Friday, July 25, 2014

First potatoes

This year I planted two varieties of potatoes - Irish Cobbler and Red Pontiac.  The red potatoes are the mainstay that I plant every year.  Their yields are very good and they keep well.  I try to plant a little of another variety for, well, variety.  This year I planted two rows of Red Pontiac and one row of Irish Cobbler, a russet potato. 

The Irish Cobbler looked like they needed to come out, the leaves were mostly yellow from fungal infestation and the stems collapsed.  Since it rained the night before it seemed like a good time to harvest them.   I tried grasping all the stems of a plant in one hand and slowly tugging them up.  It worked.  The potatoes came up in a nice clump.

This approach never worked in the past, when the usual procedure was to carefully spade over every inch of soil, so what was different this time?  Well last fall I shredded a lot of leaves, too many in fact to put them all in the compost bin, so I piled some on the beds.  After planting the seed potatoes this spring I covered the entire bed with several inches of shredded leaves.  I think the leaf mold provided a very good cover - it blocked out most of the light but let air in and kept the soil moist. 

After pulling up the row of potatoes this way I raked up the leaf mold and put it into the compost bin, along with the potato foliage.  Some of the leaf mold was pushed over to the remaining potatoes.  

Once the leaf mold was removed I spaded over the soil to find any potatoes that did not come up by pulling.  I only got three small potatoes from this, so nearly all of the potatoes came up when I pulled up the plants.  Well that was about the easiest potato harvest ever.  The yield from this row of potatoes (six seed potatoes) was about 11 and 1/2 pounds.  Not bad.  I also pulled up some more misshapen carrots.

If the past is any guide, the Red Pontiacs should outyield these potatoes by about 50%.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A very productive week

Things are now firing on all cylinders, as the saying goes.  The summer squash, Cocozelle, is producing like crazy.  I'm going to look for open car windows where I can toss in the excess - over six pounds this week.  And the Diva cucumbers gave up 3.7 pounds.

I picked some carrots, about a pounds worth.  They are either Scarlet Nantes or Red-cored Chantenay.  They went into a split pea and ham soup, although I broke off the legs of that forked carrot and ate them on the spot.

And the first tomatoes were picked.  Actually I wanted to wait a few more days and let them ripen fully on the vine, but Sunday morning I found two of the ripest of them on the ground and torn open.  I'm not sure what animal did this but thought it prudent to pick the near-ripe ones and let them ripen indoors (I blame squirrels for any damage where I can't identify the culprit).  The round ones are Crimson Carmello and the sauce tomatoes are Pompeii.  They are large sauce tomatoes.

The first Fortex pole beans were ready.  I picked a little over a pound.  They are very long beans, something I did not expect.

Lots of onions.  A week ago I pulled up the remaining Red Long of Tropea onions and put them on the screen to dry, 3.4 pounds.

After cutting the tops off and taking them indoors for storage the Ruby Ring onions were next.  They were pulled up this weekend.  Onions are easy to harvest, by the time they are ready they are mostly sitting on top of the soil.  From this patch of onions:

I harvested this:

And this:

About 15 to 20 pounds I'm guessing.  I grow onions from seed and this is the second year I've grown Ruby Ring.  You never know what you are getting from starts from the hardware store. They'll need to cure in the sun for a while before I cut off the tops.  All in all a decent week, 19 pounds total:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The borer strikes again

Last post I shared some thoughts on pests and diseases in the vegetable garden.  Maybe I should never have mentioned the squash vine borer, because Friday evening I came home and found the Honeybear Acorn squash in dire straits:

All the evidence points to the borer - perfectly healthy plant one day that collapses the next as the borer eats its way into the vascular system of the plant.  Now there's a remote possibility that this is bacterial wilt, but wilt kills the plant over several days, as the plant partially recovers in the morning then gets progressively worse every evening.  There is another Acorn squash behind this one that is also susceptible to the borer.  The remaining squash are Butternut and Teksukabotu, and they both have hard stems that are usually impervious to the borer.

I haven't pulled the plant up yet, it's still showing some signs of life.  It has produced three nice Acorn squash.  Being dark green and full-sized they look ripe, but Acorn squash need 40 to 50 days from fruit set to reach full ripeness, in other words to develop their sugars fully.  So these probably need another month on the plant which will probably expire any day now.

