Story last updated at 4:11 p.m. Thursday, August 15, 2002

Gardening season at its most intense
I really like to garden, although the past two weeks have been consumed by rehearsals for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, because I really like to play the violin, too.

And I really like to write this column. I have nothing to complain about except that sometimes I feel like I'm not doing any one thing very well.

Two weeks is too long to leave this garden on automatic pilot. The rain has benefited the weeds just as much as the flowers and vegetables. My non-gardening spouse, John, has made a valiant effort to keep the grass mowed and the compost turned, which I like to do every other day. He has also addressed the harvesting issue.

I refer to harvesting as an issue because I don't really do it. This has been going on for 30 years. John sees the broccoli ready to flower and the cauliflower blown out and asks, every year for 30 years: "Are we going to eat any of this?" And my answer, invariably is: "It can't possibly be ready to harvest, I just planted it." And I say this adamantly, like I say everything else. Poor man.

So this year John took a different tack. He is helping with the harvest. Goodness.

Now, keep in mind that he is NOT gardening, so I shall still refer to him as the non-gardening spouse. But he HAS harvested all of the strawberries and is working on the raspberries. He has gone through the greenhouse, once I thinned out the foliage, and harvested a massive amount of Brandywine tomatoes and delivered them to friends. He has made proclamations such as: "Today you will cut the broccoli and get it into the freezer." Then he sets a time and accompanies me out to the garden and holds the basket while I fill it, in complete disbelief that the broccoli is ready for harvest.

Denial. Harvest means the show is over.

But harvest we must, and if you are also in denial may I suggest that you take a good look at what you have out there and get on it.

I am delighted to report that my Provider bush green beans that I planted from seed instead of seedlings are producing an abundance of very delicious green beans. I have always set out seedlings because everything I have ever read about green beans has said that there would be zero harvest if I planted them from seed. Not so, and I will forever direct seed them.

The soil has to be warm enough, so I set out one of my Greenhouse Umbrellas and let the soil warm to 60 degrees before I planted. This has worked just dandy. I used these umbrellas on the pumpkins and corn with equal success. I order them from Lee Valley Tools Ltd. P.O. Box 1780, Ogdensburg, New York 13669-9973 or call 1-800-871-8158 or www. to shop online.

These umbrellas are clear vinyl, 41 inches in diameter by 24 inches tall with a center spike that is 11 inches. The whole thing collapses like an umbrella and can be stored efficiently. I like to wipe them down with Pledge before storing them.

If you have a greenhouse and have neglected the plants in there, please go now and remove as much excess foliage from your plants as you can. This will allow for better air circulation, and this is the time of year that air circulation is crucial. If you leave the tomatoes buried under a mass of foliage, their chances of rotting before they ripen will increase. And rot is not what you want. A tomato that is close to nirvana is what you are after. Get to it.

This includes your cucumbers and melons. Clean up any yellow or dead foliage. If your cucumbers look like they are done producing, wait. They will start all over again in a few days. Be patient. You will be harvesting more cukes in a couple of weeks. These are really amazing plants.

The cantaloupe "Alaska" has proven very successful for me. We are actually eating cantaloupe and, trust me, the taste is so excellent you will never again in your life buy one from the local market. Fresh or nothing. If you haven't tried cantaloupe, put it on your list. Dave Schroer successfully grows it outdoors using plastic covers, but my best luck has been in the greenhouse.

The first round of lettuce has gone into the compost, it was so successful that we couldn't eat or give away all of it. The second planting is coming on strong.

All of this, of course, brings me to the local slug population. Get the organic product Escar-go or Slug-o and see what happens. It has helped me keep the numbers in check. This wonderful rain that we have been so very much in need of has reconstituted our worst enemies. There you have it.

Do what you need to do to keep their numbers down, thus the damage they wreak, at bay. I like to lay shingles in the paths and turn them over in the morning. I will then scrape the slugs into a bucket with a vinegar solution where they dissolve into a mass of slime. You can use your grass clippers and cut them in half as you come across them.

Do not stop weeding like I have done. They are thick. If you have been caught up in something for the last couple of weeks, please get out there and get the weeds away from your plants, the slugs will just find refuge under their leaves, creating a dandy habitat for them.

Keep cultivating so this wonderful rain can get down to the roots of you flowers and vegetables.

Actually the gardening season is as intense as it can get right now, make the most of it and have fun.