Thursday, July 16, 2015

(Introspective) Vegetable Garden Update

You may have noticed that I haven't blogged about the vegetable beds in a while.  They came into their prime and then went tumbling into decline.

At one point, I told Donald that I actually resented the vegetable beds because they made me feel guilty.  Guilty because they took precious time away from the more interesting flower garden.  Guilty because I didn't even feel like keeping up with picking the squash-- but if I leave food to rot, that makes me feel guilty.  (It's wrong-- shameful-- to waste food, after all!)  And yet I didn't want to pick it, because if I picked it, I'd have to deal with it... or see it go to waste inside the house, because we can only eat so much squash or bell pepper (for instance)-- and no-one else seemed to want or need it, either.

I'm not sure what the solution is.  Possibly we should pare back on next year's planting.  Actually, we should definitely pare back on some things.  But the problem is that in early spring, everything (including vegetable gardening) feels so fresh and new and exciting, and you're so optimistic... You forget that in another couple of months, it will be hot and humid and miserable.  You won't want to be outside so long every day, and when you are outdoors, you'll want to prioritize flowers and shrubs and pretty plants that aren't already starting to look fatigued and faded.  You forget that you'll have bell peppers coming out of your ears and nothing to do with them.

Another option would be to just not worry about waste-- to recognize and accept that it happens and that it's ok to waste a few vegetables.  In the grand scheme of things, a bucket or two of rotten produce needn't send stress levels sky-rocketing.

...That might be easier said that done, for some of us.  (g) 

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I think my plan for next year's vegetable bed will be multi-pronged.

Don't Worry; Be Happy! ;o)
First, try to stop worrying about the waste.  It's a hobby-- not another source of guilt.  (And I used the "wasted" produce for trench composting, so it wasn't a total loss...)

Be Selective.
I have a thing or two I specifically want to try, next spring, but I also want us to limit the number of vegetables we plant.  Try to learn from past seasons.  What did well?  What was disappointing?  What did we actually eat?  How much of a given item will we use? 

Consider Freezing.
Last year, we froze a lot of tomatoes, and that worked out well.  We've also frozen blueberries, bell peppers, and jalapeƱos.  However, I never bothered to look up whether or not it was possible to just chop and freeze summer squash and zucchini.  (If it requires much more than that-- blanching, etc.-- I'm less likely to do it.)

Now that I've spent the whopping two or three minutes it took to research it, I know (for next year) that you don't have to blanch them, if you're planning to use them within six months.  (Longer than that and the flavor deteriorates.)  If you blanch (which isn't hard to do), they can last twice as long.

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Well, now for the more concrete element of the post.

Vegetable Beds

-- I've ripped out the squash and zucchini vines.  Some of them were still sluggishly producing, despite neglect, but none of them looked especially healthy, and insects had become a problem for the zucchini in particular.  (Something was boring holes into the zucchini fruits themselves.)

-- The tomatoes were also well past their prime, so we removed those, too. 

-- I pulled most of the weeds that had grown up under and around the vegetables and blueberries, but there's still more weeding to do around the berries. (Isn't there always?) 

-- I've left the chives, the bell peppers, the jalapeƱo, and the marigolds (some of which have grown huge).  Also a bit of the Swiss chard, though we never tried it, and it's not looking particularly hearty. I think it suffered from being too close to the zucchini, which shaded it.  (Lesson: Zucchini and squash plants get much bigger than you think they will, and they sprawl.)

We do not need more bell peppers, but I didn't have the heart to pull up relatively healthy plants that are still producing.  Maybe I'll send any future bell peppers to work with Donald.  He could leave them out in the common area, and maybe someone else can use them.  I've already frozen more than we're likely to use, unless we discover some amazing pepper-heavy recipe that we both love (and that's not going to happen).

-- We've stopped using the soaker hose-- stopped some time back, as a matter of fact.  There's just not enough in the beds to merit watering them all, so when we have dry spells, I water by hand every other day or so.  It's much easier to do that, now that the beds are so near the spigot.

--  Those horrible stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs (especially the latter) have been very present in the vegetable garden, this year.  I loathe the things.

They're still attacking the pepper plants (and now that the tomatoes are gone, probably focusing on them more than ever), but I am too scared of the dratted things to squash them (the recommended "treatment").  I know it's silly, but they horrify me.  (If neighbors ever hear what sounds like a few terrified monkey shrieks, it is very likely that a leaf-footed bug has just startled me by flying right in my face.  My apologies.)

I tried vacuuming some of them up with the shop vac, yesterday morning.  I don't know how effective it was-- and I think I damaged some leaves in the process-- but maybe it's better than doing nothing...

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The current focus of interest in the vegetable garden is the okra.  

This is our first year growing okra with any success.  We tried last year; the seeds sprouted just fine, but the young plants faded away.  Not enough light, probably.  This year, we're seeing flowers and okra pods, so we're on the right track-- but I still suspect that the okra would be happier with even more light.  We planted them at the end of the bed closest to the garage, so they don't get morning sun.  Next year, if I grow okra, I'll site it at the westernmost end of the bed, instead.

Okra Pod

I haven't managed to get a great photo of the okra blooms, yet.  They're actually pretty-- a reminder that okra is in the same family as hibiscus.  Its yellow flowers with a dark red throat bear definite resemblance to Rose of Sharon (shrub althea).

This is the best photo I have to offer, so far, and this flower hadn't completely opened up.  I think they take a little time to open fully, and I don't usually want to go out and take photos in the heat of the day.  

Okra Flower

Donald doesn't really like okra.  (Maybe it's one of those foods that you're more likely to enjoy if you grew up eating it.)  At the moment, there's not enough to cook, anyway, but maybe soon...

There are always ants visiting the okra, now that it's started blooming.  Based on the little I've read, they shouldn't be a problem unless they are fire ants, which can lead to less okra.

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We've discussed the possibility of planting some late-season, cool-weather crops, but there's no guarantee we'll follow through.  It will probably only happen if Donald is enthusiastic about it.  My personal stores of enthusiasm for food-growing may be nearly sapped, for the year!