Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Giddy Satisfaction (photos and video)

I finally had a chance to return to my work in the garden Tuesday morning. I actually hired a babysitter in order to have a few uninterrupted hours – we don’t hire babysitters to go out, only to get work done! Hmmm. Anyway, the raised beds are looking quite good, very few weeds, happy and healthy plants. However, the ground-level beds are a mess, growing a fine crop of crab grass along with our vegetables. Still, I spent most of my time on the raised beds which have not had our attention for weeks.

The cucumbers must truly like the amount of rain and humidity we’ve had over the past weeks because they have all grown together and are slowly infringing upon the space of the other plants in that section of the garden. I think I need to nickname the cucumber Audrey II. Not that it’s craving blood but it’s definitely growing fast and taking over; it’s even trying to fill the walkway between two raised beds!

I had to be a bit brutal with it, first tying up what I could to the tripods I had placed for this purpose when I seeded, and then trimming off a large section that had no good place to go (good compost, right?!). I swear that when I looked at the cucumber vines last week I saw only a few very immature fruits. Well, yesterday I harvested ELEVEN good-sized cukes! I didn’t even realize they were there until I started to sort out the vines that were escaping the side of the bed and realized they were hanging below that mess. My analogy comparing myself to the kid watching seeds sprout for the first time continues as I squealed with laughter when I realized my new bounty.

We have given a few cucumbers away, to the family of the babysitter and some friends of ours, but we’ve already eaten six or seven ourselves. Neva polished off one by herself while we were making dinner! Does anyone know a good way to preserve cucumbers (besides pickling)?

When I loosed the twisty cucumber runners from the top of the bush bean supports I also found that I had more than a quart of green beans awaiting picking. Yummy! We eat green beans raw as a snack around here so I sampled as I was working and then Neva dove in when I brought the basket into the house. The cucumbers and green beans were SO GOOD! Each sweet and flavorful in their own way and so crisp and juicy – I don’t know that I’ve ever had them so fresh from the plant.

I moved a few bell pepper plants that were being encroached upon by the beans (since they were being encroached upon by the cucumbers) and did a little weeding in the beds (less than a dozen weeds in each). I harvested a few more beets (I’ve been taking a few each week) and then moved on to the tomato bed.

Ahh, the tomato bed… a scary situation. When I planted the seedlings I planted them quite close together. I had read about a method for producing tomatoes where they are grown more like a vine than a bushy plant. So I had intended to construct a frame and string the tomatoes up, trained as vines. My first design for a frame and string system was not going to work, I had planned to string twine between two tripods but I set it up and realized there would not be enough strength to carry the weight of the plants and fruit. Kevin had another idea which utilized some old posts, still set in concrete, that were lying around in the barn (gotta love repurposed stuff!). He planted the concrete bases on either side of the bed and then devised a sturdy wooden frame to mount on top and go the length of the bed. Unfortunately, he has been so busy (and had some technical difficulties with tools) that he just finished this frame on Monday night, many weeks after we had planned to rig something up.

So, when I went out Tuesday morning to string up my tomatoes, the inevitable had happened… they had grown! They look like a solid four-foot by twelve-foot shrub that stands about three-and-a-half feet high. I started to prune and place my strings but felt like I was fighting hopelessly. The main stems are thick and water-filled and, as such, not very flexible and I’m having trouble making out which branches belong to which plant. I think I need to thin the plants and then work to train them as well as I can at this late date. To further frustrate matters, as I was working with them, unripe fruit fell off. I guess I’m back to where I started in my garden in the woods so many years ago… to my green tomato recipes.

I also discovered that the tomato hornworms have already found my tomato bed. I had rather hoped we wouldn’t be seeing them this year, figuring it would take them a while to find the new planting. Not so! They sure are cool looking caterpillars though; I almost hate to kill something so beautiful… almost. Two of them were covered with oblong, white, egg-looking things which I took to be hornworm eggs. I stepped on them even more ferociously. After a brief internet search, I’ve since found that they are actually another insect parasite! They are the eggs of a parasitic wasp which will eventually kill the hornworm. I also learned that I should not have killed those with the eggs… oops. My knowledge grows by leaps and bounds!

I did see evidence of many helpful insects in the garden. The bumblebees were noisily pollinating the cucumbers and tomatoes (didn’t see my honeybees though) and each cabbage was happily inhabited by a helpful spider, presumably gobbling up any white cabbage moths that try to feast on my food.

So, the learning continues, the plants keep growing, and I spent some time feeling the giddy satisfaction of knowing that I am producing something terrifically yummy out of practically nothing.

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