Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Flying Zucchini Brothers

After many zigs and zags earlier in the year, which left several types of vegetables shriveled, withered or otherwise dead on the ground, I'm now approaching that point so familiar to many home gardeners: the late-August glut.

This chaotic explosion of produce is an occurrence as predictable as the phases of the moon yet one that you swear will not--repeat, will not--ever happen again. 

Welcome to Lettuce Central
All it's needed is careful planning, preferably in writing and on graph paper, followed by precise planting dates, succession planting schemes and also vegetable birth control, that painful process of plucking out healthy, bouncy seedlings and tossing them over your shoulder because there is simply not enough room in the raised beds--or demand in the kitchen--for say, an unending avalanche of radishes or romaine lettuce. 

Earlier in the season we complained that someone, probably rabbits, was eating our Swiss chard, kale and lettuce. Now we have small jungle of those vegetables growing rambunctiously, untouched by any  wildlife. Truth is we probably have so much of the stuff that even rabbits are sick of it. 

I've thought about it for a while and concluded that one fatal problem with our yearly gardening offensive is excessive optimism, approaching hubris.  

A common gripe at the supermarket produce department here is the lack of vegetables common in the U.S. There are endless piles of plum Italian tomatoes, but no beefsteaks much less heirloom varieties. Those huge baking potatoes common back home never show up here either. 

So I keep donating money to Burpee Seeds for envelopes of weird tomatoes that germinate and try to put on a show but never set fruit here. At a party the other day someone explained why: Tomatoes need consistent warmth and in San Miguel, particularly in the countryside, cool nights keep the plants from setting fruit. 

At considerable legal risk to myself, on my last trip home I smuggled two giant Idaho potatoes in my luggage to see if I could make them grow here. They sat by the window and sprouted little leaves in their dimples, just like the book predicted. We waited a while longer, and Stew cut them up in pieces and planted them. 

Zilch. And Toto, what is the reason for this great baking-potato failure? This is Mexico, not Idaho. It could be the soil, temperature, too much rain or sun, not enough. Whatever: It just isn't going to happen. 

Our second biggest problem is overproduction which I'd like to blame on the inability by Félix, our gardener, to thin out volunteer seedlings (most of them come in the compost) and other surplus plants. 

In fact, Félix has a really hard time throwing away anything. Three-inch pieces of tubing, trapezoidal scraps of chicken wire, empty spray bottles, fossilized paint brushes--most everything he neatly stashes in our storage room which has turned into a recycling center with no exit door. 

And I'll be damned if his manic thrift is not often vindicated.  

"I wish we had a three-inch piece of PVC to stick in here," he'll hear me mutter, and then promptly produce precisely such a specimen that he saved eight months ago. 

"You never know," he'll say with a triumphant grin. 

With regard to vegetables he follows a similar tack. Volunteer tomato seedlings of unknown varieties are moved six inches to the right or left, but never definitively tossed. 

He often moves surplus plants to our corn patch at the other end of the ranch, to be planted in between the corn, beans, asparagus and other creatures. By now instead of neat rows of corn or beans we have motley conga line of plants sashaying here and there. 

Is this going to work? Félix has no doubts.

That is a particular problem with rampant plants like zucchini. So when one plant threatened to choke a nearby patch of arugula, which was also spreading in all directions, Félix came up with the idea of training the zucchini to climb up the hoops over the raised beds. 

Anything but pulling out the offending plant and throwing it in the compost pile. 

Now the zucchinis are slowly creeping on the bar high over the raised beds, like aerialists cautiously working their way to the other side of a circus ring. 

I maintain that we need to secure the fruit with plastic netting to keep it from breaking off and crashing to the ground when it reaches a certain size. Félix says we don't need to worry. 

Meanwhile there's all that produce to deal with. Mexican yellow tomatoes are coming in by the dozens, along with cherry tomatoes. Black Krim tomatoes are setting fruit but not ripening, probably because of the overnight cool temperatures.

Four strawberry plants produced some grape-size fruits and then quit in a huff, though their foliage is still out of control. I have no idea what happened there because this state is one Mexico's largest producers of strawberries. 

Romaine, bibb and several other types of lettuce keep popping, not matter how many leaves we cut and eat. Radishes and beets also keep appearing on our kitchen counter. We just finished a batch of terrific beet borscht.

And did I mention Swiss chard? This morning I espied a bucket of it sitting on the kitchen floor, which means it's on the menu tonight--again.  

Stew keeps talking about the health benefits of Swiss chard as if it were a wonder vegetable. 

And I keep thinking: Boy, if the stuff is half as good as he says, we're both going to live to be at least a hundred and twenty. 

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10 comments:

  1. Would you believe that John actually grew some Big Boy tomatoes this year and they ripened and were/are delicious. Quite amazing. And, I did same as you with Idaho potatoes - we did get potatoes but they were tiny. Oh well.

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  2. I live in a area that has a potato fair every year and growing the big ones has never happened for me, the pros must have magic dust or something.

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  3. Another wonderful post. I can visualize your garden so easily. Nice to know why the heirloom tomatoes don't set as well. But if you ever do get russet potatoes or Yukon gold to grow, do let us know!

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  4. Once again you have taught me a lesson. I am composting my idea of starting a vegetable garden.

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  5. You need a juicer! A great way to consume your swiss chard--what about kale?? Have fun.

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    1. Swiss chard juice, eh? Let me think about that one.

      al

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  6. Well...not JUST swiss chard. You'd add kale, spinach, an apple, some lemon, maybe a handful of strawberries or blueberries, some cilantro, a little piece of ginger...and juice the whole thing. It takes some pretty good sized bunches of the green veggies to make two 16-oz glasses--and it is an instant blast of phytonutrients when you drink it. I bet Stew would LOVE it! When you get the right combination it is actually quite tasty and "fresh" tasting.

    Have fun!

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    1. OK I've printed out your recipe and we'll try it, maybe just run it through a blender since we don't have a juicer. We'll let you know? Will this improve my vision, memory, hairline?

      al

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  7. Tianguis Organico yesterday had several vendors selling Heirloom and Beefsteak tomatoes. I bought a yellow Beefsteak tomato.

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    1. Excellent! Will go by there next Thursday.

      al

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