Archive for category Vegetable Gardening
About now most late summers I am moaning about the dog days. Anyone who has lived in my region for long knows exactly what I’m talking about. High temperatures, higher humidities, stagnant air so thick you need scuba gear to get from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car. But not this year. At least not in my part of North Carolina.
We’ve had a few hot spells — afternoons when only the jewel-colored dragonflies move with alacrity. But as soon as we are well hunkered down to endure the swelters, a Canadian air mass comes swooshing down, bringing us unusually low high temperatures and several days in a row of steady, off-and-on rain. As I squish around my yard during non-rainy moments, I wonder if this is what it’s like to live in the Pacific Northwest.
Of course, this interlude from our typical late summer weather has a price — fungus. I don’t begrudge the toadstools sprouting everywhere. They usually wait until late September/October to appear, but this is their kind of weather.
The fungus I’m not so fond of afflicts my vegetable garden. The zucchinis have all surrendered to a combination of fungus and squash vine borer attacks. The tomatoes are losing their lower branches to fungus. Fruits are growing ugly black spots. Unless we get a dry heat wave, they won’t hang on much longer. The biggest surprise are the beans. Both Fortex (pole) and Jade (bush) are still astonishingly productive. The cosmos flowers are on the verge of surrender. But the Berry Basket zinnias party on.
Plants and animals proceed with their life cycles as best they can, obeying the calendar more than the weather. Seed production is in full evidence.
Our two months of unusually dry weather reduced seed cone production among my deciduous magnolias, but they still sport some reddening cones.
Late-summer wildflowers are starting to show off in earnest. Early goldenrods brighten the edges of woodlands, and Monkey Flowers adorn the floodplain.
Some flowers are fruiting and flowering together, like my native coral honeysuckle variety, ‘Major Wheeler.’ The berries are actually brighter red than the flowers.
The tadpoles metamorphosing in our little front water feature decided last weekend’s prolonged damp, cool weather was ideal for emergence to full-time air-breathing status. Monday morning, we spotted about a dozen froglets nestled on plants adjacent to the water, most sporting bits of tadpole tail not yet fully resorbed.
The Copes Gray Tree Frogs laid their eggs in late spring. But the ensuing dry spell deprived us of their nightly serenades — a lullaby I enjoy most summers. But with the return of rain, they are back, at least on warmer nights. Perhaps the crop of newly hatched tadpoles helped to encourage the large ones to leave their birth pond.
Plants and animals seem to be using these interludes to gather themselves toward the push to autumn. The froglets meditated on their leafy perches for about two days before disappearing deeper into the vegetation when the sun returned.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds used the rainy interludes to chug down as much sugar water from my feeder as they could.
The flowers they prefer to dine on were mostly closed for business during the cool rains. All the newly fledged birds from this year and their parents crowd the feeder from dawn to full darkness. I count six to eight birds jockeying for feeding slots all day long.
Male birds are especially intent on fattening up. They’ll be the first to head south to their tropical winter nesting sites, so they can claim the best territories before the females return. I usually notice they are gone by mid-September. The last stragglers generally stop visiting my feeder in early October.
All the natives — hummingbirds, froglets, praying mantises, writing spiders, magnolias, milkweeds, dogwoods — feel the summer slipping ever more quickly past. Whether we see more rainy interludes or swelter through late summer, they know time grows short.
Now is the time to hunker down and finish summer projects, plan fall gardens, and anticipate winter seed catalog dreaming sessions nestled by a crackling fire with a hot cup of cocoa.
Like the natural world surrounding me, I am using these unusual rainy, cool interludes to rest and recharge, knowing that every time the sun returns, weed explosions will add to my nearly infinite gardening to-do list.
Two months to the day after the last drenching, inch+ rain event on my yard, the rains finally returned. My rain gauge registered almost exactly a two-inch total for the event. Of course, the airport a mere 30 miles away measured over twice that, but I’m willing to overlook that this time.
