by Peter Heffelfinger
Posted June 15, 2020
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.
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.
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.