For me, summer properly begins when I start picking a significant portion of my food out of plants instead of cabinets. So, I officially feel like summer is here.
Our ever-bearing strawberries produce a steady stream of tiny, flavor-dense berries. However, the plants are so young that the entire bed only yields about a dozen berries every couple of days. The berries have to be picked so that the plants will keep producing, an burdensome task which I selflessly bear.
Our English shelling peas grow upwards from the between the strawberry rows, and they too yielded their first harvest. The peas are normally cooked, but they are sweet and fresh straight from the pod.
Our potatoes plants are thriving, thanks to Lilly's meticulous removal of the potato beetles. The plants have finished blooming and the spuds will soon be ready to harvest. While weeding, I accidentally dislodged a baby potato from the earth. The others will become bigger but remain the same gorgeous purple.
All the plants are decked out in their summer finest. The asparagus shoots are feathery and lime-green, the elderberries are opening their flower clusters, and the corn is reaching rapidly skyward. The tomatoes are absolutely thriving, blooming and setting clusters of tiny green future-tomatoes. I removed many of the tomatoes' lower leaves, especially any with signs of disease, and continually check to see if any of their limbs need to be tied upright.
Watering and Mulching
Just like people, when it gets hot, plants get thirsty. At midday when the sun is blazing, many of our plants' leaves wilt. Some wilting is inevitable, and they just return to normal as the day cools. But of course, a severe lack of water can be spell disaster for a plant, especially garden plants that are building juicy tomatoes and crisp cucumbers.
We don't have drip irrigation set up yet, so we water most of the gardens with the hose. The plants that are too far away from the pump to reach with three hoses have to be watered with buckets. Keeping the young elderberries watered takes two long trips with a wagon full of 5-gallon buckets. Elderberries prefer damp soil, and we've already lost 2 to the dry weather. We've got replacements stewing though.
Just like watering, mulching is an ever-present task. Mulching is an indispensable tool for water retention. Wood chips and hay hold in moisture, suppress weeds, and decay into organic matter that plants need. Hay is the perfect cover for beds, while chips make good garden paths.
Concetta is raising the seeds which will become the next generation of plants. Some plants, such as lettuce, spinach, and peas, crinkle up by the time the summer inferno really hits its stride. We'll pull them up then and replace them with species that thrive in the heat, like tomatoes and peppers. Other young plants will be used as a staggered generation, so that production lasts longer into the year.
Lilly and Concetta moved lavender from it's childhood soil blocks into spacious pots. There the plants can expand their roots and prepare for transfer into the earth. Lilly also started new soil blocks with peppers and cup plant, which is a plant with leaves that look like cups. (It's cooler than it sounds.)
We made new beds of tomatoes and cucumbers that had done their time in pots, and sowed seeds for pumpkins. We also planted a bed of sweet potatoes. Unlike most plants, sweet potatoes aren't grown from seed, but from slips. Slips are sprouts grown directly from other sweet potatoes. Mature sweet potatoes are wide-spreading vines, so we placed the slips in a corner where they can have full range of a mulch path.
Our replacement elderberries began as twigs cut from an adult plant. For weeks, they've been sitting in a bucket of water beneath the plum tree, growing their roots. Many plants can be propagated this way, but elderberries are especially excellent at it. The roots are almost strong enough now to plant the elderberries down with the others.
A million not-so-little things demand attention every day. The flowers need to be harvested, the potatoes need to be weeded, the cucumbers need to be guided up their trellis. Many plants need to be pinched back to keep them from flowering, like the basil and cilantro. If the plants bolt, they'll make seeds and stop growing edible leaves. Other plants, like the strawberries, need old fruit to be removed. Ripe strawberries are especially susceptible to slugs, which gnaw divots into the berries.
We've always got company when we're working in the vegetable garden. A pair of tree swallows are nesting in the nearby box. The bird watches us from its door, occasionally tittering disapprovingly.
Hunter is building a brand new coop. This one has external nesting boxes that can be reached without even entering the coop. Our chickens are getting older and will soon be laying, so they need a proper adult house. Like our other coop, Hunter mounted the structure on a trailer so that the chickens can be rotated to new pastures.
We've been harvesting a cultivar of Queen Anne's Lace from our garden for weeks now, but the wild Queen herself has finally arrived. Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is in the carrot family (which is known as Apiaceae.) Carrots are obviously in this family, but so are celery, fennel, and parsley.
The defining characteristic of the carrot family is the umbel arrangement of the flower head. Umbels are clusters of flowers on stalks which all radiate out from a single point. The word is easy to remember because umbels look like umbrellas.
Queen Anne's Lace has a deadly look-alike called Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum). I'm not practiced in identifying it, but I do know that Queen Anne's Lace often has a dot in the center of the flower head. This purple dot never appears on Hemlock.
Another botanical delight was brought to me by my sister. She bounded in from our home garden and handed me a scraggly bundle of roots. Clustered along the roots were dirty little nubs, beautiful specimens of nitrogen-fixing bacteria nodes.
The roots came from peas, which are used as a cover crop precisely for these nodes. The nodes contain bacteria with the ability to transform nitrogen in the air and soil into forms that plants can use. Nitrogen is one of the most important and scarce plant nutrients, so peas and other legumes have struck up a deal with the bacteria. The plants supply the bacteria with a place to live and carbon to eat, and in exchange, the bacteria provide nitrogen.
It's a classic example of mutualism, a symbiotic partnership where both members benefit. And farmers also benefit, because as the peas decay, the nitrogen is released into the soil for other plants to use. We'll take the old cover crop from our home garden and compost it at the farm.
Soaking in the Sun
Things change fast on the farm. At the beginning of the week, the cucumbers barely existed. By the end, we'd harvested ten.
I've started working on the farm every day, and getting to see these changes as they happen is wonderful. The land changes morning to evening, and day by day, it's growing up.