Keeping Pace with the Produce

Editor’s Note: The Spectator is reaching into Michelle Smith’s gardening column archive for some weekly advice that is as relevant now as when it first appeared on 10 July 2019.


What to do this week

The heavy work of planting should all be done by now. Until it’s time to plant cover crops and late season greens in another month, if it’s not planted now, it’s not going to get planted. The cool weather this spring has slowed things down a bit – my peas are just starting to flower now – but the present spate of hot days means the garden will catch up quicker than we can keep up. Needless to say, you should still refrain from using mulch until the soil is thoroughly warm and dry in order to keep slugs and diseases under control.

If slugs continue to be a problem, with or without mulch, you can do a number of things to even the score. You can set little traps of old boards around the garden and lift them up and kill the slugs each morning. I simply snip them with some small scissors or you can drown them in soapy water. If you are too squeamish for this, you can make little traps of jars on their side filled with molasses water or stale beer. The slugs drown, presumably happy, in the beer. The only trouble is that you have an icky mess to clean out of the jars at the end of the season. I’ve heard that you can slide cedar shingles under ripening squashes to discourage slugs and borers as well.

Photo by Idéalités – CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once you hit peak production in the garden, the important thing is to stay on top of the picking. Those late-flowering peas will need picking every other day once they hit their stride. Even bush beans will valiantly keep sending out flowers and setting fruit if you can keep up with picking. I usually get two or three weeks of good picking from my beans when I call it quits on the blanching and freezing assembly line and feed the plants to the chickens. Leaf lettuces can be picked continually until they bolt to flower in the summer heat. Even head lettuces will send up secondary leaves once the top is cut. If you planted a variety of lettuces as I advised in an earlier column, if you keep up you should be able to harvest greens throughout the summer until the fall kale is ready to eat.

Pinch off the growing tips of basil to encourage branching. Don’t harvest too heavily at first, but keeping those tips pinched back will discourage flowering and the resulting decline in leaf quality. My favourite way to preserve the summer’s bounty of basil is to chop it in the food processor with garlic and olive oil and store it in the freezer in small jars. Pour a little skim coat of olive oil on the top to prevent oxidation or browning. The resulting pesto will keep its bright, lively flavor well into the winter. Just add ground nuts and grated parmesan and add to pasta.

The flower garden is a good place for ideas to liven up summer salads. Be sure you can properly identify what you pick, of course, but there are many edible flowers easy to spot. Nasturtiums add a peppery tang and look lovely on potato salad. Violets add a dainty touch to greens as do elderflower blossoms. Day lily flowers and buds are both edible and many people take the large lovely male squash blossoms and stuff them with herbed rice.

Nasturtium flower (Photo by Claire Pearcy – CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)


One picking chore you really should not neglect is to pick the blossoms off the first year strawberries. This is the year they are just getting their roots settled and should not be expending precious energy in setting fruit. A little work (and self-restraint) now will ensure a more bountiful harvest next year.

If your apple trees look likely to bear heavily this year, you may want to thin the fruit. On a small scale it is easy enough to do by hand and encourages bigger and sweeter fruit. The tree will also bear more consistently from year to year, though it may not entirely cure some trees of a biennial habit. Start when the fruit is marble-sized or smaller. The goal is to thin the clusters to one fruit and the fruit to one every five or six inches. Obviously, start by removing all the fruit that looked misshapen or insect damaged first. You can even combine this with a light summer pruning to increase the light in the center of the tree and improve air circulation. You can take up to 50% of the new growth of a tree that is overenthusiastic. Summer pruning will not stimulate new growth the way that spring pruning does. And it will improve the hardening off of the growth that you do leave. Definitely take out the vertically growing watersprouts that will not bear fruit. You’d have to take them out next spring anyway.

I don’t have too many problems with birds, at least so far. I have enough other things planted that they can eat. But this is the first year I hope to get a decent cherry crop and I have netting at the ready if those crows and starlings so much as look sideways at them. They are welcome to the chokecherries but the sweet ones are mine!

Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.