The only puddle that remained by this morning was in the driveway, and its size was modest compared to previous puddles. When I walked the floodplain this morning, the ground was not muddy anywhere, but it was at least not dusty anymore. And the grass grew half a foot overnight, of course.
Even though the rains came down hard for much of the event, little managed to run off into our creek. I know this, because the creek water level is still quite low. The water is muddy, but barely flowing — still an improvement over the thin thread that occupied that space a few days ago.
The little pond I showed you in my previous post is not full to the top, but the level did rise. Compare the following two photos to those in the previous post.
Compare this to the close-up view from my previous post:
Last weekend, Wonder Spouse decided to harvest his remaining two potato bags. The heat and drought were making the plants look pretty sad, and he was worried the tubers below might be adversely impacted if he waited any longer.
I showed you the harvest of Viking Purple potatoes in the previous post. All three varieties Wonder Spouse grew this year began as a pound apiece of seed potatoes. From that, his yield was 6.3 pounds of Viking Reds.
The new variety he tried this year, Marris Piper, yielded 7.3 pounds of smaller potatoes.
Potatoes are never tastier than when they are freshly harvested, and we have been enjoying frequent potato feasts. Any way you prepare them, the flavor is astonishing if you’ve never eaten anything but old tubers from the grocery store bins.
The other vegetables remain productive despite the drought. In fact, I suspect that the drought is the reason they are still doing so well. During last year’s highly unusual rainy, cool summer, the beans, tomatoes, and squashes all succumbed to fungal diseases quite early in the summer. This year, I’m still picking lovely zucchinis. Two of the six plants have surrendered to the evil squash vine borers, but the other four are still valiantly producing, aided, I suspect, by numerous enthusiastic honeybees from my neighbor’s hive. Thanks, neighbor!
Speaking of pollinators, the almost completely absent butterfly population is finally showing signs of returning, no doubt aided by recent rains. The local experts on the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) chatlist are theorizing that the previous unusually cold and sometimes wet winter killed most of the overwintering larval stage of these insects. We’re finally beginning to see some, probably migrants from areas that weren’t so adversely impacted.
So far in my yard, I’m still seeing almost no swallowtails, but the little skippers and other small butterflies are now showing up in the numbers I expect, especially now that the flowers have been fortified by adequate (for now) rain.
I did spot the first bright green Praying Mantis of the summer a few days ago. It was loitering in a marigold growing next to my beans. I usually don’t notice these predators until about this time of year, as they grow larger in preparation for egg laying.
Speaking of egg-laying, just before the rains hit yesterday afternoon, I noticed the Carolina Wrens nesting in a pot on my back deck were covertly flying back and forth — a sign that at least one of the four speckled eggs they’d been tending had hatched. I tried to get a peek this morning, but only managed to annoy a damp Mrs. Wren snuggled inside the nest.
A bonus with the rain is an influx of below-normal cooler and drier air, which is predicted to linger for several days. For me, that means I’m out of excuses regarding weeding and other plant-maintenance tasks. But with moistened ground and a refreshing air mass, digging in the dirt will be a pleasure, not a hardship.
The rains are predicted to return in a few days. Perhaps now that my yard has been re-moistened, some of the future juicy clouds will choose to visit soon.
Here’s hoping all our gardens receive the rain they need to flourish.
Week seven here with only 0.43 of an inch of rain during that time, and that was almost three weeks ago. It is heart-wrenching to watch five acres of once-healthy Piedmont plant life wither, yellow, and die. Those are wildflowers I grew from seed a few years back. By now, they should be full of yellow composite flowers topped by dancing butterflies. Not this year.
The most depressing part about the above pictures? I took them before nine in the morning yesterday, long before a ray of sunlight touched them. They are in a chronic, perpetual state of wilt. I doubt a deluge would bring them back now.
The great canopy trees only show signs of water stress when the sun beats on them in the afternoons. They are conserving water by dropping their fruits prematurely. Tiny acorns and pecans litter the dusty ground. And the massive black cherry that was loaded with fruits was unable to carry them to juicy ripeness for the Pileated Woodpeckers who love them. Instead, shriveled fruits litter the dry ground beneath it.
