Weekend essay: How the garden grows

Weekend essay: How the garden grows

The spring that took so long to arrive that it did so as summer has made for some unusually early garden progress. But it is creating some challenges, too.

No fewer than 10 varieties of tomatoes were heavy with blooms as May bowed. Now those plants are loaded with pea-sized orbs as Memorial Day looms. Could it be that the holy grail of tomato growers ‘round these parts – GASP! Ripe fruits by the Fourth of July – will be a reality in 2018?

The green bush beans, led by those always succulent Blue Lakes, also are ahead of schedule. Here come the little fingerlings. Here’s to top fencing keeping dive-bombing blue jays at bay.

Five varieties of onions already have foot-long shoots. The yellows could give those ‘maters a run for their by-Independence Day money.

Shallots and garlic will have to run their usual long summer course. But from the size of their shoots, smiling and flapping in the summer, er, spring, winds, a bumper crop appears to be assured. Ditto for the scallions.

And just-sown cucumbers seemed to have germinated in mere hours. It has been the same for the carrots. But …

While there’s plenty of lettuce leafing beautifully, it likely will bolt very quickly (save for a few bolt-resistant varieties) in this suddenly-it’s-summer environment. And that means a bitter lettuce better left to the arugulas.

Neither has all this early heat been good for all those spring peas. That said, even if the crop is sub-par, the peas’ nitrogen-fixing magic for the soil will be a worthy consolation prize.

Still, even with the challenge of a sudden summer, and if it persists, there could be plenty of opportunities for same-season crop rotation, second plantings and larger yields. And there’s always the fall for that second chance at better cool-weather crops.

So cry not, lettuce and peas, you will have a chance to redeem yourselves in due course.

Of course, all manner of disaster can strike any garden at any time. Perhaps a groundhog or raccoon or deer might breach the best man-made defenses. Or voles might attack from underground. Maybe a visiting swarm of grasshoppers will hold an impromptu party.

And last Wednesday’s monsoon? Well, let’s just say that part of the garden needed a snorkel and that tomatoes are not water plants.

All that said, it’s always hope – never despair – that will sustain this gentleman farmer. For if at first there is not success, he will plant, plant again. Even if Thoreau thought that being committed to agricultural pursuits were akin to being committed to jail.

But for now, the garden, though a tad soggy, grows remarkably well. And while the wry comment of old is that “A farmer always is going to be rich next year,” this year’s garden, right now and all told, is looking pretty darn wealthy.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).