Late July into August, evenings in the garden are punctuated with the harvest of purple raspberries. At first there are only a few fully ripe berries each day and we eat them as we pick, tonguing each berry against the roof of the mouth to release its juice in an explosion of flavor and sweetness.
Then comes the evening when there are dozens of ripe berries, enough for freezing. We collect them in small bowls, layering the fragile juice-filled fruits no more than three layers thick to keep the bottom berries whole. Once in the kitchen, we transfer them to cookie sheets in single layers for fast freezing before they are packed into plastic freezer boxes.
Like the storage life of the fresh berries, raspberry harvest season is short. On the last day of July, picking raspberries, I am reminded of the title of a Robert Frost poem: “Happiness Makes Up in Height for What It Lacks in Length”.
I harvested garlic on the last day of July this year, making room for fall carrots. The garlic leaves had started turning yellow a few days earlier and we needed a few cloves for a meal, so I took a chance and dug one plant. The bulb was ready for harvest, filled out nicely.
As I mentioned last week, you should always dig garlic bulbs rather than pulling them up; they are too deep and too well-rooted for pulling. To minimize bulb damage, use a fork rather than a spade. Damaged bulbs will not store well and should be used right away.
After digging the garlic bulbs and brushing off the clinging soil, allow them to dry for three or four weeks in an airy location out of direct sunlight. I hung ours from the rafters of the porch, tied together in bunches by their stalks, close enough to the house to keep them dry in a blowing rain. Placing them on wire racks will also work.
This “curing” process is essential to prolong the storage life of the bulbs. Once the tops and roots have dried, they can be cut off.
Store your cured garlic bulbs in a cool (32 to 40 degrees minimum), dry (60 to 70% relative humidity), dark place with some air circulation. Our basement comes closest to providing these conditions. If you braid the bulbs, hang them in a cool, dry location, not in a brightly-lit kitchen.
Don’t forget to set aside a few top-quality bulbs for next season, storing them
at room temperature with fairly high humidity to prevent desiccation until October planting.
New Potatoes Roasted with Onions and Leeks
The end of July is the beginning of harvest season and nothing in the garden is more gratifying than groping blindly in the potato bed for new potatoes. I’m up to my elbow in soil when my fingers find a tuber and gently break its connection with the mother plant. Working both ends of the bed, it is only a matter of minutes before I’ve palmed a half-dozen spuds, Yukon Gold from one end of the bed, Red Pontiac from the other. It is at this moment that I have my first sense of what the final potato harvest, still weeks away, will yield. This year seems better than last, as good as any I can recall.
With potatoes in the hod, I dig a few leeks and onions, cut a summer squash or two, add a bunch of carrots, and transport the season’s first harvest to the kitchen. Within minutes, everything is washed and diced, the potatoes quartered, onions cut in half, leeks sliced lengthwise and rinsed again, squash and carrots cut into inch-thick slices, all tossed into a large bowl and coated with olive oil, dried rosemary, and oregano.
Potatoes and carrots go in the 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes. When they can be easily pierced by a fork, the squash, leeks and onions are added for a final 20 minutes. Everything comes out steaming, the potatoes browned, the onions and leeks slightly blackened around the edges.
Sudden wilting of squash vines – summer squash, winter squash, and pumpkins – is the first symptom of squash vine borer invasion. A hole at the base of the vine that leaks a wet sawdust-like frass is conclusive evidence – this is where the fat grub-like caterpillar (the larva of a moth that looks like a wasp) made its entry.
Your only recourse to save the patient is immediate surgery. Have a trusty partner by your side to wipe your brow during the procedure.
Starting at the entry hole, slit the stem longitudinally through the top epidermal layer with a sharp scalpel (a razor blade or knife will also work), extending the cut until you find the borer. Remove the borer, then pack the damaged area of the stem with moist soil to promote root formation. With a little luck, the patient will live to bear fruit.
August sowings of summer squash are good insurance against an outbreak of squash vine borers. The female moth has stopped laying eggs by these later sowing dates. I’ve made early August sowings of summer squash (yellow crookneck) and harvested fruits from mid September until first frost without worrying about the borer.
(For more seasonal gardening tips, visit the Facebook page of my upcoming book, The New England Gardener’s Year (http://www.facebook.com/negardener).