The summer garden is the best garden. I’m sorry kale, I’m sorry broccoli, but it is true. Even though the peak of harvest is still months away, it feels so good to get those summer crops in the ground, to set in motion the cascade of bounty that we hope will follow. Perhaps I felt this a little too keenly, on a recent day in early May.
The garden was weeded, composted and mulched. I’d taken out most of the overwintering crops, and it was HOT! I mean it was 92 degrees. It felt like summer already. Perhaps I felt the added pressure, too, of the several flats of tomato and pepper starts that I had seeded back in March, whose roots were ready to get out of the jumbo cell-packs they were housed in. It was time to pot them up into 4” containers…or to put them out. And did I mention how hot it was? It was hot.
So into the garden went a few dozen peppers; Mustard Habanero, Hungarian Hot Wax, Variegated Fish, Jimmy Nardello, Aji Crystal and Fatalii; all the strange and wonderful varieties that are sometimes only available in seed form. I chose only the largest and healthiest of each variety and tucked them gently into the damp soil. Watered them in, sang them little songs that were stuck in my head, smoothed the compost over their roots and adjusted the irrigation emitters so each had a steady supply of water near their roots.
And then came a week of icy, Arctic winds.
I have a general rule, adopted from a longtime garden hero of mine, not to plant out pepper starts before Mother’s Day. It was not yet Mother’s Day. But the sun…it was so hot…sigh. I ought to have known better.
The icy winds ceased after a few days, and the plants LOOK as though they are doing well. The soil temperature is warm to the touch. It’s hard to see anything wrong. But seedlings that have been exposed to chill early get kind of stunted.Their roots don't develop well, so they have difficulty absorbing nutrients. New growth is very slow, to the point where they are often overtaken by peppers planted later in the year. I knew all this, but the temptation to tempt fate and get in an extra few weeks of growing time was too much for me and I succumbed.
Luckily, we started 6 of each kind of pepper…so in another week or two, I’ll put out the second-strongest, second-best looking seedlings. I’m still debating what to do with the first ones. Tear them out, ruthlessly making room for the new peppers? Let them stay, as a kind of experiment/reminder all summer long? Perhaps they will surprise me…but perhaps can be a dangerous word, in the garden, as I have found. What would you do?
A few weeks pass.
The weather, though it still fluctuates, seems safe to plant peppers now. It seems that there may be room for both the original crop and a new planting. If nothing else, it will be interesting to compare the two!
The peas are thriving, still flush with a bumper crop that was planted in early spring. I seeded another crop in the portion of the garden just outside the housewares building, a few weeks back, to extend the harvest. These will be Sugar Snap peas; the original crop were Mammoth Melting snow peas. Alongside them, I planted a row of Rattlesnake Pole beans, one of my favorite beans. I love the way those speckled pods look in a pickle brine, and I love ‘em tender, too, lightly steamed or stir-fried with the barest of seasoning.
There’s red lettuce going to seed all around the stop sign, and I’ll let it ride; it’s such a treat to have seedlings come up after the parent plant sheds seed. They look so beautiful, red and frilly, though the leaves by now are bitter and tough. I had to pull most of a row of lime green frisee that was also bolting, but I had room to leave a single plant to set seed that will pop up again, likely in the fall. Sunflowers that fell from a crop of flowers we planted years ago have been reseeding there ever since. They always come up too early, so they don’t reach their full height, but the silver lining is that we have sunflowers blooming already before June, and their tall, established stalks are the perfect thing to train beans up. In an adaptation of the 3 Sisters method of planting, I tucked an assortment of squash that had lost their tags among the sunflowers and planted a bean seed at the base of each flower stalk. Corn is actually the original 3rd sister, not sunflowers, but sunflowers were also an important food source for early Americans. While a pinto bean or any number of the rich diversity of dry beans from the American Southwest might have been more traditional, I chose the Spanish Musica Pole bean, having already broken from tradition. It grows so fast, the pods are so large, and it is tender enough to eat raw. I really could not resist.
The spinach that languished after I split apart densely seeded six-packs has finally taken root and is producing a bounty of dark green leaves, so rich in iron. One 6 pack held nearly 20 plants, once the roots were untangled from each other. This spinach, I had feared, disliked having their roots so messed with, and it did take them longer than usual to get established; however, now they are robust and happy and plentiful.
Sometimes, I like to leave the six packs planted so densely, and at others, it makes more sense to split them. Squash, for instance, seem not to mind sharing space with one or two other squash, and their roots grow so quickly that it can be quite damaging to untangle them from around each other, so I often choose to leave them be.
The summer garden is almost fully planted, but I’m holding space for a few more late-comers. The mouse melons, (which really taste like tiny, grape-sized cucumbers) from Cole Canyon are a longtime favorite; we’re hoping to see them again soon! And I am still waiting for a few certain summer melons to come in from the growers. There may not be room for corn this year…or maybe I can squeeze in a small block. Corn grows best in blocks rather than single rows; being a wind-pollinated crop, it needs to have neighbors all around it to cross-pollinate and make those succulent kernels we love so well. If I make space for corn, maybe a pumpkin might fit beneath the tall stalks. 2 sisters! But that garden is getting awfully full…
The last bit of garden news is the bean tepee made near the cardoon at the far end of the garden. There, we planted scarlet runner beans; come August, it should be a blooming mass of red flowers that will yield lots of plump dry beans for the winter, and perhaps for fresh eating, too, if we can find a good recipe. Anyone?
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