I’ve shown you the tiny pond on our floodplain before; its water level reflects the state of the perched water table in that part of our yard. Two months ago, it was full to the top and overflowing out the other side of its overflow pipe. This is what it looked like yesterday morning.
Here’s another view, so you can see how much the water line has dropped.
The creek is equally low, because it’s fed by springs from the same perched water table. A stagnant thin string of water wends its way into the drying swamp. This would be quite bad enough, but the worse news is that the ten-foot-deep well we use to water our vegetable garden pulls from this same rapidly dropping perched water table.
With high-ninety-degree temperatures forecast for the next few days, I doubt I’ll have water for my veggies much longer. Hurricane Arthur passed by a mere 150 or so miles to our east a few days ago without dropping a single raindrop on my thirsty yard. I’m starting to wonder if our sky has forgotten how to rain.
For the moment, we harvest and rejoice in the bounty. Blackberry patches on the floodplain feed the wildlife.
The abundant blackberries have bought me time to harvest blueberries from our bushes without having to argue too much with the feathered folk. The berries are not as big and juicy as they are some years. But their flavor is bright, concentrated, and quite tasty mixed with plain yogurt or sugared in a fresh-baked crumble.
I’m doling out water to the veggies twice a week, timing how much each plant receives. It’s not as much as they’d like, but it’s enough to keep them going. I watered yesterday morning for about an hour, dutifully counting the seconds of precious liquid each vegetable received.
Wonder Spouse harvested his first bag of potatoes yesterday. From his one-pound investment of Viking Purple seed potatoes, his yield was six pounds of perfect tubers, unmolested by the voles which plagued the crop before he switched to this methodology.
Today’s garden harvest demonstrates the power of water vividly. For now, our table is full.
Today we cherish the harvest, freezing what we can’t eat immediately, because we know that it won’t take too many more rainless tomorrows to end these gifts from the garden.
Pray for rain, ya’ll.
Sometimes I hate being right. When the company I usually order my tomato seeds from sent me a substitute without asking my permission, I had a feeling I was going to be disappointed. I explained my misgivings in this earlier post.
I had ordered Early Goliath. Due to a crop failure, they sent me Early Choice. I suspect that some order-filler at the company figured since both varieties had the word “early” in their names, they were equivalent. Not even close.
When I first visited the company’s site after I got my order, Early Choice wasn’t even described in their listings. It’s there now. I voiced my suspicions about this unwanted substitute’s disease resistance in an earlier post. Now, in their description of this variety, they claim it is “highly disease resistant.” However, the imprecision of their language is highly suspect.
If you look at a good tomato seed catalog, the first item listed after the name is usually a list of letters indicating the various diseases to which the variety is resistant. For example, Early Goliath — the variety I wanted and had grown successfully previously — has these letters after its name: VFFNTAS, meaning this variety is resistant to Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt (Races 1 and 2), Nematodes, Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Alternaria Stem Canker, and Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot. That’s a heck of a lot more specific than “highly disease resistant.”
My Early Choice seedlings started off looking as healthy as the other varieties I’m growing this year, and they’ve received identical treatment. I don’t know which wilt disease is actively destroying them, but it’s moving fast. And the fruits were nearly tasteless anyway. We decided to remove the plants before their plague could spread to neighboring tomatoes on the trellis.
I’m happy to report that the rest of the vegetable garden is flourishing despite over 6 weeks with less than a half inch of rain. I am watering all veggies twice a week, but the shallow well designated for that purpose will go dry soon. Our best hope is the developing tropical storm currently south of us. Rains from a nice juicy tropical system could easily reverse my drought in a day. Fingers crossed.
In happier news, a pair of Carolina Wrens has built a nest in one of the flower pots on my back deck. The flowers survived in this pot over winter in my greenhouse and were just starting to look nice. Apparently, the wrens agreed. A pair raised a brood in this same pot last year. I don’t know if these are the same parents, or perhaps an offspring that recognized its birthplace.
