Artichokes, Aphids, Cats, and Pickles — And Produce Stands!

by Peter Heffelfinger

Posted July 27, 2020

A Good Year for Artichokes

With all the added rainfall during the winter and extending into June, the artichokes had a banner season. The bed of the standard Green Globe plants produced 6-8 heads at a time over a month, while a solo purple type, Violetta de Provence, averaged 2-3 edible buds per week. The key is to pick when the heads are still young and tender, and the leaves are tightly held together towards the tip. Once the barbed leaves start to spread horizontally, their lower edible parts become tough, and the artichoke heart gets more fibrous. The bud will soon become a purple flowering thistle, a gourmet version of the Russian Thistle weeds currently appearing in the meadow next door and everywhere else.

When you cut the artichoke off the plant the knife should pass through the stem easily, with little resistance. If the stem has a bit of a harder core, the choke will be tougher, and the inner thistles more developed. On truly young artichokes I find that you can eat the entire heart without first cleaning out the immature thistles at the center.

While there was a super artichoke crop this year, it may signal the plants have reached the end of their 3-4 year growth cycle. They’re already visibly dying back and I doubt they’ll last through the summer, much less regenerate next spring. I’ll mulch the bed with horse manure in the fall and hope for the best. But if I have to plant new starts next year, it was certainly a great finale.

Powdery Mildew and Black Aphids

In the squash and pumpkin patch, the familiar powdery fungus, which usually arrives in the fall, has started to appear, first as a whitening of the leaves, and then as dead tissue forming on the leaf edges. I pluck off all the affected leaves as much as possible. On the advice of the expert gardener in the neighborhood, a retired nurseryman, I sprayed the patch generally with a solution of one part milk and six parts water. Seems to slow the mildew down, although the dry sunny weather helped as well. I hope the pumpkins and vegetable spaghetti squash make it to maturity.

The nurseryman’s own garden has healthy squash plants spreading in all directions, with much greater spacing between the hills, which may be a key to his lack of powdery mildew so far. His corn, however, has problems. Planted in mid-May, two weeks or more earlier than mine, it was already two feet high while my multiple sowings were still rotting in the ground. Now, his corn plants are tasseling prematurely at three feet tall, with the tassels infested with black aphids. The way in which our rainfall pattern has recently changed seems to be affecting usually reliable crops. My own corn is still small and will only be for decoration, if it matures. I hope the local sweet corn at the farm stands out on the Flats will be available as a backup.

Cats in the Garden

Cats and gardens always seem to go together. George and Charley, two young male litter mates living next door, are now daily visitors. At first, when the seedlings were small, and the beds were soft, their vigorous digging was not appreciated. They were able to get around or under any fencing, and loved playing inside draped tents of Reemay. But now that the plants are bigger, their attraction to fresh dirt doesn’t do much damage. A little sprayed water in their direction is all it takes to discourage them and they don’t seem to take it personally.

They’re becoming successful predators, seeking out the small bunnies that usually plague my beds, something I’m grateful for, along with the welcome absence of mice this year. I’m hoping they’ll also take care of the meadow voles that have been a major problem in the past. Charley, with the grey tiger stripes, is the more dedicated hunter, always on the prowl, and more standoffish. George, the orange buff, follows me around, mewing for attention. What they both really want, however, is to catch the birds, the one downside to having felines. I hope the robins, gold finches and swallows will see them coming.

The flip side is that the cats themselves are enticing young prey for the bald eagles that live in the tall firs just up the slope of Mt. Erie, as well as for the coyotes that have a den on the nearby ridge. A previous kitten lasted only a few months before disappearing. And lastly, the turkey vultures are always slowly cruising over the fields, looking for whatever remains.

[Editor’s Note: Roaming cats can take a toll on birds. To protect both birds and cats, consider keeping them indoors.

