Posts Tagged summer vegetable garden
Cool weather in my part of central North Carolina has been uncharacteristically prolonged this spring. Blooms on our native deciduous azaleas and magnolias have lasted weeks instead of days, as did the spring ephemeral wildflowers like bloodroot. The spring vegetable garden has also benefitted from the cool weather. I do mean cool. Just last week, our morning low dipped down to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and low-to-mid 40s have frequently occurred.
Consequently, the summer vegetables I started from seeds at the usual time — mid-March — have been impatiently growing taller within my greenhouse for quite some time. I tried to wait until nighttime lows looked like they would remain in the 50-degree range, but this past week I finally had to plant my summer vegetable/herb/flower charges before I could promise them fully settled weather. They are in no danger of being killed by a freeze — I’m 99% certain of that — but I’ve read of studies that show fruit production of tomatoes is reduced for the lifetime of the plant if they are exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees. However, I’m fortunate; fewer tomatoes won’t impact my household one way or the other; keeping towering tomatoes in the greenhouse, on the other hand, could have risked our entire crop.
As I planted out the summer vegetables, herbs, and flowers this past week, I pondered why it is I feel compelled to do this every year. I have decided the drive lurks within my DNA. Almost all my ancestors on both sides arrived in North America before the United States was born; most clear-cut forest and planted crops for food and profit. Their lives revolved around seasonal cycles, plant productivity, and insect and warm-blooded varmints trying to eat their livelihoods.
As I dig planting holes in beds I’ve been enriching with compost for three decades, I feel the hands of my grandmothers and grandfathers guiding mine. Food-growing is my connection to my lineage and to the land that shares its bounty with me. The sweat and sore muscles I accrue in the process seem a fair trade for what I am given in return.
I took all these photos yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, I finally transplanted the last few flowers I’d started in the greenhouse. Except for sweet potato slips, which don’t arrive or get planted until the end of May, the vegetable garden is planted.
Our Spring Vegetable Garden
I don’t grow carrots anymore. I never thin them adequately, and most years temperatures get too hot for them before they make much progress. Fortunately, many local organic farmers sell theirs at local markets, so we are always well-supplied. I hadn’t tried peas for years for the same reason, but something told me this year would be different. I started the peas in the greenhouse, because seed germination in cold, wet soil can be unpredictable. As soon as the pea sprouts had two sets of leaves, I transplanted them beside their trellis in the garden. Thanks to the cool spring, I see an excellent pea crop in our future — maybe even enough to freeze some for winter soups!
Wonder Spouse and I love beets. I grow two varieties — Red Ace and Detroit Red. Both make delicious greens that I’ve been popping into our salads for some time. Meanwhile, their delicious bulbs grow fatter in the cool spring weather. I only grew one lettuce variety, because it is so easy to buy organic lettuce from local farmers in my area. The variety I tried this year is New Red Fire; it is wonderfully tasty. Our unfinished basement makes a great root cellar, so we grow onions and potatoes that we store after harvest. Wonder Spouse likes mild, sweet Red Candy onions; I grow them from small bundled plant starts. Mr. Potato Head (aka Wonder Spouse) grows his potatoes in five large grow bags to thwart destructive voles. I know he’s growing two varieties this year, but I don’t remember the names at the moment.
Our Summer Vegetable Garden
This season I exhibited great self-control and only grew/planted three tomato varieties. Sweet Treats will always be our cherry tomato of choice. Picus has become our favorite plum/paste tomato. This year’s experiment with a medium slicing tomato is Rugged Boy. Only Sweet Treats is indeterminate, meaning it keeps growing longer all season. In theory, the other two determinate tomatoes should stop growing taller about mid-season and focus entirely on fruit production. I’ve noticed, however, that in my garden sometimes the determinate tomatoes forget themselves and grow nearly as much as the indeterminate forms. I tie them to either side of a 7-foot-tall trellis. By the end of the season, Wonder Spouse uses a stool to reach the fruits growing beyond my reach (even with the stool).
