Weekend Update

weekend vegetable harvest

The garden is pretty much in maintenance mode right now. The plants are looking pretty good and we avoided a hail storm that hit the area. A few of the mystery gourd/squash/pumpkins are resolving themselves. What looked like a delicata last week is looking more like one every day. The mystery pumpkin that is taking over the cucumber patch is a pumpkin, but I have no idea what kind. One of the mystery squash vines appears to be a banana squash. We had one of these last year so it is possible the seeds ended up in the compost, and then didn’t fully compost. Although these are a tasty and versatile squash, they can grow between 10 and 40 pounds. Ten pounds would be better for me.

mystery pumpkin ripening

ripening delicata squashThis past weekend we were able to harvest our first Cherokee purple and chocolate stripe tomatoes. A number of the tomatoes this year are determinant varietals. I was under the impression they would only grow to maybe four feet tall, then blossom, and we would get fruit at about the same time. Well, a few of the plants are pushing seven feet tall and are continuing to blossom. Believing the plants would stay short, I planted them a bit closer together than other varieties and used regular tomato cages to keep them upright. Those few plants are now a few feet above the cages and very dense, even after substantial pruning. If the tomatoes on those plants do mature all at once, I will be overwhelmed with tomatoes because there is a huge number of fruits forming. I think, even after the requisite use in salads and such, that I will be able to experiment with making homemade bloody Mary mix and tomato soup. I am thinking of smoking a few of the tomatoes to see what that does to them and how that smokey flavor goes in soup and bloody Mary’s. I know the testing of recipes will be arduous, especially the homemade bloody Mary’s with homegrown horseradish, but don’t worry, I’ll power through.

The Smell of Cedar

tomatillo lantern after rains

The smell of cedar lingered in the garden Sunday morning after a gentle all-night rain of 3/4 of an inch. All-night gentle rains are unusual for us as usually we get rain all at once, like if you turned a swimming pool upside-down.

After fixing a few irrigation issues everything seems on track and is progressing nicely. Even the volunteer squash/pumpkin/melon plants that started from seeds that didn’t fully compost. One of these mystery plants seems to be a delicata squash. If this plant is a delicata and if we actually harvest some, it will be the first time. I have tried growing them in the past and they never really matured. I stopped growing delicata because of a couple of years of failure. The photo is the last few feet of the mystery vine in question showing the various stages of growth.

various stages of an unknown squash

We harvested 3.5 pounds of cucumbers over the weekend, our largest single harvest in years. Most of these became half-sour pickles. A few were soaked in white wine vinegar with a some fresh garden grown red onions and a tomato. That was our first garden grown salad, a nice start to the season.

cucumbers in a bowl

The tomatillos are growing like weeds, but weeds we want. They are now about 2.5 feet taller than the support posts, so I am not sure how I will tie them up if they keep growing. Because I am anticipating, and hoping, for a bumper tomatillo crop, I am now freezing the habanero and ghost peppers I harvest for use in salsa verde.

I think we are only a few weeks away from great garden harvests. I am also working on a few recipes to use some of what is harvested. More about those when I get the taste right and remember to take a few photos.

The Wonders of Gardens

girl in her garden
Gardens are wondrous and miraculous creations where all manner of things will grow. If you start by planting seeds, whether seeds you collected and saved, purchased, or borrowed from an enterprising library, it is truly something to watch a little seed grow into a plant and for that plant to eventually produce a flower, or tomato, or cucumber, or whatever you are trying to grow. Gardens are also wonderful teachers and just a great reason to spend time with someone “being productive”. I wrote about gardens as teachers a number of years ago in The Quiet Teacher. The little girl sitting on my lap in the photo isn’t so little anymore.
boy in the garden
“My” garden is at a family house in the central Arizona mountains. It is the first vegetable garden we have tried that actually produced something and is of any size. My niece and nephew grew-up with that being one of their houses and we would all spend considerable time there escaping the Phoenix heat. Although we can’t really figure out why we got into gardening at this scale, we did, and the kids were there participating in the journey.
small vegetable garden
Jake and Ava and I spent lots and lots of time together in the garden. We planted plants, picked bouquets of flowers, harvested whatever vegetable or fruit we could, and dug lots of holes and trenches. We would often just walk around the garden talking about the different plants and smelling the various herbs. I would periodically give them pop-quizzes to test what they remembered, assuming that is what was important to them. Wherever I was, at least one of them was right there with me. I would usually try to explain why we were doing something. Jake would almost always have a suggestion for a different way. Then we would be sidetracked when a worm or slater (a pillbug here in the US) was found. We would have to find a new home for that find before we could continue with anything else.

