The Summer Pivot

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted August 3, 2020

The end of July is the mid-point in the growing season: most of the early spring crops such as peas and lettuce are succumbing to the heat; the broccoli and cauliflower are just about done for now, along with the artichokes. The main summer produce, such as beans, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are about to come into full production. All the gardening energy that previously went into raising and cultivating plants switches at this point to immediate plans for harvesting, consuming and preserving.

In August, when I’m working in the garden, the first thought each day is which vegetables need to be picked right now. Then, how am I going to prepare them once they’re in the kitchen, and finally how can I put up the inevitable surplus into storage jars or freezer packets. My first step is always dealing with the most fragile thing I just picked, usually the constantly flowering tips of the basil plants. Since the delicate leaves turn black very quickly, they go right into the blender along with garlic, olive oil and a little lemon juice, to make a base for either pesto (with Parmesan) or a pistou (without Parmesan) sauce. Both versions can be easily frozen in pint jars for a year-round supply of fresh basil. At this time of the year I keep a fresh jar in the fridge, mostly of a quick pistou, and put it on everything from toast to roasted eggplant.

My standard way of preparing crunchy vegetables such as snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower or green beans is to blanch and then immediately chill them in very cold water. They’re ready to serve cold along with a preferred dip, or just plain, since they have that touch of sweetness that comes with fresh picked produce. I think of them as vegetable antipasti, to be accompanied by a few olives and some cheese.

The snap peas are blanched for only a minute or two, the broccoli flowerets and green beans a bit longer. Wait for the green vegetables to turn a brighter, slightly iridescent green and then quickly remove to the cold water bath to stop the cooking process. A few ice cubes always helps, especially for the snap peas. Cauliflower needs to blanch a bit longer, to when it just starts to get soft, before transferring it to the cold bath.

The benefit of the blanch and chill process is that the vegetables are also now ready for freezing. Except for the snap peas, which are too delicate, any surplus can go straight into a freezer bag. To prevent ice build up make sure to dry the chilled produce off first and then squeeze out as much air from the filled bag. In the deep of winter the green or white bits of summer are welcome additions to soups or stews.

The flow of peppers has begun as well, led off by the sweet yellow Gypsy variety. Besides having them fresh, I also roast them for a Provençal style appetizer. Cut them in half, remove the seeds and stem, brush the skins with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and place skin side up on parchment paper in a roasting pan. I let them brown or char slightly under the broiler for a smokey flavor. I freeze the extras, stacked flat in quart bags for later use.

Currently in the garden, the Blue Lake pole beans have reached the top of the three parallel 8-foot high x 8-foot long trellises and are trying to go higher still. To keep the beans within reach, I am training the ever upward spiraling stems to go horizontally onto connecting rafter poles laid between the tops of the trellises. It is a daily task since the leaders, following the call of heliotrophism, constantly keep growing towards the sun. The aim is to have a leafy arbor between the trellises, with the later ripening beans from the upper parts of the plants hanging straight down overhead, making for easy picking, though it will take a step ladder to reach them. But the initial rush of beans will start lower down on the side walls of the trellises. An Arch of Beans.

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.

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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.

Here Comes the Sun

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted July 20, 2020

With a full week of sun and warm weather in the forecast, the main garden chore becomes watering. The key is to irrigate as early in the morning as possible, allowing the plants to absorb a reservoir of moisture before the heat of the day. Cool morning temperatures reduce evaporation, with a greater percentage of the water being taken up by the plants. Early watering also avoids sun scald on the leaves, which can happen if irrigation is done later in the day when the sun is intense. Given the coming summer drought cycle, early in the day watering helps to conserve a vital resource.

