How quickly this summer is passing! It seems hardly possible that we are almost to the longest day of the year. If you planted a garden this spring, you’ll be eating luscious home-grown vegetables by now. If you didn’t get around to it, guess what? Almost everything can still be planted here. Heat loving vegies like green bush beans, summer squash, cucumbers and even sweet corn will germinate extra-fast now that the soil and the evening temperatures are staying warm, and harvests from them come in super-quick. You’ll be picking your first tender beans and young zucchini in 50-60 days. Many of the early season pests, like slugs and snails, aren’t such a problem now, and if you mulch well, watering every few days is a pleasant evening or morning chore. One year we planted sweet corn on July 4th, and ate it dripping with butter for Thanksgiving dinner.
Summer flowers are also fast and easy when seeded now. I always feel like the spring flowers are taken care of for us. We have ceanothus, madrone, honey locust and all the other parade of wild bloomers, as well as the shrubs and trees that old-timers brought with them like fruit blossom, rhododendrons, lilacs, mock orange and catalpa. It is in the hot dry days of July, August and September that we really need our cultivated flower gardens. So if you save your energy and plant in May and June, you can have bright sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias and other wonderful cutting and bedding flowers all the way until frost. Sixty-five to seventy days from seed to bloom is quite a reasonable expectation for seeds sown at this time.
If you planted carrots when I did in early March, you are enjoying those crispy little critters now. As far as I can tell, they are the most popular vegetable there is. Kids love them raw, gourmet mamas love them sauteed with butter and dill or with ginger and garlic, and those who hate all green vegetables will usually munch on orange carrots. We learn all the time about the beneficial health effects of beta and other carotenes, but mostly freshly picked carrots are just plain delicious.
I baked carrot cake for my daughter’s first birthday, and one for her 21st, and probably will for her 45th. Here’s the recipe which has had the oil reduced considerably from the 1970’s version.
Towhee’s Carrot Cake
½ cup oil (not olive)
2 ½ cups flour (white or wheat or mixed)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 cup buttermilk
½ cup grated coconut
an 8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup sugar (half white, half brown)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 cups finely grated carrots
½ cup chopped walnuts
Beat oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla until well-blended. Sifte together dry ingredients and add about half to oil mixture, then add buttermilk, then rest of flour. Add remaining ingredients, stir til blended and pour into a greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Bake at 350 until a toothpick comes out clean – 35 – 40 minutes.
For frosting: put ½ cube butter, ½ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup honey, ½ cup buttermilk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon soda in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour over hot cake.
To grow a crop of carrots that will mature and hold perfectly in the garden throughout the fall and winter, sow them any time from late June to mid-August. Dig the soil deeply, work in well-rotted compost or manure, or use some other well-balanced fertilizer, smooth the surface of the soil very well with a rake and try to space the seeds about an inch apart. Kelp or other seaweed-based amendments make the roots taste sweet and rich, with no soapy aftertaste. I used to sow the seed over the entire surface of the bed, but now I find sowing in rows 6 inches apart within the 3 foot bed enables me to weed and thin the carrots more easily. Water daily until seeds germinate. Thin mature plants to about 2 inches apart. If you visualize fullgrown carrots side by side under the ground, you get past feeling sorry for the ones you pull out; nobody likes skinny crooked little carrots anyway. Provide enough moisture during the growing season.
In addition to carrots, think about planting beets, chard, kale and all the cabbage family vegetables soon. Don’t wait until after the kids go back to school to think about a “fall garden”. Plants need to be pretty sizeable by mid-September to mature in time to harvest them throughout the colder months. For us here in the San Lorenzo Valley this means sowing seeds in mid to late July. Growing food in your own garden all throughout the year is a special pleasure. Although I can buy anything I want at any time in the supermarket, I find the best taste and best feelings come from cooking from my own back yard.