Legumes and Root Crops
August 16th, 2010
With the Perseid's meteor shower now behind us, and the sun rising a little later every day, the garden is bringing us its mid August treats. The root crops have done notably well this year, likely due to the late spring rains that soaked in the potatoes, beets and carrots through June. The summer carrots and beets have made our meals quite colorful these past few weeks and the bunnies and chickens are always happy to receive the often discarded tops.
The late-in-spring planted rutabagas and parsnips have grown quickly to harvest size and now await the frost to sweeten their starches. As bed space has opened up as the spring crops have matured and been harvested, we have been planting yet more beets and parsnips and carrots for the fall. The ground squirrels seem to be as similarly excited about the seedlings as we are, so we have had to cover the germinating plants with netting to deter the persistent squirrels, and our resident carnivore‒Charlie-dog‒happily does his part in consuming the trapped squirrels.
In the early summer, we experimented with transplanting carrots (something that is usually not recommended and that I have never tried before) from an area where they seedlings were germinating too thickly to another bed. To our delight, they took well and have been growing aggressively. They will likely have very uniquely shaped and sculpted roots, rather than a single straight root like we are used to, but this only adds to the fun.
The red potatoes and yukon gold finished flowering a few weeks ago and have since died back, as is usual for this time of year. However, it seems that the new varieties I added this year‒All Blue and a Fingerling‒have a longer flowering and maturation time as they are still flowering and have green stems and leaves. The jury is still out on the difference in harvest yield of the different varieties, but this seemingly longer maturation time does have implications for water usage that are worth considering for future planting. The tradeoff between water use and crop/nutritional diversity is one that needs to balanced and managed to the needs/goals of the garden for any given year.
The slow warming we had this summer has enabled the peas to do quite well. And while in late July we had to remove several rows that had been infected with powdery mildew, those that remain have continued to bear fruit. Peas in August, and even in late July, in the direct sunlight on this hillside, is not something that I would have readily imagined. But being taken by surprise by the unexpected is part of the joy of this lifestyle and a necessary part of learning.
beans ready to pick
In the first week of August we planted peas for a fall crop, and they have since germinated. Peas like cool weather, and grow poorly in the heat of summer, so we will see how well they grow through the last few weeks of these hot August days and if they end up bearing a fall crop. To our surprise, the powdery mildew peas that were cut back (rather than pulled out at the roots) have started to resprout from the roots, yet another example of something we have never seen before. So maybe these too will grow enough to be part of the fall garden.
The beans, which were off to slow start, perhaps due to the cooler weather in June, or some irrigation challenges we had in the bean bed, have recovered strongly and are now bearing deliciously sweet and crunchy beans. So far, our favorites are Blue Lake and the Yellow Wax bean. Beans are a crop that in theory will grow very well here with the long hot dry summers. But as with most crops, they still like loamy soil with plenty of organic matter that holds moisture in order to thrive and so they will continue to do better as we improve our soil over the years, transforming the clay into soils rich in organic matter.
As with many of the crops here, including the peas and squash, salad and cooking greens, we planted the beans in intervals so as to extend the season and not have all the beans mature at once. This does make it somewhat more challenging for storing food away for the winter, but with every harvest, I simply put some into the freezer and leave some in the fridge, which seems to work well.
The Oaxacan corn has grown quite tall this year, some stalks nearing 10 feet in height. Tassles and silks are forming which is always a reassuring sign. We also planted an early maturing sweet corn to see if we could grow both this year. Corn cross pollinates within a mile or so radius and so if we want to save seed (which we do) we have to be careful that different corn varieties are not flowering at the same time. So, we planted the sweet corn a week or two earlier than the Oaxacan (though the sweet corn was slow to germinate).
Once germinated, this early variety of sweet corn grew more quickly to flowering stage than the Oaxacan, which we were pleased to see, and then as soon as the Oaxacan started to form silks we cut off the tasslles of the sweet corn to, in theory, prevent cross pollination but without interfering with the developing ears of sweet corn. Another option, with the fast maturing sweet corn, is to plant it in mid July, a few weeks after the Oaxacan, to get a fall crop and, again, to avoid the risk of cross-pollination.
The winter squash are doing remarkably well and the bees love to bumble around inside the flowers moving pollen from anther to stigma. Winter squash have a tendency to take over whatever space they are given, so we planted them along the rock retaining wall that forms the southern edge of the garden. They seem to like the additional space and perhaps the additional heat provided by the rock, as they have grown over the wall and continue to spread.
winter squash on the rock wall
We planted cucumbers in duck-ponics again this year, and the cucumbers are beginning to come into the kitchen almost daily. Last fall we built covers from cattle panel and chicken wire to go over the grow tanks to prevent squirrels from eating the veggies. While the covers keep the squirrels out, they also form a great landing pad for the guineas, who seem to like to jump up onto the cover and eat the leaves of the squash, kale, cabbage and tomatoes, which have grown to just below cover. So it seems that once we solve one challenge, there always is another one waiting.
Despite the heat, its that time of the season to be thinking about the fall. So over the past few weeks, we have been seeding greens that will grow through the fall‒kale and chard, broccoli and collard greens. Simultaneous to starting from seed, it is also the time to be gathering seed from plants we let bolt for the purposes of continuing to evolve seed that is well adapted to our growing conditions. And so paper bags, filled with popping seed pods, are finding their way into most places of relatively consistent temperature.
And finally, one of my favorite additions to the main garden this year is the beneficial flower bed. Flowers are a too often overlooked piece of sustainable agriculture. For any productive garden space to function as closely as it can to a healthy ecosystem rather than a managed monoculture, a diversity of niches need to be created and filled.
a bee visits a squash blossom
Often naturalists talk of the joy of wildflowers and there is a reason for this, beyond just the beauty of the diverse colors and textures in a meadow or on a forest floor (yet its noteworthy too that we associate wildflowers with beauty). Flowers are mechanism employed by a large portion of the primary producers (e.g. plants) found in ecosystems for reproduction, and there are remarkable stories of co-evolution between plants and pollinators.
peas and marigolds
But needless to say, in order to grow much of our food, we need to attract pollinators to the garden, and flowers play a time tested role in doing so. Such flowering plants cultivated to attract pollinators or other beneficial insects, may also have uses as herbs, medicinals, forage and/or nectar sources for the well loved honey bee. So, this year a portion of the garden space is devoted to a combination of annual and perennial herbs and native wildflowers‒from sage to calenders, borage to daisies. We are also developing plans to expand bed space this fall or spring for such beneficial flowers and herbs that have naturalized in the region and grow well without much additional water or care, such as St John's wort, chicory and chamomile.
nasturtiums, calendula and sage
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70