Peppers are a sweet Italian form, a variant of the traditional Bull’s Horn type that produces fruit half the size of their ancestor — a good thing for us — Bull’s Horn peppers are quite large. We grow a red one (Cornito Rosso) and a yellow one (Cornito Giallo). Because of their high vitamin C content, peppers freeze very well. Their colorful zing adds zip to Wonder Spouse’s culinary masterpieces all winter long.
I’ve had multiple years of success with a Japanese eggplant variety called Millionaire. It has shrugged off flea beetle damage and heat waves to remain productive until hard frost. We have become addicted to having a steady-but-not-overwhelming supply of these fruits all summer long.
I always grow a couple of zucchini plants I start from seed in the greenhouse. When I transplant them out, I cover them in a Reemay tent until they begin to bloom, so they can grow vigorous before I must expose them to the bug varmints of summer. I wrote about my method in detail long ago here. We like a variety called Raven. Its rich, dark fruits contain much antioxidant goodness and excellent flavor.
Because soil temperatures remained cold for so long, I only sowed my summer beans a week ago. After a recent copious rain, seedlings are emerging. Our pole bean of choice is Fortex; no other comes close for flavor and productivity. We love Jade bush beans for the same reason. I’ve taken to growing both on a trellis, allotting half to each variety. I find it is much easier to keep the bush beans upright and productive when I can lean or attach them to a trellis.
I’ve grown borage (Borago officinalis), an annual herb, off and on for years. I love the vivid blue of its flowers, and it is a pollinator magnet. I’ve never used it for its purported medicinal properties, but in researching it today, I learned that “the flowers, candied and made into a conserve, were deemed useful for persons weakened by long sickness.” Perhaps more of us should be growing borage this year to aid those recovering from world-wide sickness.
I know that most folks measure the beginning of summer from Memorial Day, which is still a bit more than two weeks away, but I’m thinking summer has gotten a head start this year. My evidence? Well, there’s Tropical Storm Ana, which hammered the NC coast just as Wonder Spouse and I were departing. We had a lovely, mild week of weather, and Wonder Spouse took hundreds of great photos, like the one above (Click on the photo to see a larger version). Let’s all meditate on that tranquil shot and say a collective “Aaaah,” before I return to the garden tasks now facing me.
The vegetables were very busy while we were gone. Wonder Spouse took one look at the growth of his beloved potatoes and immediately unfolded another level of his potato bags, so that he could tuck in more of his magic growing mix around his prodigies.
The Kipfel fingerling potatoes really multiplied:
I’m thinking their reputation for productivity is likely justified. If you’ve never eaten a fingerling potato, try some from your local farmer’s market when they show up freshly harvested in a month or so. Pure potato heaven awaits you.
The Purple Vikings are not as numerous, but the plants have really bulked up. I suspect their tubers are doing the same thing.
My beans germinated while I was gone. The Fortex pole beans came up enthusiastically, but the Jade bush beans did not. I wasn’t home to water the soil to keep it softer for germinating seedlings, and the Jades, which are not as robust as the Fortexes, may have suffered accordingly. Or the voles ate the seeds. I seem to have a bumper crop of voracious voles this year. I try not to hate any of Mother Nature’s creatures, but I’m still searching for a reason to appreciate voles.
The peppers and tomatoes are filled with flowers and tiny fruits. I spent a good half hour or so tying up tomatoes that shot up a foot while I wasn’t home to watch them. The squash seedlings now have multiple leaves; they’re still safely tucked beneath their Reemay tents until they begin flowering.
The bed of greens needs a good harvesting before the heat turns them bitter. The dill, chives, and parsley really filled out, and enhance just about every meal we eat (I don’t put them on my morning oatmeal, but they make scrambled eggs sing).
And, of course, I can’t close without showing you some of the fabulous flowers currently adorning our five acres. The Fraser Magnolia finished blooming while we were gone. I can just see small seed cones beginning to develop. Currently, the Ashe Magnolia is showing off, and I do mean showing off. This shrubby small tree decided to bloom from top to bottom this year. And when I say bottom, I mean touching the ground.
