Refreshing The Midsummer Garden
Here in the Maritime PNW, summer has been a mixed experience. It’s not unusual to have a string of warm days followed by chilly ones, or to wake up to a cozy grey marine layer that takes all morning to burn off. However, though we’ve had far more measurable rainfall than we’ve enjoyed in many years this summer, we’re still low for the year: A crazy wet February was followed by a hot, dry March (80 degrees on March 17, for instance); a crazy dry May chased a wetter-than-usual April, dry June and unusually wet July. Already in August we’ve had several significant storms with over an inch of rain and even lightning, very uncommon in this part of the world. Seems like every day brings reports of wild weather all over the world and it’s pretty hard to ignore.
Despite the swings, or maybe because of them, the garden is amazingly productive. That makes for wonderful meals and fast-filling freezers, as well as rows of beautifully filled canning jars. Beans are burgeoning, beets and kohlrabi are fattening, tomatoes are ripening like crazy and squash needs checking daily lest those elegantly slim zukes blow up into baseball bats overnight. In my delightful new community, neighbors swap plant starts and set out baskets of produce, including herbs and flowers for everyone to share. As our summer harvesting clears out space, we’re tucking in fall starts, along with a comforting mulch of compost. More beets, fall peas, fresh lettuce and greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, cabbage and as many kinds of kale as I can cram into these little bitty beds.
When beds are small but deep and full of good soil, it’s really quite remarkable how much can be crammed in without harm. I mix in a lot of annuals with edibles, both to attract pollinators and to be sacrificial if need be. If the tree kale gets going, out go the spent calendulas. Fading spring annuals get shaken around to sow the seeds for next year and fall planting proceed apace. Even in these brand new beds, it’s important to remember that, after a productive season, hard working edible beds need replenishment. Whether we plan to grow cool season crops or not, spreading compost and a light mulch of shredded leaves or bedding straw over emptied rows or beds will keep soil in good heart. Bare soil can cook in late summer heat, so cover it up to keep your soil alive and thriving. Recent research shows that less than an inch of compost is enough to kick start exhausted soil’s journey back to health. What’s more, that depleted soil can also begin to capture and store carbon quickly when that comforting compost blanket is layered on.
Everyone knows by now that our planet is suffering and it’s up to us to do all we can to help heal it. There’s already so much damage, and more being done every day, it’s very easy to slip into despair but we of all people can actually do something helpful. Anyone with acreage can plant trees, mingling wildlife-friendly natives with fruit and nut trees. Even without a lot of land, a lot can be accomplished: urban food forests are appearing in vacant Detroit lots as well as in well heeled Seattle parks. Anyone with a deck can pack pots with flowers and food crops, and even a window box can be lively with bees in the heart of the city.
Planting Hope And Oxygen
Whether we plant tomatoes or trees or preferably both, each area of living green is an oasis for critters and a sign of hope for humans. If we want a greener future, there’s no time like today to get started on planting our own corner of the world. Garden full? How about those sidewalk strips? Neighbors with more room than time or energy may be happy to allow you to make a garden for them. How about churches? Schools? Businesses? I suspect that changing commercial lawns into edible landscapes will be a lucrative job opportunity as people get serious about climate change.
Another huge gift to the world will be passing along our skills and plant knowledge to younger generations. If you don’t have kids or grandkids, borrow some! Mentor teens and young adults (or old adults, whatever) and help them start a good garden service. Around here, there are zillions of mow-and-blow crews but very few skillful, knowledgeable crews. Let’s change that, starting now. And not stopping. Ever. Right?
Make New Friends & Fill The Freezer
When both pantry and freezer fill up, it’s time to make soup! Make enough to share and sit down with some younger folks who just might want to learn a little more about growing and cooking.
Tuscan Bean Soup With Black Kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bulb fennel with greens, chopped
2 sweet carrots, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 cups cooked white cannellini beans (or any kind)
1 quart vegetable or chicken broth
1 bunch Black Tuscan kale, cut in ribbons
In a soup pot, combine oil, fennel seed, half the garlic, the lemon rind, pepper flakes, onion, fennel (reserve 1/4 cup chopped greens), and carrots, sprinkle with salt and cook over medium high heat until barely soft (8-10 minutes). Add beans and broth, bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Puree in small batches with remaining garlic and return to pan. Add kale and pepper, cover pan and cook until barely wilted (2-3 minutes). Stir in lemon juice to taste and serve hot, garnished with fennel greens. Serves 4.