Archive for June, 2010

Tomatoes boldly step where peas fear to tread

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Summer, which came unusually early this year, represents a shifting of gears in the vegetable garden. The delicate tastes of spring greens are replaced by the more robust impact of hot weather reds and yellows. Both through more carefully planning and the accidents of weather, this year’s garden managed to simultaneously provide lettuce and tomatoes.  I composted the last of the lettuce and spinach this week.

Although my wall of peas continued to flourish, June saw a significant reduction in sweetness and flavor. I pulled them down before they’d completely finished flowering, and planted Waltham Butternut and Green Striped Cushaw winter squash in their place.  Those have sprouted, and I’ll put up a couple trellis for them tomorrow.

I’ve been surprised by how some plants have flourished, while others have struggled. Before summer had even started, it had become clear that I’d ended up with a tomato thicket.  On the left of Kirk, you see the tomatoes I planted in early April, 2 weeks earlier than normal. The set of tomatoes on the right side of the photo were also started from seed in early March, but I planted them 2 weeks later.

The Early Girl, which Elizabeth bought for me at Merrifield, has done phenomenally well, with the first tomato arriving during the 2nd week of June. At this point, its providing a couple tasty fruit every day. Glacier has started fruiting, but I don’t think they have much taste. Both Dr Carolyn’s have started providing a small but steady supply of delicate yellow cherries with an almost lemony overtone.  The Brandywine on the left should have had ripe fruit by now, but they all suffer from some sort of end rot. The other Brandywine looks to be in good shape, but its 2 weeks later, so its hard to tell. Radiator Charley is still a week or two from ripeness, and the two Old Germans have pretty flowers, but I’m not sure if they’ve even set fruit, yet.   Its been so hot lately that all of them stopped setting fruit, which doesn’t usually happen until a couple months later in the season.

I’ve got 2 kinds of lima one of which is well over the top of the trellis, with the more delicate Willow Leaf tentatively topping it a couple days ago.  A hybrid bush lima and a bush green bean are both doing well now, after withstanding a couple weeks of grazing.  The Cornfield green beans have turned into a leguminous green wall, but unlike the Christmas limas, show no signs of flowering.

I’m mostly finished with my first attempt at potatoes, an exercise that was mostly successful.   Digging up taters is like finding Easter eggs, a form of mystery lacking with most other vegetables.  I plan on starting a fall crop next month, but the left over seed potatoes, moldering in a cool dark corner of the basement, are looking tired.  Some of the potato tubers I dug this week were trying to start new plants, so I just stuck them back into the ground, and maybe they’ll do better than the well-sprouted seed potatoes I’ve been saving downstairs for the second planting.

I’ve had mostly positive experiences so far with the squash family.  We’ve picked about 6 pounds of yellow crookneck, a favorite courgette of ours that we never found in Europe.  The vine borers have been out in force, though, and I’ve had to pull out several squash plants, and perform surgery on some of my pumpkins.  Pumpkin patch #1, taking over the former mulch pile in a clearing where a pine tree was downed, is mostly thriving, in spite of the occasional groundhog attack and some insects.  Big max has set several of its distinctively pale and ugly fruit, and one of the others, I’m not sure if it’s Jack O’Lantern or the pie pumpkin, has multiple dark green orbs that are approaching the size of bowling balls.  Patch #2, a pair of Big Maxes, is struggling, and has only set one pathetic little pumpkin. I try to remain organic, but a neighbor gave me a bottle of some sort of insecticide powder that I’ve liberally sprayed all over the base of the pumpkins.

This week I planted some more corn, fall cabbage, and, because you can never have too much zucchini, another yellow crookneck. I’m not confident that the 3 remaining plants, 1 of which has had borer removal surgery, will make it through the summer. Making up for 10 years lost time in my garden, I’ve sifted a dozen bushels of composted manure into the garden.

Apparently to no purpose, I had spread about $25 worth of imported Swedish pigs blood around my garden in the form of pellets. To be fair to the manufacturer, while they did claim to repel mice and moose (elk), the package said nothing about the American member of the Marmot family.  Hopefully, the cucurbitae and pulses will no longer have anything to fear, with today’s capture of Little Chuck in the charitably named Havahart trap.  I can’t imagine why he even wandered into the thing.  I don’t even remember when I last baited it with pear slices and peanut butter. After some debate over the most discrete way to euthanize our little weather forecaster, Elizabeth volunteered to treat him to a $25 permanent visit  to the pound, leaving with the smelly thing chattering away in the back of my Subaru.

Virginia summer compared to Virginia Water

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

In 2001, we moved from Vienna, Virginia to Vienna, Austria, followed in September by a move to Virginia Water, England. The result has been perpetually confused mail, and a variety of summertime experiences.

As I sit here in 91 degree weather, thankful that the humidity is only about 60% (both expected to rise this week), I can’t help missing the incredibly mild and pleasant English summers. Of course, if you want to lie down on the hammock some Saturday afternoon, reading a novel, you need a blanket.

The insects in America are very different from the ones in England. While I complain about the squash vine borers sabotaging my cucurbits, I really enjoy the fireflies. Elizabeth and I have sat on the back deck, watching the twinkling twilight show. The other American bug I’m glad to see again, and this is a taste that she does not share with me, is the cicada. I love the sound of the cicadas up in the trees, whirring away in unison, and then suddenly going silent. The evening sound of crickets is another one that feels like home to me.