I could smell the sweet perfume of this magnolia before I got within 20 feet of it.
The Ashe Magnolia’s bigger cousin, Bigleaf Magnolia is full of buds. It will complete the native deciduous magnolia show in another week or two.
The deciduous azalea show is winding down, but the cultivar of Rhododendron flammeum — Scarlet Ibis — is peaking this week. The blooms don’t look scarlet to me, but they are indisputably spectacular, with a subtle perfume that adds to their wow factor.
A few more currently blooming floral highlights before I close this post:
The two Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ plants I added some years ago have become a Sweet Kate horde, and that’s just fine with me. They will bloom off and on until frost, barring severe heat waves/droughts.
To close this update, let’s meditate once more on the peace and tranquility that only a spring trip to the NC coast can provide. Wonder Spouse took this shot from the deck of our rental cottage. After several hours of rain, the sun returned on the final day of our visit and painted the sky with a rainbow framed against departing clouds (Click on it to fully appreciate the shot).
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.
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.
I did it again, gardening friends. I planted too many zucchini plants. The seedlings all looked so gosh darn healthy, I just couldn’t compost the extras. Thus, I planted six plants: 3 Spineless Perfection Zucchinis and 3 Dinja Zucchinis. Spineless Perfection has been a reliable variety in my garden for a number of years. Dinja is a newcomer. Both look fabulous — and alarmingly productive — at the moment.
The wire you see is a support for the woven fabric covering I use to protect seedlings until they start blooming. This prevents varmints from attacking small plants. Of course, when blooms appear, the bees need access, so I remove the coverings. Unless they’re in the way, I often leave the supports to give the plants something to lean on when gusty thunderstorms blow through.
All six plants are currently growing much more upright than they have in past years. Usually they revert to a more vine-like growth pattern. The upright growth form makes harvesting vastly easier.
I only picked two zucchinis today, but the refrigerator is growing alarmingly full of them. Despite the absence of measurable rain for the last two weeks, the plants are remaining productive, due to our attentive watering. We’ll keep watering as long as the shallow well we use for the veggies holds out.
Watering around the base of a squash plant with a hose in the early morning is a great way to flush out lurking squash bugs. They start climbing the stems, making it easy for me to pick them off and deposit them in the jar of soapy water I keep in the garden for unwelcome insect pests.
The zucchinis may be the current vegetable in abundance, but much more is going on.
All the tomato plants are weighted down by swelling green globes of future goodness. Waiting for the first ones to ripen is always torture.
The potatoes have grown so tall in their bags that Wonder Spouse erected wire cages around them to prevent flopping. Last year — his first year trying the bag method — a gusty thunderstorm knocked over the tall potato plants, damaging them in the process. This year, Wonder Spouse was determined there would be no repeats of that issue.
The last of the other spring-planted veggies are nearly ready for harvest.
A freebie from Renee’s Garden Seeds, the Peppermint Stick Chard is gorgeous and tasty.
The beets and carrots have surprised me by growing larger than I expected. They got a late start, but we’ve been diligent about watering them, plus I actually remembered to side dress them with fertilizer about a month ago. They’ve responded well.
June also brings what I think of as the first round of summer flowers, including the Black-eyed Susans, which are just starting to strut their stuff.
All look great now, but if we don’t get some significant rain soon, I’ll be in a race to see how much food I can coax from the veggies before drought, heat, bugs, and diseases damage them beyond salvation. Fingers crossed…
I exercised great restraint this year. I only chose 5 tomato varieties to grow from seed, and I only planted two of each kind in my vegetable garden, for a total of 10 plants. Compared to my younger, wilder days, that is a modest tomato planting, trust me.
