Most years my garden produces a small jungle at the farthest end of it filled with corn stalks and pumpkin plants fighting to spread into the nearby field.
Also during most growing seasons, a few “volunteers” — plants that have self-seeded — pop up in rows and beds where they aren’t supposed to be.
But this year, the jungle is huge, and the number of volunteers has skyrocketed.
I’ve decided that these huge expansions are caused by the same factors that is producing one of the best gardening seasons I’ve ever encountered.
Just the right amount of rain and sun have fed all growing things. Generous applications of goose and pigeon manure have also helped everything along.
Actually, I believe that virtually my entire garden is a lush, rich volunteer this year.
Among the most spectacular volunteers is a humongous pattypan squash plant growing right in the middle of the garlic patch. The garlic are doing just fine, thank you, and are being harvested as I write this, but this patty pan plant wants to take over the entire 4-by-20-foot bed.
Sunflowers, which I did not plant, are blossoming throughout the garden, potato plants have popped up between the rows of beans, and the compost heap is filling up with potato and winter squash plants.
A gardening purist would never allow all these volunteers a chance to continue growing, but I garden not only for the wonderfully fresh food that it produces, but also for the surprises that may appear. And this year is so full of surprises.
I may actually be able to make lots of pickles — dill, bread-n-butter and sour — for the first time in three years. The cucumbers planted in straw bales and in rows in the garden proper are producing tiny fruits — perfect for dills — and will soon present me with the full-grown versions. The dill plants are also doing their part to make sure I have plenty for the pickles.
So far, my four dozen tomato plants, which are distributed in various parts of the garden as well as in five-gallon buckets in front of the house, don’t seem to be suffering too much from blight, as they almost always do. Perhaps the copper spray that was recommended to combat the blight, as well as the blight-resistant plants I started from seed in March, are really working out. If I preserve nothing else from the garden, tomatoes, in the form of whole, cut-up, juice and salsa, must be canned for my household.
Yellow and green beans are even more prolific than usual, prompting gift bags for friends and family.
Growing wild after a many-year hiatus are chokecherry bushes, offering dozens of clusters of these sour berries. For the first time in 20 years, I believe I will soon be making chokecherry jelly, an old-fashioned sweet few now make.
A not-so-close look at the cabbages shows that they, too, are among the largest I’ve ever grown. At least one looks like it could be a blue-ribbon winner at the local county agricultural fair.
Although my garden, and I hope many others, is doing exceptionally well, this is no time to let up on caring for the plants.
Here are some suggestions for insuring that this marvelous growing season will continue right into early October:
* Weed, weed, weed!
* Remove over-ripe radishes, lettuce and spinach, and replant; ducks, geese, chickens and many other birds thoroughly enjoy most of these.
* Trellis the cucumber crop. Not only does this remove the cukes from weeds and grass and potential disease, but it is so much easier to harvest them. Small winter squashes, such as acorn, can also be trellised.
* Share, share, share! Not everyone can grow a vegetable garden.
* Harvest the broccoli crop, if not already done. The best way to preserve broccoli is to freeze it in quart plastic bags: Cut broccoli into small or large pieces, dip in boiling water for about two minutes, rinse with cold water, spread out on towels to dry and then bag and freeze.
* Remember that not every growing season is so abundant, so be sure to be thankful for this year.
The earth is indeed producing its strong, life-affirming magic this year.
Eileen M. Adams has been gardening and experimenting with various forms of growing things for decades. She may be reached at [email protected]