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Archive for July, 2012

Best year ever?

Back in February, when we were giving our presentation at the Metropolitan and Johnson County home and garden shows, we used to end our talks with a little tongue-in-cheek optimism. The upcoming year, we said, would be the “best year ever.”

That would usually get a chuckle out of the experienced gardeners in the crowd. This is Kansas City after all. About the only time of year you can exclaim it will be the best ever is in February, before the punitive weather patterns have had a chance to do their damage.

So here we are on Friday, July 13, in the middle of one of the worst drought/heat waves I can remember. Days on end of high 90s and 100s. And no rain. Not even a sprinkle.

Yet this is turning out to be one of the best years–at least for our later-season veggies. True, early spring hot weather was not great for the spinach, lettuce and cauliflower, which usually need cool and moist. The broccoli isn’t looking so good, either. But the tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers are doing great, as is the always dependable chard.

So, yes, the endless heat and drought are frustrating and hard to take. But having a steady harvest of vegetables anyway makes it a lot easier not to despair, as we have in other drought years.

Having lived this long in the area, we’ve come to expect rough, dry summers. In fact, it’s a mild surprise when a summer here doesn’t include a drought. So over the years, we’ve come upon a few tricks.

*Soaker hose: I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. The little hose that leaks water at ground level is a lot more efficient than any of the ones that rain water down through the air. This year we use soaker hoses almost exclusively. Some part of the garden gets watered every day. Last week when the water bill came, I held my breath. It was…hey, not too bad. Higher than usual, but not bad for a severe drought.

*Mulch: Grass clippings quit being a mulch source early on when the grass quit growing. Luckily, we had a big pile of straw from a couple of bales we bought last fall to mulch strawberries and herbs over the winter. Since it can be hard to find straw in the spring, it might be worth buying extra this fall.

*Fertilizer: Yes, that composted horse manure for a stable was definitely worth the evening trip out to shovel it. Improving the soil with manure and compost helped give the seedlings a leg up back when we had rain in the spring.

*Drought-hardy varieties: Some types of tomatoes and cukes just do better in the dry than others. We’ve had continuing good luck with Roma and Celebrity tomatoes, Pickling Alibi cucumbers and Blue Lake bush green beans, to name a few. Having lived here a good long while, we usually look for descriptions in the seed catalogs that mention drought resistance. (Too bad my favorite Black from Tula tomatoes are not doing nearly as well this year.)

Nobody likes a drought, least of all me. But I’ve been accused before of being too much of a “Debbie Downer” about the weather patterns here. So in the spirit of optimism, here are a few good things about dry weather:

*Weeds don’t grow as well between the plants. Especially true if you’re using a soaker hose, which targets only the plants you want.

*Fungus isn’t as much of a problem. We’ve seen hardly any powdery or downy mildew this year.

*It’s possible to let your tomatoes touch the ground with no ill effects. Normally, a tomato touching the ground will quickly develop a bad spot and rot. This doesn’t seem to happen with powder dry soil.

*Root vegetables can stay in the ground a little longer. Our potatoes and carrots are still out there, mainly because there just isn’t enough moisture to encourage new shoots from the mature vegetables.

There now. Optimism for the week. That said…

LET’S HAVE SOME RAIN!!!!

Posted by: Roxie

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Well, it’s officially summer. Has been since May, if you go by temperatures alone. It’s seemed like everything in the garden is a good two weeks ahead of where it should be.

So a lot has been going on. I’m going to try and deal with it in small bites.

Fruit trees

Just yesterday it seems we were celebrating the good year we had for cherries. But the moment didn’t last long. I began noticing a few dead leaves here and there, but didn’t think much of it. They were at the ends of little twigs that had apparently come loose from their branches, and I attributed it to a little damage during picking.

A couple of days later I looked again. There were really a lot of those little droopy branches with the dead leaves. And a larger one lower down seemed to be dying as well. When I looked at the underside of that small branch and saw the peeled back bark and some clear, oozy stuff, my heart sank.

That ooze. I’d seen it before. When the tree was only a couple of years old, it had a big seeping spot on its trunk.

Canker on a branch

Canker, the garden advice people told me. I should cut the tree down because it was a goner.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Instead, we waited it out. The canker went away and the tree has been fine since.

I’m not cutting down the tree this time, either. Luckily, the only affected areas seem to be the tiniest branches. So it was relatively easy for my hired muscle (Mike) to cut their larger branches out without losing too much of the tree. Then he sprayed with a copper fungicide.

The tree looks a little more sparse now, but not too much. And so far, no more dying leaves. Fingers crossed.

Then there was the apple in the back yard. What is up with that thing, anyway?

When we moved to this house 14 years ago, we put in two apple trees. One was a graft of several different types of apple and the other, in the back yard, was supposed to be a Cortland variety, a red apple.

It didn’t do much for a few years, while it was getting established. Then it started to produce big green fruit sporadically. There weren’t many, and usually the squirrels got most of them. One year, though, we were able to see a few to maturity and–they turned yellow upon ripening. Okay, so maybe the nursery loaded up the wrong tree. But that wasn’t all. Once they colored up,  the apples were soft. You could put your thumb through the skin without a lot of effort. And they also were dry inside and mealy. Even the ones that were still mostly green.

Well, it’s far too late to think about getting our money back. So this year, we just picked them green enough to still have some juice and pressed them. The cider was a little…uh…tart, but at least they weren’t a total waste.

Drought?

It doesn’t look good, does it? It’s been far too hot for the cool weather lovers. Peas were not great and the leafy greens like spinach and lettuce were a total bust this year. And so far, cauliflower and broccoli look equally terrible, but I’m leaving them out there anyway.

We’re definitely watering this year, but to avoid having it cost a fortune, we’re focusing on the soaker hose as our primary method.

Soaker hoses are great. Instead of spraying the water through the air and having it evaporate, the soaker hose rests on the ground seeping water droplets right next to the roots. No waste, and you’re not watering any extra space between the plants to nurture the weeds, either.

The result is that the tomatoes, cucumbers and other warm weather crops all still look pretty good. The Roma tomatoes are pretty loaded and just beginning to turn red.

But let’s hope for some rain and cooler temperatures pretty soon anyway.

Posted by: Roxie

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