Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cautiously optimistic

That's my state of mind regarding tomatoes.  I say that because for years, tomatoes have been a bust.  It was shocking to look back at previous year's harvest totals.  I haven't harvested more than 40 pounds of tomatoes since 2011!  I remember that year - I grew exactly 2 tomato plants in 2 cages, a Brandywine and some sort of striped tomato.  Those were heirlooms and they still gave me decent yields.  Since that year I have grown more tomatoes, in more cages, and gotten less.  Every year the plants were overtaken by disease, and eventually the entire plant died.  Last year I harvested 12 pounds of tomatoes from 8 plants in 4 cages.

I did not keep records in 2010 and 2009, but remember a bountiful tomato harvest of Supersonic tomatoes.  Back when I lived in a small house in Indianapolis, I grew a few tomato plants and nothing else.  I rarely used pesticide, never any fungicide, and still got so many tomatoes I had to give them away.  What went wrong the past few years?  I've grown the tomatoes in different beds every year, removed excess foliage, grown them in cages, and still they have succumbed to diseases - blight, septoria leaf spot, bacterial wilt - not really sure the culprit except the plants die and don't produce much.

This year I made some changes to the methods, and I'm growing some blight-resistant varieties.  Unlike past years, there is no sign of any disease problems at this point.  The tomatoes (and peppers) are looking fantastic.  Even if they start showing signs of disease now, I think they would still produce a decent amount of tomatoes.   Some of the indeterminate tomatoes are nearing the tops of the cages, nearly 6 feet high.

This picture shows the 5 cages of indeterminate tomatoes. There are 2 cages of Mountain Magic on the left, a blight resistant variety.  The center plant, which is nearly to the top of the cage, is Black Plum, a Russian heirloom.  To its right is Better Boy, and on its right is Pink Lady, both modern F1 hybrids.  The cages are made from 5 foot remesh,  suspended on posts to give the plants almost 6 feet of support.  They are 19 inches in diameter, with one plant per cage.

I think the taller narrower cages are an improvement, but can that account for the overall health and vigor of the plants?  Probably not.  Some of the plants are blight resistant, but some are not.  Before planting the tomatoes I amended the soil with compost made partly with rabbit poop.  It sure looks like they are getting a good diet of the necessary nutrients, and a healthy plant is better able to fend off disease.  All of these factors may help, but I think it's mainly something else.

Here's a picture from the other side of the bed.  The peppers are doing fantastic also.  In fact, I've never seen them look this good.  It's a good thing the tomatoes are getting tall, because the peppers are blacking sunlight to the lower parts of the tomatoes (the peppers are on the south side of the bed).

This is a Fish pepper, just a mass of foliage.

And a Jimmy Nardello, thick with peppers.

So why, at this point, are the tomatoes free from disease?  I think it's a combination of things.  Better cultural methods, and ample nutrients are part of it, but mostly I think it's the weather.  Since the extended rains in late May, the weather has been fantastic for people and plants.  There have been timely rains, to be sure, but when the rains are done the days are sunny, nearly cloudless, and not excessively hot.  Day upon day of sunny, moderate weather and fresh breezes, is a recipe for good growth and few disease problems. 

I'm hoping that this year, finally, I get enough tomatoes to can a good bit of salsa and marinara.  Lord knows I'm due a decent harvest.  Then the question becomes:  how do I make sure of a decent harvest every year, even rainy, wet ones?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday, June 26

As the cole crops finish up, the summer crops are just starting to produce.  So far the weather has been splendid for growing vegetables - timely rains followed by sunny days. 

I harvested 2 heads of cabbage, a Golden Acre weighing 1 1/2 pounds, which went into a slaw, and a nice head of Point One cabbage weighing 2 pounds, which I haven't used yet. 

Last week I picked the first batch of Vertina pickling cucumbers, 3 3/4 pounds of them. 

The same day they were turned into refrigerator pickles.  At this point, half of a quart jar is gone.  I had forgotten just how fresh and crispy these pickles are.

