The Garden Is Dry

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

The early spring has caught up with us. With hot weather here, and the plants requiring tons of moisture, the lack of rain is also telling.

I took a quick look at the garden last night. Everything is stunted. I think this is due to the fact that the weather warmed quickly, and the cold weather crops just gave up early. I see this in the broccoli, potatoes, radishes, lettuce and spinach. But the warmer weather crops are stunted as well–cucumbers, squash, green beans, tomatoes, and eggplant. This, I’m sure, is due to a lack of moisture. Due to the configuration of the garden, it probably will not be watered.

And then there are the container peppers. They are looking great, and I’ve already harvested some banana peppers–some sweet, some hot. The bell peppers look good, although their fruit set may be somewhat inhibited by the hot weather.

While Beth was watering container plants last week, she spotted a tomato. It was small, but very tasty. The tomato felt hard to me, and would not have been easy for me to spot.

How does a blind person harvest tomatoes? It isn’t always easy, but it is usually very doable. In fact, while I was wandering around the garden last night, I harvested two tomatoes independently. There are some general guidelines. I noted earlier that the tomatoes are stunted. They are not very tall, have limited vines, and look rather spindly. I bought large plants which were in bloom at the time of purchase in late April. So, while I was walking along, I checked inside each cage to check on fruit. I started at the bottom, as tomatoes always ripen from the bottom up. Sure enough, I found two firm, but a bit soft, fruits. Even though it was after 7:00, the plants and soil were still warm. Therefore, after I picked them, I also smelled them, noting a slight tomato fragrance. Yes, these dudes are ripe, and I can’t wait to devour them, probably tonight.

The Sweet 100 cherry tomato is a different story. It is in a container, receiving plenty of water. These tomatoes remain hard, even when dead ripe. However, if you are blind, and no one around is there to help, you can still harvest. Again, start at the bottom. The Sweet 100 definitely have a small maximum size, and ripen from the bottom up. If it is hot outdoors, and the tomatoes are in the sun, the ripe ones may be a bit soft to the touch as well. I have successfully harvested several of them from the plant, and eaten them out in the garden, still warm from the sun. They were almost as tasty as a chocolate candy bar.

Harvesting the container peppers is even easier. Some like to let the peppers set until red. I don’t care about color. Some claim the peppers are sweeter when red, but perhaps my taste buds are a bit deficient–I can’t tell the difference. But leaving the peppers on the plant too long is risky. They may get soft, they may get diseased, they may get sunburned, or perhaps the insects get to them, or they may even begin to dry out.

My key indicator is size. When the banana or bell peppers are the size I want, I take a small scissors from my pocket, and cut the stem between the main plant, and the fruit itself. Be careful, as pepper foliage is quite brittle. Caution on the side of being careful and slow. I’ve already broken off one of my nice-looking pepper plants at soil level; nothing to do but throw it into the garden as compost. Some of the peppers have very short stems connecting to the main stem, and again, take your time and protect your plants.

In my wanderings last night, I noticed that the elephant garlic has rapidly matured, and is ready for harvest. I let it flower, as each floret is actually a very small garlic bulb; I will not bother to save or plant them. When I checked them last week, they were looking good, and the leaves were still green. However, last night I noted that most of the leaves are dead. This is not surprising, as this is a cool weather crop, and the garlic was already making great strides in March. I usually harvest in mid-July, which is only a bit over two weeks away. The biggest deterrent to harvest now is the lack of rain, which means the soil will be rock hard. Again, this harvest will be an easy task, and is very doable by a blind person. And better yet, you won’t need much experience to conquer this endeavor, either. When I harvest, I’ll report accordingly.

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