The garden's just about growing out of control; I finally had some time over the weekend to catch up on chores – cultivating to keep weeds down, pruning the tomatoes, spraying for caterpillars, culling overgrown greens, pinching the basil, fertilizing. It rained like hell this morning, but a break in the rain this afternoon offered delicious light for taking some pictures. I love just hanging out in the garden; I can (and do) spend hours examining the tiniest wonders there.
So far, the weather this summer has been a gardener's dream – warm, but not overly hot, plenty of rain, just enough sun. The lettuce has only just begun to bolt, which for mid-July is really saying something. Here are heads of buttercrunch and red oakleaf, harvested on Friday:
The cucurbits (squash, cukes, & melons) are going gangbusters. I had no idea just how compromised they'd been by my previous growing setup (described here); the new arrangement is almost too much for them – or maybe their good health is just too much for me. Below, cucumber growth tips, all from just one plant – and I have 14 of them. Beneath that: the madness in the cucumber bed & little tiny watermelons (the larger one is about the size of a ping-pong ball).
The peppers are producing at an alarming rate. My 6 jalapeño plants last year were a great disappointment, so this year I planted 12. I will soon have more jajapeños than the entire town can use. Ditto the pattypan squash, and those from only two (colossal) plants:
The eggplant and the beans are just starting to flower; both are so beautiful as ornamentals, their output is practically an afterthought. Eggplant – top, bean flower – bottom.
I pruned out the bottoms of all the tomato plants to prevent dirt from splashing up on the leaves and fomenting some kind of blight. All of the plants are showing good (green) fruit, although there are sure to be some surprises as they begin to ripen. Some of the plants got mixed around while I was hardening them off in the spring; what is obviously a cherry tomato (the Sun Gold) is growing where I though I'd put a Green Zebra, and one of the de Barrao (which is small and plum-shaped) appears to have been omitted in favor of an extra Jaune Flammée (pictured below, right). Never mind that both Patio Orange – which should be a smallish conventional-sized tomato – are showing a distinct cherry-type growth habit. Oh, well. Hard to impeach any home-grown tomato, so we'll just celebrate whatever we get, eh?
As soon as the rain stops – which may be a few days – I need to get my tomato plants sprayed with BT (bacillus thuringiensis). My cauliflower was set upon by cabbage worm last week – I hand-squished as many as I could, then sprayed, and they seem to have been thwarted... but I fear that the dreaded tomato hornworm can't be far behind.
These dreadful beasts have appeared in Vermont only in the last few years. I loathe them. Not only are they powerfully destructive – left unchecked, a single one is capable of defoliating an entire tomato plant in a couple of days – they are the singular most disgusting garden pest imaginable. They'll grow quickly to giant size (I found several last year that were as big as my middle finger) and they're filled with lurid green slime; as if that weren't enough, I learned from a gardening forum that they also bite. I also learned that BT is an effective deterrent, so spray I will. I'm not terribly squeamish – I regularly contend with big horrid crawly things and a menagerie of small rodents (live, dead, and in-between) courtesy of the cats...and I do a fair amount of minor butchering, for fuck's sake. But tomato hornworms are the stuff of obsession and nightmares.
BT is considered safe for organic gardening. I'm not certified, but I do adhere to organic gardening methods. My beds are all amended with a variety of good things, from dried blood and bone meal to greensand and alfalfa meal. They get a regular dressing from compost every spring (delivered from an organic farm, where the compost is fermented from horse & chicken manure and fish refuse from the local seafood market). When I fertilize, I use Neptune's Harvest fish/seaweed blend in a hose-end sprayer. I rely on my own vigilance for pest control, and do a lot of hand-picking and squishing; I'll spray with BT or neem oil when necessary. We have several generations of phoebes around the property; we're happy to let them nest in the eaves and we provide a variety of perches for them around the garden. In return, they keep the bug population down.
I spied a very large and well-fed looking groundhog at the end of the driveway on Monday. I haven't seen any evidence of his encroachment into the garden; the Big White Dog is apparently keeping him away, but I'm suddenly on edge about the possibility. If he should start to make inroads, it may be time for me to buy a shotgun and learn to use it.
The cutting flowers are looking quite lovely (zinnia, snapdragons):
And the stonework TJ did earlier in the season is already starting to look like it's been there forever:
We had 4 yards of mulch delivered this morning; with some edging and weeding, the place should be looking pretty buff after the weekend.
As I was yanking overgrown salad greens on Saturday, I remembered a tasty, simple pasta dish I was hipped to by one of my pals on MouthfulsFood. I spared just enough arugula to make this for dinner:
It couldn't be easier. Roughly chop a few handfuls of arugula; grate some parmesan or grana padano cheese and some lemon zest; thinly sliver some fresh garlic. Put some pasta on to boil. While it's cooking, sauté the garlic in some olive oil. When the pasta's done, drain it and, while it's still hot, toss it with the arugula, lemon zest, garlic & oil, and salt & freshly ground pepper to taste. Sprinkle with cheese & serve.
It goes very well with a chilled, dry rosé.