The Vertina cucumbers are smaller than the Calypso that I grew in past years.  The larger ones fit nicely into a wide-mouth quart jar, which are a bit shorter than the normal quart jar from Ball.  The smaller cucumbers will fit into a pint jar, which will be useful for canning.

Yesterday I picked a few more cucumbers, which were again pickled.  The bottle of Leinenkugel Summer Shandy is there to help the reader gauge the size of the cucumbers. 

This is the first zucchini of the season.  It's a mystery zucchini, as the packet from Burpee's says it is an Italian heirloom with a picture that looks like Cocozelle squash.  It's obviously not that, but a modern F1 hybrid.  Anyway it's a pretty good squash so I grow it. This one did not develop at the flower end, poor pollination perhaps. 

It was time for the garlic to come out.   The aforementioned squash plant was covering most of it. 

There were 4 kinds of garlic in 4 rows.  I bought the buds last fall at the Garlic Fest in Bloomington, which is basically an excuse to have music, food and beer at a park.  But there actually is a local grower who sells garlic there.  There's Lorz Italian and Red Toch.  Another kind I wrote down as 'La Hontian' when I bought it, from what I could make of my handwriting, but can't find it anywhere on Google.  The fourth garlic is a mystery garlic since the name tag is missing at the end of the row.  The 'La Hontian' appears to have done the best, followed by the mystery garlic. 

To see what other gardeners are harvesting this week, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday, June 19

More cole crops this week, and some hot weather crops are almost ready.   I picked 3 heads of broccoli that added up to 2 pounds.  The smallest head is Green Magic broccoli, a very early variety. 

The Green Magic heads are smaller than in years past.  It's been a very good early variety and I'll continue to grow it.  The other 2 heads are from a new variety for me, Imperial.  It's about 10 days later than Green Magic.

Nice, well-formed heads.  I think I'll grow it again.

This is Minuteman cauliflower, another first.  The survival rate of these plants was not very good.  I set out a Minuteman and a Snow Crown in each set of cole crops, hoping to make a side by side comparison,  but this is the first Minuteman to make it.  It's a little later than Snow Crown, and makes a nice head, at almost a pound.

I also picked a 19 oz kohlrabi, not shown. 

Some Vertina pickling cucumbers are almost ready to pick.  The first ones will be turned into refrigerator pickles, as I want pickles ASAP.  Later I'll try fermenting some.  They are smaller than Calypso and should fit nicely into pint canning jars.

And the summer squash will begin producing very soon. The first ones will probably not mature since there were no male flowers on the plant when they were set.  For weeks this plant was very small, looking like it wouldn't amount to anything.  Then in what seemed the space of a week, it's growth exploded.  Suddenly it's covering over half of a 4 x 8 foot bed.   Good thing the garlic is coming out soon.

The winter squash have been problematic this year.  This is the second buttercup squash to rot at the base of the stem.

For the most part the garden is doing great so far this year, especially tomatoes and peppers.  To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Early summer successes, setbacks and failures

This is a critical time of the year in the garden.  Summer crops are growing fast, developing the root systems, vascular structure and foliage that enables them to capture sunlight and turn that energy into things that we can eat.   It's inevitable that microbes and insects will attack the plants, although that isn't much of a problem yet.  Plants that have established themselves well, and are healthy, are better able to fend off disease pressure with their own chemical response, or by simply outgrowing the damage caused by the pathogen. 

