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Archive for September, 2011

There’s still hope

Last time I wrote about the garden, I was sickened and disgusted with the way this season has gone. The stupid mistakes, the marketing lies, the unlucky weather patterns.

Today, I’m taking most of that back. Not all of it, because heaven knows I still made a lot of foolish mistakes this year. But most of it.

Such are the mood swings of gardening.

When I wrote last, we were still reeling from weeks of above-average temps and spotty rainfall. But since then, we’ve had a couple of good rains and the temperatures have evened out to a nice pleasant run of mid-70s. And ahhh–what a difference that makes to the garden.

September cauliflower "Amazing"

Let’s start with the cauliflower. I’d written it off as an abject failure because the slow-to-mature variety didn’t head up before the weather turned hot. Every time I looked at those leafy but headless plants I felt the failure all over again. But we didn’t pull them out because, well, we were just too lazy.

This week, our sloth was rewarded. We got two nice white heads of good-tasting cauliflower. Yes. September cauliflower. Who’d have thunk?

That’s not all, though. Plants that I’d thought were done for the season have been on a steady rebound. The tomatoes–even the Romas–now have fruits again that are close to full size. I picked one yesterday that was small, but red. They don’t have to redden up, though. All we need is for them to be a good size. If frost comes too soon, we’ll pick them and let them ripen on a table in the basement.

Peppers are coming back, so we’ll at least get some. And the chard is still beautiful, bless it’s heart. Mike’s kale is well up and beginning to get some better sized leafs. And who knows what’s under the sweet potato vines that are invading new territory faster than the British empire builders?

So there’s hope yet for this autumn garden.

Now if we could get the stock market to keep on the same steady course…

Posted by: Roxie

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What a weird year this has been. As Mike wrote last week, disappointments have far outnumbered triumphs in this year’s vegetable paradise. We’ve blamed the weather for much of this, and rightly so.

But if we’re being honest, the weather can’t be held responsible for everything. Sometimes–much as I hate to admit it–the culpability lies glaringly at my own feet.

So what follows, ladies and gentlemen, is a run-down of this year’s sins, under the heading of My Own Stupid Fault.

Roma tomatoes–Yes, it did get too hot for fruit to set for quite a while in July, and part of me was grateful. That way, I could hide behind the evil heat wave and never admit the dumbest gardening mistake I’ve made in quite a few years.

It happened back in the spring, when I was transplanting seedlings to the outdoors. I draw out my garden every year on a piece of gridded paper and use that as my plan. When I got to the end of transplanting that day, I had a mystery. Too much space was left over elsewhere.

This never happens. After staring at my garden, then down at the paper, then back at the garden for a while like an idiot, I finally realized that I’d skipped my extra two feet of walkway between two of the tomato rows. Instead, I had three rows of tomatoes adjacent to each other, making the middle row very hard to get at.

This is also very bad for air circulation and can promote the spread of fungus–so bad that I preached against it in our book.

But by then,  there were 30 some plants in the ground. I wasn’t about to go back and dig them all out. I figured we’d just live with it this year.

Result: Leaf fungus during one of the wetter springs we’ve had.

Roma tomatoes II: Did I mention there was another stupid thing I did regarding tomatoes? No?

This had to do with the seed saving. Romas are not hybrids, so the seed is savable. But the trouble is, if you have other tomatoes too close, there can be some cross-contamination of the gene pool. So I try to throw out the seeds every 3 or 4 years and buy new. This year, though, I was trying to save money so I thought we could go another year on 4th-generation seed.

Result: Several plants bore tiny round fruit akin to cherry tomatoes–but without all the overproducing clusters. As such, they were next to useless.

Strawberries: If you keep growing strawberries in the same plot year after year, you’re asking for trouble.  The various diseases that can affect them will collect in the soil and make them weaker by the year. This is true of most plants and is the reason we rotate crops.

I had, in fact, seen trouble coming in the strawberry bed. But in my hubris, I thought I could get berries for one more year by encouraging runners to start new plants. This way I would avoid having to spend the money on the new plants.

Result: The bed is now completely wiped out. We had hardly any berries at all this year.

Cauliflower: I vowed two seasons ago never again to plant the variety “Amazing” because it took soooo looong to get a developed head. So this year I ordered another kind.

But I put off making the seed order too long, apparently. When time came to plant my seeds in the basement, my order was nowhere to be found. In desperation, I planted the only seeds I had on hand, which were leftover Amazing.

A week later, my order cam in and I also planted the other variety. But by the time April and transplanting came along, those Amazing seedlings just looked so good….

Result: We got two heads before early hot weather struck. Then nothing. But here’s where laziness sometimes pays off. Instead of tearing out the headless plants in the blazing heat, we left them. Two of them actually produced heads a week ago. And they tasted fine.

No matter how long you garden, there are always plenty of mistakes to be made. But repeat after me:

I’ll never, ever do that again.

Next year’s going to be much, much better.

Posted by: Roxie

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It was 62 when I got up this morning — cooler outside than in the air conditioned house for the first time in months.

Finally, the weather has taken a turn for the better, but it’s too late for the garden.

The roma tomato plants are big and bushy, while the round celebritys are scrawny and brown. What they have in common is a distinct lack of fruit. Yes, it’s been a lousy year for tomatoes at the vegetable “paradise.”

So, too, has the pepper haul been pitiful. We don’t know what’s up with the bell pepper. Too much shade?

The broccoli did well – the plants, anyway. But those liars at the seed company saddled us with a variety that produces shoots, but no bunches of florets worthy of an afternoon in the kitchen processing the harvest for freezing.

Cauliflower – meh. We got a few heads. The butter squash did well, especially after I encased each squash in its own chicken wire cocoon. It was the only way to discourage whatever it was that liked to chaw on them at night.

Einstein and I met up with the suspected culprit (or one of its relatives) last night atop the 6 foot privacy fence. We had a stare-down with Mr. Opposum until the dog and I got bored. We left the varmint to himself.

Probably he was on his way to the compost pile to see what rotting goodies we’d deposited there lately.

If you haven’t guessed, Roxie and I, too, are beginning to grow bored with the garden. It happens every year, but this year sooner than most because the oppressive heat killed our spirits long ago, along with hopes of a killer harvest.

On the bright side, the basil is healthy and plentiful. The Swiss chard, likewise, keep producing. We hold out hope that the lush blanket of sweet potato vines will present us with a bushel of tubers for sweet potato fries and side dishes for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Still, Roxie worries that this crop, too, might be an even bigger bust than the broccoli. Might this be an ornamental variety that’ll yield no potato treasures?

I don’t know if it was hot weather, lousy soil or lack of sufficient afternoon sun, but my front-yard, flower-bed vegetable garden experiment was another disappointment. Throw in a lack of TLC from me, and failure was virtually pre-ordained.

Maybe next year. Yes, there’s always next year.

And there’s always a chance that the tomatoes might start producing. If only the first freeze holds off, we could have some slicers in October. As some regular readers will recall, we brought a bunch of green tomatoes in the day before last year’s frost, then waiting them to turn red in the basement. We had fresh tomatoes into early December.

Then there’s the fall garden. Looks like the spinach and lettuce seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago are headed nowhere. Next to those no-shows, though, my rows of kale and radishes are thick with sprouts.

I’ve never grown either before (planting has always been Roxie’s thing), but I suppose I should thin them eventually.

Rox says there’s no hurry and I’m happy to accept that advice on face value. Tomorrow’s Labor Day. I promised our daughter Irene that we’d go fishing later this afternoon.

The garden can wait. After all, fair’s fair. It seems like we’ve been waiting on this garden all year long.

Posted by: Mike

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