The front yard corn hills are in their second year of production this season, bearing corn/maize (Zea mays of the family Poaceae), squash (Cucurbitaceae), and beans (Fabaceae or Leguminosae), a trio known as the three sisters. These plants are beneficially grown together: corn provides support for beans throughout the season, squash protects the corn roots and cools the soil while shading out the weeds, and beans fix nitrogen in the soil. Grown among them are mints, nettles, nasturtiums, and various wind-sown wildflowers.
We enjoyed great success last year with white corn, purple-podded-pole-beans, and various hybridized pumpkins (see the last two images in this post for purple beans and yellow squash flowers). This year we’ve planted bi-color corn which should produce yellow and white kernels. Shown above are the initial plantings from the new moon in June, with updated photos taken at last week’s new moon (shown below).
One-third of one hill has been sown with both green and purple-podded pole beans. More beans will be sown in coming days, and again next month, to determine how late I can grow mature successions in the Pacific Northwest. Our summer heat arrived very late, so I have a hunch we’ll enjoy warmth through October this year.
Although the two cucumber plants are having a little trouble getting started, the zucchini is out ahead of everyone, and the sugar pie pumpkins have cleared the fence and are happily exploring the yard. The zucchini fruits mature quickly. As you can see, one zucchini has been allowed to grow to a ridiculous size (it’s about three times as large now as it was when this last photo was taken), and it will be used for a cous-cous-stuffed zucchini recipe from Cooking by the Seasons: Simple Vegetarian Feasts by Karri Ann Allrich. I’ve been waiting to try this recipe, and I know I’ve raised a splendid candidate.
Other zucchinis will be harvested for one of my favorite kitchen delights, zucchini bread, and then later zucchini cheese bake (we’ve previously discussed both recipes in Fun Things to Do with Your Zucchini). The corn was just knee-high for the Fourth of July, so I hope that we’ll be eating fresh ears by the end of August. The beans had a slow start, but I know once they get going they’ll be ready in no time. We’re also fortunate to have discovered a broccoli volunteer tucked in with the zucchini, which already has its first main broccoli head nearing harvest size.
It’s not just the bounty of food that makes me love growing the three sisters. If you like a lot of color in your garden, these foods are an easy way to bring it. Squash blossoms are unrivaled sun-catchers, corn offers many surprising colors (my favorites being the purple blushes of fresh silk; the violet hue is revealed again as the leaves and stalks dry and weather with the approach of autumn). All these plants attract many varieties of bees, spiders, and other crawlies, and if you throw in a few sunflowers you’ll be guaranteed many colorful visitors.
Ahead: sunflower transplants, cold frame change-ups, and more…
Since resolving to spend more time in the garden I’ve made good headway sowing vegetable starts, flower seeds, and other good summer growth.
There’s a lot to report, so I’ll start today with the cold frames… which reminds me, I need to create a good naming system! I’ve always considered naming the cold frames with flower names (because it’s a great excuse to get out the paint brushes and have fun). Let’s designate the current cold frames as: Daisy (foreground), Mum (right background) and Nettle (left background). In this first image, you can see our three working cold frames, each in their current daily configuration of closed, open, and partially open.
You might recall the first cold frame adventures from the Pennsylvania garden. Our design has been carefully refined over the past four years, and we’ve decided that the 4×4 boxes work best for our needs, mostly because they are easier for one person to lift and carry, and because they allow more flexibility by adjusting each cold frame to meet the specific needs of the plants inside.
Daisy currently stays closed. This month Coldframe Daisy is a nursery for sunflower starts. They are a bit late, but I have a hunch we’ll have a late summer, and I don’t mind short sunflowers. I originally tried sowing the sunflowers directly in flower beds, but the birds and mice pulled up all the seeds and ate them in one day. What you see here are week-old sunflower sprouts, which have doubled in size since this picture was taken three days ago.
Coldframe Nettle is housing an extra-special experiment this season, and will stay propped open at four inches, opened only for waterings and other maintenance. Last year I found that the tomato plants in the open-air vegetable garden were vibrant and healthy, but the fruits never ripened on the vine. The reason is because of the cool nights and generally moderate summer temperatures of the Pacific Northwest (unlike the tomato boom we enjoyed in PA thanks to that warm, summer rain brought in by the Gulf Stream).
Late last summer Coldframe Nettle was sown with tomato seeds on a whim. The plants soon surpassed those in the open-air garden, filling the cold frame with large, vine-ripened fruits which spilled out the sides, much to the husky dog’s delight.
This year I’m trying the same approach by deliberately planting an entire box with peppers and tomatoes. Even at the peak of summer, this cold frame will stay propped open only slightly, and trellises will be set on either side (as you can see, the tomatoes already know what’s going on). This will keep the heart of the plants extra warm, while leaving space for the fruits to crawl out and climb. My hope is more ripe fruit, so we’ll see what happens!
Other cool things to note about Coldframe Nettle: the basil you see hugging the tomato at the back is actually a grocery-store survivor. You wouldn’t believe how sad it looked before I put it in the cold frame – now it’s a whole new plant!
Speaking of harsh-looking, those peppers are looking rough for a reason. I didn’t baby them once I brought them back from the nursery, and instead let them cook hard on our first sunny day. The result: much more vigorous growth from tomatoes and peppers alike. Visible at the front of the box are the surviving green onions from last year’s cold frames, and between the plants I’ve sown carrots, plus additional peppers and tomatoes. I’m curious to see if I can get successions of the latter two to survive into late winter.
Coldframe Mum has been the lettuce and greens box this spring, which is why it’s propped all the way open all the time. The colder I keep the greens, the longer I’ll have greens to eat. I’m fighting their natural summer urge to bolt (hence the semi-butchered look) and I’m already snipping salads on borrowed time. These plants will eventually be transferred to the open vegetable garden where they can flower and drop seed to their hearts’ content.
This season’s salad greens include a few of my absolute favorites: mizuna mustard greens (Brassica rapa nipposinica), red oak leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. crispa), pak choi (also bok choy, Brassica rapa), and arugula (Eruca sativa). There are teeny tiny purslane (Portulaca oleracea) sprouts in there (however funny I find it that I actually have to purchase purslane seeds), as well as a handful of calendula sprouts (for transfer to flower beds), and two pouches of onion sets that are really in need of a fresh hill in which they can grow big and juicy.
In July Coldframes Daisy and Mum will be ready for replanting, probably with carrots, onions, and some kitchen herbs I’m missing (like cilantro, another cold-loving vegetable). Next up, I’ll show you what’s happening in the front yard on the corn hills.