Watering is key for new seedlings such as lettuce, coriander, fennel and dill, which can easily expire in the heat.  For lettuce, which needs partial shade, I construct temporary shade coverings using the leftover black plastic see-through nursery trays supported by empty half-gallon plastic pots. It’s easy to water directly through the latticework of the trays. Plus, if you are transplanting starts for fall and winter, such as cabbages or leeks, they will need consistent watering until their root systems get established and can take the direct sun. Given our extended northern daylight hours, I cover new starts with either half or full gallon plastic pots for a day or two, and then move the pot adjacent to the plants to supply shade for a few more days against the sun’s rays. Think of it as a temporary sunscreen for tender plants.

My vegetable garden relies on an artesian well, which also supplies two households. Since the water supply is always on, with the overflow running year-round by the garden in a small ditch, I fill 55-gallon drums during off-peak hours to serve as garden reservoirs during the summer. One tank supplies a gravity hose to the hoop house; the other two I use for submerging watering cans to quickly fill them. I also do general watering by hose for large areas of brassicas, squash, corn and potatoes, or trellises of peas. Mostly though, to conserve water, I prefer to irrigate by hand so I can see exactly how much water is being absorbed by the soil, as well as checking on the condition of each plant. No droopy leaves.

Enjoy the sun, and keep the plants well hydrated.

 

Oregano Harvest

Now that the garlic is cleaned and curing in the shed, the next harvest on the list is my Greek oregano, the white-flowered variety as opposed to the more common purple type. I have a perennial patch that seeded itself in the rocky soil of a former driveway. I wait until the buds are just about to break into bloom before cutting the long stems, which I gather into large bunches hung up to dry in the pantry away from the sun. The fresh oregano bouquets always remind me of a favorite Greek grocery/delicatessen back East, which has large bunches of imported oregano, twigs included, tightly wrapped in cellophane. They hang from the ceiling overhead, just above the trays of baklava and the tubs of fresh pickled octopus.

When the harvested bunches are fully dry, I enclose each one inside a large brown paper bag, tie the top edge of the bag tightly around the exposed stem ends of the oregano and rehang. The bag keeps the dust off and captures any loose leaves that fall off the stems. I leave the bunches in the bags for use during the rest of the year; I find the dried leaves maintain their flavor reasonably well by being left on the stem. Plus, given our increasingly mild winters, my outdoor oregano stays green if I want to pick a fresh sprig. Best to have both indoor and outdoor sources, though. A double pantry.

Garlic Harvest

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted July 13, 2020

After I took the scapes off the plot of garlic two weeks ago, I was hoping the usual sunny weather of early July would add the last needed bit of maturity to the bulbs before harvest. The outer sheaths of the test bulbs I pulled up looked good, dry and white. But more rains came, as has been the pattern all spring and holding on into summer. By the time we pulled the garlic, the mold had surfaced. A good 30% went straight to the burn pile, probably blackened much earlier but now in full fungal bloom. The rest of the bulbs were generally smaller than usual, and needed to be cleaned post haste in order to prevent any lingering spores developing as the heads cure, hung up in the breezeway of the carport.

Out of the 800+ plants seeded last fall we will be lucky to have 60% cure well. My biggest worry is having enough clean seed for planting this fall for next year’s crop. Over the years we have built up solid stocks of four hard neck varieties: Music, Deja Vue, Korean Red and Russian Red. The Russian Red is a particular favorite, since it stores so long, due to a very hard, shell-like skin around the uniquely triangular shaped cloves. But this year the Russian had the most mold, so I am hoping we have enough viable seed.

Earlier this spring I had a lot of stored garlic from last year’s bumper crop that was starting go soft. To not have it go to waste, I froze multiple pints of finely puréed cloves, as well as roughly processing two quarts of cloves mixed with olive oil and sea salt to store in the fridge for immediate use. The preserved garlic will now become a much needed fill-in for this year’s short harvest. Always pays to have backup in the pantry.

The shallot plot next to the garlic out on the Flats was also affected by the mold, as well as developing hard seed stalks. Some of it may be saved by drying out on screens in the pantry and used up quickly. A second shallot bed at the Mt. Erie garden was less affected by mold, so I am drying out these bulbs in the sun on a tarp, and covering them at night. It will be a short shallot run this year in the kitchen.

