Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tomato talk

The Supersonic tomatoes and some of the peppers have got blossom end rot.  Supersonic has always been a stellar performer in these beds, and they’ve never had this problem.  There is lots of limestone in this area and plenty of calcium in the soil, so it’s a head scratcher.  It may be a result of the heat and drought, and possibly not watering enough.  I put a little dolomitic lime underneath the affected plants, but don’t want to overdo it with the lime since the soil here has high pH.  The problem may go away on its own. 

The lower leaves on the tomato plants were pruned off last weekend to allow better air circulation.  Now they look more like tomato trees than bushes.  One thing I’ve learned is that plants that are exposed to a good flow of air have less problems with mildews and other fungi.     

The picture above was taken last weekend.   At that time I was beginning to wonder if the cluster of tomatoes near the base of the Black Krim plant were ever going to ripen.  Waiting for the first tomato to ripen can take an eternity it seems.  The green tomatoes reach their full size and then they don’t show any change in size or appearance for a few weeks.  Then the first blush of red shows up and you know that soon it will be a ripe tomato. 

Looks like my prediction of the first tomato before the 4th of July may hold up.   

Monday, June 25, 2012

More, more, more

See for links to more blogs and what their owners are growing this week.  The beds are producing a greater variety now, an improvement on the limited choices available in the spring.  You know you’re in the heart of summer when you can get home grown tomatoes and sweet corn but things are not quite there yet.  Right now I’m getting a mix of spring and summer crops.

Midweek I got a head of Pakman broccoli and a kohlrabi bulb (not shown).

This morning I got a head of Major broccoli and another kohlrabi bulb.

The first beans (Provider) came in.  This is the first of two small pickings. 

This Cocozelle squash was 5 oz and the flower had not opened yet.  Never seen one get that size before flowering.  I picked it early so I could spray the squash stems with Bt, as a defense against the borer.  I apply Bt to the squash about every 4 days, when I spray the cabbage crops.

OK the carrots (Cosmic purple) don’t look so great, but they are good for something.  Blunt carrots like Danvers do better in these beds.

Some red onions (not shown) grown from sets were laid over and these were picked.  When these onions are ripe they practically pop out of the soil.  I’ll have okra soon.  The Red Burgundy okra is striking plant.   

Totals:  Cucumber 9 oz, lettuce 7 oz, carrots 11 oz,  summer squash 13 oz, red onion 10 oz, snap beans 9 oz, kohlrabi 21 oz, broccoli 21 oz.  That’s the last lettuce picking until fall.   For the week 6.3 pounds.
The drought has continued.  This area is 8 inches below average yearly totals now.  I’ve been watering the vegetable beds from the house well system, but not the grass, which has been turning brown in large swaths now.  I’ve been reluctant to draw too much water from the well, not wanting to find out what its limits are.  This weekend I broke down and bought an electric pump to draw water from the pond.  Think of the pond as a large rain barrel. 

This is the setup that I cobbled together.  The intake is about 15 feet of garden hose with a ten foot piece of 1 inch conduit lashed to the hose with zip ties.  The conduit keeps the intake end from drifting around.  An empty one gallon plastic bottle is attached to the end of the conduit as a float and the hose intake extends about 2 feet beyond the conduit.  The end of the hose droops about a foot below the water’s surface.  The pump moves water at about double the flow rate of the house system.  Using this setup I've been watering much of this weekend and this morning - with a hand sprinkler.  We'll see if some green grass appears.  Hope so. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Progress report - Summer solstice

This little garden is off to a good start, and I’m hoping to get a record production from it this year.  At this point some of the spring vegetables were no longer productive.  They had to make way for summer crops.  When you have limited space there’s an urgency to remove plants that are no longer producing and use the space for something else.

I had high hopes for the sugar snap peas, and they were productive for a couple of weeks, but with the sustained hot weather lately their end was near.  Sure I could have gotten a few more, but there’s a Diva cucumber mixed in with the cabbage crops fighting to get to that trellis, and that cucumber will bear for the rest of the summer into fall.  Out went the peas and the cukes have the trellis all to themselves.  

I usually grow the snap peas with the cabbage family.  The cabbage has been slow to head up but it’s been a good year for broccoli.  There's another nice head about ready to pick.   

The brussells sprouts are looking very good this year.  Maybe this will be the year that I get a crop in the fall.
The other cucumber plant on the trellis is called  Picolino, and it doesn’t seem to have the vigor of the Diva (the Diva was set in several weeks later).   Several more of these were direct seeded along the trellis but never made it.   These cucumbers are small but are really tasty, even better than Diva.  Neither cuke needs to be pollinated to grow, parthenocarpic I believe. 

It was also time to pull out the remaining lettuce and make way for more summer hardy plants.  After breaking up the soil with a hoe I seeded one row of carrots (Danvers) at the end and two rows of Provider bush beans.  My seeding method is pretty primitive – mark a straight line with a yardstick then use the heel of my hand to make a groove by pushing dirt to the side.  I made a wide groove for the beans a little over an inch deep, seeded the beans in a staggered fashion, poured some inoculant over them and pushed the dirt back, then put straw over the soil to hold in moisture. 