The female has laid one egg per day so far. Last year, they stopped at four. I’ll let you know what they do this time. The birds don’t seem to mind me coming out on the deck to water the plants. And it’s great fun to watch the parents hustling back and forth with tasty morsels when the hungry nestlings emerge. I do continue to water the plants in this pot, but I fill the bottom saucer and let the roots pull up the liquid from below.
So this past weekend I lost two tomatoes and gained (so far) three Carolina Wren eggs. I calculate this to be a net win for the yard and garden. Now if I can just persuade the rains to return…
Mornings in the garden must start early, now that summer has officially arrived. Even if the solstice had not occurred last Saturday morning, I would have known it was here when I heard cicadas thrumming for the first time as the sun topped the trees.
I’m harvesting every day, despite a distressing absence of rainfall. In the last four weeks, we’ve had 0.43 inches of rain. That’s it. I’m watering the veggies twice a week. When the well runs dry, their time will run out. If only it would rain…
The Sweet Treats tomatoes — the cherry variety we grow — finally began gracing us with ripe fruits last week. Nothing says summer like ripe tomatoes.
The Fortex pole beans have been quite productive, but the heat and lack of rain are slowing them down. Fortunately, the Jade bush beans are just cranking into production mode. When you grow your own, you quickly learn that all beans are not created equally. Like the nuances between tomato varieties, bean varieties offer subtle differences to discerning palates.
For the first time in several weeks, I did not harvest a zucchini today. No worries; there are several in the refrigerator and plenty more ripening quickly in the garden.
After I’m done in the garden, I walk to the front of the house to inspect my neglected flower gardens. While I was sick and not paying attention, the voracious deer ate all the daylily and coneflower flower buds they could find. This is the only coneflower they missed, because it’s nestled between some large boulders.
The only unmolested daylilies grow in a bed between my front deck and the house. They lean out a bit to catch more sun.
I planted mostly spider form daylilies in this narrow bed, because I knew they’d grow tall enough to be seen.
When I realized with horror what the deer had done to my daylilies, I sprayed all their remaining buds with deer repellant. Thus, I’m getting a few, somewhat stunted blooms from most of them.
I like Pink Betty because she’s a bit different from many daylilies. She has managed to put out just a couple of flowers on stubby scapes — much shorter than normal. Like hostas, daylilies are deer candy, alas.
Some of the best-looking daylilies this year are the result of unsupervised crosses between named varieties. From its location and appearance, I’m fairly certain this is a cross between Brocaded Gown and Red Toy.
The light was not strong for these shots. A number didn’t quite work. I’ll try again on another summer morning. Abundant rainfall would help these struggling beauties a lot. Here’s hoping help arrives soon.
Finally, I’m in serious daily harvest mode. But it won’t last long, unless we get some rain. It is excruciating to watch the green blips on the radar detour around my yard day after day.
This tall spider-form daylily is having a spectacular year so far. These are two of the five flowers open yesterday — all more than 6″ across!
Fresh veggies and an array of lovely flowers — seems like summertime heaven to me.
Now if I could just persuade the rain clouds to visit…
We hear about it often these days — community food pantries in dire need of donations, due to increasing demand. In these United States, we have way too many hungry people — including an alarming number of children. That’s why I’m starting an occasional series on my blog: Gardeners Feed the Hungry. I’m hoping to feature gardeners across the southeastern Piedmont who are using their green thumbs to help fill hungry stomachs with fresh produce. The gardener walking through that immense (60′ x 60′), well-ordered garden in the photo above is Carol Newnam, the driving force behind a community garden about a mile from my home.
Carol was kind enough to allow me to visit this garden today and ask her about this project. Like me, she’s been gardening for decades, but when her husband passed away, she found herself with a garden too large to manage by herself. She was already a volunteer at our county’s food pantry: Chatham Outreach Alliance (CORA).She noticed that although CORA received generous donations of slightly too old produce from local grocery stores and donations from local farms and a community garden, there was never as much fresh produce as there was demand for it. That’s why last year, Carol decided to dedicate half of her immense garden to growing food for CORA. Thus the Friends of CORA Garden was born.
