[barnyard grass. purslane, dodder]

Hot weather and rampant plant growth prompt me to add a word to the traditional English round, “Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!” My new version is “Sumer weeds is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!” (“Summer weeds have arrived, Loudly sing, Cuckoo!”)

Almost overnight, big clumps of barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus-galli) have appeared in joints of the flagstone path leading up to my front door. It seems that just a week ago, a combination of hand pulling, weed whacking, and vinegar sprays had those joints free of everything except for a bit of moss. Today I had to cut clumps out with a bread knife that was useless on bread but has proved very useful for in the garden.

Besides being unsightly, those clumps of barnyard grass are unwelcome because they’re spreading. The stems prostrate stems root wherever they touch bare ground. And the emerging seed heads are prolific seed producers – reportedly over 300,000 seeds per square yard.

You might think I should relax because barnyard grass is an annual that flops down dead with the first autumn frost. But all those seeds are going to sit in the soil, some germinating next spring, some the following spring, and on and on. Another of the plant’s common names says it all: panic-grass.

Purslane is another summer weed that’s picked up steam in the past few weeks. The problem with purslane is that you can’t just pull it out and toss it on the ground. The succulent leaves and stems are very resistant to drought, staying plumped up with water even when detached from the roots. Stems and leaves left on the ground take root and become whole, new plants.
A recent meal at a fancy restaurant in New York City solved the purslane problem. I’d always known purslane to be edible but the taste and texture never appealed to me. I thought I’d give purslane another try in the form of the beet, goat cheese, and purslane salad listed on the menu.
The salad was delicious, so for the next dinner at home we weeded and harvested at the same time, on the same plant: purslane. As a matter of fact, the garden seemed to be lacking in sufficient purslane to meet our new found needs. I’m not yet ready to start sowing purslane seed, which you can actually purchase. We’ll just harvest more conservatively.
For all I knew, the purslane in that restaurant salad might have been harvested from cracks in sunny pavement behind the restaurant.

For gustatory use, purslane shouldn’t be confused with another, similarly prostrate plant , spotted spurge, about which I wrote a year ago. Stems and leaves of spotted spurge are not succulent. Like other members of the spurge family, spotted spurge exudes a toxic, milky sap when injured.

Yellow threads weaving up, down, and all around clumps of blackberry, dock, and other wild plants along a road recently caught my eye. These threads are the stems of a most interesting summer weed: dodder (Cuscuta spp.)
The reason dodder is yellow and, incidentally, leafless is because it has no chlorophyll. How does it make food, then? It doesn’t! Dodder is a parasitic plant.
Dodder seeds germinate and the plant’s roots enter the soil only long enough to support a few inches of stem growth. Once young dodder grows a few inches tall and comes in contact with a potential plant victim, it inserts a modified root right into the plant. The grounded dodder root dies and the remaining dodder plant spends summer sucking nutrients and carbohydrates from its host plant, offering nothing in return.
Dodder is a very effective weed. It makes many seeds each season, the seeds do not germinate all at once, some waiting years before germinating, and it has a wide range of plant hosts. Like barnyard grass, purslane, and spotted spurge, the first frost of autumn kills the plant. Not the seeds, though.

[squash and melon vines, same on compost, cucumber tp]

Growing winter squashes and melons has always been an iffy proposition for me. I try to keep my vegetable garden intensively planted and neat, so the question is where to direct these plants’ long, wandering vines.

In the past, I’ve grown squashes inside the garden along the fence, up which the vines could climb. That’s if they wanted to. Some stems would invariable make a break away from the fence and scoot into the garden proper. Other stems would start the climb and then poke through the fence to start running along the ground outside the fence. I would grab some of the delinquent stems and tie them up to the fence, along with well-behaved stems that just needed help in their upward climb. Other delinquent stems just got lopped back.
Nature always wins, and the squashes usually got the better of me, overrunning their corner inside and outside of the garden.
Melon vines are not as wild as squash vines, but still need some restraint in my garden. Some years I’d grow them on inclined trellises. Other years, they rose — with some help from me — as spiraling towers of greenery in tomato cages. Each hanging melon had its own mesh bag, attached to the trellis or cage, to prevent premature separation from the vine, and dropping. The reality wasn’t so neat; in real life, melon vines also always got the better of me.
The necessary growth restrictions of the squash and melon vines severely limited their output, and even with low yields, they required much attention.
The outlook on squashes and melons changed this year with a suggestion from my wife, Deb. First, let’s backtrack to the rear of my property. Along the west border are compost bins, a lot of them, each about four feet square and of varying heights. They are straight sided boxes built up of interlocking real or composite wood. Most of the piles were built last year and stirred up this spring with my pitchfork to ripen until late summer. Then I’ll dig into them and spread the “black gold” over the vegetable beds and beneath fruit trees.



Deb suggested planting melons and squashes right into the compost bins. Perfect! Just like a mini-garden with the roots of each squash or melon plant in moist, very rich soil — compost, actually. Elevated above the ground, the young vines would be safe from rabbits and, over time, could ramble to their hearts’ content over the tops of the bins, even down to the ground and beyond.

