Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice

This photo was taken the morning of the summer solstice, around six a.m. It shows the place on the fence where the rising sun hit, right at the base of the elderberry bush. I guess this is our backyard equivalent of the heel stone at Stonehenge. No revels, here, though, just a quiet sense of honoring the rhythms of time and the paths of light.

Mr. and Mrs. Zuc

Two glorious zucchini blossoms opened at the same time on the same plant on the morning of June 14, a week ago today. The male, pollen-bearing flower is on the left; the female, fruiting flower is on the right.

Close as these blooms are to each other, it still takes a bee to seal the deal and make the magic happen. The pollen has to be brought directly to the large pistil at the center of the female flower (the part that looks remarkably like a bright yellow low-energy use light bulb).

The bee, of course, has no interest in being a zucchini fertility clinic worker; it just wants nectar and pollen for its own hive. But the flower-insect co-evolution contract is set up so that mutual benefit accrues to all involved -- including us!

Seven days after their grand opening both blossoms are shriveled little rags, but in their place is the fine young zucchini pictured above, ready to be harvested on the summer solstice.

Just for contrast, here is a photo of an un-pollinated zucchini, eight days after its attached blossom opened on June 13, all by itself with no other blossoms around. I always used to wonder why some zucchini would be so stunted and simply wither on the plant. Now I know you need both Mr. and Mrs. Zuc to get viable offspring.

For the record: Last year the first zucchini harvest was on June 14, so we are running about a week behind. I don't have a planting-out date for this year because all kinds of things got so busy in May but I think the seedlings got put in later than last year's May 10. Of course, the varieties are different as well (Green Racer last year, Green Bush this year) so perhaps meaningful comparisons are not possible. At any rate, another zucchini season has begun. Hooray!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Zucchini Blossom!

This morning around 7:00, when I went out to see what garden surprises there might be, I discovered the first zucchini blossom welcoming the day: flared like a trumpet, golden as sunshine, about five inches across. By 10:30 when I went back out it had already collapsed into itself, so there is no photo of that splendid moment.

However, no longer distracted by the giant bloom, I was able to pay attention to the first little zucchini of the season. I assume it is unfertilized as no male blossoms are open, so it probably won't amount to much. But it still has pride of place. First is first.

The plant is a Green Bush zucchini, which I have never grown before. My highly scientific approach is to grab whatever decent looking seedlings are available in the local stores when the elements of time, weather, and opportunity are all in favorable alignment. This year Green Bush was available so that's what we have. It is sizing up beautifully and looks promising.

I planted three seedlings and they are all doing well. One of the other plants is sporting two as-yet-unopened blossoms, one female with tiny zucchini attached and one male on its long thin stalk. Tomorrow morning I will be sure to take the camera on the early morning tour.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Flower Transition

Not only the lettuce is making a shift from one season to another. The spring displays of flowers are looking seedy -- literally -- and the summer show is just starting.

I stopped wearing socks not only because the weather has warmed up but because my ankles were thick with forget-me-not burrs after every trip outside. No wonder they have spread all over the yard (forget-me-nots, that is, not socks).

The calendula was so ragged and mildewed I finally pulled it out. For some reason it didn't form seeds before going into decline. But there's no time to be sad because the hollyhocks have started blooming.

This incredible blossom greeted me on an early morning inspection tour.

This one opened a day or two later. All of the hollyhocks have the same ancestry: seeds given by our dear friend P. from the plants in her yard. I scattered the seeds three years ago and they have come up on their own since then. Her plants in San Jose have dark red blossoms; in our North Bay yard they bloom pink. To add to the confusion, this is the first year they have shown different shades of pink. Who can fathom the mysteries of plants?

This Candystripe Cosmos was a surprise. It is a self-seeded volunteer from those I grew from Botanical Interests seeds last year. I hope it likes our yard and is the second of many generations.

The self-seeding morning glories are coming back too. The first one, a Grandpa Otts heirloom, bloomed on May 11, several weeks ahead of last year's first on June 7, 2009.

Each day it's a delight to go out and see what new blooms have appeared.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lettuce Transition

This morning's harvest of lettuce marks a transition from the last fading remnants of our glorious spring salads -- the tall narrow speckled leaves of Forellenschluss -- and the first picking of summer greens -- the full ruffled leaves of Red Sails. Red Sails seedlings were planted out May 8, with an estimated Days to Maturity of six to seven weeks. Since the first Red Sails have reached harbor on June 6, less than a month later, the DTM most likely should be calculated from when the seeds went into the pots at Gaddis Nursery, not from when the seedlings went into the ground in our backyard.

Regardless of the details, it looks like we will not be suffering a Lettuce Gap and will not be having withdrawal symptoms due to salad deprivation.

There are still a few stalks of bolting Forellenschluss that can be gleaned for enough leaves to tide us over the next couple of weeks.

However, once all the stalks start forming buds it's all over but the seed saving.

Fortunately, there are new plantings coming along under a couple of shade houses made of old lace curtains draped over some re-purposed tomato supports.

In one shade house, The Red Sails is farthest progressed. The Salad Bowl seedlings from Sweetwater Nursery went into the ground on May 29 so it will be awhile before I can start plucking one or two tender leaves from each plant.

Eventually, if all goes well, there will also be some Raddicio to add to the salad mix. The seedlings from Sweetwater Nursery are still in their planter pots, waiting for some room to open up in one of the beds.

Already nestled into the second shade house are Endive seedlings, also from Sweetwater, planted on May 29.

When the plants fill out, we should have a really nice mix of sweet and tangy greens to keep us in our accustomed almost-daily salads through the warm months. This may seem like good planning but it's really just happenstance: I saw several plastic six packs of lettuce seedlings hidden in a corner of the display of summer plants at Whole Foods and bought them all.

We have gotten so used to eating our own lettuce that it seems worth the effort to find out if it can be a year-round experience.