One of my main gardening goals has been to harvest more of something than I can eat, despite my limited gardening space here in the Emerald City. I want the feeling of abundance that comes with having to preserve and give away food because I can't eat it all.
Enter zucchini. My grandfather used to say that in New Jersey in summertime, you'd have to keep your car doors locked, otherwise the car would be full of zucchini the next time you got in! In mid-May, I planted two starts from my local grocery store labeled "green zucchini", with no further information. I put them in a bed that used to be a pile of composted horse manure, and that I had also cover cropped, mulched, fertilized, and loosened deeply with my broadfork. They look pleased.
To give you a sense of scale, those plants are about four feet tall. Each plant has been producing about two fruit per day for the last several weeks. Here's a photo of my last harvest, which is two days' worth:
I picked six, thinking that was a pretty good harvest, then found three more lurkers under the leaves as I was watering.
Moral victory is mine! Now I have to figure out how to use it all...
Friends have been getting a lot of zucchini, but I've also been exploring new ways to eat and preserve it myself, because I'm getting sick of eating regular cooked zucchini in every dish. I've discovered that raw zucchini is quite nice when it's young and fresh; it has a crisp texture and mild flavor. I doubt zucchini from the grocery store would be very good raw. I've also been drying it, which is surprisingly good. Zucchini "chips" are crunchy and a little bit sweet. They're good on their own and can also be used instead of corn chips or bread for salsa and hummus.
I tried a few new things in the garden this year. One is the Interbay mulch technique, which involves putting compostable materials directly on the soil, covering with burlap and letting it rip over the winter. I used leaves for carbon and coffee grounds for nitrogen. The leaves didn't compost as completely as I would have liked, but I'd estimate 50-60% of the material ended up being incorporated into the bed by the time I was ready to plant. The soil doesn't look much different, but drainage seems significantly better.
The Vashon broadfork is a new addition to my tool repertoire. Loosening soil with a broadfork is infinitely easier and faster than with a regular garden fork or shovel, and you can also loosen more deeply (14"). The broadfork is a useful but expensive tool that only makes sense if you have enough land area to make it worthwhile, and/or are obsessed with gardening. I think the broadfork has something to do with how good my garden looks this year, although the consistently hot weather has certainly helped! One of my beds gained 3" in height after loosening with the broadfork, a sure sign that compaction was going to limit root growth in my crops. Deep loosening allows roots to penetrate further into the soil, increasing mineral and water access.
The third new thing I tried this year is corn. The maritime Northwest is known for its relatively cool summers and short summer growing season, which conspire to make corn cultivation difficult. It can supposedly be done with a little forethought though. I planted a super early sweet corn variety called "Strong Start", which looks fabulous so far, though they haven't developed ears yet.
I'm most excited about the few plants of "Painted Mountain" corn I planted. This is a flour corn harvested for dry grain, rather than a sweet corn harvested for fresh eating. Painted Mountain is an open-pollinated corn developed by Dave Christensen over 30 years of selecting genetically diverse corn populations for the short season and rigorous growing conditions of his area of Montana. It makes incredibly colorful ears and is supposed to be good eating. I know I can't meet all my food needs in my 300 square foot vegetable garden, but I do enjoy experimenting with crops that could potentially feed me if I had more land (which I aim to someday). Potatoes are #1 on the list, and they occupy about a quarter of my garden each year. But corn is also quite productive and easy to plant, harvest, and prepare for a grain.
The Painted Mountain corn came up strong, but now looks a bit scrawny next to my taller, larger, greener sweet corn plants. At first, I thought they were unhealthy, and I figured they were just poorly adapted to this region. It turns out, that's just how Painted Mountain looks. They only grow to 4-5' tall, and each plant produces roughly two 7" cobs. I suppose that's what you get when you select for early yields. Anyway, I look forward to harvesting corn from my four Painted Mountain plants, and making a bit of corn flour or polenta from them. I'll have to hand-pollinate them so the kernels don't end up taking on the characteristics of the neighboring sweet corn too much. If they yield well, next year I'll plant a full bed.