Thursday, July 21, 2016

Digging up the potatoes

This morning I dug up the potatoes.  Since the area is suffering a heat wave I wanted to get an early start before conditions became unbearable.  I've been hoping for a good harvest as the potato plants have looked very healthy.

The first task was removing the structure.  The potato plot was ringed by saplings fastened to fence posts at each corner.  The rectangle was cross-hatched with thin cable and string at about 20 inches in height.  I did this to support the plants against the inevitable summer storm which would otherwise flatten the plants.  I think keeping the plants upright helps them last a bit longer.   This is what the patch looked like before dismantling:

After the structure was out and the straw raked away I began pulling up the plants.  I debated over the best way to extract the potatoes from the soil and was leaning toward snipping the stems at the base then digging everything up with a shovel.  But I thought I'd first see how many potatoes would come up if I grasped the stems together and pulled up gently.   Quite a few potatoes came up this way.

The uprooted plants make for a lot of foliage - two heaping wheelbarrow loads for the compost bin, where the plants were chopped up with a machete.  By this point the weather conditions were taking a toll on me.  The combination of heat and humidity had me sweating profusely and stopping frequently.  I was motivated mostly by the thought of having to finish tomorrow if I did not finish today, as the weather tomorrow is supposed to be even worse.

Quite a few potatoes came up with the plants.  I noticed that the Red Pontiacs had a lot of vole damage, the Kennebecs not so much.

Then came the heavy work - spading over the plot.  I spaded the first row into the wheelbarrow then turned each succeeding row into the small trench previously spaded.  This is where the vole damage became apparent.  I'm guessing that it approached 50% for the Red Pontiacs.  Many of the damaged potatoes were tossed as I found them.

Once the plot was spaded over and the potatoes removed the soil was leveled.  The squash vines that were growing into the plot were pushed back out of the way.  I set up trelllises on two sides to help contain the squash (fat chance).

Then the straw that was set aside earlier was scattered over the soil (what else am I going to do with it?) and the squash vines that had been pushed back while I was working in the plot were trained out over the soil.  I tried to be gentle with them but they look a little worse for the wear.  I expect that by tomorrow they will have recovered, and in a week the plot will be covered in green.

The Red Pontiacs that were harvested when the plants were pulled up are on the left.  The potatoes that were dug up with the spade are on the right.   The picture is out of focus but vole-damaged potatoes are visible.

Even with the animal damage, 24 pounds of Red Pontiacs and 13 pounds of Kennebecs were collected.  I think I'll have to give potatoes and possibly sweet potatoes a sabbatical next year.  If the critters know there is an underground buffet for them every year then the damage will only get worse next year.  So next year I'll plant some sweet corn in their place, a first time for me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Exceptional growing season?

It looks like it's time for the dog days of summer, and in the central US that means plenty of heat and humidity.  Later this week the predictions are for the hottest days so far with highs in the upper 90's (35 C).  Having said that the growing conditions so far have been exceptional, with plenty of sunshine and timely rains.  I have watered from the pond three times so far this year, which is not that much.

The winter squash have especially benefited from these conditions.  I've never seen this kind of growth from the squash.  The large bed is a mass of green foliage now, and emerging squash are everywhere beneath the green cover.  I'm also seeing the benefits of growing a cover crop of oats/field peas in early spring.   The cover crop not only suppressed weeds and provided food for the bunnies, its death formed a nice mat of mulch for the squash to develop on.  Here's an overview of the large bed.

There's Metro Butternut, Golden Nugget, and Teksukabotu in there.  The Golden Nugget in the foreground is more of a bush type although it is now sending out some vines.   Growth of the vining squash is so robust that they are going over the potato plants:

As well as going under them:

It's obviously time to take out the potatoes and let the squash take that space, but the soil is very wet from yesterday's downpours and the air is thick with humidity now that the sun is back.  Not only was the camera lens fogging up but so were my glasses.   So I'm planning to take out the potatoes first thing Thursday morning, before the heat gets really brutal.  Here's a look at the mass of healthy squash foliage.  If you look close a few small butternuts can be seen:

Here's what is really remarkable about the squash - I have seen no squash bugs.  None.  I noticed last year that the squash bug population was far reduced from previous years.  This year I haven't seen one.  And the squash certainly seem to appreciate it.  Did the bugs simply go away?  I doubt it.  I think it more likely that predators have adjusted and now get most of them.  Birds regularly hang out on the trellises and the beds are full of toads.  I can't think of any other reason why a pest so ubiquitous in past seasons would simply vanish.  And I'm not complaining.  Now if only the vine borer would suffer the same fate.

While I'm not yet up to the task of digging up potatoes, removing the onions was a more doable task in this humidity.  First the remaining Red Long of Tropea onions came out:

Two of them don't look like the others, especially the white onion, which I suspect is not really a Red Tropea onion at all.  Then I pulled up the Ruby Ring onions.  I was pleasantly surprised when I had to get the other drying rack out of the pole barn to hold them all.  It's a nice harvest from about 20 square feet of planting.

