Prime Time in the Garden

It’s too soon to hang up the “Mission Accomplished” banner or take any victory laps, but this year’s garden is looking good. Already our super-size freezer is beginning to look full – and the season is far from over. What happened? Maybe three things:

1) I’ve learned about some crops that I hadn’t tried before or had forgotten to include in my planning. Pole beans are something I never bothered with until two years ago. It took a couple of years to figure out how to create a trellis for them to grow on and how to keep the voles away. Pole beans are like a vertical garden, producing beans all up and down a five foot high trellis. It’s good exercise hunting for them too. I also learned recently about Swiss chard – another crop that keeps on giving. Like spinach, Swiss chard boils down drastically when cooked, but a short row has produced about 8 pints in the freezer so far, and we’ve already eaten some along the way. I hadn’t grown beets in several years or purple cauliflower or enough broccoli plants. All these add content and color to this year’s crop.

2) I think (fingers still crossed) I’ve learned to deal with voles. For several years I didn’t know what my problem was when whole rows of crops disappeared before producing. Then I learned about voles. They are like short-tailed mice but twice the size. They love vegetables. Last year I found organic ways to deal with voles (traps, for one) and this year I haven’t seen much evidence of their presence. Maybe they figured out that I don’t want them around. It makes a difference when the crops you plant grow up without being chewed off. Several years ago the raccoons learned how to climb over the eight-foot chain link fence. Since then we haven’t had much corn to eat. This year I got the Hav-a-Heart trap out early and two raccoons that came early to check the crop are no longer in the neighborhood. Maybe that’s why the corn is still thriving this year.

3) Weather? Luck? Going to France for ten days and leaving the garden to its own devices? Maybe all of the above. A good garden seems to require a certain amount of serendipity. One example is the winter squash that are spreading across the center of the garden. I didn’t plant them. They are growing where the semi-composted compost got tilled in: the seeds came from last year’s squash but the fruit are totally different. Last year’s squash were small; these are enormous and very differently shaped. I guess they don’t breed true. I don’t know what we’ll do with a half dozen squash the size of a basketball, but maybe the family can have squash for Christmas dinner this year.

August is prime time in a garden. Beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes (large or small), Swiss chard, zucchini. It’s very satisfying to plant a crop and harvest the results a few months later — even more satisfying come January to have our own fruit and vegetables available.

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