Midyear farm report ’09

Every year for many years now, I’ve thought of growing vegetables, but I’ve thought of it in May, which is not too late for doing but is much too late for thinking. This year I started thinking last year, and actually got busy building our first farm box in October. Mara and I sowed (sew?) a mix of mustards, clovers and other green manures in the box as a cover crop in November, and then we turned it all into the soil in March, by which time we had already sown peas in the back yard. After the cover crop had composted, we sowed Sorrento broccoli and Slo-Bolt lettuce.

Devout readership may recall the wave of dismay and dare I say disorientation I experienced when, due to the idiot winter we had this year, the broccoli bolted and the lettuce seemed to not want to grow. I wasn’t able to save the broccoli — as furiously as we clipped the florets off, it still managed to become a dense patch of cheery yellow flowers by June — but the lettuce rallied. For about four weeks it yielded tender and delicious leaves for my workday sandwiches and our weekend hamburgers. It never did bolt; I finally pulled out and composted the huge plants because the leaves had become leathery and bitter. Hmmm, do I see rabbits in our future? Matt. Don’t go there.

We couldn't keep up with the lettuce from even three tiny rows. And not a slug in sight.

We couldn't keep up with the lettuce from even three tiny rows. And not a slug in sight.

The peas have flourished too, but I was disappointed that they aren’t producing more. I planted in three waves several weeks apart, and the second wave is finishing and the third is now coming on. But Sugar Sprint, I now discover, like other determinate varieties, flower at a specific time and then stop growing. Had I sowed an indeterminate variety, the plants would keep growing, keep flowering, keep setting pod. Oh well, I’ll rethink it for next year, and in any case there may be a second crop even on these determinate peas I grew if I manage to harvest all the peas before they mature. I’m not sure that’ll be the case. We let them fatten on the vine until they grow strings, by which time they are sweet and tender, and I must say they are the most delicious peas I’ve ever tasted. If Mom had fed me these instead of the (lovingly prepared, of course) canned peas (it was 1966 and canned convenience was king), I might have given her less trouble. That reminds me, sometime I have to tell you the story of my cousin Gary and how he managed to make peas disappear from his dinner plate for months without actually ingesting them. This was when he was little.

But I digress. The Scarlet Emperor runner beans went in around the first of June, and they are working their way up the poles of their tipi. I just fertilized them (careful! – not too much nitrogen on legumes). And lastly, I’ve just resown the farm box out front with a new batch of broccoli. It’s about as late as you can plant the Italian types around here, maybe too late, but it came up in only four days! Now, I’m what you might call a credulous person in a lot of ways — when I want to justify something, that is — but I sowed both the beans and the new broccoli by the light of the moon, according to the ancient whatsit, and in both cases the seedlings fairly exploded from the ground in record time.* Could be they would have done that even by the dark. I’m just sayin’…

A sweet shirtful.

A sweet shirtful.

So I’m taking handfuls of freshly picked snap peas to work every day to snack on, which does wonders for my vitamin-D starved soul. Angela and Mara have good sized tomatoes forming on the back patio, and Angela’s pumpkins are flowering. She pollenates them by hand, taking the male flowers and making them “get busy” with the female flowers, because she learned that the bees fall down on the job. It’s tricky because each flower stays open for only a day, and the male and female flowers are not always opening at the same time. You can’t miss your window, cucurbitually speaking.

I’m eager to get the next farm box built. Another 18 square feet of land under tillage is, well, another 18 square feet of land under tillage and 18 square feet less lawn to mow. I have the lumber for the next box, but I’ve spent the last month sneezing my head off and watering — after a winter of what seemed unceasing rain (except for the early heat wave and the late snow) we had almost zero rainfall the entire spring.

That’s it for now. Peas out.

*Full disclosure: since this is my first year farming, all data are record-breaking data.

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