Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tracking the Harvest: July and August, 2013

The rainy weather has definitely affected my garden crops, in some ways good and some bad. We had a great summer for cucumbers and zucchini, but the tomatoes have been miserable.

Usually, we get blueberries for two or three (sometimes four!) weeks before the birds find them and our picking is over for the summer. This year the blueberries were late but the birds were right on time, so we got very few of the blueberries. None made it into the freezer.

We've had some figs, but the bush is one of the several plants that were smashed when our neighbor's oak tree fell on our house last summer, so the bush is busier with getting new stems and leaves than with making fruit, and then, of course, there are the birds...

However, the numbers don't look too bad:
July 49.85 kg = 109 pounds, 14 ounces
August 34.65 kg = 76 pounds, 6 ounces

Running total January through August = 144.25 kg =  318 pounds,  3 ounces

The breakdown by crop, measured in kilograms, is pasted below.

Berries, misc.
Bush beans, green
Swiss chard
Butternut squash, dwarf
Bush beans, green

Hope everyone else's gardens are going well!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Benefits of Crop Rotation

I have understood for a pretty long time that crop rotation, which involves the practice of NOT planting the same crop (or crops in one plant family) in the same location year after year, is important for a variety of reasons.

One reason is that plants in one family often are attacked by the same pests and diseases. Rotating out of a particular space, and planting crops from a different family there instead, can help reduce the buildup of diseases and pests that attack crops in one plant family.

Another reason is that plants in one family often make similar nutrient demands on the soil. Jessica Strickland of North Carolina Cooperative Extension, in a May 2013 article, wrote:
"Vegetables in the same family are similar in the amount of nutrients they extract from the soil, so over time planting the same vegetables in the same spot can reduce certain nutrients in the soil. If the same family of vegetables is planted every year in the same location, insect and disease problems continue to increase and soil fertility drops. Using pesticides and fertilizer could provide little help but over time they would not be able to keep up with the increasing problems."
Also, rotating to some particular crops can help reduce a pest problem that already has built up to damaging levels. An example pest is root knot nematodes, which can lower productivity of a crop pretty dramatically - if they don't actually kill the plants outright. A population of these soil-dwelling pests can be lowered by planting a bed solidly in one of the nematode-repelling marigolds or in a grass-family crop like rye, wheat, or oats.

What I didn't know until recently is the effect of crop rotation on the diversity of soil microbial life, the maintenance of which is so integral to successful organic gardens. In the Science Daily article "Why crop rotation works: Change in crop species causes shift in soil microbes", Professor Philip Poole of the John Innes Centre in England is quoted as saying,
"Changing the crop species massively changes the content of microbes in the soil, which in turn helps the plant to acquire nutrients, regulate growth and protect itself against pests and diseases, boosting yield."
Professor Poole added: "While continued planting of one species in monoculture pulls the soil in one direction, rotating to a different one benefits soil health."

Yet another good reason to plan a careful rotation in the veggie patch.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Planting the Fall Garden Continues

After getting the last few weeds out of the former squash/melon bed, I dumped a wheelbarrow-load of compost on top of the bed, spread it across the entire surface, worked the whole bed over with my grub hoe, tossed on some kelp and cottonseed meal, raked/pounced the amendments into the top couple of inches, used my widest short-tine rake to smooth the top, then got busy planting.

The above set of tasks is why gardening isn't for those who require instant gratification; very little about gardening is instant! Getting the bed prepared (not including pulling out the old crops, which I had already done) took awhile. Getting it planted took about five minutes.

I used my seeder to plant two rows of spinach (mixed with some regular radish seeds) and two rows of beets. Those four rows went along the edge nearest the house. This particular bed is fairly wide, so the farther half was broadcast with buckwheat, for a fast cover crop while I am waiting for time to plant a longer-term, winter cover in that space.

My seedlings (currently in little pots) for the cabbage family plants and the lettuces (and etc.) are coming along nicely, but their spaces won't be vacant for another week or two. I think they will be fine, but I will be happier when they are safely in the ground.

The carrots and winter-radishes came up just fine on their own, but no rain is in the forecast for the next several days, so I might actually need to water the spinach, beet, and buckwheat seeds to keep them damp enough to germinate.

