Saturday, July 20, 2013

Garden bounty

I have missed you guys.  I keep thinking about blogging but having no time or energy to do it!  The garden is just one of the many things that's been sapping me lately; hopefully I'll blog about the others soon too.

Ah, July.  The time when it's too hot to be outside, but suddenly you have to because the garden is producing fit to burst!

Really, I'm not picking very much -- just plums, green beans, garlic, and the occasional carrot.  Tomatoes and pumpkins are still green, no sign of cucumbers, lettuce has gone to seed, and cabbage and broccoli look like they've decided to just stay leafy forever.  Beets were a dead loss, Michael pulled up every one.

But oh, how things are growing!  Take a look:

Yeah, that whole side of the yard has basically been taken over.  I thought it would be fun for the kids to run around between the different beds, but no such luck.  The pumpkins have grown into the cucumber bed on one side and the bush beans on the other, and they are still growing!  Tendrils are heading toward the cabbage-and-carrot bed and under the fence to crawl up the hill.  All that mass of pumpkin vine is THREE plants.  Planted in May.  Those things never cease to amaze me!

The day I took this, the back corner (where it's starting to grow into the tomato bed) was looking a bit wilty.  I figured it was the heat, but the next day all those leaves were yellow, and then brown the day after.  I found out it's probably squash borers, so tomorrow I'll have to go take a look.  Basically the only thing for it is to cut off the dead leaves and slit open the stems to see if there are worms inside.  If I'd caught them at the wilty stage, I might have found a way to kill the worms without killing the plant, but at this point those leaves are dead anyway.  Luckily the rest of the vine seems unaffected.

 There are quite a few of these little green pumpkins -- perhaps a dozen.  And that's just those I can see -- it's hard to trek through the prickly vines to look for more!  Last year I had six around the end of July, and six more before frost.  This year I think the weather is too cool to get a double harvest like that -- the frost is likely to come sooner -- but you never know.

The green beans look good.  The bush beans (not shown because they're inundated in pumpkin vines) have been bearing for about two week, and the ones on the trellis just bore their first bean.  I get a handful or two every day or two.  Luckily I love green beans.  The kids don't as much ... though they do if I pickle them!

 Next is the gone-to-seed lettuce.  I was pretty good about picking it, but when it gets hot enough, it just bolts no matter what.  I let it, because I like to save the seed.  And it amuses me to have people ask what those giant things are.  They have tiny yellow flowers like dandelions which turn into balls of fluff when the seed is ready.  Both lettuce and dandelions are in the Aster family, hence the similarity.
 Can you see my poor smothered cucumbers?  My first sowing didn't work, so I planted these ones in June.  They are having trouble competing with the pumpkins that invaded their bed, but they are getting by surprisingly well despite that.  I have been carefully guiding the pumpkin vines away from the cukes so they get a decent chance.  I LOVE cucumbers, and have never grown them successfully.  Last year I got three; that was it and then the plant died.

Usually my tomatoes are the pride of the garden!  This year they've been a struggle.  My seedlings mostly died and what I did plant, I planted late.  Then I neglected them when it was time to stake them, and so they're everywhere.  But then that happens every year: I get some great new idea for how I'm going to stake them, and then I miss that crucial couple of weeks when they get tall and suddenly flop over all over everything.

And, of course, I can't really get to them due to all the pumpkins.  They do have quite a few green tomatoes though!  It seems to me not as many as past years, but maybe that's because some of the plants are so far behind they haven't set fruit at all.  The purchased seedlings are doing the best, then the homegrown ones, and last of all is the direct-seeded one.  It's fabulously healthy, but only about two feet high and no flowers even.

Here is the cabbage-carrot-broccoli-garlic bed.  Carrots are doing great, and from time to time I pull one up.  They're small yet, but delicious.  The cabbage and broccoli is just puttering along, not particularly interested in growing up, long after my neighbor has harvested his broccoli and the cabbage is all in nice heads.  Really, I think the soil here is not good -- that, and of course I put it all in very late.  The garlic which grew so fabulous for me last year didn't put on as good a showing this year.  Each plant grew a head, but a rather small one.  Probably they're disappointed at the cooler, wetter summer.  That, and the dog ran over them about twenty times too many.

I didn't get a picture of the watermelon plant.  I put it on the hillside, outside the fence.  It has a few yellow flowers and a tiny little melon, but looks rather like a bonsai plant.  Perhaps that's due to competition from all the other plants on the hill.  I didn't want to clear too large a space for it for fear of erosion.  Maybe we'll get a melon or two.

 But the real bounty right now is the plum tree.  I don't know why I didn't take a picture of the actual tree.  What you see here is one picking's worth ... considering I was picking, at that point, twice a day.  It's a dwarf plum tree, but its output is amazing.  The neighbor says it's never had a bad year.  So far I have gotten about 10 quarts of plum sauce plus all we wanted to eat fresh.  I even made a tiny batch of plum wine.

