July - What's in Steve's Garden?


In My Garden (Zone 9-10)

Steve Asbell
Steve Asbell is an illustrator, the author of Plant by Numbers and blogger of The Rainforest Garden.

It’s funny how quickly a garden bed can change! It was only a few months ago that my foundation bed was filled with salad greens and other vegetables, but now that the salad greens have all either gone to seed or my dinner plate, I’ve opted to replace them with annual flowers since there are few short and well-behaved vegetables that can tolerate a Florida summer. I might just stick with flowers in the front yard for now since I’m finally making progress on the vegetable beds in the back yard. Since I was always tip-toeing around my plants and tracking in dirt whenever I tried to pull weeds, it was also clear that I needed to introduce a path. Flagstones would have been nice and all, but I chose mulch for its relaxed look and soft feeling underfoot… not to mention the fact that it’s affordable. Now I get so much pleasure from giving my one-month old son a narrated garden tour in the mornings and introducing him to each new bloom and dragonfly.

My humble little veggie patch had a few surprises in store for me this month, including several cucumbers on my Burpee Pickling Hybrid cucumber plants! They made a crisp and flavorful addition to our sandwiches and I even sautéed one in butter with dill for a savory side. Finding pickleworms eating a few of the fruits was a less than savory surprise, but I had luckily planted zuchinni and summer squash in the area which had attracted the brunt of the infestation. I had no problem throwing them onto the compost pile to make room for different vegetables, since it was probably too late to be growing them anyways. It’s also too hot to be growing tomatoes, but my assortment of cherry tomatoes seems to be holding up nicely as long as I water them during dry weeks and handpick any caterpillars that appear. My pepper seedlings are shooting up and should be blooming in no time, and my Blue Lake 47 bush beans are already producing green beans! My favorite veggie is okra though, so I’ll be planting seeds in a few days so that I’ll have pods in late summer and fall. Some like it fried or stewed, but I prefer them sautéed with squashes so that they’re nice and caramelized. I could eat them like candy!

I’m a firm believer in growing plants outside of their season or growing zone despite what the books suggest, because sometimes plants have their own agenda. The strange thing is that despite all of this heat, I have several Mizuna mustard greens that have sprouted up from the cool season crop’s seeds. Mustard greens are notorious for bolting and suffering in the hotter months, yet this cultivar seems to be thriving and doing better than my earlier crop. It’s possible that rather than the heat, it was the changing light levels that caused my last crop to bolt. They wilt during the hottest part of the day but are flourishing like weeds nonetheless and bring a welcome refreshing crunch to my sandwiches. If you’re looking for a substitute for lettuce in the hotter months I highly recommend sowing seeds of this resilient green throughout the year. Even if they still decide to bolt you’re still treated to gorgeous yellow flowers.

The other big story in my garden last month was the pondless water feature and surrounding garden bed that I installed to give my backyard a focal point. Most of the yard is still a weedy mess, but now that I I’ve planted this little oasis of pink and green flowers and foliage, I have a scenic view from the sliding glass doors. It isn’t until you step outside that you see the previous owner’s doghouse (that I’m still trying to take apart) or the dilapidated fences around the property. To create this little diversion I combined palms, gingers, elephant ears (Alocasia), ornamental grasses and a medley of perennials and annuals like salvia. This is also the area along my patio that was eroded away when we moved in, so the garden has the added benefit of building up the washed out soil in style. So that we can enjoy the tropical water feature garden up close and personal, I gave my tired metal table a makeover with some aquamarine colored spray paint!

I may have made a lot of progress in the last few months, but there’s still so much to do. For one thing, I need to dig up more weeds, I mean lawn, to make room for vegetables! Okra and sweet potatoes take up a lot of space and until they’ve finished producing I’ll no doubt need some extra dirt for other veggies too. Not that this is a bad problem to have, mind you. I’m just so grateful to have my own veggie garden!




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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • When cutting a head of cabbage, don't be in a hurry to yank out the ""stump."" If you leave the lower leaves attached to the roots, you'll soon see multiple heads form around the top of the severed stem. Although the heads will not be as large as the initial head, you can often harvest four or five baseball-sized cabbages within a few weeks. Harvested young, these mini-cabbages are tender enough to grate raw for slaw or fresh salad.