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  • Writer's picturerebeccaecarpenter

What’s Happening in the Garden: July

We’re in the heart of the growing season, and boy are things growing!   The garden is overflowing, thanks to our preparations and Mother Nature’s help — she’s been delivering regular rain and long days of sunlight, so the crops are bountiful.   This is what we’ve been working for, and we’re enjoying the fruits of our long spring labors.  Here’s what’s happening in the garden in July…

The beautiful chaos of a July garden…

… leads to daily harvests like this. 

In the Raised Bed: Tomatoes are thriving, full of flowers and plenty of fruit.  Our grape and Sunsugar varieties are ripe and abundant, and a few of the plum tomatoes have begun to ripen.  The large variety (Better Boy) takes longer to grow, naturally, so we’re still waiting for them to ripen, but they’re looking good so far.

Grape tomatoes are prolific — we’re picking about a dozen a day at this point.  And their name is so fitting — don’t the green ones look just like bunches of grapes? 

Sunsugar tomatoes are small, round and sweet (again, another well-named fruit), and bright golden at the peak of ripeness.  Delicious in salads.

The beefy Better Boy tomatoes are large, so they take a while to ripen.  We expect these to be ready in about 2-3 weeks.  They’ll be great slicing tomatoes — good for sandwiches, caprese salads, or straight up. 

The okra have finally begun to take off, after two months of smallness.  They’re now about 12-18 inches high, and the leaves are really large.  Still waiting for fruit to appear.  Fingers crossed, as we’ve never grown okra before, so this is an experiment for us.

Okra growing tall, but no fruit yet.

We’ve harvested a couple peppers, and they were red and so sweet.  The plants are still relatively small, so we’re fertilizing them and hoping for more growth.

Sweet peppers are still relatively small and not producing much fruit yet, but this one was an early treat.

The vines have begun growing up the trellis.  Cucumbers, honeydew melons and watermelon are creeping, and beginning to flower.  This is a good sign.

It’s amazing to watch the tendrils of a vine curl delicately around the trellis; they look so fragile, yet their grip is powerful enough to hold up many pounds of heavy fruit.

The squash and zucchini plants are weathering the storm of vine borers.  We’ve harvested several huge and delicious squash, and there are many more baby fruits growing on the plants.  But we’ve lost almost half of our plants to vine borers, and frankly it really ticks me off.  These critters are such a nuisance, and so frustrating given how much energy I spent trying to protect the squash from them.  I continue to do surgery on the plants to remove the borers, despite my vow not to, because I just can’t stand to see them die.  As of now, we have about six plants remaining, and I think I may put in another round of seeds to see if we can squeeze in one more harvest late this season.

Vine borers have destroyed many of our squash & zucchini plants, but the plants that remain are robust and producing delicious fruit.

The onions and carrots are doing their thing (I can only assume, since they’re underground — we’ll know in about six more weeks).

The onions appear to be growing, though I can never be sure until they’re plucked from the ground.

Same goes for the carrots.

And our edamame is ready for harvest. This is our first season growing edamame, and they have been the easiest crop we’ve ever grown. We literally have done nothing to them — no pruning, no staking, no pest-prevention — nothing.  So that makes them my new favorite crop.   Because they’re new to us, though, we weren’t sure when to harvest them — I’ve been watching and waiting for some kind of sign to know when they’re ready.  So the other day I came out and found this…

Edamame pods, with the beans conspicuously absent.  No doubt the handiwork of a certain chipmunk and his family.

… and I decided that if Chip thinks they’re ready to eat, then that’s a good enough sign for me.  So we picked them, and will give them a quick steam before eating.

Only a small portion of our edamame (aka, soy beans) fit into my son’s hands — it was a good harvest.

In the Camellia Bed: Our green beans are out of control.  They’re pole beans, so I built a trellis for them to climb, but they’ve long since overgrown it.  They’ve started growing into my neighbor’s yard, and so I asked him if he wanted me to prune them back or let them grow through.  “Let them grow!” he heartily replied.  He enjoys the fruits of our labors every summer, and he’s looking forward to harvesting whatever grows on his side of the fence.  It’s a win-win.  What a gift to have good neighbors.

