Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Zucchini and Brussels sprouts in front of a trellis of cukes and beans

     One consolation for the brutally hot weather is that summer vegetables are rushing to fruition. My spinach is by now ancient history, but my snow peas -- also a spring crop -- are still producing even as the vines begin to wither. In another week I will have to pull them up, chop them up, and toss them into my compost drum. My drum, by the way, is now empty.

     The only place I voluntarily use landscape cloth is on pathways in my vegetable garden between raised beds. At the end of the season I roll the pieces up and put them in our 1915 playhouse for the winter. I use them over and over until they develop too many holes to function.

Neighborhood cat finds shade between
rows of 6 foot tomato cages on newly replaced
landscape cloth.
    Because of weeding and rain run-off,  the paths slowly develop their own layer of silt on top that then generates more weeds. About this time of year I pull the landscape cloth up, dump out my compost, and spread it along the pathways. Then I put the cloth strips back down on top. My early batch of compost can now decompose in peace while I start a new batch.

     I harvested my big broccoli stalks long ago, but the plants keep producing smaller heads and I keep harvesting. And now, at last, the heat has begun to produce our first cukes and tomatoes. The grape and cherry tomatoes started to redden first, followed by some plum and now my first Early Girls. I always plant a number of varieties to extend the harvest time and to guard against disease and the  weather vagaries of each season. I also move both the tomatoes and the nitrogen-rich snow peas around in the garden from one year to the next.

     Parsley and basil are waiting  to mix with the cukes and tomatoes. We have already made a huge batch of pesto sauce to divide into one-dinner portions and put into the freezer. We have also used the parsley to make several batches of tabbouleh and chimichurri sauce.

     Bringing up the rear, as usual, are our beans. they will take the place of the snow peas on our table or the rest of the summer.

Broccoli with hot peppers and tomato cages behind.
     Removing my snow peas will leave an entire row in the garden empty. But I plan to remedy that in a couple of weeks, when I will plant a fall crop. Snow peas are a "cool weather" crop, but my spring crop lasted until mid-July, so I am hoping to keep an August seeding alive for a few scorching weeks in order to get a second crop before the first hard freeze.  This is always a bit of a gamble, but I only gamble with relatively cheap seeds, or, even better, left-overs from the spring planting. I may also stagger my planting  by planting a second batch of seeds two weeks after the first to even out the risk of an August Hades or an early freeze. This year I am betting on a late freeze and lots of snow peas, as well as more spinach.

     These, along with the parsley, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, should keep the garden cooking past the first light snow.

Our Romano bean tee-pee.

Monday, July 9, 2012


     I took  a quick inspection tour of some of my clients' yards today and discovered that we are all a bit slow to recognize just how dry we have been this year....and our plants are showing it.

     You will remember our wimpy winter when we were enjoying our lowest heating bills in years and saw cobwebs on our snow shovels. No snow! And remember the bulbs that started to pop up in December?

     Our winter was followed by the warmest spring in 142 years. Warm and sunny. We have had a rain deficit every month of the year. The worst deficit so far came in June, when our precipitation was only 40% of normal.

     And now we have had a heat wave worse than the last big one in 1995. Today's forecast says that once more "Sunny Days Are Here Again"  for at least the next week.

     We are used to having to water the lawn and our annuals in summer. But this time around we should be devoting a lot of attention to the trees and shrubs we usually take for granted. Most of them are in trouble. Don't bother to use a sprinkler. Just run the hose up near a tree and turn it on to a good trickle. then leave it there for a few hours before moving to the next one. A long, deep watering should be good for at least a week.

     Meanwhile, let's hear it for the climate-change deniers. I was born in North Carolina and have an old friend who lives near the shore. Walking barefoot on a North Carolina beach has long been one of my retirement fantasies. But I recently discovered an alarming fact:

     Most coastal states, seeing the glaciers melting, have begun studies and contingency plans for what they will face as the sea level rises. Not so my fellow Tar Heels, however. The same citizens who brought us Jesse Helms have also produced a remarkable state legislature. Like King Canute of old, it has decreed that the seas will not rise -- and has prohibited any steps to prepare for the consequences.

     Chicago is looking better and better. Let's keep our trees and shrubs alive and well.