Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Peak Vegetable and hippy tipping points

We arrived early at the garden on Saturday, August 21, worried that there would be neither time nor volunteers enough to handle another eruption from our vegetal Eyjafjallajokull. Our concerns proved to be disappointingly unfounded: the day’s take was 100 pounds less than that of a week ago, and our group made short work of harvesting and packing it. As with Peak Oil or Peak Fish, we might not know for a while whether last week represented Peak Vegetable for this season.
Week 34 yield comparison

There may not have been as many tomatoes as expected (50 instead of 75 pounds), but what was there was cherce. A number of plants were optimally ripe: small, firm fruit fell into the palm at the slightest touch of the vine; in fact, many tomatoes appeared to have fallen in response to the light rain of the night before.

The cucumbers and squash, on the other hand, were sparse. Some of the cucumbers were yellow and watery-looking. We speculated that the plants are still recovering from the combined insult of both powdery mildew and the measures we had to take to remove the fungus. There were still flowers present, so we hope that the reduced harvest is only temporary.

We had a diverse, though reduced, collection from our carrot, radish, and beet beds. We were able to harvest a cabbage; however, the collards and kale yielded less than expected.

Our biggest disappointment came from the potatoes. After the 22+ pound bonanza of Cranberry potatoes last week, we anticipated another large harvest. We dug tentatively around in other beds in which we had planted Yellow Finns and LaRattes, but found little. Our claw foot tub yielded only a few pebbly spuds. We may have been early—after all, some of the plants still had flowers. We decided to wait a couple of weeks more.
Slim pickings in the tub

We had room to spare in the bike trailer for our produce. There was even a space in a rear corner, into which Dave tucked the paper bag of cut flowers that we had arranged.

“Great. I’ll look like a hippie,” I said.

Dave looked at me for a second before replying. “So delivering produce from an organic garden to a food pantry with a bike trailer wasn’t already enough?”

Groovy, man. Groovier, actually.
He had a point.

While Dave and I discussed whether we had reached a hippie tipping point, Candace won a battle with a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) that had sprouted in the front garden. Alianthus trees are invasives that often colonize recently cleared areas. We usually have to remove at least one alianthus from along a fenceline each summer.

It’s not that we dislike alianthus trees in themselves. Although it is true that alianthus leaves smell like rancid peanut butter, it is also true that by late fall, the fruit from our namesake ginkgo tree reeks like a baloney sandwich forgotten in a glove box. The problem with alianthus is that it suppresses the growth of nearby plants by releasing allelopathic chemicals into the soil. Redwoods do this too; then again, redwoods don’t smell like rancid peanut butter. Perhaps it is the smell, after all.

I left Candace to dismember the alianthus and headed to the pantry. It is certainly much easier to move ripe and glowing tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots than it is to convince people to take the unsexy but vitamin-rich greens of early summer. If we could serve cooked greens, we’d have no problem.

I returned to the garden to examine the fruit trees. The pears are almost comically large for their trees; we’ll soon need to harvest the fruit and set it up to cure. The laden branches of our Stanley Plum trees describe arcs of tightly grouped purple fruit, still weeks away from being fully ripe. We have few apples, unfortunately: most of our apple trees are trained in espalier along the back fence, and passersby in the alley have a liberal interpretation of usufruct. The fruit on trees that are out of reach, including those on our grafted crabapple rootstock, are almost ready.