Last week, I admitted to a bad case of the midsummer doldrums. It’s a common enough condition for gardeners, and comes (for me) just about as regularly as the spring and fall equinoxes.
After visiting with the doldrums for a few days, I’m moving on. The purple-podded ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans are helping:
So, yes, I’m kicking those doldrums out to the street and then I’m changing the locks. But, first, I’m learning a few things. Because, there’s nothing the midsummer doldrums like more than pointing out all our mistakes in the summer garden. Last week, I was cursing those mistakes. This week, I’m learning from them. Or, I’m trying to…
For example, I will never never never ever again start a vegetable garden with wood chip mulch. Nope. Not gonna do it. And, you shouldn’t either. Not even if you have a massive pile of wood chips squatting in your driveway from a tree that collapsed in a heavy ice storm. Not even then.
Well, it gets down to soil chemistry and biology and nutrient availability. Basically, wood chips take a long time to decompose. And, the whole time they are decomposing, they are feeding a bunch of bacteria and fungus. Don’t worry. These are good bacteria and fungus. Except, they have a wicked strong taste for nitrogen. This means my soil is — for now — very very very low in nitrogen. Eventually, when these wood chips fully decompose, that nitrogen will be returned to the soil, and the plants and I will throw a wild party. You’re all invited. In the meantime, I’m treating the plants to regular doses of fish emulsion, dried blood and alfalfa tea.
That’s the biggest lesson of the year: No wood chip mulch in vegetable beds.
Other lessons? Plant more flowers, anticipate midsummer-artichoke-ugliness and keep ahead of the pests (including the damned mosquitoes).
Flowers bring color, and the garden could use more of that:
These zinnias and blackberry lilies (really an iris), from my mom’s garden, might be a good place to start:
As for those artichokes, it looks like the plants are alive! Fantastic! But, it’ll be a long while before they fill in their empty sad bed. Next year, I plan to sow chard or cosmos or beans around the artichokes in mid-June. That way, those plants will be just coming into good looks when the artichokes go ugly in the July heat.
Or, I’ll just plant some gourds there again. I have a few tiny birdhouse gourds growing between the currently-ugly artichokes. If I had started them earlier, they would be blooming by now. Like these, also in my mom’s garden.
Pretty, yes? Finding the beauty in an edible landscape is rarely difficult.
Speaking of beauty. Remember that wilting squash plant from last week? Yeah, definitely no beauty there. I gave it a day or two to recover. Then, when it didn’t, I took my own advice and pulled the whole plant. No mercy for ugly plants.
I’m also finding beauty in the harvests. My zucchini is producing fast and furious, and the tomatoes are just beginning to come in.
With these harvests comes another lesson: Never put off to tomorrow what you can harvest today. That zucchini was the *perfect* size 24 hours before I picked it. Now? Just a tad too large for my taste. Oh, I’ll eat it. No worries there. But, it would have been less seedy and more tasty if I had picked it the day before.
Same lesson applies to these ‘Blush’ tomatoes. The fruits are gorgeous on the plants, but they split oh-so-easily as they ripen. Is this the variety, or just a consequence of the drought-then-downpour water cycle this year? Not sure, but the solution is the same: Pick the fruits when they are firm and yellow, then let them ripen on the window sill for a few more days.
Final lesson is really more of a reminder: You never know what will happen. Like, cold-weather crops ripening in the midst of record-setting temperatures. I haven’t harvested them yet, but check out this broccoli and cabbage:
Maybe they don’t realize they should pout and fuss and refuse to thrive in all this heat. Maybe they’re suffering an identity crisis. Maybe they are just confused. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying these little unseasonal surprises in the garden. Soon, I expect to be enjoying them in the kitchen, too. Yum!
And, speaking of surprises, look!
Baby butternut squash. Isn’t it cute?
How is your garden growing? Any surprises? Any lessons? Are you already planning for next year?