Summer Gardening Tips with Meg Cowden

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INTERVIEWER: Did you enjoy the fruits and vegetables from this summer’s harvest? Author and gardener extraordinaire, Meg Cowden, is back to talk about what’s happening in the garden right now. She also has some gardening tips for us. She is the author of the book Plant Grow Harvest Repeat, founder of the website Seed to Fork and the gardening advisory group Modern Garden Guild. Meg, how are you?

MEG COWDEN: Hi Kathy, I’m fine. Yes, enjoying the summer is wonderful, isn’t it?

INTERVIEWER: I love summer. I’m a big summer fan. We are about to enter July. I can’t believe June is almost over here. Are you planting anything at the moment?

MEG COWDEN: I am. Last night I dropped off my third estate of sweet corn. The whole reasoning behind that is, well, first of all, I had an open space. But the other thing is I should have corn in season, starting at the end of July, growing us through September.

That’s all my book is about, Kathy, succession planting continues to sow seeds. I planted more broccoli recently, and kale for fall, and cabbage. I always sow beets, carrots and green beans. And I’m even going to sow more summer squash soon, to offset the pest pressure. Because my summer squash can fall prey to pest pressure. And so I just pull out the plants that are diseased and start over.

INTERVIEWER: By the way, how are you doing with the parasites?

MEG COWDEN: So that’s the beauty of the garden is that it’s the only place in our lives where it’s completely normal to do the same thing year after year. other, and not only to wait, but to hope for different results. And pest pressure is a prime example. The pests are different every year. So right now I’m seeing some normal pests, like my cabbage white moths.

Those cute little white butterflies you see flying everywhere, they feast on our cabbage crops, so our broccoli and cabbage, but also roadside mustards. They are ubiquitous. I have a butterfly net in the garden. And I kill them whenever I get the chance. And I crush their larva. The Colorado potato beetles got out of hand last year in our garden. So we knew they would be bad. I do a daily sweep for these and drop them in soapy water.

But I haven’t seen any cucumber beetles yet, which I think is a bit odd. Because last year they were released before June. So pest populations, as you grow from year to year, you see differences. But a pest that I absolutely cannot stand, which never disappears in my garden, is the Colorado potato beetle which devours my tomatillos and my gooseberry.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, yeah, I see you’re probably not very happy.

MEG COWDEN: Yeah, they’re pretty gross to deal with. I mean, all the other parasites I mentioned aren’t too bad. But the Colorado potato beetle does something very special because it has no protective properties in its larva. Even if they eat a poisonous plant, their body does not absorb it.

So they actually take their faeces, and they spread it on the back of their larva [LAUGHS] to prevent humans and predators from eliminating them. They are therefore the ones I like the least. I actually take a whole leaf and drop it into my soapy water. I can’t touch these things. They drive me crazy. Yeah, so it’s all fun and games in the garden.

INTERVIEWER: The things I learn from you. So I asked you what you were planting. What do you harvest?

MEG COWDEN: So right now, since we’ve been talking, strawberry season has kicked in. And we are declining now. I only harvested – the kids and I only harvested about 4 1/2 pounds of strawberries last night. So we’re almost done with strawberry season, which is wonderful. Because it’s almost like the news cycle, Kathy, like every day there’s something different happening and something urgent that I have to deal with, whether it’s a pest or a crop. And strawberry season demands our attention.

So strawberries are a big thing right now. We always eat asparagus and rhubarb. We always eat cilantro. Our peas are in season. We have a few radishes left. I harvested my first carrots of the season recently. We have beets. Yeah, beets, celery, broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage too. So it’s been an unusual harvest, in that with my succession of plantings, I’m actually harvesting my first and second successions of certain things at the same time.

The first successions stalled a bit. My theory is that the cold spring caused them a bit of stress. And so they kind of stopped growing. But the second succession I planted in late April, they grew phenomenally fast and well. So I ended up harvesting like all my cabbages. A two-month stagger, but all harvested, like Monday. It was a little weird.

INTERVIEWER: Wow. Wow. It gets a bit dry there too, obviously. How are you doing with the watering?

MEG COWDEN: Yes, so we have drip irrigation. And our irrigation must last 20 minutes very early in the morning, every other day in our beds. And our irrigation pipes, for the most part, are drip lines. We actually buried them under three or four inches of compost so the water could really settle in and encourage deeper watering and deeper pathways. Other than that I don’t water any of my crops unless all those places where I mentioned I was setting new seeds and trying to get things propagated is where I go and give water up to three times a day at this time.

The dryness is…unfortunately, I feel like it’s becoming more normal. Drought and wind, Kathy, that’s the other factor for me along with climate change, which I think we have to adapt to very quickly. I mean, I lost several of my nasturtium plants to the wind. And some of my onions got knocked over. And they just don’t want to get up. But this is the story of a gardener. You are so attuned to the true nuances of the climate. And it’s very humiliating. It’s very ingrained. And we adapt, just as the garden adapts.

INTERVIEWER: Interesting, you lifted the wind. Spen Sunguard, our meteorologist, will join us in the next few minutes. And he and I talked about how windy it was. And people notice it. And he says June was about 16% windier than normal. What you see is actually what happened. It’s just a little strange. And then it dries up too.

MEG COWDEN: Yeah, but I also feel like last year, the wind…all this spring, the wind, and I don’t know. Personally, I like the weather. There’s something in the wind that makes me say, OK, we don’t have control. It’s a very humbling part of the environment for me. A little scary, I’m not afraid of the dark anymore, I’m 48. But the wind freaks me out. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.

INTERVIEWER: Yes. It does. It does. I used to do a lot of work in South Dakota. And of course, just a constant wind there. And it wears you out after a little while. What has impressed you most about your garden this season so far? What’s going on, where you’re like, wow, that’s pretty amazing?

MEG COWDEN: The strawberries were excellent, as I mentioned. What really impressed me was that I harvested my first tomatoes on June 8th. Now we all know this spring really sucked. I mean, it was terrible. May was much colder than average. And June was not so hot. So I was so surprised to see– it was just a handful of cherry tomatoes. But I harvested them on June 8th. And these are plants that I had planted indoors at the end of February. And they flowered indoors in April. And I let the fruit ripen. I was like, ah, whatever. You’re not supposed to do this. But that’s what the garden is. This is my garden, my rules.

And they ripened in the spring. And actually, not only have they ripened, Kathy, but this is the first time I’ve harvested tomatoes, which was the coldest spring. And for me, it’s like the garden is telling me to keep trying, to keep pivoting, and to keep planting things in a way that challenges my own philosophies. Because the garden says. Like at that moment he said to me, yes, you have to keep experimenting, keep going. So that’s where every day the garden is really going to enlighten me in that way.

INTERVIEWER: I love it. I’ll end there too, Meg. Thanks a lot. It was good to talk to you again.

MEG COWDEN: Thank you, Kathy. Alright, enjoy the rest of the month. Thanks to you too. Meg Cowden has been with us, author of the book Plant Grow Harvest Repeat. She is the founder of the Seed to Fork website and the Modern Garden Guild.

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