Green bean trellis before…

… and after.

Our butternut squash are also going crazy.  The vines were growing all over the ground, threatening to grow up the side of our grill.  So I built a couple trellises for them, and problem solved.  The first trellis was so simple — I just leaned a pallet up against the house and weaved the vines through it.  Voila, a trellis.  (I had been saving the pallet that our raised bed stones were delivered on, because it just seemed too useful to toss out, so I’m glad we finally found a use for it.)  And the second trellis is just a simple tee-pee of poles wound with twine.  I carefully wrapped our vines around the base of the tee-pee, and they are naturally beginning climb.

Our butternut vines are beginning to climb the easiest trellis in the world — a pallet.  You can see a small squash growing about halfway up. 

And our second butternut trellis — a mini Eiffel Tower made of poles and twine.  There’s a fairly large squash growing at the base.

In the Lilac Bed: Our cucumber and melon vines are growing up the trellis, just as desired, and we’ve already eaten a huge and delicious cucumber.  That one came as a surprise, because it sprouted so quickly, and we haven’t seen another fruit since.  But there are lots of flowers, so if the bees continue to do their job, we should be seeing more fruit soon.

Baby cucumbers.

 When these baby melons get larger, we’ll need to support them with some kind of sling, but for now the vine is strong enough to hold them.

We’ve got a nice pepper growing — it’s green now, and could be eaten at this stage, but we prefer the sweetness of red peppers, so we’re going to give this some time to ripen further.

Waiting for our one and only pepper to turn red.

And the grape and blackberry vines continue to grow strong.  These won’t produce fruit for another year or two, so we’re just building a strong foundation this season.

Red grapes should begin producing fruit within two to three years.

Blackberry vines should start producing fruit next year.  I’ll need to build a trellis and train them along it, like grapes.

In the Container Garden: We’ve eaten about half of our container tomatoes, and although the leaves are looking a bit scorched, it’s still producing healthy fruit.  Our hardy herbs (rosemary, thyme, papalo, stevia) are growing well and looking good, but our more heat-sensitive herbs (cilantro, basil) are starting to look a bit sad.  That’s ok — it’s normal for them to get leggy and go to seed about this time of year, because it’s too hot for them.  No worries.  I’ll plant another round in about a month, and we’ll get a couple more months of harvest through the fall before the first frost.

Container plants have a harder time staying hydrated, so despite our daily watering, they’ll never be as robust as our in-ground plants.

We finally harvested our garlic — planted last fall — and it’s awesome!  This is our first time growing garlic, thanks to our friends Kim & J who suggested it and gave us one of their bulbs back in November.  We will definitely be planting garlic again this fall, and lots of it!  My goal next summer is to have a full bundle of garlic that I can braid and hang in our kitchen.

Freshly harvested elephant garlic.

And what would our garden be without Chip and his family of five?  Chip continues to pilfer our strawberries, despite the netting I’ve wrapped around them.  It’s not a huge loss — the berries haven’t taken any of my energy — so I’m not losing any sleep over it.  What I am losing sleep over is the memory of watching him sit in our garden the other night and devour a mouse.  I had no idea chipmunks were carnivores, but I no longer have any doubts about this.  It was so disturbing, yet we couldn’t look away — my husband and I watched the entire gory process.  It’s not often that you get to watch wildlife eat their prey within ten feet of you, though this now marks the second time we’ve witnessed it in our garden (the first being the hawk that landed on our fence and proceeded to eat an entire bird right on the spot).  Who knew that our little urban garden would have so much predatory activity?

Chip abandons his usual strawberry-based dinner for a mouse meal.  As mortified as I was about this, my husband pointed out that Chip is as handy as a cat at keeping mice away, so I quickly got onboard with his carnivorous tastes.

And so as we enter the peak of the season, we’re able to relax a bit.  The bed-building, soil-hauling, tilling, composting, planting, weeding, pest-prevention, pruning, fertilizing, and trellis-building are done.  Now we can sit back, admire our lush and abundant garden, and reap the fruits of our labors.  And watch rodents eat one another.  Good times in the garden.  Good times indeed.

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