June in the garden: Quail, sweet peas, and other good reasons to be in the garden | TheUnion.com

June in the garden: Quail, sweet peas, and other good reasons to be in the garden

lettuce 'Red Cross' is a eat-resistant cultivar from Johnny's Selected Seeds
John Hart | The Union

Ten (or was it 12?) baby quail scurried along the edge of my meadow with their parents, arriving just in time for me to enjoy them only a few feet from the French doors in my bedroom.

I realized I was holding my breath, so enraptured by this exquisite moment a couple of weeks ago.

What a treat! I have often seen the young but never quite so tiny.

It is the birdseed falling from the feeder that attracts the quail. The woodpeckers are especially messy in their feeding. Seed goes flying everywhere. But rarely is there any seed sprouting on the ground with the quail cleanup crew. I have been watching this drama for months.

The meadow is filled with grasses, swaying in the wind. One of my favorites for movement is the Mexican feather grass (Stipa or Nasella tenuissima). It has a soft effect, and it seems to be the grass with the most sensitivity to the slightest breeze. Whether planted as a single specimen or in clusters, this water-efficient grass thrives with only natural rainfall.

The meadow near my house is irrigated to keep it fire-safe. Usually by late July or early August it is mowed. That’s about the time grandchildren arrive to play croquet.

In the vegetable garden, the tomatoes are already over 4 feet and loaded with fruit. I picked my first Serrano pepper this week.

Peppers, arugula, raab, chard, spinach, lettuce and basil are covered with 30 percent shade cloth to prevent the quail from feasting on the young leaves. Greens may be mulched when they are very small.

My preferred mulch is the wheat or oat straw I stockpiled in fall 2011. It is crumbly and dark, protecting the soil surface, attracting earthworms and cooling the soil temperature. Now that tomato plants are large, I am beginning to mulch them, too. If you are forced to start with new straw, at least soak sections in a bucket of water first.

If the flurry of spring and summer planting has slowed, it’s time to sow more seeds. Keep the greens coming in small amounts on a regular basis. Remember last summer’s extended heat? The best performing lettuce in my garden was Renee’s “Rhapsody.” Johnny’s “Red Cross” did almost as well, holding for weeks of harvest before bolting.

At the Heirloom Festival in Sonoma County last September, I compared growing notes with an organic farmer from Nevada County. He had grown “Jericho” lettuce during the summer heat, a seed available from Johnny’s Selected Seed and J. L. Hudson Seeds.

A midsummer sowing of beans may bring a better harvest than a spring sowing, especially for gardeners at lower elevations. Beans produce best when summer temperatures are not too high. An early fall crop can be one of the best. This vegetable, bush or pole, needs a 2- to 3-inch mulch in summer.

Apples may need thinning where multiple blossoms set fruit. I know mine do! The rewards of thinning include larger fruit and less stress to the tree. Pears never seem to need attention no matter how heavy the fruit set.

When I harvested some beautiful broccoli raab leaves this week, I noticed eggs on the underneath side of one leaf. I was quickly reminded of the damage harlequin beetles did in my garden last year.

Busy with a writing project, I ignored the first signs of an infestation. I won’t do that again. Vigilance pays off in the vegetable garden, and organic controls are your best option.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. On June 29 she will be teaching a class on edible gardening in raised beds at the Folsom Public Library. She is the author of “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, now available locally. For more information, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.

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