Solstice in the Garden

Spring is finished – and what a spring! It’s been sunny, dry, and hot and my garden is loving it (with the occasional sprinkler watering). Also loving this weather is everyone else! It seems like twice a week or more we’re sitting with friends on sun-baked patios. When we’re not, I’m sitting on my own, watching the kids or overlooking the gardens. The only draw back – other than the potential doom of a record drought – is that hot patios and beer go hand-in-hand. So much so, that I’m in need of taking a few weeks off of beer. It’s hard enough playing soccer in summer heat – I don’t need the beer gut to slow me down.


I just totalled up some climate information for the spring months, comparing the last two years and 10 years ago. Remarkably, the last two Springs have been close to the same for rain total and temperatures. The only markable difference is that the rain has come at different times. We have had 1.3mm of rain this month (June), but over 30mm in each of the last two months, but both those totals came over one or two days. The year before, April had 70mm, May had nearly none, and June was over 20mm. So despite the similarities in totals, how this affects plants is probably quite different. I think it would interesting to compare hours of sun, but that data is too variable in the spring as we get more convection type cumulus clouds instead of the  opaque frontal systems that blanket the whole region – so direct sun is sometimes hit and miss.

But, as I mentioned, my garden is loving it! Corn is traditionally direct sown in May here. I started it indoors (despite warnings for doing so) and put those plugs directly into my garden in April. The corn – non GMO yellow dent – is now over 8’ tall! I don’t know if this is good or bad – time will tell.

My wife standing between corn and brussels. Corn is over 8′ high.

My only frustration is that my spring crops are finishing – but not finished. Things like chickpeas, snap pees and mustard are “spring crops”, and yet they are still producing or I am waiting for the seeds to fully develop. The frustration lies in assuming I would already have had a summer crop in their places. As the weeks go on, the summer crops are looking less likely.

The Mustard, as I mentioned, has mostly finished flowering and fell over. It looks like crap, but I am looking forward to a huge harvest. Seed pods are underdeveloped.

Chickpeas and black beans are still months off, but it looks like a bumper crop. All of the squash are loving the light and heat, and I can barely keep up with the zucchini production.

All the lettuces, spinach, and arugula are totally finished. I figured they were done for the summer, but I might try successive plantings to see if I can maintain a regular crop. My only reservation about that is I will need to do it in plugs, even though it would be better to direct sow. The reason for plugs is that I can not keep young sprouts from being eaten. We have an epidemic of European Wall lizards  that escaped a private zoo a few decades ago and have made their way to my yard. There are hundreds of them, and apparently, they will eat young sprouts as well – although I haven’t see it. If they aren’t eating my small plants then it’s the slugs – but that just means the lizards aren’t eating the slugs – which is surprising. I haven’t tried one, but I assume they are good eats for all the garden friends.

centered, but hard to see is a European Wall Lizard – hopefully helping my zucchinis.

Cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels are all huge! But, as mentioned in a previous post, it might be too much too quickly.

Cabbage patch family

Because of this immediate need to turn-over the entire brassica crops I started thinking about what else needs to be started right now, or what needs to finish and what I will replace it with.

My celery is coming up fantastic! I’m not sure if it will get tough or bitter as the heat continues into the summer. Do I cut it all? And if so, what do I plant in its place? I’m pretty sure I can freeze it, so maybe that is best. Can I plant more celery?

Other than more buckwheat or beans, I am finding it hard to determine what else to start this late in the year. With mustard, peas, arugula, bread poppy and buckwheat finishing, I will need to think of something soon

So, in total, I have 3 entire 75-square foot beds about to be empty. 2 partial beds to replant with brassicas (I’ll probably leave the brussels to see if I can harvest them). And finally, I have some small areas being freed by various small crops finishing. Fortunately, there is always carrots to plant, and I’m not sure we can have too much of those.

I still need to keep in mind the correct timing for my winter and cover crops. The grains and legumes I tried last year all failed, so I will seed them earlier. But that means I will need to seed the grains as early as the first week of September, when some crops may not be finished. So, starting a valuable crop now, that may not finish in-time, may be detrimental.

In the meantime, fruit is ripening. My pears suffered from the pear leaf blister mite early in the spring. I applied our amblyseius fallacis – a foliar predatory mite that should help the situation. The damage is permanent, so the trees will have a rough year.

If you’re curious about the pear leaf blister mite: it’s an eriophyid mite (tiny). It does the visible damage, but also lives in the blister. When leaves drop they will overwinter there – which means, a combination of amblyseius fallacis (our field mite) early in the spring or any time the year before, and our soil predatory mites (stratiolaelaps scimitus or gaeolaelaps gillespii) should greatly reduce their numbers. However, one must always consider plant stress. I bought my pear trees on sale because they were stressed. I was not surprised to see the blister mite, because I have poor soil and they were generally unhealthy to begin with. So while I can fight the blister mites, until the tree is happy it will always attract new pests.

Speaking of pests – it has been a brutal year for aphids. We have been sold-out of all of our aphid predators at some point this spring. I was having a particular problem with hop aphid on my hops and what I think is black cherry aphid on…everything. Native syrphids showed up on the hops and I saw a huge number of ladybug pupa on my lavender stems and the hop aphid was kept at bay, but the black ones just kept moving around. There is hope though: This, on a stem of buckwheat (below) shows an enormous number of parasitized aphids – enough that if each of those hatches and parasitizes 5 more, we should be in good shape in weeks to come.


Also speaking of pests – I pulled a potato plant that looked stressed and the inside of each potato was rotten with lots of small white maggots eating it. I dumped some predatory mites in there, but I will likely need to employ Dalotia coriaria – a rove beetle that is capable of eating more and larger pests. The only reason I don’t readily suggest using it is because it is more expensive and is best employed to a problem as opposed to prevention. Plus, in some scenarios they are present in subsequent years after release, but in others, they are gone as soon as they clean up the problem.

I’m hoping I don’t lose my potato crop, because just days before I pulled one to see how it was going and pulled up these beauties!:

Sliced thin, tossed in olive oil and salt…roasted to perfection! It would be a shame not to continue to benefit from this planting.


I think I have figured my crop rotation for the late summer:

1. When the mustard finishes it will be replaced by successive crops of fall and winter brassicas. This replaces a lean crop with a rich one, gets the brassicas out of the bed they were just in and makes brassica the winter cover crop. I will however need to replant the same garden with summer brassicas. – pests will less likely establish over the winter however.

2. When the poppies finish in bed #10, the poppies, peas and arugula will be torn out for more fall and winter brassicas. This, for the same reason as above.

3. The lettuce bed that bolted will be torn out and planted with rutabaga (which I only hope will finish before the winter.) Where the sunflowers are now will be arugula come winter and for the following year. Rutabagas will be replaced with more traditional turnips and I may consider reducing mustard to part of this bed, if my yield is too good this year. That would free-up bed #7 for next year….exciting!

Bolted lettuces, sunflower and alyssum

4. The buckwheat will be torn out when it finishes and replaced with a bunch of successive short crops: carrot, beet, spinach, arugula, lettuce. By winter, that bed will be planted with garlic and carrots for next year’s garden of onion family and carrot family.

5. As this year’s onion bed clears, it will be planted with lettuce to overwinter, as it will be lettuce and sunflower again next spring.

6. The two former brassica plots will be snap peas and edamame (soy beans)

I think I’m going to need a diagram to show all these rotations. I’d like to know what everyone thinks, or if you have any suggestions


PS. Don’t forget to let some plants bolt and flower – feed your friends.


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