Lately we've seen a bumper crop of articles extolling the virtues of gardening. Sure, it's a great way to reduce your food costs at a time when those prices are experiencing rapid growth spurts. But it's more than that: gardens can be environmentally friendly and even (in our dreams, perhaps) politically savvy. This Sunday, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Alice Waters, and assorted helpers will plant the first edible garden in the city by the Bay's Civic Center since 1943.
It's enough to make a gardener feel just a teeny-tiny, eensy-weensy bit smug.
Don't worry, though — that smugness doesn't last in the face of weeds (read last week's post about eating your "plants out of place"), thinning, and other tedious tasks to keep our cultivated plants happy. I'm sure I'm not the only gardener with a sore back already this summer.
And at this time of year, we remember that, among all those other reasons why we garden, the most important rationale for all our hard work is the sweet victory of the harvest. We're already reaping the rewards in our Victory Gardens, and though we might not be able to invite you over for a meal, we hope you'll enjoy the virtual feast we're starting to prepare.
Since our northern friends have had a rough time of it this spring, their first harvests are cause for celebration. In Montana, Charlotte weathered the late cold blasts in May and reports that not only has she finally finished all the major garden work, she has also enjoyed the first crop: a handful of gorgeous and tasty greens. Now there's just no stopping her plants, especially those tomatoes! (She also reminds us that if you're stumped on a gardening question or need some advice from the "experts," you can find your local extension service office online and do some searching there.)
On the other side of the continent, Peter reports from Montreal: "My new wife and I live in the 2nd floor of a triplex, so we have no land of our own. What we do have is a community garden plot that is administrated by the city of Montreal, which costs us $20 a year. It doesn't look like much right now, and we planted late because we got married on June 1, but we hope to have a pretty good little harvest." Their garden, featured at the top of this post, includes (clockwise from the top/left corner) raspberries, arugula, spinach, garlic, broccoli, sorrel, tomatoes, beets, two types of climbing beans for the trellis (which will hide an old unused sewer drain), oregano, tarragon, black currant bush, and a strawberry patch — the source of their very first crop.
Out in the Midwest, Janet — despite her protests that she is no gardener — shares her (only slightly mixed) success with the herbs. The oregano seems to be doing "pretty well" in the moderately shady spot where she planted it with parsley and thyme. The last two, though, haven't grown enough to harvest but a few leaves, she adds. Meanwhile, her new sage has a sunnier spot and is thriving; the repotted rosemary "seems to like its new, bigger home," and the darn bay leaf is prospering, currently 4 feet, 7 inches tall. (She measured.) She also adds that her "garden surprise is awakening to the fact that the mint is good for more than a pleasant aroma" as she brushes past it. She cropped it, dried it, and plans to enjoy hot mint tea next winter.
The California contingent, always ahead of the rest of us, have had bumper crops already. Elanor's lettuce continues to thrive, especially since she's learned to cut it off at the base and to allow new leaves to develop. "As a result," she explains, "I've collected what must be close to three grocery bags full of lettuce from my plot already, with more on the way. I've taken to eating it alone with just a little dressing to highlight its deliciousness."
This week, I was catapulted out of the lettuce routine by the ripening of my first tomato — happily, a sungold (right). The other plants have a good number of green ones developing, particularly my Bloody Butcher tomato, which is producing like a madman. (Hee hee! Sorry.) It's also been all peas, all the time around here, and my peas have trellised beyond the capacity of the structure I'd put in for them. The bottoms of the shoots are starting to yellow, which makes me think they may be on their way out. When I finish collecting peas and finally pull out the shoots, I'll have a pretty big space opening up in the garden... what to plant? A neighbor's blooming artichokes (above), which I'd never seen before (did you know they were related to nettles?) has inspired me to think beyond the conventional and plant something really exciting. We'll see what's to come.
Kathryn's tomatoes — as well as her sunburst (pattipan) squash — are beginng to bear fruit as well, though the fruit is still quite small. Since she waited until the Memorial Day Weekend to plant her garden, she now feels behind her usual schedule — "and the wait feels so much longer than usual, even though that's really not the case." Her butternut squash has taken off (up to "about 2.5 feet long now"), but her peas don't appear very robust.
Kathryn also shares with us an ingenious method for dealing with some of her perennial pests:
I planted the cucumber and eggplant next to each other and since I've lost one cucumber plant every year for the past two to snails, I decided to protect the plants and came up with recycling some strawberry baskets (see photo). The snails still made a mini-meal of the eggplant's leaves early on, but it's still alive and growing. My fingers are crossed. They didn't bother the cucumber at all. (I guess it's probably time to cut the baskets off, as the plants are now more hardy and are begging to be set free.)
Those of us in other parts of the country may have late cold snaps or other pests to contend with, but Kathryn reminds us of some of the natural hazards for California gardeners: "A week ago we had quite a heat wave for a few days and the lettuce and tomatillo plant in one of my wine barrels really took off. Then within a few days the weather turned cooler and the sky became overcast and was filled with "particulate matter" from surrounding fires (800 fires going at once just last week). Alas, the growing spurts have slowed considerably."
The fires have encroached on Amanda's neighborhood, sending her to visit family in Los Angeles where she can breathe cleaner air. For now, she has no report on her Victory Garden, and we send her our best wishes that everything will be growing just fine when she returns.
Marc, having been so busy with all his other posts, reports only that the blossoms on his onion plants "have opened to reveal a spectacular sphere of white flowers. A variety of pollinators are enjoying their nectar and pollen." (He also sent the majority of the links found at top; thanks, Marc!)
Bonnie got the latest start on her planting, but her tomato plants are huge and lush despite her cats taking mulch baths all around them, and are even full of tiny fruits. The peppers are starting to pop, and her herbs are thriving.
Here in northern Ohio, we've been pelted occasionally with severe thunderstorms carrying heavy rain and small hail, so I haven't had much opportunity to get out and tend the garden. As a result, the weeds have run rampant, and one of the tomato plants has escaped its cage and sprawled all over the carrots and garbanzos. But hey, that's only the bad news! The good news is that everything else is flourishing, and every time I visit the garden, I end up bringing home about as much produce as I get in my weekly CSA share. I've just pulled the pac choi, mizuna, and lettuce after a very healthy and lengthy harvest; I've taken three cuttings off the kai lan (Chinese broccoli) and may get more yet; I've picked two rounds of fava bean pods; and the carrots are ready for me to pick/thin the first small roots. Even the weeds that are popping up everywhere are largely of the edible variety (purslane, sorrel, nettles). Garden life, in short, is very good, indeed.
The work continues, of course — we all have weeding and other maintenance to do, and some of us are planning or are already planting the next round of crops (I just planted the first row of kale for fall). But seeing all the wonderful produce we're already harvesting makes all that hard work well worth it.
So what are you harvesting this week?