Because I was being so restrained, I devoted a great deal of thought to my seed choices. I decided I couldn’t live without two varieties that have been consistently wonderful for me. One is a hybrid cherry tomato called Sweet Treats. Search my blog for that variety, and you’ll find plenty of reasons to appreciate my loyalty to this variety, including its resistance to a number of tomato diseases.
My other repeat choice was Goliath Early Hybrid, a member of the Goliath series of tomato varieties that I’ve found to be both early and wonderful. It is also resistant to just about every tomato disease out there, and it shows in the resiliently vigorous vines that usually top my 8-foot-tall trellis. Thus you can imagine my distress when the company I ordered from — Totally Tomatoes — substituted a completely different tomato without asking me, claiming a crop failure. Although I understand crop failures, Totally Tomatoes infuriated me by sending me a substitute without consulting me. Now on their Web site, they admit what they’re doing — that notice wasn’t up when I ordered. But even now if you search for the variety they substituted, you cannot find a description.
As far as I’m concerned, a company should always ask if substitutes are acceptable. When given that option, I always say no, because I want to decide what my Plan B will be, not some company that knows nothing about me and my garden needs.
The packet of Early Choice tomato seeds I received as an unwanted substitute offered no information about the variety. I have no idea what, if any, disease resistance this variety offers, but I’d bet big money it doesn’t match the disease resistance of the variety I actually ordered. Although my Early Choice plants look fine so far, I have grave misgivings about their staying power, because they have leaves that resemble potatoes (tomatoes are in the same plant family). All of the potato-leaved tomato varieties I know are heirloom types — delicious, but they fail fast, because they have no disease resistance. I want plants I can count on. In my climate, that means plants with disease resistance and flavor. I’ll let you know how this one turns out, but I will also tell you that I plan to never order seeds from this company again. They failed me with grafted tomatoes last year, and they failed me this year by substituting without asking my permission. Two strikes, and they are out. Luckily for me, they are not the only tomato seed company option available.
The other three tomato varieties I chose this year are determinate and new to me. For you tomato newbies, a determinate tomato grows to a set height, ripens all the fruits it has set, and then it’s done. Indeterminate varieties — Sweet Treats and Early Choice for me this year — just keep growing and producing until diseases or frosts kill them, whichever comes first. I chose determinate varieties because growing mostly indeterminants results in a messy, out-of-control trellis every year. I’m hoping that using determinants will give me more good-eating tomatoes with fewer disease issues. Time will tell.
First up, Tasti-Lee Hybrid. I picked this one because it is supposed to contain 40% more lycopene than other varieties. This antioxidant has proven to be a nutritional powerhouse in a number of studies — and it’s supposed to have “true tomato flavor,” so I’m giving it a try. This one’s a bit of a gamble, because no disease resistance is listed.
The other slicing-type determinant variety I’m trying this year is extremely disease resistant. Charger Hybrid is supposed to be high-yielding with good flavor. It’s also crack-resistant; cracking is an issue when you get a lot of rain after a dry spell — something that happens in my summer gardens most years. The fruits absorb too much water too fast, and their rapid expansion causes them to crack.
I’ve been growing the same paste tomato for years — Viva Italia. But this winter when I was perusing my options, I decided to try a different variety. I don’t remember why, and my choice — La Roma III Hybrid, is actually somewhat less disease-resistant than Viva Italia. It may have been the fruit size. Viva Italia plants produce 3-oz fruits. La Roma III is supposed to produce 5-8-oz fruits. I may have been thinking I can make more tomato sauce faster with larger paste tomato fruits. I can tell you that, so far, the La Roma III plants are extremely vigorous, their growth habit more shrubby than vine-like. And their fruits are growing faster and larger than the other slicer varieties I’m growing.
I’m sure I’ve shared my tomato-growing tips in previous years, but to review briefly, I grow my plants from seed in my greenhouse. I usually start about six of each type, then transplant the ones that look most vigorous. Extra good-looking starts are shared with friends. I never have trouble finding good homes for them.