Hope that everyone else's fall planting is on track!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Squash, Melon Update

The melons have pretty much been a bust this year. I have brought one into the kitchen, but the rest of what I would normally expect to harvest from the plants in the garden either never formed, were bored/gnawed into by bugs/caterpillars, or are just beginning to form now, when the vines are far enough gone with Downy Mildew that the fruits are not going to reach maturity before the vines die.

This will add another year to my de-hybridization project for the canary melons,  but at least I got to enjoy one of my favorite melons this year. I am saving seed from my lone melon, with a note that it was produced in a horrifically wet, cool summer. These seeds may be useful someday.

Considering how rough the summer has been on the melons, I am happy to be able to report that the butternut squash seem to be doing well enough. From the three vines, I've brought in six squash, lost a few to pickleworms, and there are a few more on the way.

Butternut changes from green, to whitish, and then to tan when mature.
Butternut is one of the confusing category of squashes called "Winter squash." It isn't grown in the winter; it is planted in spring, pretty much when the zucchini go in the ground. The name comes from the way the squash keep through the winter without much special help. They just need a cool, out of the way spot to hang out, and they will be in good shape well into February and beyond.

In truth, they won't even be that great to eat until they've done some of that "hanging out" for awhile. The sugars develop over time, and it can take a month or so for them to reach their flavor peak.

Soon, I will be clearing the bed that currently holds the melon and butternut squash plants, regardless of whether all the squash have matured. It's time to get more of my cool-season seeds into the ground!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I Planted Carrots

This was a busy weekend of tidying up, amending, and planting. The bed that got "tidied" (everything pulled out) was the one that had held the zucchini and most of the cucumbers. After pulling up the old plants, I spread a wheelbarrow load of compost over the bed and then used my grub hoe to "till" the bed. If the bed hadn't been for carrots, I probably wouldn't have worked it so deeply, but I wanted the roots to have no trouble growing long and straight.

After raking the bed smooth, I added a little of my own mix of organic amendments, then sifted those into the top few inches of soil before planting.

One of the great things about planting the carrots is that I get to use my seeder. Most of my crops aren't planted directly into the garden as seeds so solidly in the beds, but carrots are. It's always fun to roll that seeder down the row, and great to know that the seeds are planted with pretty good spacing at the depth that I want, covered up and tamped down, all in one pass!

Grub hoe and seeder help make short work of planting the carrots. PHOTO/
I planted five rows of carrots and then one row of winter radishes.

The day wasn't super hot -- only in the 80s -- but it was humid and still, so in the mid-afteroon -- rather than working out in the blazing hot sun -- I worked on the shady front porch on transplants for the beds that aren't far enough along to clear for fall planting.  I started a tray of fall greens and bumped up my cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower seedlings into larger pots.

Meanwhile, the summer crops are coming in at a good pace. I'm especially happy about the success of the peppers. We've been putting a couple of pounds of them, chopped, into the dehydrator each week for awhile now, and they will make our winter meals very tasty.

A day's August harvest in a rainy garden year.  PHOTO/

Hope everyone else's gardens are doing well!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Zucchini in August? It's a Miracle!

Tattered squash stem from Vine Borer activity.
The state of the main stems of these plants makes the late summer zucchini harvest even more of a miracle. 

Squash vine borers have made a mess out of each of the stems, which are looking all tattered and worn out. The borers are very thorough in their work!

Apparently. though, the plants still have enough life in them to support a little more zucchini.

I'm pretty sure that these few squash (pictures below) really are the last efforts at producing fruits for these plants, but I have never had zucchini planted in April still productive this late in the summer.

I'd like to think that it's because I'm such a great gardener, but it's probably just dumb luck.

When I saw the very first evidence, back in June, of borer activity on the stems (little piles of frass), I slit the stems open with a sharp knife and sprayed the insides of each stem, soaked them, really, with Bt for caterpillars.

A great looking late-summer zucchini.
Then I sprayed the stems thoroughly, up to the point where new flowers were opening; then I piled compost onto the lower parts of the stems where I had done my little bit of surgery.

Regardless of whether my little effort made any difference, we are enjoying our zucchini, and will continue to enjoy it every day until it's gone.

Hope there are some nice surprises in all the other gardens out there, too!

More zucchini in August. Amazing!
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