Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: For continuing harvests, pick vegetables often

Raspberries and peas, sweet carrots, new potatoes, young beets, and a feast of summer flowers make July a month filled with home-grown pleasures of the senses. I’m looking forward to that first potato salad with onion, bok choy, sweet red pepper and freshly shelled peas.

As we revel in the beauty and bounty of the month, here are a few things to consider.

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• Pick at peak. For continuing harvests of young vegetables at their best, keep snap and snow peas, zucchini, cucumbers and beans picked often. Annual flowers will keep on blooming if they are kept gathered for the house or dead-headed.

• Water. To dampen the soil deeply, most effective is long, slow watering, preferably early in the morning.

• Mulch. Give plantings like squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and tomatoes a mulching with a nourishing, moisture-retaining compost this month.

• New zucchini. Sow zucchini indoors early in the month and transplant in late July or early August for a new crop of fruits in September and October on plants that are young, fresh, and untouched by mildew.

Angry Sea. One of the more unusual and interesting lettuces I’ve grown so far this year is Angry Sea, from Full Circle seeds. It’s a very easily grown leaf lettuce, in deep, almost mahogany red. It yields more useable salad material for the space it takes than most lettuces. And it is beautiful.

Full Circle Seeds has grown and sold seeds for 27 years, from their ALM Organic Farm in Sooke. They produce many heritage varieties that have been selected by generations for their fine flavour and pest resistance. They also grow Asian and European gourmet varieties.

“ALM” represents Arabic words standing for the beginning, the middle, and the end. The initials signify the cycle of seasonal growth.

Full circle describes Angry Sea as a new salad star selected out of “Sea of Red” stock by Marika at ALM Farm. This lettuce “still expresses a lot of variation.” That means it is not entirely uniform in its growing habits — making it as interesting as it is colourful and tasty in salads.

Angry Sea is a substantial lettuce, with bright green centres and good crunch. “It performs well for salad through all our seasons here on the coast as it keeps good flavour and resists bolting (to seed) in the heat of summer.”

Whimsy. Meandering along the curved pathways of Tanya’s and Karen’s front garden late in the spring, I spotted among the plantings a sight that made me smile. Nestled in a group of plants was a rounded clay urn, set on its side. Appearing to emerge from its lower lip was a tumble of blue flowers, in a floral simulation of water pouring out.

The plant, Lithodora (Lithospermum), was well chosen. It’s a fine evergreen ground cover or rockery plant with small, dark leaves and sky blue flowers all summer long. An acidic soil and perfect drainage of excess moisture suit the plants best. They thrive naturally in our climate.

I’d never seen Lithodora used in such an imaginative way. Touches of whimsy create lighthearted notes in a garden.

Bell the cats. The quail returned late in the spring. Every day I can hear their gentle murmurings as they move through the back garden, babies in tow and an adult serving as lookout.

As the parents shepherded their flock across the food garden one day recently, they began emitting uncharacteristically noisy cries. Moving closer to them, I spotted Blaze, a neighbour’s large black and white cat, waiting patiently for the wee morsels to come closer.

I erupted in indignation, and chased the cat with loud shooing noises across the garden until he disappeared through the side fence to the safety of his yard. Blaze, and his housemate Bowser, both wear bells, but I don’t know whether the bells give enough warning for prey to escape.

Bird life is prolific in many gardens. Quail are especially cherished for their quietly compelling display of feathered family dynamics. Every spring, neighbours along my road are eager to share the news: “The quail are back! Have you seen them”?

As for cats, they will behave according to their natures. May their bells be loud.

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