Summer has long arrived. Spring’s plantings have become mid-season’s harvests. Open spaces in the garden abound and “what now?” easily becomes the question. This is when hardy gardeners are proved.
The excitement of the first plantings — broccoli, lettuces, green onions, first radishes, peas and other “cool season” crops are now a memory. These first-to-go-ins have been enjoyed, the extras have been preserved for later, and remnants of the plants removed, chopped, and added to the compost pile.
However, the later sowings of spring are now in July a bounteous reward and “puttin’ up” — whether canning, freezing, or drying — has become zealous.
If you were fortunate, you may have tasted some of summer’s first vine-ripe tomatoes by Independence Day, but surely there are gobs of green orbs to wait on or use as fried slices or in other ways. In fact, I have an entire book of recipes devoted to the use of the green tomato and one in particular is an apple-like pie using them.
Besides the most popular plant in gardens, is the harvest of the first potatoes. I have taken, or “graveled” a few small “new potatoes” from under the blossoming vines for many weeks. Creamy flesh behind red paper-thin skins, have been a great addition to the peas.
However, the main harvest is now as the dark leaves have dried and the yellowed vines have died back flat on the hills. Sliding the fork beside the hill and heaved, they pop free from the dry earth.
“It’s like Christmas,” I tell the sweating help, “you don’t know what you’re goin’ to get”. No matter how hard you try you will stab a few. Toss those aside, cut away the injury, and use them first. Waste not, you’ve worked too hard!
Carrots, sweet onions, and blood colored beets with their tops eaten as “greens” with fat back, are now also mature. The fork method helps to pull them from the good earth too. Scraped, washed and put up in wide-mouth pint jars, orange carrots to me are second in looks only to pears when canned.
Green beans aplenty
Besides the root crops, the first green beans are coming on strong or waning and will feed more than you and family and friends. Like peas, they’re legumes or plants that fix nitrogen in their roots systems. When spent, cut the vines at ground level and leave the roots in the ground. The nitrogen rich nodules will decompose and add the vital nutrient to the soil for the late season.
Sweet corn — if you got it past the ‘coons — is in season and squashes such as yellow straight and crookneck and zucchinis too abound now. Notice the bonus of the great yellow and orange squash blossoms.
Not only is their enormity impressive but the roving of dust-covered bumbles among them is a sight with the muffled hum before emerging to the next. It’s music to the ear. One can even harvest and eat the blossoms. A certain recipe calls for the gently-washed blossoms to be filled with ricotta cheese, twisted closed, then battered and quickly fried making a delicate and elegant treat —dinner and a show!
Garden space opens
July is a generous occasion, not only in produce and discovery but with garden space. What once was full now is open opportunity for fall and into winter takings or preparation for next spring and summer’s. The idea is to plant or “mother nature” will. The ground will not remain barren.
The gardener must decide if a fall garden is wanted. Some are tired of it by this time of year and to leave weeds and spent vegetable plants is not only slothful and unsightly, but a recipe for disease and pestilence. Remove them and sow back rye grass, or fast-growing buckwheat.
If buckwheat is planted, cut before it blossoms and work it in, then in a couple weeks add annual rye for winter’s covering. This alone will increase the soils tilthe by leaps and bounds, and be ready and waiting to reward next spring’s plantings.
If a fall planting is desired, many folks begin now. My grandfather always held to sowing his turnips, “twenty-five July rain or shine.”
It’s a good rule I practice and still by the dark of the moon. Turnip greens are my favorite and if you enjoy the root as well, like beets, it’s a double crop.
Broccoli, kale, and cabbage need to be started in July if you’re not buying your plants. Again, the cold frame is the place I begin. The fast growing buckwheat can grow where I will plant it, and I can then cut and work it in as a green manure — fresh organic matter — to the soil before I need the space to plant the young cool season sets and seeds.
July is not for resting from your labors but a pivotal and busy time in the garden. The mid-season harvest from the spring plantings and open opportunities for more to come by fall are at hand. Press on, hardy gardener! There’s a bounty yet in store for those who make the effort.