Getting the plants off to a good start this year means regular watering.  After the sustained rains of late May, this area has gone through nearly two weeks of dry, nearly cloudless weather, and the last few days have been hot, drying the soil even more.  Last week I began watering every second morning, using an electric pump to pull water from the pond.   Everything, including the flower beds and dry areas of the lawn, gets a soaking.  Some plants are looking great and others, not so great, but I'm hoping that by the end of the month that most everything will be growing well.  There will always be some failures, that's a given, but I'll make my best effort to give the plants a chance at success.  So here's the early summer tour:

The brassica bed is nearly finished.  There's some cabbages and broccoli yet to be picked.  This bed got 3 successive sets of seedlings, spaced 2 weeks apart.  It's funny how they all end up maturing in the space of a few weeks.  In a few days I'll plant another summer squash at one end of the bed, as a backup to the first plant, just in case it is felled by the borer.  I may plant a few rows of bush beans, too, since the pole beans always seem to have a production lag in late summer.

Speaking of summer squash, this one, the only squash in the garden, finally started to grow, and by that I mean squash growth, doubling in size every few days.  The Millionaire okra plants in the foreground are showing some growth now but are still behind the pace.  As seedlings the leaves were yellow, which may be the cursed potting mix again.  Okra has always grown like a weed in these beds, but these okra just seemed to sit there.  It got to the point where I planted okra seeds between each plant, just in case these would not grow.  Some plants will never do well if they do not get a good start.

Then there's cucumbers, in this case Vertina pickling cucumbers, a new one for me.  The 4 plants look very vigourous, but I don't know if they can support as many cukes as their flowers will make.  Until a week ago I was picking off all the flowers to get the plants established.   Now they are covered in flowers and small cukes.  I expect the first picklers in a little over a week. 

While the pickllng cucumbers are doing great, the lone Diva slicer hasn't fared as well.  None of the seeds planted indoors germinated.  Then I direct seeded a plant outdoors.  It was doing well, although behind it's Vertina neighbors, until a windy day last week broke it's stem.  I seeded more in it's place but so far nothing.  I only need one plant for slicing but less than one is unacceptable.

The Pontiac onions in the same bed got off to a rocky start after transplanting but have hit their stride.  They look like they will size up nicely.  I let dill grow in the spaces where the seedlings did not survive.  I always worry about not having enough dill to make pickles.

This bed got a hodgepodge of plants.  It got the last set of cole crops.  For some reason they are doing better in this bed than in the main brassica bed.  The broccoli and cauliflower are ready to harvest.   At the other end are 2 rows of Provider bush beans, to give me beans until the pole beans produce, and in the center some Javelin parsnips.

Then there's the main course, the top of the billing so to speak.  I'm speaking about tomatoes and peppers of course.  The last 2 years the tomatoes have been decimated by early blight, septoria leaf spot, or something else.  It always started at the bottom and worked its way to the top of the plant.

So far the tomato plants are looking fantastic, growing fast with no sign of any disease.  I've sprayed them twice with Mancozeb fungicide, and I'm growing them differently this year, using 5 foot tall cages made from remesh.  The cages are a smaller diameter, only 19 inches, than the old 2 foot diameter cages, and get one plant per cage.  With taller thinner cages the plants should get more airflow around the foliage.   The hot dry weather may be a benefit for the tomatoes.  When I water them I try to avoid wetting the foliage.

From left to right are 2 Mountain Magic plants, supposed to be blight resistant.  In the center, and the tallest plant for now, a Black Plum, then a Better Boy, and a Pink Girl.  I've already suckered them several times.  I want plenty of air space around the lower part of the plant.  I expect they will be to the top of their cages in July. 

The other (north) side of the bed has peppers, and they are also doing fantastic (knock on wood).  There is an eggplant at each end.  I planted the peppers much closer this year.  Remarkably, the eggplants were initially hit by flea beetles but they seem to have gone away.

This is a shot of the big bed.  In the foreground are 3 cages of determinate sauce tomatoes (the old, 2 foot cages).  On the trellis, the Musica beans are way ahead of the Fortex beans, and are already to the top of the trellis.  In the center of the bed is a patch of sweet corn, with winter squash growing at various points around the bed.

