Thursday, August 11, 2016

August

Typically the hottest and one of the driest months of the year here in the temperate midwest and plant life is showing signs that it is past its prime.  Already I'm seeing dead leaves on the decks, there's signs of insect damage on trees and most other plants.  Much of the garden looks a little worse for the wear at this point.  That's not unusual.   I've found that many of the annual vegetable plants have a sort of recovery by September and produce more good things to eat.

That certainly won't be the case with the tomato plants.  The disease problem was discussed in an earlier post.  I'm still not sure if the tomatoes got early blight or a bacterial disease.  From what I know about blight, it infects the entire plant, foliage, stems, and fruits.  This infection appears limited to the foliage.  Of course that's enough to kill the plant, but since the leaf browning moves up the plant some tomatoes have had time to ripen up.   Eventually the foliage wasting consumes the entire plant.

It was time to take them out.  There's no point in keeping plants that will just propagate more disease.  But first I picked any tomatoes that looked like they had a chance of ripening.  Whatever is killing the plants does not seem to affect the flavor development of the tomatoes.  With the addition of some tomatoes from the market I should be able to make a batch of salsa soon.

The plants were removed to the other side of the lot where they will be burned.  Now the peppers and eggplant have the bed to themselves.  The eggplant was planted between the tomato cages and hasn't done much, only one eggplant so far.  Maybe with more light they will grow.

This is the earliest I've ever had to remove tomatoes.  Next year will require a different strategy, with smaller cages that hold one plant each, set far enough apart so the tomato plants don't touch.  Then I can trial a number of different varieties and maybe find some that are resistant.

The pole beans mostly stopped producing.  The Fortex especially are a tangle of stems near the top of the trellis.  This is also where the Japanese beetles do the most damage.

I removed a lot of the older foliage. The newer vines that originate near the base were trained up the strings.  I'm hoping that the beans get a 'second wind' and start producing again.

This bed is a jungle, with beans, winter squash and sweet potatoes vining all over each other.   The summer squash is another thing.  I usually only plant one summer squash since they produce so heavily.  The squash that was planted in the spring succumbed to the borer after giving me some nice zucchini.  That one grew like a monster until it stopped.  I planted this plant a few feet from the first one and it has been slow getting started, but is coming along now.  Why would this squash grow so slow compared to the first one?  I have no idea.

The hole in front of the plant is a mole pop-hole.  I can hoe it over but the mole will just open it up again.  When I water the bed the water runs in the hole like a drain.  I usually jam the hose into the opening and give Mr. Mole a wet welcome, not that it will stop him.

This is Joe Pye weed, a native 'weed' that can get over ten feet tall, which grows where my lawn ends.  It's flowers are an incomparable attracter of tiger swallowtail butterflies, a striking yellow butterfly with black stripes on the wings.  I've seen hundreds of these butterflies feeding at a cluster of these plants. 

The female of this species has a dark morph that is less common than the yellow version. I was lucky enough to spot this one when I was taking pictures.



Monday, August 8, 2016

Monday August 8

Despite the diseased state of the tomatoes, I actually got a harvest of sauce tomatoes.  At just over six pounds it is not much, but combined with some Big Beef slicers it was enough to make some marinara sauce.  The sauce tomatoes are Super San Marzano.

This is the first time I've canned marinara sauce. I would have made salsa but the sweet peppers - Carmen and Mama Mia Giallo - are at least a week from full ripeness.  I grill the sweet peppers then remove the seeds and skin to make a pulp that is blended in with the tomatoes for the base.  This makes a smooth rich-tasting salsa that is hard to beat.  Since the tomatoes are nearly finished I'll have to buy a batch of sauce tomatoes to make the salsa.

I got five pints of marinara sauce.  It has lots of fresh basil and oregano.  Two fresh limes were used for the acidifier.  I have no idea how it will turn out.

Just under three pounds of beans were harvested.  Production from the pole beans is tailing off.  I need to remove some of the tangled, beetle damaged foliage and let the plants establish some new foliage.  They should get a 'second wind' and start producing again.

Okra and Diva cucumbers have been producing consistently.  The okra has been steadily ramping up production.  This week I harvested 1.6 pounds of okra, which is actually quite a bit of okra, probably at least twelve pods.  I've been pickling it with hot peppers.   As the okra reaches peak production later in the month I plan to bread it, blanch it in the oven and freeze it. 

