The Block Island Times

The summer of the last-minute garden

By Fred Nelson | Aug 22, 2012

Well, as far as I’m concerned, the gardening season of 2012 will be one I shall be happy to forget.

First, I found that you can’t hold off starting to tend to a vegetable garden until the end of June. While unforeseen circumstances brought this about, the calendar showed that a tremendous amount of gardening time — planning, preparation and planting — takes place during May and June. Under normal conditions these “chores” come along at a pace that is unhurried, so there’s no pressure to accomplish them.

Starting a garden the first of July is bad enough under normal circumstances. This summer, there has also been the problem of unrelenting heat and humidity. Whether it’s just that I’m getting old, I don’t know, but I don’t enjoy gardening activities when I can hardly move without sweating profusely. The joy of anticipating a bountiful harvest has passed me by.

Fortunately, our two sons and family visited during the Fourth of July week. They just couldn’t see mom and dad without their normal garden. The garden was tilled and with the receipt of a few tomato plants from an island friend and some from my grandson’s workplace, the basis of a garden was started. We planted summer squash, pole beans and lettuce seeds.

With a dose of benign neglect, we shall see if and when any produce reaches our kitchen before frost. The tomatoes are progressing quite well considering that in early July, they were the size of the transplants I usually buy in early May. They are now starting to set fruit. With a bit of luck, I can perceive that we may be picking tomatoes by early September. Just what variety they will be is another mystery, as not all of the plants were labeled.

One condition that may prove interesting is whether the squash will become infested with squash vine borer. Normally, my squash would start to decline in August due to the borer. If the borer doesn’t appear, it may show the life cycle of the borer is more active early in the season. Thus, in future years I may make two plantings of squash, one in normal springtime and another about the first of July.

The Kentucky pole beans (we prefer them to bush beans) are actively climbing the bamboo poles, and again, we may see some produce by early September.

Another lesson this season has forced upon me relates to lettuce seed. This certainly is not the hardest seed to put in the soil and expect ready germination. Yet after a couple of weeks of frequent watering, I had to give up. Then I looked at the seed packages and noted that they were dated for 2011, not 2012. I didn’t think that lettuce seed lost its germination ability so quickly. So — if you have experienced similar circumstances on seeded crops, it pays to buy fresh seed that is dated for the current growing season. All seed packages must have the date on the label. I am now waiting for the “new” seed to germinate.

One of the stalwarts of our garden is asparagus. We don’t have to indulge in annual planting. Our asparagus patch is more than 20 years old and still producing all that a family can use. It freezes exceedingly well and I find the frozen comparable to fresh cut asparagus. Insects and disease have never been a problem. The only care is a late fall or early spring application of 5-10-10 fertilizer, a fall mulching of seaweed and an application of a preemergent herbicide in early spring. This past spring we were pleased that friends were able to make use of our crop in our absence.

This season our blackberry crop has been less than luxurious. An unusual number of canes produced small berries. Whether this was the result of my failure to apply the usual spring dose of fertilizer, or the extended drought, I don’t know. To further complicate matters, the deer have been feasting on as many of the new developing canes that they can reach, thus reducing the potential crop for next year. This has not been a major problem in past years. I plan on adding some new plants next spring to fill in the arbor and shall be more diligent in disturbing the deer next year using various repellents and/or fencing.

Blueberries have been more satisfying than the blackberries. While we savor fresh berries every morning, we also freeze a sufficient amount to last us through the fall and winter. We use most of them on cereal and in pancakes. Blueberries require some annual pruning and fertilizing, abundant mulching, and occasional watering through summer dry spells. When planting blueberries, select varieties labeled early, mid and late to spread the harvest period. Secure and durable fencing and netting are essential. Birds will find the tiniest hole or opening to get access to the crop.

“Gardening is… an outlet for fanaticism, violence, love, and rationality without their worst side effects.”

—Geoffrey Charlesworth, “A Gardener Obsessed” (1994)

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