Carolyn Singer: Plant seeds, mulch, and enjoy the fruits of your efforts
July 6, 2018
When I see a lizard sprawling in the shade, taking advantage of the relative cool of a concrete bench, I have to agree with the posture. It has been a hot day. No surprise that this wonderful creature is not drawn to the warmth of the nearby rocks.
In the edible garden, I am busy in the cool of the morning, but first I pause to appreciate the health of my organic no-till beds and the vigorous growth of the plants. It was 41 years ago this week that I first started preparing the soil, and it was in the middle of a heat wave.
My focus in midsummer 1977 was on starting a few vegetables I knew would mature by the first frost, although I wasn't then (nor have I been since) really certain when that might be.
Gardeners are gamblers. While I was planting late by local standards, we enjoyed tomatoes, summer squash, peppers and even golden orange pumpkins for Halloween that first year of the garden.
Now it seems that I am starting seeds all summer long. Succession planting is a summer routine. Small amounts of lettuce are planted every couple of weeks to ensure a continuous supply for salads. Securing 40 percent shade cloth over the seeded area protects the area from quail, raccoons, and the neighbor cat patrolling my garden.
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"Red Cross" lettuce (Johnny's Selected Seed) is my cultivar of choice all summer. However, I do continue to experiment with others recommended for their heat tolerance. Once lettuce bolts, developing into the blooming stage, the leaves have a bitter flavor. Succession plant all summer, sowing just a few seeds each time, for the sweetest of summer salads.
My "Northeaster" beans (Johnny's Selected Seed) are fun to watch right now, and have been part of my early morning ritual of observation and appreciation. Last week the first beans were barely showing. This week they will be ready for picking. And very soon I will find myself in the summer bean routine of harvesting morning and evening.
The beans have been mulched for a couple of weeks, their root zones cooled with a deep layer of decomposing straw from a bale that weathered the winter storms. Straw cools the soil and conserves moisture.
If beans have not done well in your garden, try planting the seed now for a late summer or fall harvest. Sometimes my climbing beans produce an early harvest, then if there are too many hot days, take a break and produce again in late summer.
If I want to enjoy the first of the ripening tomatoes, I have to be one jump ahead of friends and family. Seems we all crave that summer delight! My cherry tomatoes ("Sun Gold") have been ripening a few fruits for three weeks.
I've also harvested several peppers and some Japanese eggplant in the past few weeks. This early harvest has been a pleasant surprise since the soil stayed cool at the end of spring. More nutrients are available to early starts in warm soil. I have to credit the optimal fertility of the soil for making up for "lost" time.
Some like it hot
Because the soil was still cool in early summer, I have not yet mulched these heat-loving summer vegetables, but this week I will get that done to conserve moisture and thus reduce irrigation. Especially for the tomatoes, periods between deep irrigations will be increased to stimulate ripening.
Dill has been abundant without any effort on my part. All are volunteers, welcome growing in beds and even in paths. Some are the tall cultivars, their blossoms attracting the tiniest pollinators. Others are cultivars of leafy dill, slower to develop into the seed stage. Both produce wonderful leaves for many dishes. Seed heads are used at various stages for pickles.
Plan to scatter a few dill seeds in open spaces each time you sow your lettuce. If the surface of the soil is loose, the seed does not need to be covered. Water daily until the seed germinates.
Tiny seedlings quickly develop a deep root, reducing the need for frequent irrigation. When seedlings are crowded they will develop into the seed stage sooner, but the leaves are still quite delicious.
And always take time to appreciate your efforts and the garden's bounty.
Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning "The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom", and two volumes of "Deer in My Garden" (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out her website at carolynsingergardens.com.
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