On the flip side of the rain issue, the early cabbages are now large and about to split, the cauliflower has been bountiful, and the snap peas have come in daily waves. And, where  a bed of early onions got moldy and was pulled, new summer transplants of lettuces, bok choy and bulb fennel are taking hold, along with a second plantings of cauliflower and red cabbage. Keep planting and carry on.

Plan now for a Fall-Winter garden

by Peter Heffelfinger

Posted July 5, 2020

 

Pivot Point

Having just passed the summer solstice, the garden is at its seasonal pivot point. Even as summer begins, hopefully with some good sunny weather to end the extended rains, the days are getting slightly shorter. It’s time to start planning for fall and winter crops. Summer harvests will start to pile up, the weather will assuredly turn dry and hot, and watering will become the daily issue. But amidst all the garden rush, it pays to start planning now where the following season’s plantings will go.

The first winter crop I think of is leeks. Since this year’s onions have been hindered by the rains, developing mold on the bulbs, or generally not thriving, I turn to leeks, the reliable allium. Being an extended stem rather than a terminal bulb, they resist rot in the ground, and hold up all winter long against the cold and the wet. I already have an early, summer/fall leek crop going, but I need to put in a second wave of leeks that will mature in the fall and continue to be harvested through the winter months. No need for drying and storage. The leeks are always in the ground, ready for use, whatever the weather.

The outer leek sheaths will get eventually soft and mushy by mid-winter, but with a simple stripping, the clean white inner core is ready for the pot. The key is the hardy root system that keeps growing slowly all winter. When you dig up a hefty leek in February, a large bolus of soil comes out as well, held onto by the extensive white roots. To form that solid foundation get them in the ground now so they can slowly develop all summer and into the fall. The reward will come in the short days of winter.

 

Other Fall Plantings

The nursery starts for fall plantings began showing up a few weeks ago, so seek them out before they disappear in this year of increased demand for garden supplies. Look for late varieties of cabbage, such as January King, as well as hardy collards. Seek out fall and winter varieties of broccoli and cauliflower, as well as any of the hardy kales. There is also the hardy Tatsoi mustard, the standard Winter Bloomsdale spinach, plus Daikon and Black Spanish winter radishes. Lots to choose from if you look. Not to forget the perennial garlic chives, which will stay green if you keep it protected during cold spells.

Last winter I had fresh turnip greens lasting all the way into spring from a fall-sown Tokyo Cross type designed to produce leafy tops, rather than roots. The large woody root, eventually rising above ground like a small dome, kept sending up fresh sprouts deep into spring, trying to go to seed. As long as I kept snacking on the shoots and buds, it kept sending up new growth. At the end, the dome was a hollow shell that came easily out of the soil, but it had completed its mission, like some long-lived interplanetary voyager with little leafy antennas.

 

Summer Duties

At this point in the season, things have settled into a regular pattern:

watering, weeding, and harvesting. In the hoop house, the cherry tomato plants have grown to the ceiling and will need to be trimmed; the regular tomatoes have filled out their cages and should start setting more fruit in the warm weather. Now is the time to start thinning out the suckers and removing central foliage to allow better air circulation.

The peppers are starting to form and ripen, along with the first cucumbers and eggplants. Each day I help the curlicued tendrils of the cucumber vines grab onto the trellis to help support the coming weight of the mature cukes. Outside, the pole beans are climbing their trellis, and there again I make sure the emerging vines at the ground level latch onto the nearest vertical support. Vegetable kindergarten, helping little hands grab onto things.

 

Bee Swarm Update

With the loss of the queen and some of the bees, I thought the hive had failed, since I hadn’t seen any bees in flight for days on end during the recent cold and wet weather. After a follow-up inspection, our keeper said all was ok. The newly installed queen had been busy making new brood to fill out combs, with the workers staying at home, relying on bottled sugar water. On the first sunny day two weeks later the restored bees were out again, finding the waiting winter squash and zucchini blossoms. Now that the first 6-inch zucchinis have appeared, it’s truly summer.