I still plan to harvest the squash once I pull the plant up and at least try to prepare one of them.  I expect the squash to be waterry and starchy, but it's worth a try. This article from Johnny's Seeds has some excellent advice on when to harvest and how long to store winter squash:

My prevention methods for the borer consist of spraying the stems with Bt twice a week once 900 growing degree days, base 50 F, have been reached (early June here) and continuing this program for about three weeks.  As this shows it's not foolproof, but at least my summer squash plant has not been affected, yet. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pests and Pathogens

Insects, other invertebrates and various furred and feathered critters can destroy a vegetable garden.  Microbes - fungi, bacteria, and viruses - can kill the plants from within their cells.  They are the bane of every gardener.  And yet, with good management techniques, the various pests can be subdued for the most part without blanket applications of synthetic chemicals. 

Every gardener has their own pests to deal with.  I see that many people have a constant war with slugs and root nematodes.  My garden has never had problems with them.  Maybe it's because I live in the country and they've never found their way into the beds.  Can't really say.  I try to keep plant families together in a bed.  For example, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all in one family, solanacae.  Broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower are all brassicas.  Every year I draw up a plan that rotates the plant families to different beds.  I try to maximize the time intervals before a plant family is replanted in a bed, usually about 3 years.

The midwest went through an abnormally long and cold winter this year, which can take its toll on insects that overwinter in the soil.  Because of that I expected insect pressure to be light this year, which it is.  One exception is the Japanese beetle.  As a result of some extreme weather in 2012 - heat, drought, and an early spring warm spell followed by a hard freeze - the population of these invaders has been suppresed the last few years .  I expected their numbers to be down this year too, but they have rebounded somewhat.  More than anything they love pole beans, with the highest leaves getting the most attention.

I debated whether to put out traps but decided they would just attract more beetles that would eventually find the beans.  They aren't eating enough to ruin the beans and I just pick them off when I find them.  Nasty bugs.  They are the reason I stopped planting pole beans several years ago.  Next year I expect they will be much worse.

The tomatoes have been suffering from early blight or some other fungal leaf disease.  These tomato plants, Crimson Carmello and Pompeii, are fairly recent varieties that are supposed to have some disease resistance.  More than the blight,  I'm concerned about Fusarium Wilt which completely destroyed a Cherokee Purple plant last year. Most modern varieties are resistant to the wilts and this year I have not planted any heirloom tomatoes, so I shouldn't have to worry about that. 

Once the ends of the leaflets are infected it's only a matter of time until the entire leaflet is destroyed.  To control the blight I remove the infected leaves.  Removing infected leaves also allows more air movement through the plant which helps control fungal diseases.  At this point most of the bottom 2 1/2 feet of foliage has been removed from the plants.  It looks like the plants are staying one step ahead of the fungus and should produce quite a few tomatoes.

A pest that I always find on my eggplant is the flea beatle, which will leave thousands of tiny holes in the leaves.  I can spray them with pyrethins which will knock down their numbers for a day or so then they will be right back.  Mostly a healthy eggplant will grow faster than the beetles can set them back and produce enough eggplant for me.  This eggplant got off to a bad start and is much smaller than it's neighbor.  The flea beetles might win this battle.

Then there's the squash vine borer, a truly evil pest.  It only takes one to kill a squash plant.  A rule of thumb when considering the borer is to start preventative measures when the base 50 F growing degree days accumulate to 900.  That was sometime in June around here.  At that time I started spraying the stems with Bt twice a week - the borer is actually a moth.  I don't spray the butternut or Teksukabotu squash with Bt because they have very hard thin stems that the borer can't penetrate.  Spraying with Bt is not a foolproof tactic and I'll know before long if the summer squash and Acorn squash have a borer inside the stem.

A good reason to control insect pests is because insects often are a vector for microbes.  A few years ago I found a few cucumber beetles on the cucumbers, a pest I don't usually see.  Before long the cucumbers got bacterial wilt, then the summer and winter squash succumbed to wilt.  I picked hardly any cucurbits that year.  That's why it's a good idea to check the garden every day for any new insects.

The most common pest on my squash is the squash bug.  I haven't seen any egg cases yet but it's only a matter of time.  One trick I use on squash bugs is to spray the stems with a product that is a mix of clove, garlic and cottonseed oil.  This doesn't kill the bug but it drives them to the top of the leaf where I can pick them off by hand.

