I am sitting looking out at a downpour and I couldn't be happier. It has been dry as a bone out there. This past week the summer heat finally hit Vermont and every day without rain was one day closer to the garden looking like real crap. I water, sure. Hand water at that. But nothing compares to what my father in law calls "poor man's fertilizer". This may sound really woo-woo but caring for (and by that I mean the sheer amount of physical effort I put towards) my plants really connects us and it is like I can feel their relief. Of course, I'll be REALLY feelin' it in a minute when I have to race out there to cut the chard for dinner. Seeing that I'm covered in dirt and dried sweat from harvesting garlic and shallots all day I could use the shower. I sort of like smelling like fresh garlic though, and maybe that means the mosquitos will leave me alone tonight.
I grew 'Camelot' shallots this year from seed. I chose the variety for the flavor as well as color. You know I like everything to LOOK as good as it tastes (a tall order for an organic gardener). In order to save space I planted all of my onions and shallots in what is called the "Dutch Method", grouping the seedlings in threes and spacing them a bit further apart than I would if I had planted them individually. I saw no change in the size of the shallots but my poor onions are half the size they were last year! They are still growing, and I have to keep reminding myself I squished them all in there to make room for other vegetables and flowers which have thrived and if I don't have any 'Alisa Craig' onions worthy of the local paper or state fair oh well, I've never entered any anyway.
July has been good to us so far. We've eaten the hell out of some sugar snap peas and shell peas and gorged ourselves on lettuce, kale, strawberries, collards, garlic scape pesto, and most recently raspberries, 'hakurei' turnips, snap beans, carrots and cucumbers.
Our eggplants are the earliest ever. Thank you soil blocks! The transplants were HUGE when they went in the ground, probably twice as big as years past growing in plastic pots. We also have tons of green peppers and we've been enjoying the mild and thin-walled 'Shishito' fresh off the plant. This is at least two to three weeks ahead of last year. I've also got to give a shout-out to the solar plastic mulch most of the nightshades are growing in. Accelerating the heating of the soil is essential when you are gardening in Zone 4. And you'll see we made a deal of the first 'Sungold' Tomato harvested. Clark spotted two ripe ones way down on the vine last Sunday and was sweet to wait and share one with Flint.
I am pretty sure there are plenty of new potatoes under the straw. I'm a bit afraid to look. Two years ago we had a little field rat who wreaked havoc on our potatoes, chomping anything that wasn't completely covered with soil. The boys were babies then and I hadn't even checked on them until it was time to harvest. I was sobbing (young mother hormones aragin') as I sorted through the rat nibbled potatoes, salvaging anything I could. It is funny when you grow your own food your standards change a bit... "A rat ate some of that potato? well, just chop his teeth marks off and let's eat!!"
In flower news, the poppies are STILL blooming. Having such robust tranplants has really paid off. I started those puppies in March in a windowsill with a grow light. Never ceases to amaze me how much life and growth can come out of a seed in just a few months.
The cutting beds are producing enough flowers to adorn the house nicely. This year has been a great trial for varieties but they are all jammed in there together and aren't getting enough room to produce the bloom count they could. I need about 5 times the size garden if I'm really going to try to grow enough for events. At that point it's a farm. On the fence about that. Not sure there is room in my life to be a farmer, florist, and mother (not to mention wife, cook, maid, and yogi). Right now I'm straddling that fence between homemaker and professional and I'm feelin' pretty good in the gray zone, which is surprising as I'm normally an "all in" type of gal. Maybe I'm evolving.
The heat this week has kicked the zinnias, rudbeckias, marigolds, and celosia into gear. Now I'm in my Southern element!! I'm really excited about the 'Cherokee Sunset' Rudbeckias. I grew them from seed in the greenhouse where they poked along through our cool spring. They are now loaded with buds and flowers which are mostly double and resemble small spider mums.... and I'll let you in on a secret, I LIKE mums. Not daisy, but spider, football, cremone, and dahlia style. They make perfect face flowers for arrangements. What I don't like is their rigid stem. These Rudbeckia look like smaller versions of those mums but with more flexible stems = more natural arrangements.
This has been my best year for sweet peas yet! Being from the South, I have known them as a winter high tunnel crop. It is nice to just put them in the ground in early spring and watch them grow themselves! I DID pinch them this year (pinching back a couple nodes when they are about 8" tall) and that created more robust plants with more side growth. Harvest started over a month ago and is still going strong. Having a vase of these next to my bed is one of the best ways to wake up. The smell is amazing and in a day of imported flowers that have no smell (or worse, one of the fungicide they've been dipped in to keep them from rotting during transport) they are quite the old-fashioned experience.
In flower arranging just as in gardening (both container and in -ground) I place as much stock in foliage and texture as I do in the flowers themselves. I always grow ornamental herbs for foliage (purple basil, curry, 'bouquet' dill) as well as a bunch of annuals and perennials but this year I'm lovin' the annual grasses I've grown from seed. Both the 'Ruby Silk' Love grass (Eragrostis t.) and 'Frosted Explosion' (Panicum) are "blooming" like crazy right now. They are always the talk of the arrangement and pretty much instantly give the flowers the wild and wooly flair I'm known for.
As for containers, my new hanging baskets from Terrain have filled out and are rockin' it out front. They are primarily foliage plants (although when the passionflower and moonflower are in bloom they are equally FABULOUS) and I've been cutting the passionflower vine and Solanum jasminoides 'aurea' for arrangements. The blooms will pick up in August and I'll keep you posted. My son's 6 year old friend James was over yesterday he stopped mid-play to grill me on how I got the plants to grow up there. He thought they were growing from the roof. Any planting that makes an active 6 year old boy curious must be doing something right!!
And speaking of boys, ours are real troopers. To have a garden obsessed mother is not an easy row to hoe. Quite often they are left to their own devices while I'm doing my thing.... "just one more bed to weed and I'll make your lunch". I struggle with feeling like I'm not giving them what they need, and that perhaps I am being selfish by growing so many plants. Last week I experienced rightness and congruity (and yes, there is a word for that and no, I'm not going to the thesaurus) when I walked into the kitchen and they were making their own popsicles out of mashed up raspberries and currants with a little apple juice (their 'jam' they were calling it).
I realized that there is always balance, sometimes it just takes a while to feel it. They may not get 100% of me all the time, but they get homemade popsicles from homegrown fruit, THAT THEY MADE THEMSELVES. Ha! A far cry from the TANG popsicles I grew up on, but equally delicious (I do love me some TANG!!). Until next time...