Notes from Windward: #70


Summer Soltice Garden Update


     With the summer solstice just behind us, and the sun lighting the sky for more than sixteen hours a day, all the plants up here on the plateau, from oak tree to lupine, broccoli to radish, bulbous blue grass to alfalfa, have been working overtime converting sunlight into sugars that then take on various shapes and sizes, colors and scents. The light of June is exhilarating, and the seemingly tireless efforts of the plants in this race of photosynthesis and reproduction keeps all of us diligent observers and co-conspirators a little on edge and working steadily to keep up.

     The salad greens are growing faster than we can eat them; the radishes are still crisp and sweet but have grown to sizes I have never seen before; the first plantings of peas stand taller than I do; and the broccoli, despite the efforts of the ground squirrels, is producing heads for us daily.

purple cabbage after a rain

     Maybe if I live here long enough, I will realize that every year is an anomaly in its own way. But for now, I compare each season to my understanding of this region's average, and am continually surprised. After a relatively mild winter and dry spring, the rains have continued into much of June, so the grasses still stand green and tall on our hillside and in places the creek still has water running over its basalt stones.

     While the cool and cloudy weather with rains soaking deep into the soil at night prolongs the harvest of the spinach and arugula, the tomatoes and squash, peppers and beans have been slow to establish themselves in their new soil. But now, the weather is finally turning, with temperatures reaching up into the 80s and I take delight in watching the summer squash beginning to grow in its characteristically speedy manner.

garlic doing great in the damp spring weather

     While at this point all the bed preparation is complete, with a home garden, the work is never done. Since our goal is to provide as much continued nutrition throughout the season and then have extra for winter storage, we constantly are thinking to what to plant next as the season progresses.

     The first crop of summer squash is beginning to flower, so its time to seed the second round, and the spinach and arugula are finally now going to seed‒which we allow for since we save as much seed as we can‒ and will open up new bed space for more beans, beets and squash‒the crops that can survive the summer heat.

chard, cliantro and broccoli growing together

     As we thin out the carrots and beets we are enjoying the first sweet bites of each in our noontime meal; and the turnips' insistence on flowering means that the bunnies will be able to enjoy their spicy flavor this year. The ground squirrels seem to be particularly ravenous this year, eating broccoli, cabbage, lettuces, kale and even hot peppers! Last year, it seemed that they quit after the rest of plateau greened up, and then only came back again come fall. But we have had to cover much of the garden with netting, which makes it more challenging for the squirrels but it is not 100% protection.

      In theory, I am okay with some of the garden going towards the squirrels who plant our oak forest, in fact I even plan for it when seeding, but it is still discouraging and frustrating to find a broccoli plant with only the mid-rib of the stems remaining. Even though we use a heavy layer of mulch to increase soil moisture retention, the weeds can still be prolific‒particularly the mallow‒but Theresa has been saving the newly germinating crops from this overwhelming fate.

beets and onions growing together

     And Jon and Andrew have been cutting the grasses that grow abundantly between the bed space and near the fruit trees much to the delight of both the goats and the plants that are given a new perspective on life.

      This spring, Mary Lou and the pool team increased our summer water storage by almost 3 times‒which will go a long way towards nursing trees and veggies through the usually relentless August sun. The drip irrigation is working well in the main grow beds, though irrigation lines consistently require attention and upkeep‒fixing leaks in the main hose lines, checking to make sure the valves are tight, making sure the lines are not plugged and the water is reaching all the plants.

     The success with this poly tubing in the main garden is inspiring me to lay similar lines for the fruit trees‒as it delivers a slow and steady supply of water to the plants and significantly decreases the amount of time spent, hose in hand, watering.

      As the evening light lingers in the tops of the Ponderosas this evening, a refreshing if not cool wind is blowing, and I cannot hep but wonder what more surprises this season will hold for us, as the regional averages rarely allow room for barefoot running in the rain during a late afternoon July thunderstorm or the chilling breath of an early September frost.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70