This is my first time growing determinate tomatoes.   I've read that you don't need to sucker them, but I've found it necessary to do some careful removal of suckers.  The plants just get too full at the base otherwise.  There are 2 plants in each cage, 2 cages of Plum Regal, a blight resistant hybrid, and a cage of Roma VF.   Determinate tomatoes are supposed to produce most of their crop over a period of a few weeks, which is great for canning.  I'm hoping for lots and lots of paste tomatoes this year.

I planted an eggplant between 2 of the cages.  Seeing how vigorous the plants are now, I'm not sure that was such a good idea, but there's no way I'm taking it out now. 

Happy gardening, all!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday June 12

The food of the week is cole crops, because they constitute all of the harvest.  I picked two small heads of broccoli, most likely Green Magic, totaling 12 ounces.  The broccoli are not so nice this year.  First something ate small circular holes in the leaves, then they got hit with cabbage worms, which shred the leaves.  A spraying of Bt ended the cabbage worm infestation, but the damage was done and the heads are smallish.   The other thing not shown is a Grand Duke kohlrabi, just over a pound, which I sliced up and dipped into ranch dressing for snacks.

Cabbage is looking better than the broccoli, although the heads are not huge.  The cabbage on the left is Point One, a caraflex cabbage, a first for me, and on the right is Golden Acre, an old variety.   They added up to just over 2 pounds of cabbage.  The Point One makes a very dense head, which tends to keep the cabbage worms out.  It also has a nice flavor.  I'll be growing it again.

Both heads went into my first attempt at making kraut.  I think I see some bubbles forming. . .

Also the first cauliflower, Snow Crown, weighing half a pound. 

To see what other gardeners are getting this time of year, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

How do you know that the summer season is here?

Well the obvious answer is when it gets hot, but anymore that's not such a good guide.  Some might say that it's when the tomatoes go in the ground, but there's still some cool late spring weather likely.  This weekend I did a number of tasks which tell me that the summer season is definitely all in.

I set up the pump and watered the garden from the pond, a routine summer task.  Yes we had an inordinate amount of rain in late May, but it's amazing what a week of near-cloudless, sunny, dry weather will do.  Saturday morning the garden got a good soaking.  It takes about 10 minutes to set up the equipment and the same amount of time to dismantle it, so I usually try to water for at least 30 minutes and usually go for 40 minutes.  That's a  pass over the vegetable beds, then a pass over the flower beds, then another pass over the vegetable beds.

The extra pepper, eggplant and tomato seedlings (I always start an excess, just in case)  were dumped into the compost bin.  All the solanacae in the beds appear to be growing well, and there was no longer any need for backup plants.

The tomato plants were suckered.  At first I just wanted to remove the leaves that were touching the ground, open up some space at the bottom of the plants so air could move freely and make it more difficult for fungi to lurk in the damp.  Then I noticed that the plants really needed suckering.  I don't remove all suckers, the plant would just go vertical, but I remove many of them.  Any sucker that doesn't have a clear path to space and sunshine is gone, especially suckers that come up from the bottom.  Those suckers will get leggy and thin and not be strong enough to support any tomatoes.  Some suckers quickly develop into a solid main branch.  This one on the Black Plum plant is as large as the main stem, and since it's very solid, it will stay (the sucker is actually the branch on the right).

I removed the last of the flowers from the cucumber vines.  I don't want the cucumber plants to put their energy into cucumbers until they have developed ample mass to support them.  It looks like they have reached that point, so, in a few weeks - cucumbers.

Lastly, it was time to weed.  Probably the most odious task, and one I don't have much patience for, but it had to be done.  The purslane was about to cover the Solanacae bed, and after the watering the day before, it was easy enough to pull out.  Same with the parsnip patch.  It will take another weeding, but soon the plants will throw enough shade to at least slow the weeds down.  I drew the line with the cole crops.  They'll be out soon enough and the beds can be hoed over.

On a related note, the potatoes in burlap bags experiment moves forward.  The plants were tall enough that I could stuff straw into the bags and roll up the sides about a foot.   If all goes according to plan, the plants will produce more potatoes in the straw.