NATURE’S TURN: Transitions! Store the season’s food, and flourish

Our experience of the landscape is a series of primal sensory contacts. While working around zucchini and yellow squash bushes as well as winter squashes and pumpkins, I am surprised by the fragrance surrounding their brilliant yellow trumpet flowers.

August 17 through 30, 2015

Mt. Washington — Tender summer fruits and vegetables along with late summer-blooming flowers are flourishing as they reach the height of productivity. In the kitchen garden, our work has largely transitioned from bed making and sowing to harvesting fruits, leaves, tubers, roots, bulbs and flowering parts while at their prime. Incidental tending to the plants — training a wayward vine here, burying an exposed stem there, pulling off yellowing leaves and weeding around them — often reveals hidden fruit and involves us with the qualities of the plants and wildlife of the garden.

Monarda didyma, Oswego tea, bee balm. Edible florets are pulled from the centerpiece and sprinkled on salads and cakes or eaten out of hand. Photo by Mackenzie Waggaman

Our experience of the landscape is a series of primal sensory contacts. While working around zucchini and yellow squash bushes as well as winter squashes and pumpkins, I am surprised by the fragrance surrounding their brilliant yellow trumpet flowers. The barbs on squash stems sting our fingers; velvety leaves of marshmallow sooth them. Bee balm’s honey-herb taste and scarlet color excite tongue and eye. A rumble, whirr, whizz of fast-beating wings and vocal chatter announces the approach of a hummingbird. We participate in the wonder of food for our bodies growing out of the ground with such differentiated beauty. Green bean vines climb poles by spiraling their rough and sticky stems. Pleated white fennel bulbs with feathery green tops perch on top of the ground. Huge, wrinkled leaves of rainbow chard grow on colorful stems that grow in whorls. Tight-packed bouquets of flower buds are called broccoli.

Harvesting, curing and storing of onions and potatoes planted in early spring is under way, especially during dry weather. Onion tops have been fading and falling over, their roots loosening their grip on the soil. Where a few onion plants remain standing, check if their necks are soft when pinched; if so, you might topple them to speed their readiness for harvest. After the tops are wilted and the bulbs no longer “pull back” when tugged, lift the plants and allow them to lie in the sun for several days and then under cover for about two weeks longer. In wet weather, place them on screens or hang under cover in a warm place right away. Eliot Coleman cuts the tops off in the field; others cut the dried tops off about half an inch above the bulb when the onions are fully cured. I store the cleaned, cured and trimmed onions in reused citrus bags hung in a cool location that remains above freezing.

Fragrant squash blossom. Stems appear fuzzy but are barbed to the touch. The fruit is a kabocha winter squash. Photograph by Judy Isacoff, August 15, 2015
Fragrant squash blossom. Stems appear fuzzy but are barbed to the touch. The fruit is a
kabocha winter squash. Photograph by Judy Isacoff, August 15, 2015

Foliage of potatoes planted in early spring is turning from yellow to brown on stems that progressively shrivel. For long-term storage, growers typically leave tubers in the ground for two weeks after the plants have died to “set” or toughen their skins. Dig potatoes, brush off soil and leave tubers to air dry briefly on top of the ground before storing in a cool, dark, preferably humid location. In the absence of a root cellar I place the completely dry harvest in shallow, closed cardboard boxes in an unused vestibule that is quite consistently 45 degrees all winter.

Cucumber vines, studded with yellow blossoms, are particularly prolific this year. Running over the ground and climbing trellises, pickling varieties, if not eaten fresh, are being stored in brine or sweet and sour mixtures all over the country! Summer squashes may be prepared similarly. Find recipes here – https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/lacto-fermentation/ and https://www.creativesimplelife.com/probiotic-pickles/

When days and nights are predicted to be cool, find time to prepare ground and plant table radishes, lettuce, arugula, Asian greens and spinach. Water seedbeds regularly and cover with shade cloth during hot weather. Plant the perennials you’ve wanted to put in all summer. Here’s to being fueled by the food and flourish our gardens provide!