For the Solstice

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, June 18, 1999

A little rain at last! It's been very dry for four weeks, with only sprinkles of precipitation here and there. Our gardens, nevertheless, are producing bounteously, thanks to plentiful organic matter in the soil and mulches, both of which retain moisture in the ground. We don't water or irrigate at the farm, except for fresh transplants and young onions.

We've got a wonderful crop of strawberries this year! The dryness has been great for them. We should be picking lucious berries for the next two or three weeks and be able to make strawberry jam this year! And, there's still plenty of rhubarb for a strawberry/rhubarb pie.

The asparagus is just about finished; we'll let the rest of the spears grow up to the tall feathery tops which make next year's crop possible. Perennials such as rhubarb and asparagus thrive because their roots go deep and are well-established. Perennials make growing food easier.

It's been a great spring for lettuce, too - despite the drought. Hardly any slugs! We've got close to a dozen varieties at the Old Solar Farm and at our school gardens in Bridgeport and Hamden. Spinach, arugula, radishes, over-wintered kale and lettuces in the Hamden garden have provided salads for many of the Foster School's students and staff for well over a month now. And, more big, beautiful red and green lettuces await cutting for end-of-the-year picnics. The Foster School garden does get watered because that's an enjoyable recreational activity for the teenagers on very hot days. Oh so sweet Sugar Snap peas and strawberries are the big hits there, providing healthy treats at the end of the school year for the always-hungry students.

We've been picking fragrant and beautiful bouquets since April, with a changing mix of locally-blooming flowers. They look good together in the gardens and in the vases. Many flowers have opened a week or two earlier this year, perhaps in response to the heat and lack of rain. Peonies, lupines, and irises are mostly gone by. Asiatic lilies are opening spectacularly. Cosmos, zinnias and daylilies will bloom soon.

Four weeks without rain has almost halted our transplanting activities. Because it is easier to keep plants watered in containers near the house, than when they're spread throughout the fields, many of our tomatoes and peppers are not yet set out. Hopefully there'll be enough new moisture to plant today and this weekend.

The early potatoes are flowering, which means we can start eating new potatoes soon. Soil hilled up around the plants and a deep mulch not only conserve moisture and control weeds, but also encourage tuber growth. In addition to the standard variety, Red Norland, we planted Red Gold and Tobique for these early potatoes. We're looking forward to trying them this weekend!

We'll eat these delicious new potatoes with the Sugar Snap peas which are just filling out. Like snow peas, Sugar Snaps have edible pods. However, as the pods get more plump, they get sweeter and sweeter till they're garden candy.

We should have broccoli in two weeks. Ours went in a little late this year.

The sweet potatoes aren't in the ground yet. This year I planted the pathetic little slips from the feed store and a mail order supplier into pots where I can help them develop an extensive root system before they're set out in the garden. The soil will be warmer by then, too.

We're breaking the flower scapes off the garlic plants to encourage larger bulbs. In less than a month, we'll be pulling them out of the ground.

Good pollination on the blackcap raspberries, red raspberries, wineberries, blueberries and blackberries promise to keep us picking and eating fruit for most of the summer.

Monday is the solstice- the beginning of summer. There's still plenty of time to grow food and flowers. Broccoli, cabbages, beans, lettuces, kales, beets, carrots and much more can be planted now for fall harvest. With good care, tomato and pepper plants set out soon will produce a fine crop before the first frost.

Good gardening and happy solstice to you.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1999 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.