I wish I could say the same about the Calypso pickling cucumbers.  Last year they went wild, this year there is a trickle.  I've made 5 quarts of refrigerator pickles so far, but I'm waiting on enough to make a gallon batch of lacto-fermented pickles.  The vines are looking hopeful after the addition of some compost at the base.

I picked two Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers. 

These peppers make a good snack, like eating some berries, but these two topped a grilled pizza.  This is my second attempt at making pizza on the charcoal grill.  Even though this one turned out better than the first one it is still a work in progress.  It looks like I will have to try making this on a pizza stone.  Too many things can go wrong when cooking directly on the grates.  It may look a little messy but it was quite good, with lots of fresh basil and those peppers.

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

Monday, August 1, 2016

Monday August 1

Lots of new stuff in the last two weeks to show.  The beans are coming in strong now.  This picture from last week's harvest shows Provider, Fortex, and the new bean on the block, Kentucky Blue, a cross between Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake.

I kept them separate in order to try out the Kentucky Blue's.  It's a good bean that tastes more like Blue Lake, the most common commercial frozen bean, than Kentucky Wonder.  But it's not as good as Fortex, and doesn't seem to be as productive.  I always try to plant at least two different varieties of pole beans as insurance.  Last year was a terrible bean year.  The Fortex did poorly but the Marengo Romano's did well.  Unfortunately the yellow beans were terrible after freezing.

There were more beans, nearly nine pounds over two weeks.  The Providers are mostly done, but the pole beans are producing heavily.  Now I mix them together and most get frozen.


Okra has been coming in as regularly as the beans, several pods a day.  I've pickled two quarts now, always with hot peppers.  Hot pickled okra is my favorite pickle.

Okra is tricky to harvest.  If it is growing very fast it can get large without getting woody, but if it's growing slow it will get woody before sizing up.  And okra can go from tender to you can't cut it with a power saw very quickly.

The first tomato, a Big Beef that weighed over a pound, came in a week ago.  Company was over and the tomato was sliced and eaten before I could get a picture.  So this is the second tomato of the season, a twelve ouncer.

The onions were judged cured by the sun, and since rain was on the way the tops were cut off and the bulbs were bagged.  Twenty-three pounds of Ruby Ring and Red Long of Tropea.  Not bad.

Also 37 pounds of potatoes, shown in an earlier post.  Strawberries are resuming production, although it looks like the birds get as many as I do.  The Autumn Bliss raspberries are starting to ripen. 

I also got three Calypso pickling cucumbers and one Diva slicer.  The pickling cucumbers are not coming in fast enough to make a batch to ferment.  The vines are looking better and I'm hoping that enough to fill a gallon crock will ripen this month.  Last week, 47.4 pounds (including potatoes) and the recent week 32.4 pounds (including onions).  To see what people are getting from their backyard gardens go to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/.  Get out there and get your hands dirty!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The year of the squash

OK I'm gobsmacked by the squash this year.  Some years the squash do better than other years, but I've never seen squash with this much vigor.  Every day I walk around the squash bed with pruning shears and clip off vines that are shooting into the yard.  This morning I removed vines that are climbing the bean trellis and growing over the sweet potatoes. 

These Teksukabotu vines climbed the trellis and went above it.  The top of the leaves, which are huge, are about seven feet high.

And here's a Teksukabotu squash on the trellis.  This one has a very long stem.

I planted two Golden Nugget squash plants.  One of them succumbed to the borer, but this one is doing well.

Four of the six plants are butternuts, Metro PMR from Johnny's.  I've always had good results with this squash.  These are growing on the trellis

It's a real vining squash, and there are butternuts all over the bed.  With the dense foliage they are hard to see.  The oat/field pea cover crop made a nice mat of dead vegetation that keeps the 'nuts from touching the soil.

When I dug up the potatoes a week ago the butternuts were vining over and under the potato plants.  I pushed the squash vines out of the way and dug up the potatoes, then laid the vines over the potato patch.  They've suffered a little damage but have already climbed the trellis and set some butternuts.

It's not just squash that are doing well this year.  Peppers, okra and green beans are also having a good year.  This is no surprise as the weather has been excellent for growing hot weather vegetables.  For some reason the cucumbers are not having a good year.  These are things I will never understand.

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.