Summer is now upon us in the deep South, and I am hot. The dogs are hot, the chickens are hot, the plants are hot. Everything is a little wilted by noon, including me. This is not the easiest season to garden here. The heat saps your strength, and it is best to get up with the sun and make the most of the morning.
The garden is not impressed that I am hot, and it begs for attention and rejuvenation. The weeds do their best to take over, the plants look messy and leggy. And the bugs. What ARE some of those crazy looking insects? And why are there so many of them? It’s time for some order. The weeds are beaten into submission. A new layer of hay will keep them at bay, and it will also retain moisture and keep the ground cooler. The tomatoes are growing up and over their supports, so I take out my kitchen shears and give them a haircut. Painfully, tomatoes were sacrificed during this exercise, but the trimming will renew the plants and extend the growing season. Besides, I already have around fifty tomatoes on the kitchen counter! I pulled out plants that didn’t look healthy and vibrant, which opened up a few of our raised beds for new crops. I don’t usually plant again so late in the season, but I seeded some more squash and beans this morning. Even if they are not as productive, they will keep down the weeds and enrich the soil. A gardener always has hope.
The squash bugs and the (aptly named) stink bugs are out of control and causing damage to our tomatoes and squash, so I broke down and bought some organic insecticide. At dusk yesterday, we gave the tomatoes and squash a spray. I am relucant to use any type of insecticide on the garden, but this type is OMRI certified (approved for organic gardens). You basically have to hit the bugs in the face with the stuff for it to work, and it breaks down in about 30 minutes, which reduces exposure to beneficial insects and to humans. And if we didn’t take some kind of action, the garden would be finished! When I checked this morning, there was a significant decline in the ugly bug population, but I still ended up handpicking a bunch of squash bugs (my least favorite job!) and dousing them in hot, soapy water.
Finally, the plants received a fresh helping of plant food and a long, slow soak. Ahhhh. I hope the garden will appreciate our care and repay us in kind with more wonderful fruits and veggies. For the curious, here’s an update on what is ripening right now at Cowlick Cottage:
Ali Baba watermelon: The Ali Baba vines are stealing like thieves across the patio, but they are way behind developmentally when compared to other local watermelons, which are being sold by the truckload in our town square. I think they are probably not getting enough sun, although I do see a small melon or two! Maybe Ali Baba is just a late bloomer.
Figs: We have two fig trees, an Alma and a Celeste. Alma and Celeste are both coming into their own this year, and even though the trees are only two years old, I think we will have enough fruit to feast upon and to make some fig preserves. I am dreaming of grilled figs halved and topped with goat cheese and wrapped in Serrano ham, with a glass of chilled Prosecco.
Sleeping Beauty melon: This is a wonderful muskmelon, or cantaloupe, grown from seeds that I saved from last year. The vines have totally covered one of the No-Dig Beds, and there are at least 25 melons ripening on the vine. Just the right size to serve two people, they are a beautiful deep orange and very sweet. I cannot wait until they are ripe!
Principe Borghese tomato: Going strong! This Italian heirloom tomato is known for making great dried tomatoes (see mid-June harvest at Cowlick Cottage Farm), but it also makes a great sauce and is tasty in salads.
Carbon tomato: Another heirloom, we love its rich, old-fashioned tomato taste. Perfect for sandwiches and salads.
Roma tomato: This is a determinate tomato, meaning that most of the crop will ripen in unison. I expect to get our main crop in the next week or so. We like to cut them in half, stuff them with bread crumbs, garlic, herbs and gorgonzola cheese, and roast them in the oven or on the grill. Perfect.
White Currant tomato: I love surprises, and this little tomato magically appeared on its own in the garden this year, a lone seed that survived our cold winter and received no tender care. White Currant grows into a huge vine that produces grapelike clusters of tiny white tomatoes that are sugar sweet and great to snack on while gardening. It is several weeks behind our other tomatoes, but I have faith that this brave seed will prevail.
Yellow Pear tomato: This is another small and sweet tomato, and it really is shaped like a pear. It is also a “volunteer”, having sprouted up from last season’s fallen seed.
Japanese Long cucumber: These cucumbers are amazing! The longest one thus far is almost two feet long. They are sweet and crispy, with perfect cucumber flavor. They taste totally different than anything you buy in the store. This afternoon, I will make some Kosher dills for my husband. He loves them. Anyway, the vines continue to produce like crazy, and I just fed them today, so I think they will keep going!
Malabar Red spinach: A beautiful vine, this is not really a spinach, but the leaves look and taste quite like spinach, and the vines themselves are a gorgeous red. It’s an excellent green to grow in our hot climate. This spinach is rambling up the arbor, and its deep green leaves offer a cool welcome to the garden.
Eggplant: I have four different varieties of eggplant growing, and each is doing well. We love to slice it, marinate it in soy, ginger and olive oil, and grill it up. Delicious! Eggplant is so pretty in the garden, too.
Green and Purple beans: The beans are still producing, though not as heavily. Hopefully the organic fertilizer treat they received will spur them on.
Zucchini: I planted some Italian zucchini a few weeks after our main squash crop, and it is just starting to produce. I hope it prevails over the squash bugs, and I devoted some time to debugging this morning.
Peppers: Jalapeno, Corno d’Italia, and bell peppers are gorgeous and providing their spicy flavor to most of our meals.
Okra: The Burmese okra is wonderful. Natalie says it looks like witch fingers–long, green and pointy! I put a few into our beans, or slice them into a stir-fry, where they provide a little thickening to the sauce. Fresh okra from the garden is nothing like store-bought, gummy okra, and it’s worth trying to grow some even if you think you don’t like it. My kids love it when I slice it, bread it and fry it up so it’s salty and crispy. We dip it in homemade ranch dressing for a special snack.
We are also enjoying lots of herbs this year: Chives, oregano, lavender, thyme, parsley, tarragon, basil and mint add not only special flavors to our meals, but also scented beauty to the garden, attracting lots of beneficial bees and other insects.
I feel satisfied with our midsummer garden rejuvenation and look forward to more delicious offerings from the garden. It’s still not too late to plant beans, squash, cukes or peppers, but hurry! New plants need plenty of water to cope with the heat and appreciate being shaded from the afternoon sun.
Thanks for visiting, and please check out the gallery for more photos. Come again please!