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September 2003
Gardening in
"Little Siberia"

Advice and tips on
Companion Planting

© 2003 Janelle N. Seavey

Companion Planting Ė a gardening system using the natural affinities of plants to promote or inhibit growth in their neighbors. Knowing which plants like each other and which ones don't can increase the health and vitality of your garden, improve the taste and nutritional value of your vegetables, confuse pests so you can eliminate toxic chemicals, attract beneficial insects and add to the enjoyment of gardening.'

Janelle gardens on about four acres on the Messalonskee Stream, an outlet from Messalonskee Lake, one of the Belgrade Lakes Region Lakes, one of which is Great Pond, made famous in the movie "On Golden Pond". 

She is an "enthusiastic and a tad obsessed" gardener who has been companion planting for over 20 years.

Gardening in "Little Siberia" index

also see Books - Companions

Cicadas and Crickets and Weeds, Oh My!

As if a switch had been thrown, on August 1st, everything changed. Lying in bed at night, I no longer hear the "gaaaruuumph" of dozens of bullfrogs afloat in the stream as they put forth the only trick they have for luring that special frog-babe to their hot tubs.

"Have they ever considered that conversational Italian may have a higher success rate?" I wonder as I drift into sweet sleep.

In the hours of dawn, it is not the eager "cheeps" of robins or the fluttering "tweeps" of goldfinches that dance through my open, screened windows. As for my garden, my flowers, and my container plants; where, oh where is thy vibrant green, thy young, unscathed foliage and thy clear, weed-free pathways?

Alas, it is the dregs of August and September in "Little Siberia". The sights, sounds and even the smells of summer have shifted. Call it the slow death before autumn, if you will. The creatures are tired. I am tired. The plants are most definitely tired. In spite of the state of all things, I cannot help but marvel at the seemingly coincidental flow of it all. Do I begin to find my enthusiasm waning because everything around me has started to lose its own "will to grow and go on"? Or, do my garden friends sense that, bottom line; I donít give a fig any longer?

As for the birds, I have a theory. A bit Hitchcockian, perhaps, but theoretical, nonetheless. The birds have been snatched from the air and eaten by crickets and cicadas. Yes. Insects 1/10 their size. Now, as I try to meet up with sleep each night, thousands of crickets conspire to displace dripping faucets as the most annoying sound on earth. Oh, sure, they "cheep" as diligently as the above mentioned robins. However, if robins are the favorite relative who stands up and sings flawlessly at the family gathering, crickets are the weird uncle that no one should have invited and whom everyone wishes would leave the darned party, the sooner, the better.

Cicadas? AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHH! If an Oscar was awarded for "sound most indicative of the arrival of the impending apocalypse", cicadas would climb (or hop or fly) to the stage for the golden statue every time. I struggle to pull an analogy from my imagination that would do justice to the insidious cacophony they emit. It is as though a trillion joy buzzers had been scattered about the fields around my house. It is an endless wave of whirring, sawing, high-pitched throbbing of bug-dom. Given the choice of listening to them or putting baling twine in one ear and pulling it out the other, Iíd take life-time membership on the brain flossing team every time.

Weeds? Fugedaboutit. They have won. To the victor go the spoils, the "spoils" in this case being my garden and my spirit. I would need a flame-thrower at this point to dispatch the beasts and then they would no doubt find a way to convert their own ashes into weed fertilizer for future generations.

It is as though all growing things give us a choice at this time of year. They can either have lush, vibrant foliage and flowers, or they can give us food. Since early spring, they have generated all the energy they have into making themselves strong and capable of parenthood, if you will. Have you heard of or seen the glow a pregnant woman has? Here in Little Siberia, growing things glow from mid-April till mid-July. From that point on, youíve got all kinds of chubby, sweet, adorable babies (i.e. ears of corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc.) As for the previously "glowing" mothers? They are now tired, haggard and cranky, much like we human females are after childbirth.

Of course, we do have the reprieve that will commence around mid-September, when cooler, crisper air and still-warm sunshine start to drench our state. Both things and people start to perk up again. The cooler weather crops that we planted in mid-July have survived their infancy spent in heat and humidity and now have their turn on the "perky, spring green" circuit. With luck and the weather godís favor, lettuces, beet greens and peas will be harvested again before that lawn-coating glaze of the first fall frost appears.

As I write this, it is August 22, 2003. Todayís temperature is predicted to be in the low nineties with high humidity (90%). Yet, at this very moment, my third planting of sugar snap peas are just beginning to blossom. Such is the perplexing and ever challenging hobby of gardening here in the tundra of "Little Siberia". Ya jest never know what to make of it!

Now it is mid-September, and the dregs have continued right on target. My bean and pea vines have been pulled and tossed onto the compost pile. The cucumber vines are a pitiful sight, but they are insistent upon giving us a few more of their "babies". The sun flower plants, once towering proudly at 8 feet or more, now droop forlornly with the weight of the fading blossoms they have struggled to produce.

There is still much to be gleaned from an exhausted Siberian garden, however. The tomato vines are yellowed and withered, but oh, the tomatoes! The chilled Maine nights and the still warm days give them a flavor that exceeds my ability to describe it. Right now, I have 6 plants (Early Girl and Roma) in my garden as well as 2 heavily fruited grape tomato plants. On my deck, I have 1 cherry tomato plant in a container and 2 Early Girl plants in another. In another container, I have 2 cherry plants tied together that have reached nearly 8 feet in height. All these plants are loaded with red orbs of delight. At least once a day, I walk the "Tomato Walk of Snacking" and pluck away at each and every plant and Iíve yet to grow tired of that first explosion of summer in my mouth as I bite down on each one. The deck, driveway and garage floor is covered with little piles of tomato skin that have been left behind by "Chippy", our resident chipmunk. As I sat in a chair on the deck one day, I heard a rustling noise and turned my head to see eye to eye with him as he paused, halfway up a tomato plant right next to me. Both of us surely have already passed our yearly quota for vitamin C!

The leeks are still thriving, as are the jalapeno and poblano peppers. The beets will stay put even beyond the first frost, rugged things that they are. And the artichokes! My first attempt with them has gone beyond all my expectations. The very last day of August, I was able to cut the first creamy-green globes from their stalks and prepare them for dinner that night. It was my sonís last night home before returning to college and they are one of his favorite veggies, so it was great to be able to have them. My husband and I have enjoyed them again and by the looks of things, there may be several more to come.

I found that planting the sunflowers next to them, as well as setting my container of tarragon amongst them did seem to help, though Iím not quite sure yet just what benefits they provided. Artichokes do love the heat and initially I surrounded each plant with black weed cloth so as to absorb as much of the early summer sun as they could. Later on, as it got increasing hotter, I covered the cloth with straw. The sunflowers being planted on the western side of them seemed to provide beneficial shade from the very intense, late afternoon sun. As to eating them, I typically steam them or steam slightly and then cut them in half, remove the outer leaves and the "hairy" choke and finish them on the grill. I make a lemon butter sauce or a pesto mayonnaise to dip the edible leaf parts and that tender, buttery choke in.

I have said many times that I wished June, July and August would crawl by as slowly as January, February and March do. In thinking about it, though, I realize it is all part of a plan of balance. Everything is timed in accordance with our enthusiasm for it and it is no different with gardening. With exercise, you need to stop and rest between repetitions and so you should with gardening. I mean, why do you think they invented garden catalogs?

Till next time, happy harvesting!