by Greyson Keller
Red, white and blue, The colors that don’t fade. Red, white and blue, The colors that history made. Red, white and blue, Our pride we don’t conceal. Red, white and blue, In solidarity, we kneel. Red, white and blue, Home of the brave. Red, white and blue, Our trust we gave. Red, white and blue, These colors are proud. Red, white and blue, Our voices are loud. Red, white and blue, Land of the free. Red, white and blue, From sea to shining sea. Red, white and blue, United we stand, divided we fall. Red, white and blue, With justice for all. Red, white and blue, Represents you and I, Red, white and blue Happy 4th of July.
Independence day feels a little different this year. The country is divided. It seems as though you’re either blue or red with no room for indecision. In the garden things are much different. My borage is still blue, and my tomatoes will be red, but there are colors between. My summer and winter squash are a brilliant yellow. The Cosmos and Calendula are flamingo pink and fire orange. Broccoli of violet and beans of scarlet. I have sunflowers that are the color of a Madaket sunset, and peas that are as green as an Irish summer. There is diversity, there is middle ground, there is understanding and support. My “three sisters” bed is exploding with companionship. No plant is the same, but they all work together for the greater good. If only a country was as easily run as a garden is to manage.
It’s been a busy couple weeks in the garden. Battling pests with organic practices can be difficult, but the pay out is well worth the extra effort. I’ve had an infestation of the striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum). They’re a real nuisance. They feed on roots, stems, foliage, and flower, which is terrible, but the real problem is they bring the potential for bacterial wilt. There is a bacteria that is stored in the intestinal tract of the beetle, and once it’s established, the damage is fierce. This bacteria prevents the plants from receiving nutrients and water from its stems – this can kill a plant in as little as a week. If you see these tiny, yellow bugs with three black stripes down their back, you need to come up with a plan. I’ve been trialing a few organic deterrents. First, I found a yellow bowl. It has to be yellow because that’s the color of the squash or cucumber bloom they want to eat. I then filled it up with water and soap and placed it in the garden – this was fairly successful in attracting and subsequently drowning a few cucumber beetles. It wasn’t enough though. While I was considering other options, I hand-picked about 30 more off the plants. You have to be quick though. They have this defense mechanism where they just drop off the plant and turn upside down on the soil. They’re really hard to see at that point. It’s a crafty way of surviving. After about an hour of picking these little pests off, I decided to push the easy button and buy some Neem oil.
Neem oil is a 3-in-1 product that is approved for organic gardening. It’s an insecticide, fungicide, and disease control all in one. I still try to use it sparingly, and I never spray the blooms. I don’t want any to get on the bees or pollinators of any kind. I’ve heard of other organic methods, but haven’t tried them myself. You could use row covers, a hay mulch, or even try a trap crop if you have enough room. A trap crop is a crop that you are sowing just to sacrifice to the beetle so it doesn’t attack the crops you want to harvest. Beetles have preferences too and I’ve heard that Baby Blue Hubbard is the perfect option for a trap crop. It is less susceptible to bacterial wilt and is a hardy variety that can withstand some beetle bites. Plus, the cucumber beetles love it. It’s a good idea to plant these trap crops out earlier than your main crop in order to lure the beetles to the correct spot. You do need plenty of space to use this method, hence why I haven’t tried it myself. I’ve put my eggs in the Neem oil basket and hope it works out for me. My squashes, cucumber, and zucchini are all vigorous and healthy, so I know they can handle some defoliation without severely hindering the harvest.
Speaking of harvests, my Genovese Basil was harvested today. I had sown tons of seeds back in April in hopes that I could make my own pesto and freeze it to have through the winter. Today was my first attempt and it went really well. The weather had been very dry and basil can go a bit woody if not watered enough. I wanted to get in front of that issue, so I harvested about half of my stock. The kitchen was overrun with the smell of summer. Basil leaves everywhere. The children in the house did the old Mickey Mouse trick of floating through the air on the wings of a delicious scent.
Making pesto is so easy! Just add your basil to a food processor, then add olive oil, lemon juice, walnuts, garlic cloves, salt, and some freshly grated parmesan cheese. Naturally, we had pesto pasta with roasted tomatoes that were marinated in balsamic vinegar and oil. It was a hit. I always try to roast my tomatoes when cooking with them. It adds another dimension to their flavor. Don’t get me wrong, tomatoes are delicious regardless of how they’re prepared, but have you ever listened to an orchestra from behind closed doors? Everything sounds really nice, but throw open those doors by roasting your tomatoes, and you can experience every note of every instrument, played to perfection. Bravo maestro!
While I was in my own little world, listening to my tomato orchestra, I noticed that my garlic had scapes on them. Garlic scapes are the bloom of a garlic bulb. They almost look like a coiled snake that just had a mid afternoon snack. There is a little bulge in the stalk of the scape that will eventually climb though and bloom. Don’t wait that long though. When you see the scapes, it’s a good indication that your garlic is just about ready to harvest. Naturally, I was excited and harvested the scapes. This was all very convenient timing as I was feeling like Emril in the kitchen. Bam! Garlic scape pesto.
I have no self control when it comes to delicious food that I’ve grown in my own backyard. I had to show it off. We packed up the kids, grabbed some sourdough from Born and Bread and we were off to Mimi’s house. Upon arrival, I asked my mom to preheat the oven. We sliced some more tomatoes, grated some parmesan, and Bam! Garlic scape bruschetta. The garlicky flavor, the velvety texture, the sweet bite of the roasted tomatoes in balsamic vinegar and of course, the satisfying crunch of Born and Bread’s pain au levain. Anyone have a cigarette?
All joking aside, you won’t find me much happier than when I’m on this Grey Lady surrounded by food, family, and friendship. While the rest of the evening was spent watching the sunset, sipping a big band pinot noir from Oregon and enjoying the kids, I began to think about all the other home gardeners on our little island. We’re moving into a time of year when the fruits of our labor have never tasted sweeter, and it reminds me that hard work does pay off. Perseverance and persistence are paramount to any goal. Whether we’re electing leaders, battling a pandemic, fighting social injustice, or just in an all out war with the wretched cucumber beetle, the principles for success are the same. Stay focused and never give up. Aaliyah said it best, “If at first you don’t succeed (first you don’t succeed), dust yourself off and try again, you can dust it off and try again, try again.”
Happy 4th Nantucket!