 

The Wet and the Dry

By Peter Heffelfinger

June 29, 2020

 

The Wet

It certainly has been a wet month, with hard rains causing germination or mold problems. I am still waiting to see if my third planting of corn will sprout enough to fill in the bare soil in the rows from the first two disappointing seedings. As well, some of the 6-inch high onion plants developed mold around the bulbs and had to be discarded. But the peas soaked up all the rain and kept climbing up what seemed like an endless water spout.

Another sign of the high moisture level was the arrival of aphids, hiding in their usual beginning spot, deep inside the tender central growing tips of brassicas, in this case a bed of young Lacinato kale. An easy treatment is to spray the leaf cluster area with a light solution of detergent and water. The soap attacks the soft exoskeleton of the aphids that are sucking out the juices of the plant. Once aphids are present on a crop, keep a constant watch for their reappearance and keep spraying them at first sight. The soap solution does not affect the plant tissues, and is easily washed off, usually by the next garden watering. Check the site for several days to make sure there are no remaining aphids present, keep an eye out for any re-occurrence, and have the soap spray bottle at hand.

Aphids often spread to other plants, especially inside the top buds of Brussels sprouts. Check the long-standing plants often, carefully unfolding the tightly wrapped central growing cluster of leaves at the top of the stalk. Drench with the soapy solution if there are aphids hiding deep inside, and make sure to check the lower side-buds as well, once they start to form over the summer. In general, if the stems of any plant do get covered with aphids, discard the entire plant, in order to immediately to check the infestation. Aphids are endemic here, and will keep reappearing at intervals; but careful, organic pest management will control them.

There’s a good side to all the rain, though. The early broccoli crop has been abundant, the spring cabbages are already reaching full size, and the first small white crowns of cauliflower are forming. With our extended daylight hours of summer, cauliflower heads may start to sprout or discolor prematurely before getting full-sized. Lightly cover the central area of the plant by cracking, but not completely severing, the stems of a few of the outer cauliflower leaves and then folding them over the emerging heads. Complete the makeshift parasol by adding on top a few large, aged cabbage leaves. Keep the cauliflower heads in the dark. Wait for the head to grow to full size and pick while the curds are still tight. Fresh, homegrown cauliflower eaten straight from the garden is incredibly sweet compared to the commercial product that has been aging in transport.

A note on the garlic harvest. Some gardeners in the Dewey Beach area had to pull their already-mature garlic last week. For my crop out in the Valley, the last of the scapes have just been removed. Hopefully there will be a dry spell of our Mediterranean-style summer to properly mature the plants just before lifting in mid-July. For more information on when to harvest garlic, see the link below to the recent New York Times article on Filaree Garlic Farm, a commercial garlic seed grower in the Okanogan. Nice to know an extensive seed bank of the many types of garlic from all over the world exists on the dry side of our state. (Thanks to Jan Hersey for sending me the link.)

 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/realestate/grow-garlic-garden-organic.html?smid=em-share

[ A subscription to the NY Times is required to read this article]

 

The Dry

Inside the hoop house, the main issue is watering, given the heat buildup that starts each morning as soon as the early sun hits the walls. I try to conserve water since I rely on an Artesian well that slows down in late August. Over the years I’ve tried various mulches, including black plastic and biodegradable paper mulch, to keep the soil moist, but I now prefer to leave the soil open to the warm air. I currently water using the half-gallon black plastic pots the tomato plants came in to make individual mini-cisterns half-buried next to the stems of each plant. The pots create an efficient deep-watering system.

For tomatoes, I cut the bottom off the thin-walled rectangular pots and drive the edges halfway down into a small, excavated area next to the plant and berm up soil around the outer sides of the pot. I fill the pots with a hose, letting the water seep down to the roots, with no leaks off the side of the raised mound. I do water the surface soil around the stem as well, but the pots supply the bulk of the irrigation.