Garden vegetables grown and picked with careNow that the kids live elsewhere we don’t spend much time together in the garden. However, we have sent them lots of seeds to start their own garden. Apparently they were paying attention during the years we spent together in the garden. Ava gives her mom directions on what to do and helps her out. Jake planted a variety of sunflowers that he is waiting to bloom, and it should be quite a variety of sizes and colors. They even went to the library to get a bunch of seeds to start. The photos this week were taken by my sister of their garden. Ava now wonders in her garden looking at the plants and playing with slaters. I am sure Jake still wants to dig trenches and holes while he waits on the sunflowers. My little helpers now grow beets better than I have been able to the last couple of years.

Now, go plant a garden with your kids, or nieces and nephews, or grandkids. Neither the size nor what you plant are important. The plants will be the least important thing that grows in your garden.

Monsoon Rains

Young Tomatillo Lanterns
Almost like clockwork, the monsoon rains started last weekend. With the rain and clouds, cooler temperatures and a little humidity have returned. June is typically the hottest month of the year in Arizona, and the most perilous for the recently transplanted garden plants. This year the June heat only lasted two weeks, and that was after the plants had a few weeks to acclimate to the garden. While I did notice a few dropped blossoms on some of the tomatoes, everything is going strong again. The pepper plants have lots of peppers maturing and a stream of new blossoms, the eggplants have started to re-blossom, and the tomatillos are growing like never before. The tomatillos have grown so aggressively that I am not sure how I will get to the back row to pick, or even find, ripe fruit. I guess I will figure that out in a month or two when the tomatillos start to ripen. We are out of our salsa verde so a few pounds of ripe tomatillos will be much appreciated.

Monsoon Rains

In the back of the house we have a courtyard that is covered by a wisteria vine. In the nine years we have had the house it has only fully blossomed once, this year. The wisteria is subject to the same weather patterns as the fruit trees – it gets warm in February, by March or April it is starting to blossom, then a freeze hits and the blossoms die.

“I am sure it is a great mistake always to know enough to go in when it rains. One may keep snug and dry by such knowledge, but one misses a world of loveliness.”

Adeline Knapp

It was spectacular this spring as that pattern did not materialize. The vine has also grown so thick that the canopy is thick enough to stop moderate rain from penetrating. We can now sit under it and not get (overly) wet during a moderate rain. This is also a nice spot to hide from the sun on the hot days.

With the cooler temperatures, a fresh application of fertilizer, and some sun, I am expecting some significant growth in the garden this week. With a bit of luck there will also be a couple of tomatoes that are starting to ripen.

Intruder Alert!

Bunny in the garden

This past weekend we had an unexpected visitor in the garden. We have seen rabbits in the area, but, we thought we had taken steps to keep them out of the garden. Apparently we missed a step or two. This is the second time this year we have seen a little bunny running through the garden. The first time we could watch where the bunny ran through the fence. We then closed up that little hole. We thought we had closed the only easy opening.

While looking at some of the tomato plants last weekend we saw a little bunny hopping through another part of the garden. We decided to go see if there was another hole in the fence. After looking around a bit, we didn’t see a hole, but, we did see the bunny. The little guy had gotten stuck in the fence. I tried to pull him out, but he just yelped. Mommy bunny was right there, on the other side of the fence, wondering what we were doing. At that time we got a wire cutter and carefully cut the fence. The little guy darted off. He was still in the garden so we watched where he ran to find the access point. He didn’t find a hole so we assume he got into the garden when he was very little and has been in there a while. Because he couldn’t find his way out we had to corner him again, catch him, and put him over the fence. Once I got him I realized they are very wiggly. He is now over the fence playing in the neighbor’s yard (at least we hope he is still on that side of the fence).

American Lady Butterfly on a flower

We also had a friendly American Lady butterfly that let me get close for some photos and video. We have a variety of flowers planted to attract various pollinators, humming birds, and butterflies. Looks like it is working.

mystery pumpkin

The mystery cucumber is not a cucumber after all. This is creating a further mystery: Did I incorrectly label some of the pumpkins or gourd starts, did I totally confuse a squash or pumpkin seed for a cucumber seed, even though they look nothing alike, or, did the mystery plant start with a seed that looks like a cucumber seed? The leaf looks nothing like the other pumpkin seeds I started this year and all of the cucumber seeds were from the same package. Only time will tell me what the mystery plant is. For now it is taking over the trellis it is growing up. Hopefully the plant is not a giant pumpkin because I am not sure the trellis would be up to the task.

Have a happy 4th of July everyone.