Every time I go out to water the garden and feel that initial, sun-warmed blast of hot water from the garden hose as I fill up the watering can, it just kills me that we're burning natural gas to heat the water for our house. I've got my eye on a Patriot Solar Hot Water system, and I even know where it will go on the roof, but I just don't have the cheese saved up to buy it yet. Someday. In the mean time, the sun is being quite generous with us this year in the garden. Instead of teasing us with a few warm days at the end of June or beginning of July, and then bringing in the clouds and cool winds, this year the weather has seen fit to give us one of those long hot northern Michigan summers I remember from my childhood. It's been in the high eighties and low nineties consistently since early July. We've been getting a steady (yet still modest) stream of produce from the garden, steady because we're enthusiastic planters and waterers, and the sun has kept things growing, modest because I'm still a novice, a light-green thumb, and tend to make errors that crimp the harvest. But I'm learning.
The peas were a bit skimpy this year. It was my first year growing them; I wanted something that would come up early to start the harvest sooner. I think I could have planted them much more densely to get more production. Bib lettuce kept us well supplied fairly early, fresh salads every night since early July until the beginning of August. I planted another round a little late, and after the first round bolted from the heat, we've had a lag time as the second round is still struggling to get going. Timing, timing. Fortunately my father-in-law has the lettuce thing down, and we've been enjoying the results of his garden too. My daughter and I also made a recent trip south to Akron to visit friends and came home with a huge, farm-sized barrel of fresh produce from aCSA operation that they started there. So by our own developing skills and the sharing of our friends, we've managed to keep ourselves in fresh vegetables and some seasonal fresh fruit without relying on the grocery store.
Not that I have anything against the grocery store, mind you. We patronize an organic food store in the central part of our town, and also a neighborhood grocery store on the west side where we live. My game is to make fewer trips and to choose items that have traveled only locally, or the shortest distance possible among the choices, in order to lessen our footprint. We also love pulling off to the side of the road when we're enroute somewhere to buy a dozen ears of corn or fresh-picked fruit from one of the farm stands that dot the landscape up here, or riding our bikes to the down-town farmers market. What we haven't done since starting this project over a year and a half ago, though, is buy food from any of the big box grocery stores in the area. We just don't need them.
Here's what else we've been producing with decent results: cucumbers - we've been picking them on the small side, and they are delicious! Zuchinni - yes, I planted fewer this year, and we still have an excess in the fridge, but the plants are dying one-by-one from some sort of root rot that I have to learn about. Green beans are plentiful. We could eat them every night if we wanted to. We have to keep up with picking them to keep them from growing too large and losing some of their flavor.
And then there's the tomato. That's right, tomato in the singular. I've harvested exactly one tomato so far this year. Last year we had such an excess of cherry tomatoes, and a steady supply of early girls and beefsteaks that I thought I'd back off a bit on them this year. My last year's planning didn't figure in the eventual size of the plants either, and they over-shaded my pepper plants (and so last year got one measly pepper). This year I thought I'd get smart and use the topsy-turvy upside down tomato growers to save space too. Something I did stunted their growth. I can't tell if I'm over or under watering, and I also think I waited too long to put the potted plants into their upside down homes. We have a handful of struggling green tomatoes, but it looks like we'll be relying on friends for that crop this year.
In the on-deck circle, we are close to harvesting: purple pole beans, green and yellow bell peppers, russet potatoes, carrots (we could pick some now, but I want them to get bigger), another round of green beans (you can never have too many), more lettuce, a tall box full of broccoli that is crowning now, and in another couple weeks, watermelon!
The hens should start laying eggs in a few weeks too. They've been dining all summer on corn cobs and kitchen compost, bugs and grass (and all sorts of leafy things) from the yard (and sometimes from the garden when we let our guards down!), and their prescribed laying ration. One twenty pound bag of laying ration lasts well more than a month, as these hens seem to prefer their yard foraging to hanging out by their feeder. We're looking forward to those eggs!