For peppers, which don’t need quite the same volume of water, I use the thicker-walled cylindrical pots as is. The bottom drainage holes are buried 2-3 inches deep; the pot is located in between the plants, which are spaced 18” apart in the row. As with the tomatoes I water the soil surface around the stem of the plant a bit as well, to keep the surface moist, but most of the irrigation filters down to the roots. 

For both the tomatoes and peppers I let the cold well water warm up for a day in a 50-gallon barrel before applying it, via a gravity-fed hose, to what are originally tropical plants now being grown in a northern temperate zone. Keep their feet warm and wait for that first red tomato or full-sized pepper.

Surfing the Rain

By Peter Heffelfinger

June 22, 2020

It has been a wet June, which has caused germination problems in some crops, but has allowed others, if planted at the right time, to thrive. I think of it as being like surfing: sometimes you catch the wave and sometimes the wave catches you.

I usually plant corn on June 1st, waiting for warm soil and settled weather. My garden site is generally damp and chilly all spring, being adjacent to a year round stream and cooled by onshore breezes. In past years, I’ve noted that other early bird gardeners who plant in mid-May often suffer from rotted seed and have to replant. Better to wait, plant successfully once and have a good harvest even if a week or two later in the season.

This year, having heard that one nearby gardener already had 4-inch high corn by late May, I succumbed to competitive garden envy and jumped the gun by planting seed on a sunny and warm May 28th. With our summers getting longer and warmer, all would be fine. Of course we soon had heavy rain and my corn barely came up. So I replanted a few weeks later. And then a second heavy rain ensued. So, finally by the last day of spring I spot-seeded a third time in between the few hardy sprouts that had managed to come up previously, hoping that I might get a small, mixed batch of corn by mid-September. Come nightfall, rain again. Wipe out, I’m sure. Now, I don’t expect anything like my usual stands of standard yellow, bi-color, and tall white corn. The early May corn planters got to ride the June waves of rain. Knee-high corn by the 14th of July.

But some other crops, planted on schedule in early spring, got a strong push from the wet weather. By mid-May the brassicas were pushing up tight against the tops of their floating row covers: broccoli, green and red cabbages, as well as Brussels Sprouts and early cauliflower. The Sugar Snap and oriental snow peas also took off in the cool weather. The tall snow peas have already reached the top of their 8-foot fencing and will need higher supports, not to mention a ladder for harvesting. The winter squash vines are filling in the gaps between their spaced hills, and the pole beans are starting to climb their trellis. Not to forget the abundant lettuces. So I shouldn’t complain. Nice to catch the wave when it comes.

Bee Swarm
While putting in tomato plant supports in my hoop house this past weekend I suddenly heard a very insistent hum, a loud buzzing of insects. Looking out to the nearby bee hives I saw a swirling, vertical cone of ascending bees getting larger and further away from their ground level boxes. The Queen Bee was leaving and taking all her workers with her. Fortunately the swarm settled into the overgrown vines on a nearby power pole instead of disappearing. The bees, now in a tight protective ball around the Queen, were still there when the beekeeper arrived an hour later. With a large bucket on the end of a long pole, he knocked groups of the bees into the bucket, and deposited the angry hummers into a large box on the ground. He hoped to catch the Queen, but she and her reduced retinue escaped. The next day the captured bees were given a new queen in a new hive. I hope the Queens who stayed home will continue to send out their pollen gathering workers to the flowering vegetables in the garden. We need the bees.

Mid-June in the Garden

by Peter Heffelfinger

Posted June 15, 2020

Early Herbs

In late April and early May, when I transplanted tomatoes into the hoop house, I also put in three pots of basil plants in a warm corner to guarantee an early supply of the herb to go with the first ripe tomatoes. I am already pinching off the lead buds to prevent the plants from forming flowers. Keep them bushy and green. Otherwise one has to wait until the warmth of June to plant basil outdoors.

