photo credit: Mike the Gardener
|My wife reminded me (as she always does) as to how, regardless of the number of days of summer heat that we may go through, that this time of year for us home vegetable gardeners is great. Within a mere feet from the back sliding glass door, we have access to an array of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that could rival the best supermarkets.
If you are a seasoned home vegetable gardener then you already know that not everything comes into full bloom all at once. For instance, here in New Jersey, aka the Garden State, when tomatoes are in season, lettuce and spinach have long passed (most of the time).
This season my year of spinach was short. It seemed as if one day the spinach was ready and the next it had bolted. Bolting is when your plants go to seed. When that happens they are simply too bitter to eat. At least for me anyway.
I am luckier this year though. My lettuce is growing strong and the tomatoes, while not red, are in full bloom with literally hundreds ready to “pop” (my fancy word for getting ripe).
I am growing two heirloom lettuce varieties this year, Hanson and Black Seeded Simpson. In year’s past I have grown upwards of ten different varieties and that does not include the mesclun mix which adds in plenty more. That is a whole lot of lettuce, most of which gets donated to neighbors, friends, relatives and local food pantries, which is a good thing.
|I decided to cut back this year on my lettuce to free up space and grow some new items like red okra, rhubarb, purple vienna kohlrabi and cinnamon basil. I am always on the lookout for growing and trying new things. It helps expand my home vegetable gardening horizons forcing me to learn new things. Learning new things is always good.
Like many of you, my favorite, of course, are the tomatoes. This year I am growing my favorites, the beefsteak, bonny best and some cherry tomatoes. I have also brought back to my garden, after a couple year hiatus, the black krim and cherokee purple. They both have great flavors, but I like to mix it up every year, and the past two seasons, their spots were filled with different tomato varieties.
New to the tomato patch this year is the heirloom variety called “Mr. Stripey.” This is a great heirloom tomato with small dark green leaves on the plant and a “zebra-like” look to the fruit with red and yellow stripes. It grows to about the same size of a beefsteak, which is perfect, because I love a good slicer, and Mr. Stripey is as sweet as they come.
Rounding out more of this year’s garden are 10 different types of heirloom beans, both bush and pole, 4 types of cucumbers, again bush and indeterminant, 3 varieties of squash, 3 varieties of pumpkins, brussels sprouts, beets, loads of peppers, cabbage, and of course the yearly staple in my garden, broccoli. Although I have to admit, the broccoli is not fairing well this year. I am hoping for an autumn comeback.
|Vegetables aren’t the only thing that you will find in my garden. I have loads of fresh herbs going, like cinnamon basil (I mentioned earlier), italian sweet basil, thai basil, fennel, fenugreek, cilantro, dill, oregano and chamomile to name a few.
As far as fresh fruits are concerned, my yard would not be complete without them. I absolutely love getting up first thing in the morning, grabbing my cup of coffee, heading out back, and eating handfuls of fresh red heritage raspberries and Arapaho blackberries, both of which grow faster than my family and I can consume.
Rounding out some of the fruits that I grow are my apple and peach trees. If you have never taken a bite out of an apple or peach within seconds after they have been picked, you do not know what you are missing. A freshness and juiciness that is unmatched on any variety that you will find in any store.
On a final note about my garden I wanted to bring up the artichokes that I am growing. Last year, an “expert” had told me that we simply could not grow artichokes here in New Jersey. I was told we do not have the climate. It’s not hot enough, the days are not long enough, so on and so forth. So last February, I accepted that challenge. I started one artichoke plant indoors. By May of that year I moved the artichoke plant outside to a spot that received a full day’s worth of sun.
|The artichoke plant grew to about four feet tall and did not produce any actual artichokes. At that point I was thinking, you know what, maybe the “expert” was right. So I simply ignored the artichoke plant, let it die back and forgot about it as we headed into what would be the worst winter on record in nearly 30 years.
As spring rolled around, I noticed that the artichoke plant not only survived the harsh winter, but bounced back with vigor. It was already twice the size as it was the year earlier, and I was feeling confident that I would indeed get artichokes this year. A few weeks later, I was right. That one artichoke plant is producing artichokes out of the “wazoo”. I have already given some to a neighbor as he wants to give a go at making homemade artichoke dip.
Hopefully he shares some.
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