Saturday, June 20, 2009

I have some of the nicest volunteers in my garden this year. A few of them are people, many of them are plants, and one of my favorites – among the plants, that is – is columbine. Years ago, I planted some native columbines, those dainty plants whose orange and yellow flowers hover on thin stalks above the ferny foliage. Since being planted, these wildings self-seed – volunteer, that is -- every year in various nooks and crannies around my yard.
I once also planted cultivated columbines, probably the common McKana Giants, and their offspring have also been volunteering around the yard as well. Flowers and foliage of these more cultivated sorts are similar to the natives, just bigger in all respects, which is not necessarily better, just different.
Colors of these larger columbines are different from that of the natives. My original McKana Giants were mixed colors both between plants and on individual flowers. Seedlings of these plants, 20 years later, have segregated out into just a few solid colors, and the cool thing is that each year’s colors are a bit different from the previous year’s.
The once “high-bred” columbines back by my vegetable garden have mostly soft pinks flowers, a color that marries well with the scarlet of the trumpet honeysuckles behind them. Right near my front door, poking through cracks between the bluestone path and brick wall, is a big, beautiful columbine with dusky, purple flowers.
I do help out these volunteers by weeding out those in excess or interloping where they shouldn’t.
Looks like I’ve already failed with broccoli this spring. And this was the year that I was going to grow it really well so that, parting ways with broccoli-hating, ex-president Bush (the better Bush), I might actually enjoy eating this vegetable.
The plants are making buds already, too soon and too small, not surprising considering that the plants are only about 8 inches high. This runting out occurred in spite of my starting seeds on time, transplanting the seedlings into extra large containers, and moving the seedlings out into the garden at the end of April into ground made richer with extra nitrogen.
I know what the probable problem is: dry weather. I watered the plants religiously after transplanting, but soon tapered off. Neglect perhaps resulted from the broccoli’s being planted in a part of the garden furthest from my back door. Perhaps neglect was inevitable: Broccoli, after all, is not (yet) a vegetable I like to eat. Perhaps that’s why it ended up planted so far away.
I haven’t given up mastering the art of broccoli growing and possibly enjoying this vegetable. Broccoli, kale, cabbage and their kin all taste best in the cool weather of autumn, and the time to sow broccoli seeds for autumn harvest is very soon. I’m poised and ready for another try.
All is not lost in that bed with broccoli. Few vegetables get beds all to themselves, and that broccoli had to share space.
So it was broccoli up the center of the bed at 18 inch spacings flanked on either side by two rows of lettuce. The near lettuce rows were only about 6” out from the broccoli row, which was plenty of space because the lettuces were transplants and the broccolis could rise up in the offset 1 foot of space between lettuces. The next row out of lettuce transplants was only about 6 inches out from the inner row, but staggered again so these offset lettuces could fill some of the space between lettuces in the inner row.
Not to leave well enough alone, I decided to also squeeze some popcorn into that bed. In early May, I dropped 6 seeds of Pink Pearl popcorn every 2 feet into the shrinking open spaces between the lettuces on either side of the bed about a foot in from the bed’s edges. By the time Pink Pearl poked up through the ground, the sprouts were being shaded by lettuce leaves that were almost touching between adjacent plants. Tonight’s salad, as well as those for the last few and coming nights, cures the shading as I selectively harvest lettuce leaves to allow the corn sprouts to bask in light and soon rise up above everything else.
The plan was for lettuce to be harvested first, then the broccoli, then give over the bed to popcorn. Not bad for a 3 foot wide bed, even if the broccoli was a failure.

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