Last year my apple trees - a Fuji and a Golden Delicious - were hit hard by aphids.  The leaves curled around the aphids and protected them from spray, and the outbreak was bad enough to cause many branches to grow in distorted patterns.  This Spring I sprayed the tree with horticultural oil before the buds opened.  The aphids with their attendant farmer ants have tried to establish themselves on the growing tips in late Spring but I was one step ahead of them.  I sprayed them with a combination of Neem oil and the clove, garlic and cottonseed oils mixture.  This nontoxic treatment effectively controlled the aphids and at this point they are no longer a problem.

Note:  Here's a link to find the current growing degree days in your area,    

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday July 14

Lots of diversity this week, which is to be expected this time of year.  I picked a little less than a pound of Red Tropea onions.  This is a Diva slicing cucumber, a Beit Alpha cucumber that is delicious. 

The first of the summer squash were picked, then two more in quick succession.  These are Cocozelle.  Each one was a bit over a pound.  Also a few Jalapenos were ready to pick.

The Provider bush beans have really slowed down, which is fine as there are still some in the refrigerator.  Still I picked nearly a pound.   It won't be long and the Roma II bush beans and the Fortex pole beans will take up the slack.  The Calypso pickling cukes are trickling in.  I slice them into quarters and put them into a jar of pickling juice as they come in. 

The total for the week is 8.6 pounds and for the season so far 47 pounds.  Next week I expect to pick the first tomatoes.  To see what other people are growing go to 

Saturday, July 12, 2014


This is the second year that I've grown garlic.  The bulbs were originally bought at the farmer's market in Bloomington.  I planted them in Fall 2012 and harvested about a pound last summer.  From those I picked the two nicest bulbs and planted the cloves last Fall, four rows of garlic.  They looked ready to come out and yesterday I dug them up and put them on a screen to dry overnight.

The bulbs are much more uniform in size this year so I must be doing something right.  This morning they were put on screens in the attic of the pole barn where they can dry thoroughly. 

Next to come out will be the Red Tropea onions.  I've already taken out a few.  Last years onions were finished about a month ago and the Tropea onions will supply me until the Ruby Ring storage onions are ready.  The four rows in front are Tropea onions.  A storm pushed over many of the Ruby Ring onions but I don't think they are ready to come out yet - the necks are not yet bent. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday July 7

This was the most productive week so far this year with a little bit of everything in the mix.  Some cole crops are still coming in.  I picked a Gonzalez cabbage, the nicest one yet at around 2 pounds and a kohlrabi bulb weighing in at about a pound.

That head of cabbage reminds me of Aubrey from Little Shop of Horrors.   "Feed me, Seymour."

The two 4 foot rows of Provider beans - about a dozen plants - produced 2 pounds 10 ounces of beans.  I also picked the first Diva slicing cucumber - fantastic chilled and sliced - and picked a few more Tropea onions for cooking.

The beans came on so fast and were accumulating in the refrigerator so I had to freeze some.  Fortunately production is slowing down now, at least until the Fortex pole beans and the next set of Roma II bush beans start producing.

Sunday I picked another Diva cucumber and one Calypso pickling cucumber and of course more beans.  I made refrigerator pickles with the first flush of Calypsos but it looks like they are trickling in one at a time now.  That's fine, they can be sliced up and put into one of the jars as they empty out.

Conspicuous by its absence is any summer squash.  There are two plants in the beds, a Cocozelle and a Burpee's yellow variety and so far any squash that have formed have gotten what looks like blossom end rot. I don't really need two summer squash plants, but planted them as a form of insurance policy against the squash vine borer.  I'll probably pull up the yellow variety if it doesn't shape up by week's end, since the Cocozelle now has some decent looking squash forming up.

The Teksukabotu winter squash are growing at an amazing clip in the new bed.  I thought that the Metro Butternut was a vigourous grower but the Teksukabotu puts them to shame, already covering much of the trellis.  There's 2 of the Teks, 2 butternuts and 2 Honeybear Acorns in the bed.

On the other side of the trellis the Teks are just running on the ground.  This area is somewhat barren, where the builder scraped off much of the topsoil.  I won't mow it now that the vines are running rampant since it never had any kind of decent turf established on it.  It will be interesting to see how far they get.

For Excel geeks here's a summary of the yields to date.  For the week 8.8 pounds, almost 39 pounds for the year.

To see what other people are getting from their gardens, visit

And it's time for the biweekly overview of the beds.  I took this shot last evening.  The pole beans now cover most of the trellis and the winter squash cover most of their bed.  On the other hand most of the cole crops are now out.  It's probably close to peak foliage.
Two weeks ago: