By Susan Taylor
Artichokes are fun! They grow from a lovely, silver-green plant with fabulous long leaves. You can pick, steam and then eat them. Or you can let the choke stay on the plant till it erupts into a stunning purple flower that lasts a long time. My mother who wasn’t a native San Diegan took artichoke serving very seriously. She would prune off the sharp tips and outer leaves, cook them and serve them at dinner along with little Austrian bowls filled with warm melted butter.
When we got to the thinnest small leaves, Dad would cut the choke out for us so we could put the little meaty section into leftover butter. It was practically religion. One of my artichoke plants just fell over because the growing heads were so heavy. We had them last night.
We’re still planting, people. Your tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, melons and eggplants should be underway. If you plant tomato starts, remove the smallest leaves and plant them deeply. If you get lots of leaves and few blossoms you are probably watering them too much. Corn needs to be planted in stands, not rows for proper aeration.
There are many varieties of corn, including some stunning blue and purple Native American kinds that could really start a conversation about art and color in nature! Pole beans will likely produce more beans than the bush varieties—try planting some of both if you like lots of green beans. The key to both pole and bush beans is to pick the beans young and crisp. It is true that the more you pick the more you will have.
There are lots of eggplants, peppers and squash to choose from. These vegetables really love the heat so give them plenty of sun. I saw lots of peppers to choose from at the local nursery two days ago. There are some that will challenge your vocal chords (read: too hot for me) and others that are sweet and pretty to look at. Yellow, purple, green and red peppers look quite festive in your vegetable boxes or ground. In fact, take some photos of this year’s garden every ten days or so and marvel at what you have done! Really, it’s worth a few shots of the good, the bad and the ugly so you can remember what you did this year and how it worked.
If you didn’t use some organic fertilizer when you planted, now is the time to side dress everything. Side dress means work the fertilizer into the soil next to the plant and gently water in. Once again, let me remind you to water and harvest in the mornings only. Late afternoon watering, with a glass of wine in hand, may relax you but it will inspire the slugs, bugs and snails to get busy. Harvesting in the morning gives you a fresher, crisper harvest.
Check out newer varieties of tomatillos, cause they’re tasty. Did you know that you can use tomatillos raw as well as cooked? There’s such a thing known as a salsa garden, planted with green onions, peppers, tomatoes and tomatillos. You can also imagine a pizza garden with oregano, marjoram and tomatoes for the sauce—cooked or raw. My sister in law LOVES fresh sliced tomatoes on her pizza and always orders them this way. By the way, careful with children around the salsa gardens, we don’t want them to touch pretty, hot peppers and then put their fingers in their eyes or mouth!
It is also time to plant winter squash. All squash plants need to elevate the fruit off the ground. That means wind the vine around and over whatever is handy so the fruit doesn’t rot quickly on the ground. The same holds true for the many melons we have in our garden. There’s nothing like a fresh picked, aromatic sweet melon that makes you reach for a knife as soon as you hit the kitchen.
VERY important: don’t plant squash and melons close together because they cross pollinate so easily you won’t know what you have grown! You can save the seeds from squash and melons for next year, but label them carefully. If you want to save seeds, let them dry out completely, then label carefully and store in paper envelopes. Plastic may not work if you haven’t really dried the seeds completely. And, you have all the junk mail envelopes to use up! You can only write a grocery list on so many envelopes in a week.
It looks like San Diego has a long, hot summer ahead. Conserve water and use only what is needed for each plant. If you have planted some things in pots, good for you, but remember pots dry out faster than a garden box or in-ground garden. You should notice butterflies, bees and birds enjoying your garden if you are lucky. They are a part of every garden and yard and often the same ones return every year because it’s their home too. I am not making this up! Birds come back to nest for their babies because they know what the landscape has to offer them. What greater compliment than to have the same gorgeous creatures return year after year.
From here on out, you will be busy in the garden. Enjoy the work, the produce and the world around you. Remember, if this isn’t fun…I say don’t do it!