The fate of the summer squash was sealed.  It got the borer higher up, which did not kill it.  Neither could it produce any more female flowers with the growing tip gone.  Into the compost bin with it!  It's replacement is growing in the right side of the picture.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday July 18

I was planning on watering the beds this morning.   That involves removing the hose from the reel and attaching it and the intake line to the pump, setting the intake in the pond, running a cord, and priming the pump, sort of a job.  The weather forecast called for scattered storms today and I assumed they would be of the fast-moving short duration variety that dropped little water.  I was wrong.  We got about an inch and a half of just in time rain.  And I got a reprieve from a chore I don't particularly relish.

It wasn't a big harvest this week.  Those will come soon enough.  The first eggplant was picked, just half a pound.  Stir fried with summer squash and okra with a little Parmesan on top it was mighty tasty.   The Provider beans are nice and plump.

More Provider beans and okra.  The first Fortex beans of the season were picked.  

Two Calypso cucumbers were picked.  That's not enough to fill two quart jars so I picked some green Jimmy Nardello peppers to fill out the jars.   The plants are overloaded with these peppers so it may help the rest ripen up. 

This week the first tomatoes will be ready.  The onions and potatoes are ready to come out at any time.  To see what other people are growing head on over to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/ and check it out. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Peak foliage and peak damage

It's that time of year when the vegetable garden is about as green as it's going to get.  Those little green solar panels are everywhere, taking that solar energy and 'fixing' it into usable chemicals - food.  It seems like just a few weeks ago I was wondering if the winter squash were ever going to get going, and before I knew it they made a jungle.  I stood on top of the compost bin to get this shot.  Most everything can be seen here, including the two apple trees in back.

The bed in the foreground got the first plantings of cole crops which are mostly out.  It's been seeded with a cover crop of buckwheat and berseem clover.  The buckwheat comes up very fast, the clover is just starting to show underneath.

The winter squash, seven plants, has mostly taken over the large bed.  A Golden Nugget squash was lost to the borer.  There was the telltale frass at the base.  A tug on the leaves and the stem broke clean off.  Well it's a buttercup so it's not surprising.  I believe I planted two of these and had spritzed the stems with Bt two or three times.  The borer got to this one but the other one looks sound, knock on wood.  I pointed the vines of the other squash into the vacant area left by this one.  In a few days it should all be overgrown.

The pole beans, Fortex and Kentucky Blue, have covered the trellis.  It's looking like a very good year for beans and the Kentucky Blue seems to have shaken off whatever was wilting some of the leaves.  The vines are thick with blossoms.

The lone summer squash plant also got the borer.  This one got in higher up the stem, so I cut off the top just below the damage.  I don't know if zucchini can start a new growing tip and continue.  There was one immmature fruit below the cut.

What concerns me the most are the tomatoes.  Again this year they have early blight.  The worst damage was to the Big Beef tomatoes.  There's one cage of Big Beef paired with a cage of Super San Marzano, and another pair of cages with all San Marzano plants.   I was pretty much resigned to losing the Big Beef by the end of the month, hoping to get a few slicers from it, and the San Marzano in the adjacent cage looked worse than the San Marzano's in cages by themselves, indicating that much of the blight was starting with the Big Beef and spreading.  I have been removing infected foliage but at some point there won't be any foliage left.

Yesterday I went into town and when I got home the blight had expanded greatly in the cages of San Marzano tomatoes.  That happened in just one day, which had intermittent downpours, not helpful.  These tomatoes have set a lot of fruit, but I may only get the ones that are nearly ripe.   At first the blight appeared in just the older leaves, starting at the tips and working toward the stem.   But now it is showing up everywhere.  It may be a combination of blight (fungal) and bacterial infection.

I still think that I'll get a batch of sauce tomatoes for salsa, but at some point I'll probably have to take out the tomatoes and burn them.  Now I'm thinking about strategies for next year.  I rotate plantings every year.  Some mulch on the soil might have helped.  I think that I will unroll the tomato cages, which are 4 foot by 4 foot with some overlap, about a 21 inch diameter cage, and cut them in two.  That would make a 14 inch diameter cage.  Instead of planting two plants per large cage I'll plant one per small cage.  I'll have to ensure better air flow through the plants and the smaller cages may help.

There aren't many varieties of tomato resistant to early blight, but I noticed Juliet is one of them, so next year I'll try a few of those.  I may also try some of the grafted tomato plants.  They are expensive but if the plants stay disease-free they would be worth the money.  Right now I'm researching chemical controls for this.  I'll post later with hopefully not too bad news.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday July 11

Production is ramping up with about everything except tomatoes providing something.   For much of the week the weather settled into a rainy, cloudy pattern and a few things were lost.  Several squash rotted on the vine, same with some cucumbers.  The sunny weather has returned and it looks like most plants are doing well.

