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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Keeping up with the garden

The garden is coming in fast and furious now, furious being the operating word. If we don’t pick every day, or several times a day, we’re in big trouble. And someone gets mad.

“HEY! How come no one picked the beans?” someone will say. “Why has all the lettuce bolted?” someone else will offer. Or “HEY! Why are these cucumbers so gigantic?”

My new morning routine includes picking time, which comes after dog-walking time and before critter-feeding time. A basket of cucumbers and summer squashes, a big bag of basil tops for pesto — Quick! Before the basil bolts! — and several cabbages.

Last week, one of our pickers, the recently-turned-12-year-old, was away for a week of summer fun, so we had to pick beans ourselves. The string beans were planted with the corn, which means it’s easiest for the shortest member of the family to pick them, crawling down around the bottom of the corn stalks. I discovered that the shortest member of the family is not the most thorough picker: I found lots of overly large beans among the proper-picking-size beans when I filled in for him last week.

That’s OK. The ox was happy to dispense of the big ones for me. He stood in a fenced-in section of the yard, right next to the corn/bean/cabbage/garlic garden, lowing at me when I disappeared under the thick leaves of corn plants.

Picking beans in the corn is peaceful work. The early corn is almost ready for picking, and the later, taller plants are just tasseling. Thanks to my husband’s constant hoeing, the ground underneath it all is clear. It’s pretty roomy under there, and it’s nice to just sit for a while under all that green and think. I know why my husband always refers to the corn patch as his office.

Less peaceful are the cucumber rows, where the honeybees are busy in the little yellow blossoms and the biggest cucumbers are hiding under scratchy leaves. I like to pick the picklers small, 3 or 4 inches long, and slender. But I keep finding fat 6-inchers, which makes my kids happy because they want me to make them big deli dills. We’ll see how it goes. There’s a crock full of them, brining away in the basement with dill and garlic, so there should be real deli-style pickles in three weeks or so, if all goes well.

Near the cucumbers is a lot of chard that needs picking, and fast. I was never crazy about chard before this year, and I finally found out why: I’ve been picking it too late. This year we’ve started eating it much younger, sautéing it with the garlic scapes, and it’s so tender and delicious I never want it to get too big again. Which means more frequent picking and letting the ox dispense of the larger, outer leaves.

The ox is also happy to dispense of the spent pea plants we’re pulling up now as we finally get to the end of a successful pea season. The ox will also help us dispose of many of the weeds we pull, and the biggest leaves around the cabbages and broccoli.

Speaking of big leaves, someone better get to that kale. This year we have the curly kind, which I don’t like nearly as well as my favorite kale: Red Russian. But this kind looks better for kale chips, so maybe I should make some after work next week, when the lad gets back home.

We also like our kale steamed, or sautéed with garlic. That garlic is ready to be pulled up now, and the first planting of onions is just about ready for picking, curing and storing.

It’s a bountiful time of year, and if we’re not too frantic, we can remember to be thankful for it, for all the good food we’re eating now and all the good food we’ll have for the winter. As long as we find to time to freeze or can it.

Which reminds me: Did I remember to check the pickle crock this morning? Pickles make scum as they ferment, and I need to remember to skim it off every morning or the kids won’t get their deli dills. I could check when I get home, if I don’t forget. Because as soon as I get home I need to make that bag of basil into pesto for the freezer, and there’s that chard and kale to freeze and zucchini to cook up with the garlic and squash blossoms, if it’s not already too late for dinner.

Besides all this picking, there’s more planting to be done — new lettuce seedlings are ready for transplanting, we need to get more spinach into the ground, and it’s time for our late planting of peas and beets. We’re going to try for a late crop of shorter-season carrots, which might work if the frost comes late. If not, the ox will be happy to dispense the carrot tops for us.

It’s a lot to think about. If anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be sitting quietly under the corn, contemplating my next move.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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