I also have a perennial bed of white-flowering Greek oregano that is just starting to form buds. It escaped from the garden soil where I originally planted it years ago and took up permanent residence in the dry, rocky fill of a old driveway. Some herbs thrive under stress. I harvest it just as the flowers start to bloom and hang the long stems in bunches to dry in the cool pantry. Note: the common purple-flowered oregano is very bland in comparison to the more spicy Greek strain.

Oregano

This past week I put in starts of coriander that will flavor the fresh salsa made from the tomatoes. Coriander goes to seed extremely quickly, so keep the flowers picked off and do multiple plantings for a steady supply all summer. The same technique applies to arugula, which will form flowers as soon as possible given our long hours of summer daylight. Last fall I planted some perennial, olive-leaved arugula, which overwintered successfully in large planters by the house, and is only showing a few flowers so far this spring. Hopefully the plants will continue on for another season. Note: it is a very strong-tasting variety of arugula that gets more pungent with age.

The cucumber vines are climbing the trellis in the hoop house, both the slicers for salad and the pickling types. This year I am trying a small Persian variety used for Mediterranean-style quick pickles, obtained from the local Uprising Seeds company, as well as a standard pickle type from Joe’s Garden Nursery in Bellingham. So, for fresh seed heads of dill for pickles, dill transplants should go in now, if you haven’t already planted seed earlier. I use the dill fronds in salads and for mixing with a soft cheese for an appetizer spread.

Continuing the same anise-flavor pattern, I put in a half dozen bulb fennel plants, for both the bulb slices dipped in anchovy-flavored olive oil and the feathery leaves that can be roasted with summer salmon. Note: there is also frond fennel, grown solely for the leaves and the seed. And if you walk around Old Town Anacortes in mid-summer, you’ll find a coarse wild fennel growing in the alleys.

Pea Heaven

Peas are coming on strong, both the snap variety and my personal favorite the Oriental snow peas. Being of a certain height, I like to grow the tall varieties of both types for ease of picking and for an extended growing season, but they do need some kind of trellis or fencing. This year I’m trying 8-foot tall panels of cattle guard fencing, along with twine strung horizontally to hold in the wandering pea vines. I am also trying a standard bush snap pea, which is listed as self-supporting, but really needs lots of short fence posts and some encircling twine to stay upright. The neighbor kids like the shorter bushes since the peas are at their height. Peas for all.

Garlic Scape Season

The first sign of the coming garlic harvest is the appearance of the scapes (curved seed stalks) on the hard-neck garlic. (Soft-neck garlic for braiding does not produce scapes.) Remove the scapes in order to promote the development of the bulbs below ground. Make sure you get them all, as they can hide in between the leaves. Scapes can be stir-fried, cut into rounds for soup, made into pesto, or seared on the grill. To freeze: cut the stems into short lengths, blanch quickly, chill in cold water, and freeze in a thin layer on a rimmed baking pan. Pack loosely in bags for winter soups. Scapes are mostly mild in garlic flavor, but I do find the Korean Red scapes a bit more zingy.

Garlic bulb harvest comes 2-3 weeks after the scape removal, usually in early July, depending on the weather. With all the heavy rain recently, I hope the bulbs dry out enough to avoid fungus and mold. Some of my shallots are showing mold already. Shallots are a luxury item; garlic is a necessity, so I hope our summer dry season begins soon.

 

 

 

 

How to Perennialize Brassicas

Story and Photos by Sequoia Ferrel

June 10, 2020

I know. I made that up. It isn’t a verb. But in the relatively mild winters of the Pacific Northwest, we can sometimes grow brassicas as perennials, hence I like to “perennialize” some of mine.

After you harvest a cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and the like, if you leave the plant in the garden, most often it will continue to grow for years. I once had a purple-sprouting broccoli plant growing for multiple years before I cut it out.

The basic strategy is this: after you harvest your crop, you leave the plant to do its thing, which is flower and set seed. If you try to interfere by cutting off the sprouts it will be futile because the plant won’t give up on making its seed. But once the seed is made, eventually the plant will put out lots of new growth, usually around its base, and you can prune off all the old growth.

