This year has been great for vegetable gardening

Stu Smith, way back when he was director of Alberta’s now-extinct Fish and Wildlife Division, would mollify bird hunters by telling them that while a series of wet years would harm the upland bird populations, waterfowl hunting would be great.

Stu Smith, way back when he was director of Alberta’s now-extinct Fish and Wildlife Division, would mollify bird hunters by telling them that while a series of wet years would harm the upland bird populations, waterfowl hunting would be great.

In another compensation category, I have noticed that in years when whole fishing seasons are washed out by constant muddy waters, the vegetable gardening “season” can be outstanding. That is particularly the case if you practice vegetable gardening as an extreme outdoors sport, as we always have.

This year has been our second best Red Deer garden in 42 years, with many warm to hot days and rain evening after evening, meaning we have not had to water. Part of “extreme” has been wading through the jungle, mud and mosquitoes just to harvest anything.

Our best garden was several years ago when we had to water constantly because every day was bright, hot and dry. Production that year was so heavy that, about mid-August, we actually started praying for deliverance by hail, or a killing frost.

Favorite varieties have been selected for short maturity dates and superior flavour. Among our methods to extend the season are use of Hot Caps and planting hot weather loving varieties like corn, tomatoes, artichokes, cucumbers, cauliflower and broccoli through black construction plastic, which warms the soil, kills weeds and conserves moisture.

We have been enjoying vine-ripened Early Girl and Sungold tomatoes, a bumper crop of Salad Bush slicing cucumbers, cauliflower and broccoli for a month. San Marzano and Whopper tomatoes are coming on. The Seneca Arrowhead corn is as high as the proverbial pachyderm’s eye and will be prime in a week.

We do successive plantings of some of the usual stuff. Sowings one and two of Green Arrow have produced our best pea harvest ever, and row number three is starting to blossom. We will soon be enjoying new potatoes from planting #5 of Norlands. We’ll wait a little to dig and store our few hills of Bintjes, the variety that makes the famous frites in Belgium, and the best fries we have ever made at home.

But our gardening as an extreme outdoors recreation involves growing vegetables that are rare in our area.. For example, we are regularly harvesting hybrid Imperial Star artichokes, the only annual artichoke we know of that produces the tasty thistle in the first year from seeding. The Cavolo Nero, Nero de Tuscana, or black Tuscan kale, the “super food,” is ready, but will taste even sweeter after a frost or two.

The newest girlfriend is always the best, in this case garlic, which I started growing eight years ago because I was sick of the poor quality soft neck garlic the Chinese dump on world markets, driving local growers of a wide variety of quality garlic out of business. We have tried seven varieties, two soft necks and five hard necks, from five countries, but have settled on Fish Lake #3, a hard neck porcelain garlic developed in Ontario by the legendary Fish Lake Garlic Man, Ted Mackzka, as the one that best flourishes in our soil and weather.

The crop of 100 bulbs will be ready for pulling and curing in a few days. Then, in mid to late September, we’ll plant next year’s crop using the biggest and best cloves from the biggest bulbs of this year’s harvest.

But there will also be a special planting this year.

Among the 92 garlic varieties in the 2012 list of Boundary Garlic Farm of Midway, B.C., www.garlicfarm.ca, I was elated and excited to see one bulb to a customer offered of the legendary and allegedly sublime tasting Ail Rose de Lautrec.

I quickly reserved my one bulb, and then ordered it and half a dozen bulbs to try of another hard neck, French Rocambole, which, along with Rose de Lautrec, the people at Boundary touted as one of the best flavoured garlic they have tried recently.

I first learned of Ail Rose de Lautrec from Liz Primeau’s highly amusing account of her attendance at the Lautrec, France, Garlic Festival which takes place the first Friday of every August, in her recent book “In Pursuit of Garlic, An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Bulb.” Besides being a thoroughly entertaining read, Primeau’s book is also highly informative about garlic varieties, sources for “seed” garlic and growing them in Canada, although the amazing Boundary website cited above is more detailed on growing garlic.

The book’s chapter, “In the Kitchen with Garlic,” is excellent, and features many unusual recipes, including the iconic Potage de l’Ail Rouge, which is always featured at the Lautrec Fete de l’Ail Rose. With any luck at all, by this time next year our one bulb l Rose de Lautrec will have multiplied sufficiently that we’ll 10 cloves to spare for a pot of the soup.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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