FAST AND FURIOUS. That’s what this growing season is handing us, the first one the likes of this that I can recall in my 47 years of Alaska gardening. What a ride.
Our usual 19 hours of daylight coupled with heat has influenced the growth of everything. The nettles are over my head. The ornamental plants are exhausting themselves. The vegetables are being harvested as fast as I can process them.
The quality of the broccoli is interesting and somewhat unfortunate. The stalks are woody and it takes a good bit of trimming to find the edible parts. I am still hopeful that there will be side shoots, but it’s looking a bit iffy. This is the year I decided to plant all Arcadia and skip the ever so reliable Packman. I’m regretting this. Lesson learned. But all of the main heads have been harvested, processed and tucked into the freezer as well as being enjoyed fresh.
The romanesque cauliflower “Veronica” has put on a good enough show. This vegetable of the many spires and lovely green is an excellent candidate for the freezer. The quality keeps for months on end.
But here is a cautionary tale to be honored as you harvest: pick up after yourself. Leave no trimmings on the ground, in the path, in the bed. Remove it to the compost pile where you will chop it up as small as you have the patience for. The smaller the pieces the faster and more completely the material will decompose. If left in situ the slugs, and there are slugs, will converge. You can look at this outcome as a handy trap whence you can spray the mollusks with a vinegar solution. But I would rather not entice them at all.
There are those who say there are no slugs this year. Nay, they showed up in March with our early, albeit false, spring and never left. They have been hiding from the sun and heat, just waiting for the moment that rain would finally come and make their lives worth living. Well, here they are. Brace yourself.
Most of us have been focusing on the aphids. These pregnant-when-born creatures love the dry, warm weather. There is always something. Do you have birch trees on your property? They truly love birch. Don’t park the car under them or it will be covered in the sticky “honeydew” that aphids secrete. From the birch they go wherever they please. Into your greenhouse, on your houseplants, on the vegetables. Check your clothes before you come in the house. No point in aiding entry.
I rarely have potatoes bloom. The four Yukon Gold that I quartered and planted four to a section have been in bloom for at least 10 days. So I went ahead and pulled one. Why not? It may be early on the calendar but everything is bursting at the seams so I thought we would have new potatoes for dinner. What a treat, right? Well, much to my surprise, amazement, chagrin these Yukons have produced PINK potatoes. What’s the deal? You plant potatoes you get potatoes. Apparently not. If you have the answer to this riddle be sure to let me know. I am confounded.
I spent a lovely day deadheading. This is the impossibly tedious, perhaps Zen-like, chore of removing the spent blooms from your perennials and annuals. It makes everything look tidy and somewhat fresh. It makes room for more blooms to reach their potential. Take the cranberry cosmos for example. If you snip off the spent bloom, you’ll notice the buds that have been lurking, just waiting for their chance to shine. What about your columbine? There is nothing more painstaking then deadheading columbine, but you will notice a teeny tiny bud farther down the stem that will, given the chance, become a bloom. You really gotta wanna, but there it is. Give it a go. Or not.
I truly love annuals. I know, perennials are the way to go; this garden is loaded with them. But it’s the annuals that carry on the show after the perennials have done their piece. The annuals need deadheading to keep them from going to seed which is what they are designed to do, carry on the species and all. But the color right now that the godetia, California poppy, nemophilia, linum rubrum (scarlet flax) are offering at this very moment is priceless and greatly welcome.
Which brings me to chrysanthemum “Primrose Gem.” This is a new one for me this year. I’m always and forever looking for pale yellow to complement all the blues/purples/pinks that are going on here and I thought I had finally found it. Well, what a surprise when this thing bloomed. It simply TRUMPETS yellow. It SCREAMS yellow. And it’s TALL when I thought it would be mounding and pale soft yellow, the yellow of my dreams. I pulled them out today. Enough is enough. Plants respond to our daylight in mysterious ways. I’m sure that under “normal” growing conditions these plants would have looked like the picture in the seed catalog.
Then there are the dwarf delphiniums that I was hoping would not need staking. Well, they are gorgeous, and the correct size, but next year I will be ready to offer them support. They haven’t actually fallen over, and are ready to call it quits for the season anyway, but I was hoping they would be a bit more care free.
Have you noticed the bumblebees? There are millions of them. The verbascum “Bold Queen” is covered with them every single morning. The plants are lovely but with the bees they take on a whole new dimension. I think they are supporting an entire community of these sort of fun bees.
This is only Aug. 1 and it seems like I’m getting ready for winter. This FAST AND FURIOUS gardening season is perplexing to plants and people alike. We’re a bit off kilter. But don’t stop gardening. There is much to do, much to enjoy and, by all means, give as many garden parties as you can.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.