I try to wait until nighttime temperatures are remaining above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, because studies have shown that tomatoes exposed to temperatures lower than that are slightly less productive. This year, I waited as long as I could, but my transplants have definitely experienced a few nights when temperatures dropped into the upper 40s in my garden. They all look great, though.
When I transplant my tomatoes, I dig deep holes, so that the bottom leaf nodes end up buried when I fill in the holes. New roots sprout from the newly buried leaf nodes, providing even more nutrition conduits for the plants. I also add organic fertilizer especially formulated for tomatoes. My soil is wonderful, but this boost seems to generate optimal flowering and fruit set for me.
I’ve tried every tomato support system out there over my decades of tomato growing. For me, a trellis system works best. I can plant on both sides, being sure to space plants so that they aren’t directly opposite each other. Remember to sucker indeterminate plants to foil their attempts at world domination. But don’t sucker determinant plants. Because they don’t grow infinitely tall, all those side shoots are needed to produce a good fruit crop.
Water when rains don’t do it for you, then wait for the green globes to go red. This is the hardest part for me — the waiting. I should be eating cherry tomatoes by the middle of June, maybe even a bit sooner. The others will likely take a week or more longer.
But I should be up to my eyeballs in another fruit before the tomatoes are ready. My enormous blueberry bushes are loaded with a record fruit set. I see blueberry muffins, pies, cakes, pancakes, and jams in my future, along with handfuls of fresh fruit for instant snacking goodness. I’m so ready!
Is is just my yard, or is everyone seeing an explosion of growth from their gardens? There is so much to see that I really need to be outside every day with the camera. I am certain that I’ve missed peak moments of some of my spring beauties.
Everywhere I turn, I am wowed by another gorgeous flower — like that iris in the above photo. Long ago, I chunked some irises into a bed in my vegetable garden, thinking it would be nice to have a place for cut flowers and to bring in pollinators. I’ve forgotten the names of the varieties planted there, and most years, I am very slow to get their area weeded. But despite nearly complete neglect, they reward me with spectacular flowers every year. I love that about the bearded irises.
Speaking of which, check out these:
These jaw-droppingly gorgeous blooms live in my front garden — another currently very neglected part of my yard. But do they complain? Never! They continue to multiply, blooming ever more magnificently every year.
Another plant that stops everyone in their tracks in my front garden this year is the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’). It grows and blooms so wonderfully that I’ve had to prune it severely several times over the years to prevent it from pulling down the trellis it perches on.
Why, you may ask, am I missing daily walks and neglecting beauties like those above? Two things: the vegetable garden and the greenhouse. As you may recall, my greenhouse was jam-packed with plants I grew from seed — veggies and flowers. However, in my part of NC, by early May, our temperatures are usually getting summertime hot. Even though the roof of my little greenhouse is covered by shade cloth and ventilated with a temperature-sensor-controlled fan — and I keep the door wide open during the day — temperatures get into the 100s in there pretty early.
Thus, I’ve been in my annual race to get everything growing in the greenhouse planted and/or moved to their summer spots before they sautéed themselves in the greenhouse. I’ve been working dawn to dusk at least every other day (weather permitting) to achieve that goal. And I just finished yesterday. Yes, I am tired, and yes, my aging, overused joints are not entirely happy with me. But it’s done. Every seed-grown start has been transplanted, watered, and mulched. Now it’s up to them and the whimsies of weather.
Top priority was the vegetable garden. Food plants always trump flowers. If I do say so myself, that part of my yard is looking pretty darn good. See for yourself.
The Fortex pole beans are making excellent progress.
One thing I love about a late spring vegetable garden — everything looks so neat and tidy. After the plants have grown a while, weather, bugs, and diseases create a more “lived-in” look.
Today is the first day my area will go into the 90s since last September. I have not missed those temperatures. Also, all the bugs are back — the good, the bad, and the really annoying — biting flies, gnats, ticks. It’s a jungle out there again, or getting there anyway.
