What does July sunshine bring in Ohio? Some hot, sticky days to be sure but it also is the season of sunflowers, tomatoes, zucchini and more. After a cool, wet start to the garden season, the heat is making our popcorn and other plants grow almost in front of our eyes. It is now most pleasant to work in the garden in the early morning hours or the cool of the evening till we can’t see the weeds we are trying to pull. Popsicles made from homemade yogurt and fresh fruit are a main stay for getting through the afternoons.
The flowers are going strong and sunflowers bring a smile to everyone. I’m always glad to have an abundance for making bouquets and to have volunteer sunflowers scattered around my garden for their cheerful presence and as food for the goldfinches later in the season. We are picking zinnias, lisianthus, celosia, yarrow, the first of the dahlias and so much more. Coming up, my youngest boys will be making fresh bouquets for a Lehman’s event where the “Cowboy Chef” is grilling up some goodness for a group of folks.
We are enjoying an abundance of green beans, zucchini run amuck and savoring the first tastes of tomatoes. Beans are going into the freezer for winter use, zucchini on the grill is fabulous and all the tomatoes are still being eaten fresh, often right off the vine. I love times when my kids are all out in the garden grazing (and occasionally squabbling over who takes too many tomatoes.) There are other preservation projects happening too during this time of abundance. Several times a week, I load up my Excalibur dehydrator with herbs like peppermint or lemon balm for winter tea. We are also fermenting cucumbers using the Perfect Pickler and the dills are a big favorite among my children. If you stop by my Thursday demonstration in Lehman’s store, you can try a sample of some of these amazing probiotic pickles.
Even though the garden is in full production swing, I am starting to make plans for my fall garden. Where the pea plants got pulled out, we are preparing to plant fall carrots, beets and turnips. It is sometimes a challenge to get those crops to germinate in hot weather, so I water them well and lay boards or cardboard pieces over the rows to keep them moist. I check them frequently and take them off when I see baby plants emerging. I’m watching for spaces that will be open for fall greens like spinach, lettuce and bok choy. We won’t plant those until August but I need to make sure garden real estate is available. Planning ahead is important for continuing the harvest into the fall months.
Another way we have been making use of the summer sun is using the All-American Sun Oven to cook meals several times a week. Since we live in a small space with no air conditioning, it has been a huge blessing to have a device that harnesses the suns energy to cook food without adding heat to the kitchen. We are still experimenting with recipes but often we will put meat in the top layer of the black roasting pan that comes with the oven and either rice or a combination of potatoes, carrots and onions in the bottom layer. One of our 4# pastured chickens fits well in the pan and we have also done roasts and meatloaf. Often we set the oven up at around 11:30 am and let it warm up a half hour before putting the roasting set inside. We need to keep repositioning the oven every 30-45 minutes to follow the sun and by 5 pm or so, we have a fully cooked meal waiting for us. Now Ohio has its twists in weather, and a couple times when an unexpected storm descended or the sun hid behind clouds too much of the afternoon, I ended up bringing the food inside to finish cooking but the days that it has worked out have been wonderful.
How are you making use of the summer weather where you live?
Karen Geiser is a regular demonstrator and homesteading class teacher at Lehman’s. Photos by her daughter, Elizabeth Geiser ©2019.