When summer progresses, gardeners like to check in on other gardeners to see how they compare and talk shop.
The Green Thumb: Sunny summer boosts garden harvests 111313 OUTDOORS 1 For the Capital City Weekly When summer progresses, gardeners like to check in on other gardeners to see how they compare and talk shop.

Carla Petersen

Green and red ripe Opalka tomatoes look very similar to the ancho pepper on the left side of the photograph.

For the CCW

Thorne Bay gardener Dan Hayes delays dinner long enough to pose with a seven pound zucchini from his greenhouse.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Story last updated at 11/14/2013 - 5:36 pm

The Green Thumb: Sunny summer boosts garden harvests

 When summer progresses, gardeners like to check in on other gardeners to see how they compare and talk shop. One day I decide to wander over to my neighbors with the big greenhouse, maybe drop a few comments about my prosperous tomatoes and see how things are going for them. After greeting the canine welcoming committee, I step into my neighbor’s kitchen to the sight of Dan Hayes holding a giant green object.

“Is that a zucchini or some sort of deformed watermelon?” I ask. I gasp at the sight Dan’s latest horticultural marvel, but sure enough it’s a fine, genuine zucchini from his greenhouse.

Weighing in at over seven pounds, the elongated summer squash is an impressive vegetable. I imagine stacks of zucchini nut bread or plates of broiled, sliced zucchini buttered in olive oil and topped with Parmesan cheese. Just then Dan’s wife, Gloria, informs me that this is the second seven-pounder this year along with many others of sizable proportion. I want to see more.

We all head out to the greenhouse where I step inside to witness the mother plant. There it is just inside the door, sprawled widely over a considerable portion of raised bed with newly aspiring fruits clinging to its stout stems. Oh why, I think, did I just give up this year when my zucchini seeds failed to come up? I voice my sob story with a doleful sigh and soon find myself gifted an excellent 15-inch zucchini. It will prove to be very delicious.

From the looks of it, none of the vegetation shooting up from the carefully planted raised beds have any plans to become less than large, lush, healthy plants. Masses of cucumbers hang from deep green vines in the center of the greenhouse while huge tomato plants crowd the beds around them. When all is said and done, 60 quarts of dill pickles will fill their pantry. All the processing and canning is nothing new to the Hayes family, who has been preserving everything from peaches to pickles for decades.

Out in the yard, Dale, their son, joins us for the usual discussion about weather and how bad the slugs are. We speculate about the current growing season and none can argue several points: it has been oddly sunny and unrainy, it is now very time consuming to keep up with garden watering, fish are struggling, and people that acquire their water supply from the sky need their tanks filled.

Back in my own greenhouse, I’ve planted something new this year — Opalka, a sauce tomato — added after my brilliant inspiration to make my sauces from sauce tomatoes. Opalka, an indeterminate heirloom variety, look just like my ancho peppers, are easy to grow, have a rich, sweet flavor like tomato paste and are also delicious fresh. They are extremely meaty with very few seeds but take almost three months after transplant to ripen.

While I started six different varieties of tomato seeds indoors at the end of March, I was picking cherry tomatoes by the third week of July. The Opalkas finally started ripening a month later but I’ve now picked many pounds of them with some still slowly ripening as I write in early November. The plants are in an unheated porch covered with greenhouse film that get some residual heat from the house.

The season is winding down although beets and carrots still await harvest. When the snow flies, the preserved fruits and vegetables will be welcome reminders of our extra sunny summer.

Carla Petersen writes from Thorne Bay. She is a freelance writer and artist. Visit her website at whalepassoriginals.com or she can be reached at cjp@whalepassoriginals.com.