This bed has the second patch of beans (Romas), scallions (Parade), parsnips (Lancer), and two Red Burgundy okra plants at the far end, which are just beginning to grow.  They thrive in this weather.

The Cocozelle squash is making a squash every few days now.   The last few years I was growing Sunburst pattypan.  They would grow very quickly, produce a huge amount of squash for a few weeks, then stop producing.  Last year a single plant produced almost 14 pounds of squash in one week before crashing.  That’s not a good growth habit for the home gardener who wants steady even production.   This variety also has better flavor.

The butternut squash is putting out vines now.  I tied one vine to the trellis and will guide it along the trellis.  I’ll put up more trellis at the end of the bed and tie another vine to that one.  The butternuts just do better when they can grow on vertical support. 

The onions are a mix of Copra and Utah Sweet from seed, and red onions from sets.   I don’t know if the red onions are short day or long day, the retailers around here don’t usually know.  A few of them bolted and I’ve found that these have little bulb.  I picked a few more that were knocked over or broken and the bulbs are already forming.  I’ve now learned, get fresh onion seeds every year.

The potatoes are near the top of the cage.  The Yukon Golds are starting to show some yellow on the leaves.  I may snitch a few in a couple weeks.  Those are Provider beans between the cages – the first batch of beans that I planted on May 1st.   I plant patches of beans every 3-4 weeks in different beds.  I’ve found that this strategy keeps the beans a step ahead of the Mexican bean beetle.  The beetles usually invade after the beans peak, and once it looks like the beetles have a real foothold I rip the beans out along with any debris and turn over the soil with a hoe.  The next patch of beans will go in the cabbage bed.  In a few weeks most of the plants will be out of that bed. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

We could use some rain

This area is experiencing drought.  To make matters worse, most of the days have been cloudless.  The combination of no rain and bright sun is taking its toll.  The grass, where it hasn’t been watered, scrunches underfoot.  The water level in the pond has dropped nearly two feet from the overflow level, and continues to drop.  The aquatic vegetation is as bad as I’ve seen.
There was a chance of rain earlier in the week.  At first the forecast was for 1-2 inches.  Then it was revised to ¼ to ½ inches.  The front moved from the west across Illinois then dissipated before it got here.  Nothing.  Saturday evening another front moved west to east.  When it got near here it was breaking up.  Most of the storm front that was left went to the north, a little to the south.  Here we got nothing.  And the forecast this week is for more days in the 90’s, no clouds, lots of wind.  I water the vegetable beds every two days.  The new flower beds and foundation beds that I put in this spring get watered too.

Not much to show this week, but next week should be much more productive:  Cucumber 3 oz, sugar snap peas 3 oz, lettuce 7 oz, summer squash 10 oz.   The cucumbers are Picolino, supposed to be a British type cuke.  They are small but really tasty.  This is the last of the lettuce – the heat was just too much – and I pulled the remaining plants out and will plant some bush beans in their place (patch #3).  The peas have also taken a real hit from the heat but I might get a few more.  The cabbage crops are hanging in there.  As long as they get enough water they seem to get through the heat OK.

I’ve been meaning to get a fish for dinner but with the remodeling and landscaping haven’t found the time, or more accurately my lower back has talked me out of it.  I cast a lure out into the deepest part of the pond and in a few seconds a fish took it.  It’s a nice sized channel cat that made two thick 7 oz filets.  I tried dry rubbing the filets with some cajun and lemon pepper seasoning then pan frying in just a small amount of oil, sort of a blackened prep.  It was a good change from breading and frying in oil.   I plan to harvest fish regularly since the pond level has been dropping so rapidly.  
The tulip poplars are exuding a sticky sap in amounts I’ve never seen before.  Actually it’s the work of the tulip tree scale insect, which sucks the sap from small branches and then exudes honeydew – that’s the name the Purdue extension uses - on everything below.  There is an infestation of these insects this year due to the warm spring.  There’s a grove of poplar saplings near the house and all the vegetation below looks like it has been lacquered.  And woe to anyone who parks their car beneath one of these trees.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday June 11

Production from the beds is ramping up.  The weather up until this weekend has provided the best of both worlds – cool enough to sustain the lettuce, snap peas and cole crops, and sufficiently warm for the hot weather plants, and lots of clear skies.  But every day the highs have been going up a little, from the 70’s to the 80’s last week and yesterday 90 degrees.  Now the lettuce is showing signs of bolting and and the pea buds are burning. 

The area is also going through drought.  I can water the beds from the well, and the pond is subsiding fast for this time of year.  I'm thinking about getting a pump and using pond water to water the beds, but they actually don't use that much water.   Soybean fields in these parts are looking stressed.

I picked this broccoli this morning (Major).   It has a very round dense head nestled in the plant.  Scroll down to the previous post for a picture of a Pakman broccoli.  Very different look.  They're both good.

