The Block Island Times

Garden vegetable season begins slowly

Jul 27, 2011

Here it is the middle of July and I haven’t picked my first tomato yet; I could have, but it would have been a green one. The Early Girl tomatoes, living up to their name, appear to be ahead of the Better Boy and Big Boy. I expect a ripe one within the next week or so. Other than the tomatoes, all that we have harvested so far is our asparagus crop and lettuce. My second crop of lettuce is just coming in so we should be in good shape for a while. Now I hope to get the next crop seeded to see if I can’t keep us in a continuous supply of lettuce through the season.

Other than this, my garden is about one month behind schedule. I just had no success germinating bean seeds in plant packs. The extremely heavy rains that we experienced here in June apparently drowned most of my seeding efforts. Squash was no more successful until I finally seeded the seeds directly into the garden; they are just starting to blossom now. Most gardeners are already inundated with their squash production. For some reason, I don’t seem to be too concerned — perhaps the age factor is starting to kick in.

Last year we harvested a bumper crop of blueberries. In fact, we just finished consuming those berries on our cereal about a week ago. This year the berry set is about 25 percent of last year's crop. While there was a heavy amount of flowers, blossom time came during one of our cold, rainy, windy spells. If I were a honey bee, I wouldn’t have been out frolicking among the flowers, either — thus the light crop. This is all part of the frustration — and joy — of gardening.

I have often mentioned the task of trying to control purslane in the garden. While I have complained, others have attested to this weed as a desirable addition to the salad bowl. Now, to add to this “weed” as an edible plant, the July issue of The Avant Gardener (a horticultural newsletter) was devoted to the attributes of numerous other weeds that can add extra vitamins and tastes to your palate. Without going into the specific qualities that each one provides, some of the other “weeds” that you can try include: dandelion, lamb’s quarters, chickweed, curled dock (the newsletter says this is reputed to be the best-tasting of all wild vegetables), pokeweed, amaranthus, burdock, fern fiddleheads, milkweed, stinging nettles, nutsedges, plantain (the one that grows in sidewalk cracks), violets, watercress and wild onions.

The following quotation from The Avant Gardener sums up the whole issue of weeds and other wild edibles: “Foraging for edibles combines the joys of exploration and discovery with the satisfaction of adding an extra measure of nutrition to our meals. If further justification is needed, you can say that your are emulating the National Academy of Science working in Africa, permaculture in Australia, forest farmers in Europe, and the Agricultural Research Service, all of whom are scouting the world for new foods for the future.” Certainly this is a worthy endeavor.

This year I have grown the Wave variety of petunia for the first time. As a garden flower, the petunia provides a great deal of color and is low growing so it provides an introduction to other garden flowers that may grow in back of the petunia in a garden bed. The problem in the past has been that unless you pinch them several times as they started to grow to “fill” them out and then deadheaded the old blossoms, they weren’t all that attractive by midsummer. With the Wave series of petunia, it is not necessary to pinch them to have compact plants, and it is not necessary to deadhead them — they just continue to spread and flower.

While the flowers are somewhat smaller than the “old” petunias, the Wave make it up with their heavy blooming characteristic. The first ones I saw a couple of years ago in Florida were growing in large, ornate garden containers. The blossoms were so dense I had to get out of the car and look at them close up to see that they were, indeed, petunias. The one cultural consideration is that because they grow so rapidly and flower so heavily, they require almost daily watering along with a liquid fertilization from time to time. If you choose to try the Wave variety, be sure to ask for or find a label that identifies it as a Wave variety, as some attendants at garden centers, particularly the “big box” outlets, hardly know a petunia from a zinnia.

“There is not amongst Men a more laborious Life than is that of a good Gard’ner’s."

—John Evelyn, Kalendarium Hortensis (1664)


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