No more working dawn to dusk for this gardener. As summer temperatures settle in, I’ll be up at dawn for a bit of quick pruning, tying, watering, and harvesting, then back indoors by 9:00 a.m. Unless a rare cool spell stops by.
Also stopping by this week, a couple of critters I don’t often see. A Red-headed Woodpecker hung around my yard for about 4 days, even sampling my suet feeders. I see them every once in a while, but they never seem to stay. I’ve always wondered if the Red-bellied Woodpeckers drive them away.
This other critter was trying to hide in my garage when I found him. I suspect he escaped from a load of wood chip mulch that I’d been spreading. That’s where these beetles live, so it was likely my fault that he was wandering around my garage. I relocated him to the mulch pile.
I haven’t begun to enumerate all that’s showing off in my yard right now. The Ash Magnolia blooms will be open very soon. The deciduous azaleas are amazing this year. The swamp wildflowers are ridiculously enthusiastic, likely from all that rain they had last summer.
I confess I spend my too-infrequent walks around the yard exclaiming over the loveliness of a bloom, the rate of growth of a particular shrub, the tiny discarded cones beneath my towering Dawn Redwood. Spring in my garden makes me a child again — surprised and delighted by every gift Mother Nature bestows on me.
Actually, I’m not planning on grafting my vegetables myself. Spending time grafting annuals for a small home garden is not efficient for my situation. However, everywhere I turn — in catalogs and gardening magazines — the big buzz is about the advantages of planting grafted vegetables. All the catalogs want to sell me these higher priced darlings.
If you use your favorite search engine to learn about the advantages of grafted veggies, you will get many, many results. A quick perusal on my part this morning was instructive. Apparently, the Japanese, especially greenhouse operations, have been grafting melons, squash, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers for quite some time. Fruit production is supposed to be higher, as is the length of productivity — more fruits over a longer period.
For those unfamiliar with this ancient horticultural technique, grafting usually involves putting together two different cultivars of the same species. Fruit growers have been doing this for centuries. They look for a tree with a vigorous root system and less-than-spectacular fruits and a tree with great fruit quality but perhaps weaker roots. They take a cutting from the top of the tasty plant (called a scion) and plug it into the lopped-off top of the plant with vigorous roots (called the rootstock). When done correctly, the two pieces grow together nicely, leaving just a bit of a scar line where they join. The grafted fruit tree scion generally becomes able to produce more, healthier fruit, because it is growing on the vigorous rootstock.
Often, rootstock plants are more resistant to diseases than the tasty fruit plants, so when the rootstock is able to impart this advantage to its grafted top, fruit production improves. This propagation process makes perfect sense to me for long-lived perennials and trees. But for annuals in a home garden? I’m just not sure, which is why my 2013 garden will feature an experiment.
Tomato growers are hyping grafted heirloom plants as the solution to heirloom tomatoes’ notorious susceptibility to diseases, most of which linger in the soil for years. They claim that an heirloom tomato growing on disease-resistant rootstock will give growers much more vigorous plants, and prolonged crops of tasty Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, etc.
For some situations, this may be true. For example, if your garden space is so small that you can’t manage to rotate your crops each year, grafted veggies may help you. When you rotate crops, you avoid growing members of the same plant family in the same spot every year. I am blessed with a large garden area. I only grow the same plant family in the same spot after growing other plants there for the previous two years. This may not eliminate every vestige of lingering disease spores, but I think it helps a lot.
For those who may have forgotten, squash, melons, and cucumbers are all members of the cucurbit family. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes are all members of the Solanaceae family, and peas and beans are legumes. Rotating where you grow these family groups makes it harder for their diseases and predators to lay in wait for them.
I have also read research that suggests that stressed plants produce more chemicals that make them less appealing to bad bugs and diseases. Grafting does stress plants, in that it requires them to allocate resources to heal the graft wound. Maybe this revs up the plant’s vigor?