If you leave all the new sprouts, the plant will dissipate its energy and you might get 20 tiny cauliflowers (or whatever it is you’re growing). So you’ll want to thin the new growth by breaking or cutting them off.

You may have to keep thinning if the plant is determined to make lots of shoots. If you want, just leave one shoot or try for 2 or 3 (or more). Multiple shoots will sometimes still create good-sized stalks and maybe you’d rather have smaller heads anyway. Then next spring, you’ll get your second harvest much earlier than if you had planted new starts. And you can do this again and again each year.

I’ve had the best results with cauliflower, possibly because it doesn’t seem to make flower stalks once you rob it of its main flower (the cauliflower). I’ve sometimes been able to cut a cabbage in the fall and have the plant make a new cabbage but sometimes it will want to make a flower stalk. I haven’t quite figured out the timing on that, but you should be able to coax another cabbage out the next season.

So if you don’t need the garden space for something else and you like to experiment, go ahead and try to “perennialize” some of your favorite brassica veggies.

 

Above: Big Cauliflower

The second picture (below left) shows one plant that put up 3 good sized cauliflower stalks, one of which had already been cut. The two pictures on the right below show the new shoots coming up after a broccoli (or some brassica) has been cut back. And next, the same plant after being pruned back to the two strongest shoots

A New Backyard Pest; and much more

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted June 8, 2020

A new backyard pest

I spent several days this week dealing with an infestation of what looked like tiny, black, leaf-eating caterpillars that swarmed over a mature stand of highbush cranberry shrubs and also onto one nearby snowball bush. The leaves were skeletonized, leaving the stems and veins intact, by what resembled tiny leeches with legs, crawling up the main trunks to get to the foliage. The only solution was to cut down the tall shrubs completely and take them to the burn pile for immediate incineration. I am hoping I got rid of enough of the pests before they invade a nearby prized Japanese maple or a Korean dogwood that is in full bloom.

The soft cranberry shrub leaves were more susceptible than the thicker leaves on an adjacent shiny laurel, which was also covered by what looked like sticky frass, the technical term for insect droppings. So the laurel went as well, just to be safe. The recent heavy rains and lush undergrowth may have been part of the cause, but it is the first time I have seen such an invasion on mature shrubs that I have been growing and pruning for several decades. It certainly felt like an outbreak that had to be dealt with firmly. I will be on the lookout for further signs and will try to identify the critters specifically.

 

Tomato pollination

As the tomatoes climb up their supports and start to flower, it is important to remember that in order to set fruit the plants need to be kept above 50F degrees at night. When closing up the hoop house in the evening to maintain the heat, I give the tomato cages a quick shake to get the pollen out into into the air. Hopefully the small green buttons of nascent tomatoes will soon start to appear. The cherry tomatoes always come first, given their small size, leading the way for the larger standard varieties.

 

Vegetable perennials: artichokes and asparagus

I grow a bed of the standard Green Globe artichokes, which are just coming on. They are a welcome treat, but somewhat bland-tasting, and must be picked before they get too tough. I do have one bush of purple artichokes, Violetta de Provence, an Italian variety that produces smaller chokes, but with a much more delicate flavor. When picked early, you can eat almost the entire bud. Gourmet thistles.

The other garden perennial is the bed of asparagus, which is just reaching maturity in its third season. It has been worth the wait. Now one can pick a high percentage of the stalks, which are decidedly sweet when eaten straight from the garden. A key to a sustained harvest is to keep the bed well watered as the roots send up the shoots.

 

Broccoli

The first rush of ripe broccoli is also here, having recently emerged from their floating row cover. I blanch the flowerets for a few minutes just until they turn bright green, then quickly chill in cold water. I like them as an appetizer dipped into a sauce of mayonnaise mixed with a bit of dry mustard and a spritz of lemon juice. I have also found that the plain stems can be eaten as well if you cut them into small slices or julienned strips and blanch them a bit longer than the tops before chilling. If the stem is particularly tough, use a vegetable peeler to get rid of the thick skin. Eat the whole vegetable.