The weather in the past couple of weeks remained on cool for late May with plenty of grey, rainy days. It is now Memorial Day weekend and warm, humid air has arrived. My dwarf lilacs have bloomed fragrantly as have the yellow flag irises in the pond. The white and purple violets and the lily-of-the-valley have finished blooming. Wild strawberries now have spotted the yard with yellow flowers and cultivated ones are blooming white in the new garden. I have observed tiny orchard bees feeding on these. Bumblebees and a hummingbird prefer the irises.
The cool weather has kept the peony from blooming in time for the holiday and has kept the spinach from bolting, which is good. Fortunately, the cool weather has also delayed the emergence of the flood water mosquitoes which are sure to be abundant once it gets hot.
This weekend's warmth has stimulated the transformation of some of the spinach's leaves from a round savoy shape to a more arrowhead shape and I decided to harvest it all, yielding a paper grocery bag about 3/4 full. My wife has rewarded my efforts by baking me two spinach quiche pies! While she bakes, I have the weekend to plant the last of the summer garden.
I like to fool myself into thinking that I live an active lifestyle and am a physically fit person. Anyone interested in putting their stamina to the test only needs to sow seed potatoes. Such was my feeble exercise at digging a poor 4"-6" 20-foot-long trench with a common spade.
At the conclusion of twenty to thirty minutes of digging, I was gasping for breath, red-faced and over-heated. Sweat had soaked my shirt and run down my brow into my glasses which continuously slipped down my nose while I inhaled gnats.
Retreating into the air conditioning, I spent another ten minutes drinking a cold beverage in the shower under the coldest water I could stand. After cooling myself down and getting some lunch, I re-exhausted myself filling the trench back in.
Either I need to dig more trenches (and invest in more efficient trenching tools) or I should just conclude that growing potatoes is hard work that I might want to avoid in the future.
Gardening is not always the chill, Zen, practice that I often want it to be. After recovering from my potato ordeal, I was rushing against an incoming storm system to sow my okra and green beans. Before preparing my rows, I had a lot of rye grass that had re-seeded itself from last year to pull out of the ground. The rye is five feet tall and seed heads shed pollen in the muggy and still air when disturbed. The moisture in the earth which had made digging trenches more difficult made the pulling up of the rye by the roots rather easy.
Even so, I was tired and the wet soil was not easily furrowed. Struggling and chopping at the earth, I broke my cultivating hoe and had to buy a new one. This is the price of not taking my time, of physical inactivity and of forgetting to bring my tools in out of the rain.
On Sunday, I was tired and sore. My gardening activities were limited to planting some plants that I had bought at a farmstand during the work week. For $18, I bought a pair of generic yellow crook-necked squash plants, a pair of "Raven" zucchini plants, four "Diva" slicing cucumber plants, and four "Garden Leader" pickling cucumber plants. The lack of variety that can be found at commercial growers can be a bit underwhelming. I finished off the day by joining some friends in the pool and hot tub at the gym that my wife is a member of. We then went for ice cream and I had a banana split and a decaf before turning in for the night.
Memorial Day itself brought more pleasant weather, mild but mostly sunny with high pressure and breezy enough to dispel gnats and mosquitoes. After a breakfast of eggs, spinach and toast, I settled into the new strawberry garden to pull the weeds from around the 140 plants. They are all doing quite well and have been unmolested since I mended the fence. This morning, aided by pleasant weather, I remained in a comfortable, here-and-now state-of-mind, just pulling the weeds from around each plant.
The landscaping fabric has made this rather easy, as most of the established weeds are struggling under the dark canopy. In the openings where the strawberry plants grow, little stands of purslane, thistle, prickly lettuce, grass, false clover, and what-have-you are attempting to crowd out the strawberry plants. But the roots of the strawberry are deep and I pull the weeds out with out any fear of harming the plant. I also am removing most of the flowers from the strawberry plants, as I want them to put all of their energy into establishing themselves this year. Orchard bees are enjoying the flowers as well, so I leave some.
On the margins of the garden, between the fence and the fabric, last year's riot of vegetation has thrived unchallenged. I mostly just pull out the Canada thistle and prickly lettuce on these margins. In some places, where weeds are still trying to thrive under the canopy are beetles and spiders and a few toads. I try not to disturb these too much, but most of the space between rows have been stamped down under my feet or, as today, under my butt as I care not to kneel or crouch over the plants for very long.
When planting a garden, I highly recommend always making the spacing between your rows to generously accommodate your butt and feet so that they do not damage the adjacent rows. I don't know how these "square-foot" intensive gardeners manage. They must do their work suspended on overhead wires.
My hand weeding continued after lunch in the old garden. The most intensive weed pulling was grasses and other weeds from around the raspberries. I am happy to observe that all of the raspberry canes, both newly bought, survivors, and naturally propagated, are doing very well. Two of the surviving "Anne" and two of the surviving "Killarney" second year growth will bear fruit this year.
In addition to the isolated stands of rye that I have left growing, I also have isolated clusters of hairy vetch vines which are thriving. Two such stands are near the onions, another around the broccoli and the largest of them is around the pepper plants. They do a good job of competing with other ground creeping weeds, such as purslane and should against crabgrasses later in the summer. They also are nitrogen fixers and attract bumblebees. For these reasons I am inclined to keep them where they are and I have been coaxing their tendrils off of the crops and lying the vines in more suitable directions.
While weeding, I have assessed the health of the crops established so far: The eggplants have only suffered mild damage from flea beetles as has one of the "Juliet" cherry tomato plants. The radish trap crop, which is thriving, has also suffered mild damage. I shall apply diatomaceous earth to the top and underside of the leaves before I retire tonight.
Some of the tomato plants look a bit yellowish, but aside from that, they look like they are establishing themselves. The peppers also look fine. I attribute the lack of vigor to the cool and overcast weather. The marigolds and basil that I sowed as companion crops to the nightshades have germinated very poorly. I guess that is why the seed packets were discounted to 19c.
Six of the broccoli plants have exhibited modest growth, but two are stunted. One of the ones eaten by slugs has recovered. The six are about 9" tall, which is a bit underwhelming for late May. The Kale is about the same height.
All rows of peas are doing very well. The first pods are at their mature lengths and the peas within are just starting to show. In about five to ten days the peas will fill out the pods. The plants are erect and continue to flower. The rear row has been assisted and is growing up the rye grass as the vetch did the year before.
Finally, I am disappointed to observe that the peach tree will be having a "growth year." The late frosts have resulted in only 10%-15% of the typical count of fruits visible by now.