The only way to learn more is to try some of these new-fangled plants, so I have ordered two grafted plants: a Brandywine and a Goliath. I have never had much success with seed-grown Brandywines in my garden. I usually get a few nice fruits, then the plant is overwhelmed by disease. I usually pull them out of the garden before the hybridized, disease-resistant tomatoes are halfway done. If the grafted Brandywine I plant this year really performs better, I will be a believer in the concept, although I’m still not sure it is enough of a return on investment to justify the cost.
The other grafted variety I’m trying is Goliath. This hybrid, disease-resistant tomato has always produced magnificently for me from seed-grown plants. I cannot imagine that grafting will improve its productivity in my garden, but it will be interesting to see.
Of course, I must have control plants to measure against the grafted ones, so I’ll also grow Brandywine and Goliath tomato plants from seed as usual. I’ll plant them at opposite ends of the trellises to minimize any cross contamination. May the best tomato win.
Fans of grafted tomatoes wax positively poetic about how disease-resistant rootstocks will prevent diseases from overwhelming tasty, disease-susceptible heirlooms. I am a doubter for my garden, because the root systems of all my tomatoes are always vigorous, and <knock on wood> I don’t have a nematode problem in my garden soil.
Most of the diseases that hit my tomatoes correlate with weather — hot humid summers breed fungal plagues — and insect infestations — spotted cucumber beetles, stink bugs, and other sucking insect predators insert diseases into plants when they suck out their juices. Unless the act of grafting in itself is the key to such improved vigor that even insect-introduced diseases are repelled, I doubt I’ll see much, if any, difference between my seed-grown controls and grafted test subjects.
Similarly, many of the soil-born wilts reach leaves when they are splashed up off the ground by watering or heavy rain. If you use organic mulch around your tomatoes, as I do, eventually soil-based fungi will find their way onto lower leaves, then work their way up from there. I don’t see how a disease-resistant rootstock will save a grafted heirloom in that scenario.
One more point for those who may have read about my tomato-planting technique in previous posts. I always dig a deep hole, maybe 8 inches below ground level, so that I can plant tomato seedlings deeply. The newly buried length of stem almost instantly begins to sprout roots, which may explain why my tomato plants always have vigorous, plentiful root systems. However, for the grafted plants, I won’t be able to do this.
If I buried the grafted plants so that the graft line was below soil level, the buried stem of the scion (top part) would sprout roots. Because those roots would be from a plant that is less disease-resistant, any advantage conferred by the graft would be negated. This is another reason I’ll be surprised if the grafts win the productivity race. Their root systems will almost certainly remain smaller than their seed-grown competitors. If roots are the key piece of this puzzle, my money is on the seed-grown, deeply buried plants.
I’ll keep you posted as the season progresses. I’ve ordered all my seeds and plants, and I’ll be prepping my greenhouse soon for seed production mode. It will be most interesting to see the results of this experiment.
Have you ordered your seeds yet? If not, get busy. Seed sales are up as more folks are trying to grow some of their own food. To get the best selection, ordering soon is your best option.
The vegetable garden is enthusiastically growing; visible increases are evident daily. Even so, I’ve been trying to find a good day for foliar feeding for about a week now. For those who may not know, foliar feeding is the application (via a sprayer) of a dilute solution of fertilizer directly onto the leaves of plants. Leaves directly absorb nutrients from the droplets, thereby giving the plants an almost instantaneous boost — much faster than plants receive via soil applications of fertilizer.
I’m an organic gardener, so I use a dilute solution of a mixture of fish emulsion and sea weed. That gallon bottle in the photo above has lasted me several growing seasons, and will last me several more. The empty gallon water bottle on the left is where I mix my solution. I use that old metal tablespoon in the foreground to measure out three tablespoons of fertilizer into the water bottle, then I fill the bottle with water and shake. Measurements are not exact, nor do they need to be. Fish emulsion is stinky and messy — wear gloves.
I pour the dilute solution into that little yellow hand sprayer in the photo. I used to use larger back-pack sprayers, but they are heavy and cumbersome. And now that I’ve downsized my veggie garden, this little sprayer works just fine for me.
