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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Before All Hell Breaks Loose

We are at the even, calm moment before all Hell breaks loose.  
 
I am speaking of the period of time right before every plant in your garden decides to deliver the goods all at the same time. Now, this is not entirely accurate. We have enjoyed Lettuces, Peas (those of you who have gone that route), Radishes and other crops. We have harvested and are curing our Garlic.  
 
But, looming just ahead is mayhem. Every Tomato plant is loaded. The Zucchini has started its madness competing with the hated Squash Vine Borers. Who will triumph?  The Squash, so prolific that preventing green baseball bats makes harvesting practically an hourly chore? Or those miserable, stinking Borers.  
 
The Pole Beans, the Yellow Arikara Beans (from Jefferson’s Monticello!), and the Jacob’s Cattle Beans are all flowering profusely and the plants look marvelous. Bumper crops there, I predict.
 
The Cucumbers are having a little tussle with Cucumber Beetles, but they look like they’re holding their own. I love fresh Cucumbers. Cucumbers with vinegar, Cucumbers with Sour Cream… any way possible. Raita, an Indian condiment made with yogurt and seasonings, is particularly nice to have on hand. I don’t get into the ones that can be pickled yet, but that may happen down the road. There is only so much time and only one of me.  
 
The Swiss Chard, after a bumpy start (not one of my better efforts trying a new  garden fabric plan), is starting to come on. I have side-dressed it with Nitrogen (Organic Blood Meal), and that should turn it around. I’m always a sucker for the mixed variety, Bright Lights. I love the colors. Just like a magpie, anything bright and shiny!  
 
The Basil is coming in and don’t forget to prune! If you cook with it often, snip off  what you need from the bigger stems leaving a pair of leaves behind. I like to cook with fresh Basil, but my schedule is better adapted to making large batches of pesto and freezing it. As a result of this, I tend to let the plants get larger before I harvest.  If your plan is more like mine, be sure to never let it go to flower. Always pinch off the flower tops.  When it is time to make a batch of pesto, you can prune the bushes back pretty aggressively, taking over half. It will come back even stronger! By the end of the season, your Basil should have a thick, woody stalk and be over three feet tall. Get a start on making the pesto and freezing it because you will be sorely tested for time by  the demands of everything else ahead.
 
My Eggplant is looking good. I started it from seed this year for the first time. Flowers are coming and fruit should be set fairly soon. If the Spider Mites don’t overwhelm them, all should be good. Since this year has not been as dry, the Mites haven’t gotten such a grip. The only thing one can do is try to keep the plants healthy enough to battle the attack. Misting the leaves with water can help… somewhat. Harvest often to increase the yield.
 
And Tomatoes! I can’t wait for the deluge! I have sixteen plants and all are loaded! There is a real possibility that I will have Tomatoes for the Fourth of July. Dealing with a huge Tomato crop is a singular mission. Preparing fresh Tomatoes any way you can think of is a start! Then, you move on to the Tomato sauce, frozen or canned, canned Tomatoes, Tomato Jam, Salsa, sun-dried Tomatoes, etc… It’s a lot of work! But, it is the most rewarding work of the garden, in my opinion. Mid-Winter, you pat yourself on the back and say to yourself, “I did good”. The taste of Summer overwhelms you. 
 
And, of course, you leave Tomatoes on steps all over town.
 
Mercifully, the Beets and Carrots, which I planted a little late, will come on at a more advantageous time. Ditto on the Brussel Sprouts and Cabbage. It is also nice that Butternut Squash comes on a little later and stores so well. Thank-you, Mother Nature, for this nice, low effort reprieve!
 
Perfect timing on another crop is with the Peppers. They come on slowly, dependably, and then, a little later than the tomatoes, they go to town! Since Jalapeños are so productive, you may have more than a Mexican restaurant, but the other varieties yield a sensible amount. You will have your best peppers at the end of the season. Now, that may not be true. It is possible that I just didn’t have time to notice before, considering how demanding the Tomatoes were! It is a pleasant ending to the Summer garden, in any case. Another easy Pepper to deal with for the Winter months is Cayenne. If you lay them out in a Basket to dry, they are beautiful to look at and killer for making your own crushed Red Pepper flakes. Just stem them and put them through a food grinder. Wonderful.
 
So, look forward, gird your loins (I love that expression!), and get ready for action. Line up your baskets, get the food processor oiled up, check your stock of Mason jar lids and rings and make sure your canner doesn’t leak!  A garden coming on full-tilt is no place for sissies!
 
Ginger Dawson is The Intrepid Urban Farmer. Read her column every other Sunday at The River City News. Questions? Email: [email protected]