Ripening the Fruit of our Labor

Most of spring and early summer are spent prepping the soil, starting or buying plants, getting seeds and supplies for the season and then planting your heart out. The first harvests are great, greens, radishes, peas, some beets. But the lion’s share of the harvest has to wait for the sun and the heat to do their thing to grow and ripen the real stars of summer: tomatoes, peppers, beans, squashes, cucumbers, eggplants, etc. Here’s where the real patience of gardening comes to play.

It’s not just a waiting game, though, because the garden needs regular tending and watering. And watering and watering and watering. Especially straw bale gardening because they lose so much moisture. There is weeding, though thankfully less than in gardens in the ground or even in raised beds. And with the horrendous temperatures in the high 90s, timing is important–morning watering and fertilizing is best. Plants become vulnerable to diseases when watering in the high heat of the day, though there comes times when the need to get water down into the roots conflicts with your schedule and you just have to water when you can.

The Children’s Workshop Garden’s plants are generally healthy–the cucumbers always need more water and have struggled a bit to fruit, but have yielded a few gorgeous cucumbers. Tomatoes and peppers are beginning to grow fruit–we’ve picked a couple of peppers, an eggplant, and LOTS of basil. Here’s a photo update of how our garden has grown:

Damien, a gardening aficionado and forester from North Carolina, helps water and weed.


Summer Greens 

In early July, we pulled all the lettuce and early greens and replaced with summer greens that tolerate the higher temperatures. We planted callaloo, a popular Caribbean green of the amaranth family, that originated in West Africa, red amaranth and New Zealand spinach. All are delicious  in salads, soups, stir frys. Callaloo is gorgeous, and has a spinach-like flavor. Amaranth is earthy, with a bit of bitter, herbaceous flavor. And the New Zealand spinach is perfect for salads, is buttery, but does lack that sweetness of cold weather spinach.

Red Amaranth



Ahh, the heat has been very good to the okra, another Caribbean/Creole staple, but also popular in some Asian cuisines. Our garden has Cajun Jewel and Penta Dragon okra, all flowering and once the flowers drop, the okra pod emerges.

Okra flower with small okra
Okra flower with leaves



Here is our first eggplant, a Chinese Pingtung Long. More are emerging, including a wonderful looking Italian Rosa Bianca.

Pingtung Long



We have three kinds of cucumbers growing in our garden: Diva, Lemon and Wautoma. Here’s a Wautoma ripening on the vine–it should be ready at about 4-5″ long. It’s “burp less” and not at all bitter.

Wautoma Cucumber


Three Sisters

Our Three Sisters needs a bit of fertilizing and more water–the squash has been struggling, but the recent heat has helped it along a bit. We have Native American, Yellow and Popcorn varieties of corn, both green and drying beans, and summer and winter squashes. For more about the Three Sisters in our garden, see our story, “Children’s Workshop Third Graders Learn to Plant Three Sisters Garden.” June 6, 2013.

Three Sisters



This is the first vining edamame I’ve seen, but the pods are growing, still a bit fuzzy, and a few weeks away from being ready to harvest.




Our tomatoes are all bearing fruit, and will hopefully ripen without any disease or pests. You hear about bad tomato years, good tomato years. I’ve had both. Hopefully this is a good tomato year. The straw bales may keep them a bit isolated from other perils, but time will tell. We planted basil and marigolds nearby to repel pests and help each other grow.

Here’s what we planted:

  • Mortgage Lifter (Huge, red beefsteak, 2-4 pounds each, with few seeds)
  • Dagma’s Perfection (Elegant fruit, bi-colored, pale yellow with delicate, light red striping, about 12 ounces/3″ diameter)
  • Green Doctors Frosted (Oval fruit, 1.25″ long, green with a silver frost, ripening with a touch of gold. Sweet with low acidity)
  • Mirabelle Blanche (small, light yellow fruits, with a sweet, full flavor, garden candy)
  • Jaune Flamme (Persimmon orange tomatoes, very juicy, sweet flavor with fruity overtones, 2-3 oz)
  • Cosmonaut Volkov (Bright red fruit, smooth, slightly flattened, 8 oz to 2 1/2 pounds, perfect for fresh eating)
Cosmonaut Volkov and Mortgage Lifter tomatoes with basil and marigold
Jaune Flamme Tomato on the vine
Dagma’s Perfection
Genovese basil



Our peppers are doing well, bearing early fruit and with the heat are getting more fruit each day. Our peppers include:

  • Frigateliello de Napoli
  • Cubanelle
  • Ancho
  • Jimmy Nardiello
  • Purple Beauty  



More photos soon…and recipes.

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