My artichoke plants are a semi-satisfying success in my small kitchen garden this year. I started several plants from seed indoors in February, and transplanted four into my garden in June. These plants clearly have no intention of making chokes this year, so I’ll devise cold frames or other cover to protect them from deep-freezing during the winter. Perhaps next year I’ll harvest some artichokes.
The growing season had already been tough on my small kitchen garden, and then I really let it go. I spent a week at the annual symposium of the Garden Writers Association, and left my garden to fend for itself. Things were pretty sketchy when I left, but they were downright distressing when I returned.
When I left, I had been collecting tomatoes but things had just gotten started. Plants were topping out at seven feet, and I’d harvested about three gallons of fruit. While there appeared to be many more fruits setting, some type of infection was spreading among the plants. Lesions that looked like late blight had started low on stems and leaves and they were working their way up the plants.
Small Kitchen Garden on the Brink
When I left, climbing beans were just starting to put out flowers. There were three distinct clusters of bean vines growing among the tomatoes. A too-small trellis in an ornamental bed supported too many healthy-looking, crowded bean plants,
Finding a fence panel out of position makes me a little uneasy: how long has it been this way? What classes of rodents have noticed? Is anyone now inside my kitchen garden? What might already be dying because critters have come-and-gone through this huge opening in the garden’s defenses?
When I left, a stand of sweet corn held the promise of, perhaps, two dozen ears for meals—assuming anyone harvested them as they became ripe.
When I left, my cucumber plants formed a bush of healthy green on my deck and they were flowering like nobody’s business.
When I left, my bush wax bean plants were bereft of mature beans, but there were many young beans starting, and plenty of bean flowers were open.
When I left, my winter squashes were putting out blossoms every morning. I hand pollinate my winter squash, so I dreaded missing so many days; no one in my family would be willing to pollinate the squash flowers.
The Sad State of My Small Kitchen Garden
The photos show and explain what I found when I returned to my small kitchen garden. For the most part, the garden’s situation is grim. There are some bright spots, and I’m confident things would be little different had I stayed home… sometimes the elements simply don’t cooperate with a kitchen gardener. It makes me unhappy for a bit, but eventually I shrug and look ahead to next season.
When I returned from the Garden Writers Association conference, my wife asked, “Where are your bean plants?” She had, apparently, looked for them so she could harvest beans, but she hadn’t found them. Sure enough, plenty of beans had matured beyond tender while I was away; I sorted through them to find young beans my family would be willing to eat… but it gets worse: When several of my tomato seedlings had failed in late summer, I had planted climbing beans in their places. The bean plants were healthy and poised to bloom when I left, but two plants were wilting badly when I returned. Those particular bean plants have since died.
Sure, most of my corn plants tipped during a big storm, but kitchen gardeners lament that corn always falls over. My sadness related to corn is that no one harvested any while I was away. There are, perhaps, two dozen ears that should have been eaten but that will, at best, be old and tough if I harvest them now.
I pick tomatoes when they just start to blush. These tomatoes are nearly fully-ripe. I found many overly-ripe tomatoes in my small kitchen garden after my weeklong trip… the green shoulders and cracks illustrate why I pick tomatoes at the first sign of pink and let them ripen indoors.
As sad as I was to find nearly-ripe tomatoes on my plants, this discovery made me much sadder: there’s no question my tomatoes have late blight; all my tomatoes. Many look healthy, but the plants they’re on are in horrible shape. My tomato harvest is done for this season—far too early.
The cucumbers also misbehaved in my absence. In fairness, had I stayed home they’d have been no different. Several oddly-shaped cucumbers developed, but none are compelling enough that I’d harvest and eat them. For this, I’ll concede I didn’t give them the best chance to succeed. I planted too many seeds in deck planters and they performed as if stressed. I’ll grow cukes in planters again, but I’ll set far fewer seeds per gallon than I did this season.
There is a bright spot in my small kitchen garden. Actually, it’s all over the garden: My winter squashes are in decent shape. On the left: a small neck pumpkin. In the center, two small butternut squashes next to a huge butternut; the rear-most squash (only partially visible) is at least five times the size of the one in front of it. On the right: a Blue Hubbard squash that doesn’t seem interested in becoming a giant. Still, it’s great to have several Blue Hubbards that have survived past the typical onslaught of Squash Vine Borers… I hope they survive this more than double the average rainfall for August and September.
This may be the champion squash in my small kitchen garden. It’s a neck pumpkin hanging on what I usually use as a pea trellis. The squash was about 22 inches long in this photo, and it has grown about three inches longer since I took the shot. I’ve seen neck pumpkins weighing more than 25 pounds!