July 22, 2012

Pickin' Time

July 19 was a memorable date in our vegetable garden.  We picked our first ears of corn (‘Quickie’) and our first cherry tomatoes.  We also picked our umpteenth pound of green beans, yellow and green summer squash, beets, chard and lettuce.  We are, in short, self-sufficient in the vegetable department for the next six weeks.

There are four squares of corn, each planted a week apart, which should collectively provide more than a hundred ears of sweet corn; plus six ‘producing’ summer squash plants and a like number of seedlings that will yield somewhere between a hundred pounds and a ton of zucchini.  There are plenty of leeks, fennel and carrots to be harvested in September and half a dozen winter squash vines that are threatening to overrun anything in their path.  There is an eight-foot-by-twenty-foot plot of sweet potatoes growing vigorously (at least the greens are growing; we have no idea what is happening underneath the soil). 

These tomatoes, hard and
green now, will be ripe in
just two weeks
The okra plants – ten of them – are now a foot high and, by early August, will start throwing off pods.  The sweet peppers are small and hard now but will grow rapidly and ripen through August.  There is a Chinese cabbage that Betty planted on a whim that is thriving.  The tomatoes, especially are starting to get serious.  It was a pair of cherry tomatoes that ripened under last week’s blistering heat, but now the large heirlooms and hybrids are catching up quickly.  Absent the appearance of late blight or other disease, we will have a bumper tomato crop and be in lycopene overdrive until well into September.

So why, exactly, do two people need a 1200 square foot vegetable garden?  Our freezer already groans with the bags of processed peas from plants that have now been pulled out.  We have green beans to last us well into the winter yet, just two days ago, Betty replaced the peas with another row of beans.

Part of the reason we grow so much is the joy of eating fresh vegetables every evening – including a few all-vegetarian meals.  Another aspect is the sharing.  Part of last week’s harvest of summer squash went to a community food pantry.  Other vegetables go to friends and neighbors.  A plate of fresh-picked green beans with a dill mayonnaise was a hit at a party.

This is our first-ever effort
to grow sweet potatoes. 
Right now, we have a lot
of greenery.  Only time will
tell if there are sweet
potatoes underneath.
We also have the pleasure of the company of a community of fellow vegetable gardeners.  One of our gardening neighbors is brand new to the process; another has graduated this year from a half-plot to a full one; and a third jumped at the opportunity to claim an adjoining second plot.  It’s a joy to talk to them, hear their ideas, and share their excitement.

And there’s the opportunity to share knowledge.  Any trip to the garden inevitably produces a round of questions from novice gardeners.  Some evenings, a planned ten-minute foray to pick enough lettuce and arugula for dinner salads turns into a 45-minute-long, hands-on seminar on the value of row covers, the right way to water deeply, or pest identification.  It seems as though there’s always a crowd at our garden.

Vegetable gardening is, in reality, a short season in New England.  We put up a fence in late April and plant cold-weather crops in early May, but for that first month there’s nothing to look at but black earth marked with stakes and string (plus an early crop of weeds).  It is only in early June, with the planting of the ‘warm weather’ crops that that there is sufficient greenery to give hope that there will indeed be a crop.  July and August are the garden’s glory.  By the beginning of September, the garden will look tired.  We’re enjoying it while we can.

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