About a week ago, a mammoth swath of North America from the Mississippi River to the eastern seaboard braced for the return of a weather phenomenon which, a mere six months prior, had paralyzed millions within its frozen embrace. Courtesy of a typhoon rampaging up Japan and displacing the Arctic airmass, the Polar Vortex had returned!

It made for some really comfortable weather for gardening.

Cool evenings and mild days with low humidity are a blessing in the Midwest. An uninterrupted weeklong stretch of mild days without humidity is a rather rare phenomena. Not really ideal for growing things like peppers and tomatoes though, and if you were thinking about growing watermelons? Fergeddaboutit, eh? If you live north of Cincinnati, just give it up, Son. Watermelons are best grown in the south and bought off the backs of dilapidated pickup trucks.

Anyway. Where was I...

Right. It has been nice. Cooler than average. And wetter than average as well. Long term drought has put a serious hurt on the other half of the continent from California to Kansas, and it seems that all the rain is falling here in the corn-and-soybean belt where record-crops are expected. Corn futures are so low right now that some folks are starting to worry if the crop, as high yielding as it may be, will even be profitable to harvest! I predict it will be busy at your local grain elevator.

My sweet corn is looking very uniform, but the plants were still very short when the tassels appeared. Even, so pollination, so dependent on adequate soil moisture, was very uniform and I have healthy ears growing. They are also on the smallish side. Maybe it was the late start, or maybe it is just the cultivar. If I am lucky, the ears will mature just when I return from RollerCon next week, and not before.

Earlier in the Summer, I enjoyed a heavy harvest of sweet peas. This Strike cultivar that my mother recommended really lived up to its name: it grew fast and upright, and each plant produced many full pods of sweet peas. I enjoyed a pair of weeks of the best fried rice with peas. You have not HAD sweet peas unless they came right out of the garden at the peak of sweetness, Son!

Have you read the back of a seed packet where it reads: "Sow successive rows two weeks apart for an extended crop?" Man, that never works out for me. Sweet peas, sweet corn, bush beans, I don't think plants want to work that way. I think that plants want to pollinate all at the same time, taking cues from heat or length-of-day or what-not, and those plants two weeks behind the others are just smaller, blooming right along with the elder row.

I grew bush beans this year, a first for me. My mother grows this Cosmos cultivar and the Japanese Beetles do not seem to have a taste for them, whereas those little fuckers chow down on the pole beans of gardens past. Then again, the cold winter seems to have killed off a majority of these beetles this year. Either way, both rows of bush beans produced an abundance of bean pods, most of which have gone onto the grill.

Here is my recipe for a simple summer mixed veggie grill: I pick me a mess of green beans, grab an onion, a beet or two, zucchini and eggplant if there are any to be picked, and head kitchen-side, pausing to look disdainfully at the pitiful cauliflower plants on the way out of the garden. I pop the green beans, chop up the rest, and mix them up all in a bowl with olive oil, salt and whatever spices suit my fancy. Into the grill basket they go to grill outside at around 350F degrees until the green beans are withered but still have a good bite to them. Maybe 20 minutes cooking time. I wish that the peppers would grow, I bet they would be good in there.

Maybe it has been too wet, or too cool, but the sweet Italian peppers I bought at a local farmstand are not doing very well. I think some kind of bug may be after them, actually. The leafs look more like they have been skeletonized in spots rather than been attacked by a scab. The plants are sickly and have not produced flowers. It does not look like Fusarium wilt, thank God! The paprika peppers are looking healthy on the other hand, with a few healthy pale yellow fruits which shall turn characteristically red when they are ripe.

Rounding out the nightshade report, the tomato plants are doing very well, considering that tomato plants prefer things on the dry and hot side. The Rutgers indeterminate variety looks to have some ripe ones within a few weeks, while the Romas are still a way off. The tomato cages that my neighbor gave to me are excellent! His father loved my peaches that grew in abundance last year and the cages just showed up on my side of the fence shortly thereafter. They are about 20" in diameter, five foot tall and made from mild steel structural fencing, the kind they make concrete walls with. No, not rebar, Son, that is something else.

One brief note, the peach tree decided to take this year off from producing fruit. It grew too many fruit last year and was probably stressed by the long cold winter. The tree looks healthy though. The apple tree has a few apples, it also looks healthy. It will not be a tree fruit year.

I already touched upon that the cauliflower was a disappointment. Half of the plants died and the remainder failed to grow anything but pitiful heads. The cabbage was worse. Most of the plants died and only two matured to produce heads. Those two heads did grow nice and big, though, very tender and sweet. Despite the flavor, I will not be purchasing the Tendersweet or Snow Crown cultivar again. Heat-tolerant my ass. The De Cicco broccoli plants also did not produce large main heads. It simply was not a good year for spring cool weather crops. The plants eventually thrived, however, and since I have ten plants, the side shoots are abundant enough to make a meal out of when I fancy it.

The big standout of this years brassicas are the Nero De Toscana kale! True to its supposed Italian heritage, each plant is happier than a pig in a poke and stalwartly growing without any sign of bolting. I stopped harvesting its leaves to put into stir-fries back when the sweet peas petered-out and the green beans started maturing. Looks like to me they will still be fit to harvest again when Autumn comes and the nights get chilly.

The nice weather we are enjoying has inspired me to get out into the jungle and do a lot of weeding and the like. What golden beetroots managed to germinate took their sweet, yellow-assed time in growing. I like to grab them out of the garden when I need them, but pulled the lot last week before they start to split and get woody. Same goes for the Nelson carrots: took a long time to mature. I should find a shorter-growing cultivar for next spring.

Rounding out the summer crop report, the Millionare zucchini and the Marketmore cucumbers are all pest free! I have not seen a cucumber beetle or a squash bug yet this year. It seems that my strategies of starving out a generation and moving the garden were successful. The Okra germinated well, but the plants are small. Nonetheless, they have started flowering and will soon produce pods. The Raspberries were not at all damaged during the winter and I have more berries than I can cook with. I really like to put them into pancake batter and make raspberry waffles. Oh! The grape plant, whose old growth died this winter, is growing new vines as well. This pleases me.

The real bumper crop has been the Walla-Walla onions! Onions are so damn easy to grow, especially if there is abundant rainfall. Each plant produced a baseball to softball sized bulb. My lawn has a lot of white clover in it which started to grow in many areas of the new garden. The biggest onion bulbs grew where the clover has taken hold. Onions are very shallow rooted, as the thick rooted clover is as well. I did not attempt to remove the clover for fear of disturbing the onions. I theorized that as clover is a legume and therefore fixes nitrogen into the soil, that the onions might benefit from the clover's presence. I believe I was correct. The onion plants ate up the excess nitrogen and grew larger than the onions growing without clover. White clover is also a good cover crop and once established will smother out other undesirable weeds with shallow roots. I believe that I will broadcast clover seed into the garden next spring after tilling and sowing in the hope that this beneficial companion plant can feed the soil and further crowd out undesirable weeds.

After I return from Las Vegas, Nevada, I will hopefully have sweet corn, tomatoes and okra to go with my carrots and beets to make vegetarian Gumbo, Hoppin' John, Succotash or whatever else you want to call a stew pot full of late summer veggies. I also will have to start to till and sow for my autumn garden where I will attempt to grow rutabagas and parsnips for the first time as well as a purple carrot, storage cabbages and brussels sprouts.

Laters, skaters!