First Pickles

You know it’s summer when you can put up the first jar of pickles. This year I planted smooth-skinned Persian cucumbers for the first time, as well as a generic pickling type. I used the recipe for 5-day, salt brine pickles from Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Small Lebanese cucumbers were recommended, but I hoped Persian would be Middle Eastern enough. I used mostly Persian cucumbers, with a few of the generics added, to fill out a 1.5 quart jar, along with black mustard seeds, allspice berries, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, whole cloves, celery seeds, one dried chile, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Fresh dill was also listed, but my garden dill wasn’t ready yet. I don’t think its absence will be noticed.


Produce Stands Up and Serving!

And a chance for all of you to help our community:

Transition Fidalgo and Friends has put two Produce Stands in place in Anacortes. One is at 2509 H Avenue, the home of Warren Carr. The other is near the front door of the Library!

Please bring any extra produce you may have, so that we can share with those who may need some fresh food.

We hope to have the sides of the second stand decorated as nicely as the first stand way, and that this one was made by Dave Steele of the NW Corner Woodworkers Assoc, with Sound Cedar donating mostly of the materials.

8 thoughts on “Artichokes, Aphids, Cats, and Pickles — And Produce Stands!

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      Serious cases of mildew will cause the leaves to die off prematurely thus inhibiting the plant’s growth. Squash and pumpkins may not mature fully or may stay small in size, since the condition is happening in mid-season. Powdery mildew usually appears in early fall, after the crop is mature. At that later point it can be considered cosmetic. In late July, however, it needs to be dealt with. Consistent watering is the key during the current heat and sun.

      Note: mildew may also set in on kale leaves at the end of summer, but the first serious frost kills it, allowing the hardy kale tp plant to make new growth that will last all winter.

  1. Jenny Wilson

    Hi! I am having black aphid troubles! What product or recipe do you recommend and what is the best way to apply it? Thanks so much for your guidance.

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      Aphids can be controlled by spraying with a mild solution of detergent and water, making sure the spray hits the insects directly, especially on the undersides of leaves or deep inside a central bud. Apply liberally to make sure you get it into all the hidden spots. Check continually every day to make sure the aphid population is under control. They will come back, especially after a rain or heavy overhead watering. Respray as needed. The spray is easily washed off when harvesting later on. I put a few drops of dish soap in a quart spray bottle.
      If a branch or bud is seriously covered with aphids, remove the entire plant to avoid spreading the aphids elsewhere.
      Note: aphids appear on the soft tissues of new growth, where they can more easily pierce the cells to extract plant juices.
      Ladybugs are natural predators of aphids.

  2. Laurie Sherman

    3 Questions:
    When do you know its time to harvest Bulbing Fennel?
    When do you know its time to harvest Fava Bean pods?
    Is zuchini rot caused by too much nitrogen?

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      Hi Laurie,
      Apologies for the tardy reply, it’s been a busy garden time.
      Bulb fennel can be harvested as soon as the bulb is about 3 inches wide. As it gets bigger the outer stalks get too coarse to use and grow away from the main bulb. Fennel often has double bulbs close together if you did transplants. Try to harvest the bigger one first without damaging the smaller one, but often the roots are intertwined. Big bulbs get a bit woody, but you can always use just the inner core. Slice vertically in thin stripe for dips or salad. Use the fronds as you would dill for dips or roasting salmon. A mix of olive oil, garlic, and anchovy is my preferred dipping sauce.

      Sorry, I’ve never grown favas, since they are not to my taste. I would imagine favas would be best when the pod is still soft, for fresh eating.

      Zucchini rot usually happens at the blossom end. I try to pick off the dead flower once the small zucchini forms to avoid rot. Damp conditions may be part of the problem, or overwatering. But June was certainly wet and then came heat, so rot and mildew have been prevalent. I doubt it was caused by too much nitrogen, unless you dumped a lot on the site beforehand, which might cause an excess of leaves instead of fruit. Anyway, pick off the rotted fruit, new ones should be developing soon enough.

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