And also another summer squash (Cocozelle).  These squash are delicious.  That makes two of them this week, very early this year.  I also picked a very small cucumber (Picolino).

The potatoes are well up into the cages now.  They keep sending shoots outside the cages.  I try to push them back in every few days but some always find their way out. The beans between two cages are reaching for light.  I’m interested to see if they can produce well with the potatoes shading them.

The peppers are also way ahead of normal. 

So far there has been virtually no insect pressure except for cabbage butterflies around the brassicas, and their larva have been controlled completely with a weekly spraying of Bt.  With the warm spring the plants have really gotten a head start on the bugs.    

For the week:  Sugar snap peas 19 oz, lettuce 9 oz, summer squash 19 oz, cucumber 2 oz, broccoli 13 oz.  Here's a snapshot of the totals for the year:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Harvest Monday and Tomato Strategies

See for what comes out of people’s gardens all over the world.  The harvest this week is sugar snap peas, 22 oz, and a nice head of Pakman broccoli, 13 oz.  It's a good year for sugar snap peas.  I probably ate a few more ounces while picking them, it's hard to stop.  The weather this week is cooler than normal, so it looks like the peas and lettuce will continue to produce.  The broccoli plant came out as soon as the head was picked to make space for the Picolino cucumber next to it. 

The hot weather plants, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash are all growing vigourously too.  Only the okra, a new variety for me called Red Burgundy, is growing slowly.  The first summer squash – cocozelle – is just about ready, the earliest ever.

Everybody has their own methods for growing tomatoes.  Since I make room for only two plants I try to maximize yields with vertical support.  The cages of concrete remesh are two feet in diameter and four feet tall.   They are hung on seven foot metal fenceposts so the cage bottom is two feet above the soil, making a six foot tall cage.  The hooks on the stamped metal fenceposts are six inches apart, same as the mesh spacing, so the cages can be attached very securely to the posts by fitting each cage wire into a hook and closing it a little with pliers.  It would take quite a storm to blow over this setup.  The tomato plants are now about a foot into the cages, and I’ve put some bamboo crossmembers through the cages for more support. 

It takes a little time to get the posts set up with the right spacing and the cages aligned and set into the post hooks but once in place they are good for the season.  The posts can be hard to pull out in the fall.  If they don’t come out I add some water at the base and wait a few hours.
In addition to building support for indeterminate tomatoes I always sucker them as we say in the midwest (other people may prune them).  Some growers remove all suckers and train to the central leader.  In my view that’s fine if you’ve got a cage about sixteen feet high.  Some growers don’t remove any suckers.  I’ve found that can leave too much foliage which can lower yields and promote diseases due to poor air circulation.  Kitsap has a good discussion of suckering tomatoes here if you want additional info:

I try to leave three or four suckers to start with.  Once the plants are about four to five feet high they are usually growing so vigourously that it’s hard to keep up with the suckers and I don’t try.  The early suckers are like the major branches of a large tree, the later suckers are like small branches.  Here’s the Supersonic plant right after it was suckered: 

This plant early in its life put a lot of energy into one sucker, so that the sucker is the equal of the main stem.  The sucker goes to the left and the main stem goes to the right.  I decided to just go with that, like a tree that has two equal forks, and remove all the suckers below the fork.  You can see in the picture that the lower suckers have been cut off.  The lower leaves will eventually die off and leave the lower parts well ventilated.
The Black Krim plant is growing exactly the same way, with most of it’s energy going into one sucker (on the left) and the main stem.  I used the same approach on this plant too.  A bifurcated plant should fill out the cage nicely.  The Black Krim has already set some nice tomatoes.  It was recommended to me by a vendor at the Bloomington farmers market.

Both tomato plants were transplanted into the beds on May 1, which is very early for this area.  My strategy is to get them out as soon as it looks like the weather will allow.  This spring was the warmest on record and the soil had already warmed above 60 degrees.  The last days of April had some frosts so I held off until the ten day forecast (I like Intellicast) on May 1 showed no lows below 40 degrees.  A low in the upper 30’s won’t kill a tomato plant but it may stunt it.  Eggplants especially do not like that kind of weather, they will stop growing and never resume growth (in my experience anyway).  Getting the tomatoes in the beds ASAP means that I’ve got some tomatoes on the vine that are progressing well in early June.

I tried a different strategy with squash this year.  I seeded the squash April 17 in five inch plastic drinking cups with holes punched in the bottom.  Squash have large seeds that can send roots down very fast and they cannnot be kept in a container very long.  By May 1 it was past time to get them in the beds.  When I set the squash seedlings into the beds I planted some seeds of the same variety around each seedling, as a backup.
It turns out that the butternut did not tolerate a few nights in the low 40’s, while the squash that was direct seeded did fine.  After a few weeks a butternut that was direct seeded was looking better than the transplant, which had small leaves, short stems, little growth - stunted.  So I pulled up the original transplant and gave the space to the younger butternut.  Having some insurance pays off.