Last year was the first year for this project; they donated over 800 pounds of fresh produce to the food pantry. That’s a lot of nutritious food for those in our community who may not have the funds to pay for many fresh vegetables. Carol even grows flowers she donates to the pantry, because she believes everyone should be able to brighten their homes with a little beauty — beauty they couldn’t afford on their own.
Carol’s garden is part of her five-acre spread, which is forested everywhere except where she’s growing food. She has fruit trees, an asparagus patch, grape arbors, giant blueberry bushes loaded with green fruit, patches of mint and other herbs and flowers — even a few chickens. I noticed that the dominant trees on her land are beautiful white oaks, which grow on hilltops in the Piedmont. As is usually the case, such land is rocky; I noticed large boulders on the edges of the cleared garden area. And Carol mentioned that when new areas are dug, rocks are always encountered.
Carol has been adding organic material — mostly leaves — to the garden beds for years, resulting in rich soil that clearly makes veggies very happy. This season, she’s growing lettuce (almost done now), beets, parsnips, tomatoes, peppers, pole beans, field peas, crowder peas, summer straight-neck squash, zucchini, winter squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, onions, garlic, okra, and gourds. Use of space is maximized by even growing vines on the fence that protects the garden from marauding deer. This year, they trained cucumbers onto the perimeter fence, only to discover that the deer were nibbling as much as they could from the outside. But Carol and her volunteers devised a clever solution.
Carol is a Master Gardener, which means she has gone through training provided by the NC Agricultural Extension Service. Her garden is not entirely organic, but the pesticides she uses are the least toxic options, and used only when hand-picking of problem insects is not sufficient.
Although you only see Carol in these photos, she was not alone when I visited. Two loyal volunteers were also there, inspecting squashes for squash bug eggs, weeding, and harvesting. Carol tells me she also has had the help of high school students fulfilling community service graduation requirements, and some of her fellow master gardeners also help out. I asked Carol what had surprised her most about this project. She replied that she’s been delighted by the reliable, loyal volunteers who keep returning week after week to help her fill the food pantry’s shelves — although, she says, she could use a few more helpers.
Carol relies on proceeds from an annual plant sale and generous donations from the community to get the seeds and plants she needs for the garden. A local business gives her old seeds dated for the previous year. For most vegetables, year-old seed is still quite viable. You won’t get 100% germination, but you get enough to fill a garden — and the price is right.
Community gardens such as the Friends of CORA Garden provide much-needed vegetables to food pantries, which in turn contribute to wider nutrition options for the hungry. They also provide opportunities for gardeners — some perhaps retired from maintaining their own gardens, but who still get the itch to dig in rich earth, to feel the sense of accomplishment from harvesting a well-formed zucchini, a fat purple beet, or a red, juicy tomato, knowing that a hungry soul will appreciate their efforts.
That’s the other thing that surprised Carol after she began this project — how often folks thank her — folks at CORA, and some of the hungry souls who rely on the food pantry to nourish their families. That appreciation helps fuel her resolve to keep the garden going.
If you’d like to volunteer
Carol not only oversees this impressive garden, she also writes a blog about it. If you’d like to help/volunteer at this garden, visit Friends of CORA Garden. Contact information can be found on the About the Garden link on her blog.
If you have a southeastern Piedmont community garden
If you are involved with a community garden that is feeding the hungry in your community, I’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail me at the address listed on the About page of my blog if you’d like me to feature your group’s efforts.
All gardeners who grow food know the satisfaction of feeding their families fresh, nutritious vegetables and fruits. Most of us have extras of something from time to time during the season. If you haven’t done so already, please make a call to your local food bank and ask them if they will accept donations from home gardeners. If the pantries have the facilities for storing fresh produce, they will almost certainly welcome any food donations you can offer. Given the rising numbers of hungry souls in this country, I encourage all my gardening brethren to share their bounty. Let’s all do our best to feed the hungry.