July Garden Report
The florets of broccoli, which have been growing robustly, tend to bloom into into yellow flowers before the heads get large enough to feed a family of four. So we’ve been eating them earlier than I’d planned. Still, we’ve enjoyed four fantastic broccolis. The Waltham variety is not as dense or large as the store-bought sort, these have had the kids grabbing second, third and fourth helpings after their initial refusal to try even one piece.
After harvesting the main head, several subheads have sprouted up on the sides. Images of Greek mythology come to mind in which hydra heads keep popping up each time one is lopped off, and the stench of bad breath is enough to kill a man. While broccoli breath isn’t nearly as bad, the comparison is apt. Also, according to sources on the World Wide Web (which never lie!), broccoli leaves are edible and, when young and tender, can substitute for collard leaves. I just might be the first person I know to eat them. I’ll let you know how they are in a future column.
The first hot pepper has been harvested and several others are growing right up behind it. Only one of the dozen pepper plants has fruited. This one is in a pot, which warms up more quickly than its brethren in the ground. And this is one of the store-bought plants! The specimens I grew from seed are still living, to be sure. But they are neither flowering nor fruiting.
The tomato plant that sits in the old garden plot among the basil is doing fantastic. A few baby green fruits are forming at the ends of the flowers. Most of the other half dozen tomato plants are thriving, but have yet to bear fruit. I have long since written off the pitiful specimens in the Square Foot Gardens, but I’m letting them stay for the time being to see if by thinning out the broccoli and collard leaves, it will give the nightshades more sun. I’m also wondering whether the heaping doses of Epsom salts I gave them when I first interred them in the SFGs might have done more harm than good. But I’ve got no way to prove that.
My nine-year-old, eager to help in the leaf thinning arena, inadvertently uprooted a broccoli and a collard plant. Strong as he is, I was surprised at how easily the roots came out of the SFG soil. But the dirt in these boxes haven’t suffered years of human and animal feet tamping down the soil. So the custom mixture is relatively loose. It will be interesting to see if root vegetables, like onions and carrots, have an easier time growing large in the SFGs. I likely won’t be around to see it, as we are selling this house.
We’ve eaten two steamed cauliflowers and It strokes my ego when other local gardeners express awe that I’ve grown four healthy cauliflowers (the two still in the garden are only 3” wide). The largest was almost a foot wide, but all of them had a rich purple color underneath the crown. Curds that were exposed to sunlight turned a little brown and tough. But I had been tearing off the large broccoli leaves to help blanch, or conceal, the cauliflower heads to keep them shaded. That seems to have paid off better than my efforts to tie the plants’ own leaves in a cloak over the heads.
As much as I’ve enjoyed eating collard greens, they’re starting to wear on me, much like the endlessly regenerating spinach. I’m already considering what to do with the space after I uproot the collard plants. One benefit of growing my own is that I’m willing to eat leaves with a few small holes. As long as the slug itself is gone, I don’t mind giving the plant a good rinse or tearing out the holey part. Were I buying these in the store, I’d be more picky about perfect leaves, which inevitably requires farmers to use insecticides and other chemicals.
I’ve given away several more bags of collard greens to friends, as well as many snippets of marjoram and sage. These are not plants that most people seem to grow on their own. Basil, on the other hand, I can’t give away, as everybody else seems to be growing their own. The transplanted basil is lush and seems to be helping its neighboring tomato by darkening the soil at the tomato’s base to keep out weeds. The basil we planted from seed is still tiny, but growing slowly. The parsley in the tomato patch is out of control, as are the neighboring beans. But there’s still enough room for everybody, so I’m going to leave them be.
At this point, I feel we’ve easily beat last year’s record of feeding ourselves for a day from our own land. Granted, at many meals I would have had revolt on my hands, what with all the spinach and collard greens. Still, I’m estimating we’re well past a second day of lunch with all of the broccoli we’ve eaten. And we haven’t even harvested the first potato. And my kids LOVE to eat potatoes.
In the old country (various sites in Eastern Europe), my ancestors sang a tune that translates roughly into “Monday potatoes, Tuesday potatoes, Wednesday and Thursday potatoes. Friday, in the oven, a potato casserole! Saturday, more potatoes.” Since I planted all the potatoes roughly at the same time, let’s see how long it takes before the children cry, “please, no more potatoes!”
Expenses: $250 and holding
Financial Benefits: $85 and growing fast
Last Year’s Meals: One breakfast, lunch and dinner (one day’s food for four)
This Year’s Meals: Two breakfasts and lunches, one dinner.