The only trick to foliar feeding is finding an ideal moment for spraying. You absolutely can NOT spray the plants when the sun is shining on them. Water droplets magnify the power of the sunlight, and you will end up with damaged, even burned-looking leaves. Your garden must be in full shade, or you must wait for a cloudy day.
Unfortunately for me, my garden doesn’t go into full shade until quite late in the day. Foliar feeding just before nightfall is less than ideal, because you run the risk of the leaves not drying, which can lead to mildew issues. And the mosquitoes are ferocious that time of day, which makes application quite an ordeal. This morning I got lucky. Clouds ruled the sky until about 10:30, so I hustled outside, picked ripe fruits, tied a few tomatoes, then foliar fed my garden.
Even though my veggies were growing well, I knew it was time for a foliar feeding application because of the bugs. I have removed seven young tomato hornworms from my tomatoes, and today I discovered and removed a mass of bronze eggs laid by a squash bug. Foliar feeding makes leaves less appealing to insects who chew on them, and more disease resistant. The dilute sea weed extract in the mix contains a number of trace elements that work to fortify the leaves against intruders.
Sometimes when I have foliar feeding solution left over, I spray plants outside my fences. When I do that to daylily buds, I’ve noticed the deer pass them by. I guess sea food isn’t their favorite.
The entire garden smells faintly of the ocean after I apply this fishy goodness, but only until the droplets dry on the leaves. Today that happened very quickly; our humidity is uncharacteristically low. On a more typical humid summer day, drying might take an hour or so.
No matter how careful I try to be, I always end up smelling like the solution, so if you try this technique, plan on time for a shower when you’re done.
As I mentioned, the veggies are cranking bigtime, as evidenced by the first tomato harvest of the season today — 2 Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes. Last year, these were just turning red on June 21, so I’m about three weeks ahead on tomato season. Squashes are producing regularly. The Y-Star Patty Pans have really great flavor. We’ll definitely grow those again.
The Fortex pole beans clearly plan on world domination this year. I took this shot of their trellis this morning:
Fortex flowers have been blooming for about a week now, and the vines sport many tiny new beans.
The Jade bush beans got off to a slower start, but they are making up for it in productivity. Here’s what their small row looked like this morning:
The new fruits on the Jade bush beans are about three times longer than the Fortex babies:
More Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes will be ready for harvest in a day or so:
And the two paste (roma) tomato varieties are sporting reddening fruits:
As you might imagine, there’s much more going on in the garden and yard these days. I took a lot of pictures today. Soon I’ll show you some new current bloomers and some coming attractions.
Now I go to bake the season’s first batch of zucchini bread. Soon the house will be filled with spicy cinnamon goodness. And thanks to the return of the clouds that are holding down our temperatures well below seasonal levels, the warmth from the oven won’t be unpleasant.
I love any excuse to play in the dirt with plants, but I find it’s equally satisfying to cook and devour the fruits of my labor. I hope the gardens of my readers are as productive as mine, and that they provide you with delicious meals all season long.
I took this photo this morning. I’m thinking we’ll be eating squash nightly very, very soon, especially because the zucchinis are equally enthusiastic, as you can see here:
I picked about two dozen peas this morning, along with a bowl full of mixed greens for tonight’s salad. Beet and carrot tops grow more vigorous daily, so I’m hopeful that their root growth is equally enthusiastic. All pepper plants sport small fruits, and the tomato growth rate is making me distinctly nervous. I am tying new growth to their trellises every other day.
I guess this is what a little bit of rain does for a vegetable garden. We’ve still received far, far less rainfall than nearby areas, but, clearly, we’ve gotten enough to excite the veggies.
Then there are the 20-year-old blueberry bush/trees to consider. They are laden with ripening green-blue globes of goodness. I’ll soon be battling the birds and mosquitoes as I pick as much ripe fruit as I can reach.
I know my mouth waters at the thought of all this imminent deliciousness. Perhaps yours does too?