Monday, August 31, 2009

An Abundant Harvest

The true pleasure of vegetable gardening comes in late summer when produce is ripening in its greatest abundance. The tomatoes I eagerly await seem to be multiplying faster than I can cope with them. No complaints here. My husband makes a mean salsa, although that also has me eating more tortilla chips than my waistline can usually handle. Oh, well.

I’ve noticed that my cucumbers, fully developed, are trying to play hide-and-seek with me. They ripen but hide themselves away under large green leaves in order for me not to find them. Imagine my surprise when my husband found two fully developed cucumbers that I hadn’t even noticed. Generally that would be okay, but these were the English type. Each was about 14 inches long. Picking them was no treat either. Although I cut them from the vine with scissors, they tried their hardest to poke me with their sharp spines (and succeeded). Ah, nature!

The basil is great this year. It’s growing the right size in the right amount. Every so often, when I’m in the mood for pesto, I have just what I need to make a nice pasta dish for my family.

Corn always baffles me. I never know when to harvest it. I’ve learned that it should be picked when the silk turns completely brown. I’m always afraid that it will be too soon, or maybe too late. What then? Should I peek inside the husk? If I do, will insects be watching me and then take advantage of my opening the husks to invade the ears? Let me ponder this a bit more…

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Gardening Life Cycle

One of the delights of gardening each season is the appearance of newly germinating plants. After weeks of watching the brown crusty earth in dismay (and suddenly remembering to water the soil to keep it moist), we finally see tiny seedlings beginning to emerge. It’s so exciting. Those tiny green plants, almost microscopic in size compared to the relative giants they will become, hold the promise of our future meals. As we strain our eyes to see each individual plant, we sadly know about thinning yet are ever so hesitant to begin the process of ruthlessly pulling some of them from the ground.

The flowers to me are the plants' crowning glory. Each one either represents pollen for a fruit or a receptacle for a fruit (in the botanical sense). I thrill at the early morning sight of huge, beaming yellow zucchini blossoms. I quietly appreciate the simple white flowers of the pea plants. This year, however, what surprised me the most was the subtle lavender shade of the eggplant flower.

Is it not a miracle when the fruit finally does arrive? Small at first, these grow so quickly into sizable produce that I use to nourish myself, my family, and my friends. They always seem to appear so suddenly. Looking among huge green leaves along the fence, I spy a huge cucumber. When did that grow? I find tiny green balls along the muskmelon vine. They are tinier than marbles! I have to admit that my favorite plant this year has been the eggplant. I never had any luck with this plant before. This year, however, a shiny dark eggplant is actually growing in place of the purple flower that was there a week ago. I don't want to forget to mention the corn. The sudden appearance of silk strands, like many Rapunzels letting their hair down, suddenly adorn the sides of our cornstalks!

Produce aside, I have one other addition to my garden that has sweet appeal to me. It’s a stone, hand-painted in the form of a mouse, which is looking up from my herb garden. True, it’s an adornment and not a plant, but at least this mouse cannot eat my corn.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

...and the Rains Came Down

From my earliest childhood, I have always loved thunderstorms. The distant rumble of thunder, the startling flashes of lightening, and then the heaviest downpours always seemed to bring a sense of relief to hot, muggy summer days.

As a gardener, I delight in heavy rains as they mean a day that I don’t water have to my garden because it’s being done for me. That situation, however, has it problems.

Looking out my front door recently after a brief but particularly heavy rainstorm, I was distraught to find all of my cornstalks lying parallel to the ground. There goes my corn harvest, I thought. I’d taken such care to plant the corn in a square (as I had been taught by my farmer Pam) as opposed to a line. I’d even been shaking the plants to get them to pollinate each other. The position of the stalks flat on the ground did not seem especially good for pollination.

Never one to work out a problem alone, I called to my husband for help.

“Oh, save those plants”, I cried. He’s my hero, you know.

Off to the rescue with tall stakes, perhaps even a shovel handle or two, he gently lifted each stalk upright, in the same way a parent might tend a fallen, despairing child. He secured each stalk with a soft length of twine so that the stalks would know that we expected them to grow upright and not sideways.

We waited. A few days later, there did not seem to be any apparent damage to the cornstalks from their sudden collapse. In fact, I even discovered some corn silk peeking out of one of the plants. Corn harvest, here we come!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bag Those Bugs

Uh oh! It was truly a bug infestation to give me the creeps. I can safely take one insect at a time. In fact, I’ll pick up one insect to examine it, finding its mysteries fascinating. That comes to an end when bugs come in multitudes.

Take those creepy crawlers I found on my cucumber plants yesterday, for example. They looked somewhat like half-inch yellow porcupines. Too many too count, those yellow “buggers” made my skin crawl. I’m not sure yet exactly what kind of bugs they were because my quick browsing of Google revealed every yellow bug known to man – except, of course, the ones on my cucumber plants. I’m sure it’s my web-browsing skills rather than my discovery of a yet-undiscovered yellow insect.

Anyway, I found those bugs when picking a particularly nice and plump cucumber. I noticed that all of the leaves on that plant from a certain point downward (my plants climb up a fence) had lacy leaves, not unlike something that could be found on a bride’s veil, instead of green leaves. Those yellow bugs, who obviously like organic greens, were taking away my cucumber plant’s photosynthesizing ability. I was horrified.

I thought back in disappointment at an encounter I had with bugs last year on my horseradish plants. Somewhere I had read that, to kill those plant pests, all I needed to do was immerse then in a soap solution. I thought that was simple enough until I put that idea into practice. In reality what happened was that the bugs, after having been immersed in a soap solution contained in a plastic basin, simply swam to the edge of the basin and crawled out. They had finished their refreshing bath, found themselves clean once again, and were coming out to sun themselves dry. En masse. I was totally creeped out.

That was not going to be my solution (pun somewhat intended) this year. My attack would be more direct. I was going to take those unwanted guests completely out of my garden. Armed with scissors and a plastic bag, I began to cut off all the leaves hosting bugs on their undersides. I did this surreptitiously so that the bugs would not notice. Into the bag went all those bugs still attached to their current leaf dinners. After capturing all I could find, I tied the bag tightly and tossed the bag into the trash. I wonder if those insects knew they were headed on sort of a bug vacation? Bye, guys!

Editor's Note: I've subsequently identified those bugs as the larva of the Mexican Bean Beetle thanks to an identifying diagram in Crockett's Victory Garden (1977: Little Brown and Company).