While Summer is probably just getting going and only getting hotter in far away places I'm envious of, Fairbanks is entering late summer. I tend to have high hopes of July because the garden is finally producing and I feel like we are just getting going. Inevitably mid July starts to cool off and get rainy, (sigh). We've had cool rainy weather for the last week straight, which is a sign that yes it is truly mid July. Of course this weather is all to familiar to locals, and has everyone panicking and grumbling about how summer is over, and the obvious; summers are too short here! As I drove around today I couldn't keep track of how many pick up trucks and trailers I saw loaded down with firewood. Yes, all it takes is a little cool crisp weather for reality to set in.
As the month progresses our chances of seeing any more eighty degree days is quickly diminishing. I remind myself that come late August and September we are going to have some lovely sunny golden afternoons, but they won't be humid and balmy, but rather crisp and, well, fall like. We've had some stormy windy weather and as a result I've been lighting a fire in the wood stove in the mornings. Fairbanks; where digging for winter hats and gloves in mid July is perfectly normal. Of course, our fair week, which is the first week of August, is rapidly approaching, and that tends to mark the end of summer and summer weather. Fair week is traditionally rainy and cool. The nights are growing dark by then, and the first yellow leaves are spotted. All is still lush and green for a couple more weeks, now if we can just get some sun and heat to help ripen the heat loving crops.
The garden is looking almost picture perfect. I spent about eight hours on my new battery powered weed whacker last week, and a few hours pushing the push mower. So the rows of vegetables are more pronounced than the weeds this week. It is that time of year where I tend to come down from the garden with more than I can easily carry. Yesterday we pulled baby carrots, picked shelling peas, harvested a row of beets (beets that were not getting any bigger probably because the soil wasn't as good as I thought it was. I amended the soil and resowed beets, may be too late, but maybe not). We harvested three 4-5" heads of cauliflower, I wasn't too happy with the size, but it was the earliest, by the name of Charming, I believe. The first broccoli heads formed this past week, I have to dig for the label to see which were the earliest. We finally have begun to pick more strawberries than we can eat fresh. So, the kids and I made our first batch of strawberry jam of the year yesterday.
You can tell from looking at my garden what I'm most excited about, because those crops are doing well. Then there are things that aren't doing so well, and you'd think I'd be babying or coaxing them along (tomatoes and cucumbers), but I'm not, at this point they are going to do what they are going to do. I am most excited about my winter squash and pumpkins, of which I have several small squash forming. I am also ecstatic about my fifty-sixty feet of shelling peas which are just getting going. This is going to be my best pea, squash and strawberry year yet! And my worst tomato, cucumber year ever - surprisingly I'm not devastated...what can you do? Take notes - on the blog...if I forget you guys can kindly remind me in the spring to spend more time prepping my beds before planting!
This time of year already has me remembering my gardening weaknesses and repetitive mistakes. I get lazy about hauling compost and old manure up to the garden, and I'm usually broke at planting time and don't want to rely on commercial amendments anyway. As a result, I get to this time of year and wish I'd spent a little more time and effort on turning in compost before rushing to plant. I was so proud to have grown enough pickling cucumbers to get us through a year of pickles last year, the success not to be repeated this year. Likewise, I had so many tomatoes the last two years I started grumbling about how I was having to make sauce daily in the fall- not this year. I remind myself, every summer has it's triumphs, and there are always going to be things that don't grow according to plan.
I went to a friend's garden today, someone I view as a master gardener, and she is having a rough pea/ winter squash year. The rest of her garden looked awesome. I am always envious of her heated greenhouse with ceiling high tomatoes and english cucumbers. I couldn't believe how big her Brassica plants were. She had a broccoli head that was like a foot across, it's side shoots were the size of some of my broccoli heads. I asked her secret, she said composted chicken bedding. I knew it! I've got to get better about composting my animal bedding. My chief complaint; it is soooo much work to move wheelbarrows of animal bedding and compost up steep inclines. Especially when I have an almost four year old daughter who still wants me to carry her everywhere, and breaks down when I need both hands to do something, like push a wheelbarrow.
So, I'm curious, what is doing well in your garden and what is not? What do you wish you could go back and do differently? - cause next year is still just too far away to think about!