At the end of May, melon and squash plants started in flats were ready to be planted out, and in they went into small holes I cut in the cardboard that covers each pile to keep moisture in and weeds out. I even put some tall tomato cages up against the back of the bins in case the vines felt like playing up and down them also.
Growth in these “compost gardens” has been, as would be expected, phenomenal. Besides abundant nutrients and moisture, residual heat in the bins was also enjoyed by these heat-loving plants.
This year, of course, I’m making compost to spread next year. First year piles get quite hot: A few weeks ago, temperature within one completed piles registered 155°F. at an 18 inch depth. It has since cooled down to a balmier 130°F.



With inevitable invasions of yellow-striped cucumber beetles and bacterial wilt, cucumbers will soon peter out. They do so every year, so I always start some new plants in early July. This week I had second-crop cucumber transplants as more compost garden candidates, and I’m wondering if the new piles are still too hot for planting. I’ll find out soon enough because I did transplant a few of the seedlings into two of the piles. The plants’ roots will perhaps find temperatures to their liking in the surface layers of the pile, dipping lower as temperatures cool over the next few weeks. Or the plants might just get cooked.

I transplanted a few of the cucumber seedlings out into the vegetable garden, along the fence which I’ll coax the vines to climb.
When I weed a section of my garden, I leave no proverbial stone unturned – unless I can’t identify the weed and it looks, for one reason or another, like like one that has garden potential. Such has been the case with the mounds of moss-like leaves that sprouted and have been slowly growing at the ends of some beds in the vegetable garden.

 The plant hardly seemed menacing. And it wasn’t.

The plant graduated out of the “weed” or “potential weed” category as a scattering of lemon-yellow flowers opened atop the mounds. Aha! I looked back on my early autumn notebook entry of last year and identified this year’s plant as Goldilocks Rocks (Bidens ferulifolia), one of a few annual flowers that I received last year for testing. The plant bloomed nonstop all last summer, and has returned for an encore.

The plant is sometimes billed as an annual, blooming from “planting until hard frost,” yet last fall, my plant kept blooming until temperatures dropped to 24° F. Sometimes the plant is billed as a warm climate perennial, hardy to 30° F., yet temperatures dipped to -18° F. in my garden last January. For one reason another, the plant returned without my doing. Snow cover may have kept the plant warm enough to act like a perennial that overwintered from last fall. Or new plants sprouted from self-sown seeds. In the latter case, which is more likely, I will add Goldilocks Rocks to my list – along with mache, dill, cilantro, breadseed poppy, dame’s rocket, cleome, and bush balsam – of friendly volunteers that annually show up in my garden.


Pears in July? On July 11th, I was weeding around the base of a pear tree and came upon a few small pears on the ground beneath Blanquet Precoce (an old pear variety probably originating in Germany about 200 years ago). And they were ripe, overripe, in fact.

I gathered them up from the ground and picked the few that remained on the tree. The worst of them was mealy, with pear flavor that was on the “sleepy” side. The best of them had firm texture and more lively pear flavor.

Even at its best, Blanquet Precoce is not a very flavorful pear. Surely not one that would be worth growing if it ripened in late summer of fall, when other pear varieties are abundant. And, did I mention the fruit size? Very small, the size of a very small plum.

Still, Blanquet Precoce is notable for, if nothing else, being a pear that is ripe in July. The flavor would probably be improved if it was picked at just the right moment. That moment is before it is fully ripe, after which it can finish ripening in a bowl indoors, off the tree. Some pears – and perhaps Blanquet Precoce is one of them – need a period of cool, refrigerator temperatures before they can be ripened at room temperature. Skill is needed to harvest and ripen a pear to perfection, and then, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” I’ll give Blanquet Precoce another chance, next year.

Diligence in weeding the vegetable garden throughout spring and early summer has paid off. The garden has few weeds now, and just a few minutes pulling a weed here and there now and then is all that’s needed to keep the garden free of weed problems.

Without weed problems, the garden looks nicer, is more productive, and – very important – is ready to fill baskets, salad bowls, and the freezer with fresh vegetables from late summer on into autumn. As tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and other warm-weather vegetables of summer exit stage left in a couple of months, lush leaves of cabbage, kale, endive, and lettuce, and crisp roots of turnips, winter radishes, and beets enter stage right. The change is gradual, like a developing photographic film with the late summer and fall vegetables gradually coming into focus from among the fading tangle of summer vegetables.

Enjoying the late summer and fall vegetable garden is like having a whole other vegetable garden with little more effort and no additional garden area; but it takes planning and planting. Endive, broccoli, kale, and cabbage seedlings are on their way, ready for planting out in couple of weeks. At that time, I’ll also be sowing turnips and winter radishes and, a couple of weeks later, spinach and small (spring) radishes. From now until early September, I’ll also be sowing and transplanting lettuce.