It’s the last full week of July, and the midsummer doldrums have stopped by for their annual visit. Never mind the fact that I never issued an invitation. The midsummer doldrums are the gardener’s version of what-if mingled with goddamnit and I-knew-better. Like memories of some past love turned stale, the midsummer doldrums show up — uninvited and unwanted, but not entirely unexpected — and we have no choice but to walk around them for a few days until they decide to pack up and leave again. Good riddance.
I bet a lot of you gardeners know what I’m talking about.
For me, the doldrums always set in around mid- or late-July. When it’s really getting too late to start another round of summer squash or bush beans (not that I won’t, mind you), and it’s coming up on time to start planting the fall crops. When it’s becoming obvious that the peppers just aren’t going to produce much this year. When it’s too late to start another round of purple basil, and it’s time to accept that the garden just won’t have any purple basil, because the slugs ate every single seedling. There’s still a lot of time left in the gardening season, but we’re moving closer to that first frost date every day. In fact, we might be closer to that first frost date than we are to our last frost date. It’s time to start grappling with the garden’s mortality.
Basically, I’m having a little gardener’s mid-season crisis. It’ll pass.
The butterflies help:
In the meantime, I’m assessing the garden, figuring out what worked, what didn’t and what of those things that didn’t work this year could maybe work next year if I just change a few things around.
For example — confession time — my tomatoes and peppers are puny this year:
My fault. First, I started the seeds later than usual. Then, I planted the seedlings into the garden later than usual. And, since then, I’ve been stingy with the water, which maybe hasn’t been the best choice in a drought year. Also, I’m finally figuring out that my nitrogen levels are dismal. Last year, all the fresh-killed grass in this lawn-to-garden vegetable garden kept nitrogen levels high and happy. But, that grass is long-ago decomposed, and the wood chips I used to mulch the beds are happily robbing the remaining nitrogen from the soil. Well… The micro-organisms that eat the wood chips are robbing the nitrogen.
Lesson learned: wood chips are not the best choice for vegetable garden mulch. Not even if you have a massive pile of them in the driveway, and a large garden to start. Nope, not even then.
Next year, I’ll have this figured out, and my tomatoes and peppers will be massive. I hope.
The sweet potatoes, however, have been AMAZING. The plants are huge and healthy and huge and robust. Did I mention huge? It was late August before they came close to this size last year. I may be pepper- and tomato-poor this year, but I’m sweet-potato-wealthy. Or, at least, I think I am. Won’t really know until I harvest these beauties in October:
Also, artichokes? Maybe it’s just this insane heat and drought, but these artichokes are not the gorgeous jaw-droppers I’d hoped for. The flowers were amazing. The ‘chokes were delicious. And, now, the plants are ugly:
I’ve read that artichokes can go dormant in heat. And, it’s certainly been the definition of heat here this summer. So, I’m hopeful they will spring back in the fall. But, even so, it looks like I’ll need a midsummer plan for the artichoke bed next year. Something to hide all that ugliness.
Elsewhere, I’m watching a summer squash wilt after a vine borer assault (I’ve extracted the grub, and am hoping the plant will recover), wishing my leeks were a bit plumper, and realizing that I should have done something about the flea beetles on my eggplant:
Good things are happening too. Lots of good things. The yard-long beans are beginning to climb their supports. The cabbage heads are growing larger. Those sweet potatoes remain huge. And the ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush snap beans are just about to flower.
It’s not that the garden is doing poorly. It’s just that it’s not doing nearly as well as the imaginary garden I was picturing. If you’re a gardener, you know what I’m talking about. That mystical garden that never needs weeding or watering, is always loaded with ripe fruits and big flowers, and doesn’t have a single wilting squash plant or disappearing artichoke plant. It’s not real. And, while the absence of pests and weeds and wilt is all very nice, that imaginary garden just doesn’t compare to the real thing. Because, yes, my artichokes look awful. But, those ‘Royal Burgundy’ snap beans are going to taste fantastic in another week or two.
And, here’s an example of perfect timing for you. I just stepped outside to turn on the sprinkler, and a woman walking down the street paused to chat. “It’s beautiful,” she said, of the garden.
A timely reminder that the rest of the world doesn’t care one bit whether our real gardens match our often-unrealistic imaginary gardens. This woman didn’t know that I wanted to grow purple basil this year. From the street, she can’t see the bare patch of dirt where I’d imagined a flourishing bed of artichokes. She doesn’t know anything about what I’d planned for this summer’s garden. All she knows is what she sees: sweet potatoes and beans and blooming purple coneflowers loaded with butterflies.
And, you know what? When I look at the garden through her eyes, I see that beauty too. Never mind the purple basil. I’ll plant extra next year. And, maybe I’ll even start some now. Could be a late frost this year…
How are things in your garden? Any sign of the midsummer doldrums? Or, are you too busy with the harvest to even begin to think about that first frost?