One nice softball sized Gonzalez cabbage was picked.

Calypso cucumbers, one from each vine, all matured at the same time.  Also the first picking of bush beans, Provider.  I planted two rows of them to 'provide' beans until the pole beans are producing.

The Calypso's are very uniform in size, and I've found that three of them make two quarts of refrigerator pickles.   One spear was left over.

Grand Duke kohlrabi and a few beets, which were grilled with chicken.  First time for grilled beets, and I think they are very good.

And of course more summer squash, one of two that were harvested.  Also a Diva slicing cucumber, the second one I've picked this season and a Kolibri kohlrabi.  The okra trickles in one or two at a time. 

For the week 10.6 pounds, best harvest so far.  For the year about 40 pounds.  I compared this to last year at this time and the harvest so far this year is about 25 pounds less.  Much of that is due to the smaller plantings of cole crops.  It also looks like the growing season is about 10 days behind last year judging by the bean and cucumber harvest last year.  That will change quickly as the wet weather last year put the kabosh on the harvest about mid-summer, especially affecting the tomatoes.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Harvest Tuesday?

OK I got thrown off a little by the holidays, but the vegetables keep coming in, so here goes.  Some new things are available, like squash.  This is the mystery squash.  It is supposed to be 'Italian ribbed zucchini' from Burpees, and their webpage points out that it is actually Costata Romanesco.  Yep, light green with pronounced lighter ribs, much like Cocozelle.  That's not what this is.

To be fair, it's a very good squash.  Even at a pound the seeds are almost invisible, it slices like butter and has good flavor.  I'm guessing it's one of their modern F1 hybrids.  Maybe it's just one seed that found its way into a package or there was a mixup with the packaging.  Guess I'll never know, but I'll be planting it again next year.  That's actually three kinds of okra in the above picture - Millionaire, Jambalaya and Silver Queen.  I picked one pod from each plant. 

I also picked a few carrots, about half a pound.  The bottom two carrots are Mokum, the rest are Chantenay.  I think the Mokum taste better but they are not as vigorous as the Chantenay.   Some are deformed, but sliced up and put into split pea soup you'll never know.  Also some Tropea onions for same soup. 

All told I picked three squash averaging a pound apiece, and about half a pound each of okra, carrots and onions.  Next week I hope to pick the first green beans and pickling cucumbers.  Tomatoes are probably two weeks away.  Then I have to figure out what to do with all the squash that will be coming in.  Does grated squash makes a good omelette?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

BER Begone!

Some of the Super San Marzano tomatoes have blossom end rot, or BER.  It's not nearly as bad as last year, when nearly all of the initial set of tomatoes was lost.  Last year the month of June was extremely wet and cloudy, perfect conditions for BER.  It's hard to say why this happens, because the weather has been mostly sunny and the bedrock in these parts is limestone.  Maybe this variety of tomato is just more prone to BER.  The Big Beef slicing tomatoes have none.

That looks like a lot but the tomatoes are small, probably about an ounce, so the plants have not invested a lot of energy into them.   They will never get larger because the growing tip is gone, and ultimately they will rot on the vine.  It may be that the plants have 'got it out of their system.'  I'm not seeing any more signs on the newly set tomatoes, and the very first tomatoes did not get any BER, in fact they are looking very nice.  This variety can get quite large for a sauce tomato, around 6 ounces.  Many of them will go into salsa.

I noticed that a jalapeno plant has already produced some peppers.  A few went into an omelette this morning.

The Kentucky Blue pole beans are showing some infection from????  Newly set leaves turn wilty, then brown and die. The Fortex beans are not having this problem, they look very healthy.   Years ago I tried growing Kentucky Blue and thought they were a delicious bean.  That year the Japanese beetles got most of the plants, so I thought I'd give them another go.

Then there's the mystery squash.  This is supposed to be Burpee's 'Italian ribbed zucchini' which is just their name for a Cocozelle summer squash, which I grow every year and ran out of seeds so these were bought at the hardware store.  But this squash - if you look close you can see it - is clearly not ribbed, it is glossy smooth and very dark green.  At least the plant is very healthy but I may never know what this is.

Again this year the apple trees have cedar apple rust.  They got it very bad last year and by summer's end many of the leaves were lost.  This spring I sprayed them twice with Mancozeb, a fungicide.  I chose Mancozeb because it decomposes quickly.  It doesn't look as bad as last year.  The Golden Delicious gets it worse than the Fuji.

This is the first year the apple trees have set a 'crop' of apples.  I'm a little surprised at how much the apples bend down the branches of the tree.  

The two gigantic dill plants continue to mature.  I've pruned them judiciously to let more light get through to the okra on their north.  They should make enough dill seed to last a few years.