongrass is sprouting back too.
purple artichoke
It isn’t all glory and new growth, though; the first row of Genovese basil disappeared overnight, and the only clue as to its whereabouts was a thin, opalescent trail that leads back into a tangle of scabiosa, hollyhock, and gotu kola. Slug possibly, but more likely snail; the slime trail was thin and pearly, like a snail trail. Snails like basil and tender herbs just as much as people, grrrrr. missing basilI’ll be working my way into that fecund tangle soon, to at least prune up the understory, to make it a less attractive place for snails to retreat and hide in as the weather warms. If needs be, I’ll even pull out the patch of scabiosa, since the garden plan for this year requires the herbs to grow in that spot, since eggplant grew there last year, and I’m trying to avoid planting solanums there again. I wouldn’t mind if the scabiosa stayed, though; it matches the color scheme for wedding flowers. I’m hoping to plant a big patch of the deep purple Amethyst basil in that area, too, because it’s delicious, smells incredible, and will be used in bouquets as well as salads and squash dishes. The Amethyst basil variety is particularly good with stonefruit, too; try it in the Ginger Stone Fruit Salsa.
flowers and basil
The planting beds that border the housewares shop are raised above the level of the sidewalk, just a raised mound of soil without a wall or border to hold the soil in. It works fairly well, but we do have to keep sweeping soil and compost back up now and then, to keep the sidewalk clean. It’s worth the hassle, though, because the native soil there is so full of asphalt chunks and decomposed granite, the detritus of building the sidewalk there years ago; it was never intended to be garden space for all but the hardiest of plants. What a testament to the power of compost and fertilizer, that it routinely offers up so much delicious produce! This year, to combat the slip-sliding soil, we’ve planted a row of mingled thyme and alpine strawberries on the tiny slope itself. While not every plant would thrive in so steep a planting space, these are both good choices for this sort of planting; the thyme creeps in all directions, and its roots will stabilize the slope as well as offer sprigs and snips for recipes. Not to mention the flowers, beloved of bees! The strawberries too are great for slopes, and their vigorous perennial roots will support the slope while their cheerful white flowers bloom, and the berries hang red and yellow and impossibly sweet from beneath the foliage. Above these, we recently seeded purple bush beans, golden peas, and Musica pole beans. picking pea podsA cucumber start anchors the corner, with its own bamboo teepee for support, and 3 kinds of summer squash share the space with a Trombuchino Climbing Squash. Between the beans, squash, and peas, that fence will be covered in a quilt of green leaves and colorful fruits by the end of summer, a welcome bit of shade for the walkway on the other side, as well. 2 tomatillos get center stage in the front garden this year, and of course the garlic is still there; hopefully, it will be ready to harvest before the squash envelop it. A single Carmello tomato is in, as of this writing, but there are plans for many more to come, and peppers, soon, too; our vegetable selection is growing every week, and already I am seeing some new and interesting varieties that I had not planned for but must have; a perennial Manzano pepper, and a mini Corni Di Toro variety as well. Where will we fit it all? roadside gardenSomehow we’ll manage. There seems like a lot of space now, it’s especially hard to leave space for the vigorous sprawl of the summer squash and tomatoes this early in the season. They look so little and cute now, but wait till August, they’ll be trying to take over the world.
compost pile
Bring it on, summer squash and tomatoes! We are ready for you!

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