It's taken me three harvests to figure out the trick to this tree.  First, it needs to be harvested often, because the fruit ripens fast and the instant it is dead ripe, it falls off.  Then it gets a bruise and the bugs have all burrowed into it within a few hours of falling.  Second, it's okay to harvest a little unripe, for the same reason.  Third, I need to clear away all rotten fruit right away.  It discourages the bugs, and it makes it easy to see if any fruit has fallen more recently that is still good for sauce.  I threw four ice-cream buckets of rotten fruit into the compost, which is sad.  I wish I had a pig.  And fourth, I'll never get the fruit at the top of the tree (though standing on chair helps) so I just have to get out there often to pick up all the fallen fruit, cut out the bruises, and get it going for sauce.  I've been making sauce every day, because the fruit doesn't hold at all.

Neat thing about plum sauce -- you don't have to peel the fruit.  The peels actually dissolve into the sauce and turn it from golden to pink, and make it tarter.  I do have to add a bit of sugar to correct for that, but it's easier than peeling hundreds of plums.

I'm finally seeing fewer plums on the tree now, so plum time is beginning to come to an end.  I saw the first ripe plum with excitement, but I'll pick the last plum with relief.  Packing away fruit is exhausting!

There is really nothing in the world like eating out of the garden.  I feel so self-sufficient, so tied to the land, so rooted in tradition, and so ... wealthy.  I love having more than enough food to eat.  When I am worried about the grocery budget or the contents of our fridge, I invariably eat too much because I'm subconsciously afraid of going hungry.  When I have boundless quantities of plums and green beans all over the place, I feel satisfied.  I don't need to eat a lot because I know we have enough.  It's a beautiful feeling.  It also feels great to knock on my neighbors' doors and ask if they want plums, or to invite my friends over to pick them.  I feel like for once I have something of value to give.  It means so much to me.

Here are two great green bean recipes.

Saute them in olive oil or butter till they're just a bit brown in spots.  Done!  But if you want to take it to the next level, sprinkle on parmesan cheese.  You can do this with almost any veggie.  Try one you don't like, and see if you now love it.  Eggplant is great this way, though you want to get it as dry as you possibly can first.  I sliced mine, wrapped it in a dishtowel, and left it in the fridge for three days.  It was kind of dessicated, but that meant it got crispy and perfect when I sauteed it.  Mmmm.

Dilly Beans
Take a pint jar and a handful of green beans.  Snap off stems and rinse if you feel they need it.  Pack the beans in as tightly as you can, along with a clove of garlic and a sprig (or generous sprinkle) of dill.  Pour in 1 1/2 tsp of salt and fill the jar with filtered or dechlorinated water.  Leave the jar on the counter for 3-7 days, tasting from time to time to see how you like the beans.  When they taste like a dill pickle and have just the right amount of crunch, they're done.  The kids LOVE these -- though I have to call them pickles, not beans, or Marko won't eat them.  I just keep the jar open while I'm making dinner and when they come around begging for food NOW, I hand them dilly beans.  Doesn't spoil their appetite and it's good for them.

What's growing in your garden?  What gambles have paid off, and which have flopped?


Enbrethiliel said...


I'm impressed by your garden, Sheila! And a little reassured that it looks like a bigger version of my own "container jungle." ;-)

I've had no luck with my peas, but the pepper plants are starting to grow little bumps. At first I was worried they wouldn't, because a few weeks ago, a few of them had flowers, and then the flowers dropped off after a really hot spell. We'll see . . .

The tomatoes are a mixed bag. Some tomato plants are really tall--so tall that they 're revealing how shallow their root systems actually are. =P I've had to prop them up a bit. A friend told me that when plants are still seedlings, they must be kept in the shade so that more energy goes into putting down roots than into putting out leaves. Did you read a similar tip?

Then there are the carrots. Only one of them seems to be growing a decent tap root. My forecast is for a handful of small peppers, a single anorexic carrot, and at least one tomato surprised to be alive.

The plum tree sounds great! I'm glad that you're getting such a harvest out of it. =D I wonder if I will ever get from "YES! An edible vegetable at last!" to "Oh, no. More vegetables?" LOL!

Sheila said...

Peppers do drop blossoms when it's hot, but they quickly put on another batch. Doesn't take long to grow a flower.

Tomatoes do flop, no matter how wonderful their roots are. You're supposed to stake them, but I'm afraid I have just let mine sprawl all over and they seem to be doing fine anyway. Never heard the idea of keeping them in the shade. After all, their energy comes from the sun, so wouldn't they just have less to spare for roots if you did that? :/ They are supposed to grow better roots if you water them less, but in a container that can be risky -- you don't want them to die of thirst either!

When you harvest your peppers and tomatoes, they will blossom again and produce more as long as they are still healthy and the weather is still good. So don't give up yet on having quite a few of each.

I am so glad you are getting peppers and tomatoes anyway. Worst case, your garden just leaves you thirsty for more next year!

Tiffany said...

We have missed you too! And I love your garden. We keep a small garden, we don't have a very large yard. But we do enjoy planing a few vegetables every year. This year we planted sweet banana peppers, green, red and yellow bell peppers, Roma tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes. The tomato plants are threatening to take over the entire yard, though the tomatoes are still all green. We've harvested quite a few sweet banana peppers already. The bell peppers are growing but are still not ready to be picked. I LOVE dilly beans. This has inspired me to plant green beans again next year!

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