Monday, November 1, 2010

2010 Gardening Review

Gardening for this year is about finished. But it was an outstanding gardening year, a cool, wet spring, and little evidence of curlytop, provided us with an abundant harvest.

I just finished a great green bean harvest, we ate, canned, and gave many away to family and friends. I planted the beans on August 15th, began harvesting the first of October, and finished the harvest on October 27th.

I finished my corn harvest on October 4th, and we canned (freezer) much of the harvest.

I still have tomatoes producing in the garden (Ropac and Columbian), along with spinach. I have been very impressed with the Ropac and Columbian tomato varieties. These varieties produced early, heavy, through the summer, and into the late fall; easily the best producer in my garden. I like their flavor, they didn't crack, and didn't contract curlytop. I will plant these varieties again next year.

The cool, wet spring made for an excellent spring and early summer garden, and the summer wasn't too bad either. The fall has also been nice. The lack of too many violent winds has helped all growing season. My pecans, maturity wise, are behind prior years, but my trees are loaded with large, plump pecans--they just took a little longer to mature due to the cool spring and early summer. But I expect a huge crop. The wind only blew off a small percentage of the pecans, so my losses are small.

I had a wonderful pomegranate crop, we juiced most, got about 5 gallons of juice. I have both sweet and sour pomegranates and I juice them all together, it makes a nice tart, but not too tart, blend of pomegranate juice that we will enjoy until next October. I have three sour pomegranates and five sweet. Three trees are the original, old Toquerville pomegrantates (whatever variety that is). They are dark red and sweet. I planted three sour varieties, and two sweet varieties. All trees produced fruit this year, though the two sweet varieties I planted are still quite small. The sour pomegranates obviously grow faster than the sweet varieties. Just interesting.

I experimented by planting some late beets and Great Lakes lettuce, in September. I don't think the beets will make. The lettuce may still make, if not, it will be ready to take off when spring comes.

We pretty much lived off our garden all summer long (June through October). It was the best eating we've had in years. I believe Americans will be forced to grow more of their food in the future--if they want to eat. Agriculture in this country is in trouble, government regulations and price controls have made agriculture marginally profitable. Most dairymen are on the verge of bankruptcy, the government continues to punish farmers, environmentalists have all but declared war on agriculture and are determined to eliminate large scale agriculture, which means there will be food shortages in the future. I don't say this to be an alarmist or to sound like a political rant; but we all need to understand that growing our own food will be critical in the next few years, at least. Gardening is not easy, you can't just throw the seeds in the ground and come back later and harvest the crop. Gardening takes a great deal of knowledge, patience, work, good timing, a little luck, and a lot of faith.

It's time now to begin preparing your garden for next year. Till in all your leaves (except for walnut leaves), grass clippings, and other compostable material. By spring, it will all be decomposed and ready to grow you a great garden.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

September Gardening Report

Gardening has slowed down considerably. I did harvest my O'Henry peaches, as pictured here. I also harvested our Asian pears in September. These are wonderful, round, crisp and juicy pears. My final grapes were harvested and juiced (concord). We are currently harvesting my final corn crop. We canned (froze) about half the harvest, and continue to eat this wonderful sweet corn from the garden. My fall green beans are about ready to pick, and I still harvest some tomatoes, bell peppers and Anaheim peppers.

Because of worms in the peaches the past two years, I sprayed my peaches three times after they began showing color, and did not have a single worm. The harvest of both the Elberta and O'Henry peaches was excellent for me. The only remaining fruit for me are a few Golden Delicious apples, and pomegranates. My apple tree is small and set only a few blossoms and apples.

My pomegranates are also about ripe. Last year we juiced most of our pomegranates and have enjoyed the juice all year long. I have both sweet and sour pomegranates, and when mixed with Fresca, makes a wonderful and healthy drink. I mix both sweet and sour pomegranates together, and it makes a wonderful blend for zesty drinks.

I'm looking forward to the pecan harvest this year. My trees are loaded heavily with large pecans (my harvest was quite light last year). The winds have been light, so not many have fallen prematurely to the ground. I also noticed the pecan aphids were very light this year, very little sap and drippage from the leaves.

I am already tilling my garden, tilling in corn stubble, grass clippings, chicken manure and other compostable material. All my fall leaves will also go into the garden, if tilled in, they will be completely decomposed by spring.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

August Gardening Report

August has been a heavy production month for me. Tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupes, casabas, watermelon, corn, and peaches. In terms of weight, August is easily the heaviest production month of the year (those melons add up in a hurry). My melons are about done producing, though I have a few cantaloupes and a few watermelons still on the vine.

A few observations and conclusions:
1. Moving my drip lines away from the base of the melons clearly helped keep the squash bugs down; I had some, but they were never much of a problem.
2. Placing a couple of drops of vegetable oil on the corn silk early in development, clearly keeps the bugs and worms out of the ear of corn.
3. I planted Striped Klondike, Crimson Sweet and Green River watermelons. The Striped Klondike were easily the best flavor, they were so sweet and delicious. Even the small Klondikes were tasty. The Green River melons were a disappointment, though I did plant them late.
4. The Ropac and Columbian tomatoes easily out-produced the Celebrity and Better Boy varieties--and they're still fairly loaded with tomatoes.
5. The casabas were disappointingly small, but good flavor, and we had more than we could eat.
6. In the past, I have not sprayed my fruit, but both previous years nearly all my peaches had worms. So this year I sprayed, only at the first sign of color. I sprayed three times, two weeks apart--and I have no worms this year. I used a vegetable safe Spectracide product.
7. My peaches (elberta) were a couple weeks later this year than last, but we did have a cool spring. But it's a great peach crop for a three year old tree. My OHenry variety ripens later, but they look good too, and I sprayed them also and see no signs of worms.
8. My pecans are also maturing later than last year. Last year in mid-August they were completely filled out, this year on September 1st, they are still not completely filled out. I have a heavy crop, and hope they still fill out large.

I planted spinach today (Sept 1st), planted green beans on August 9th, and fall corn on July 20th.

If you have empty space in your garden (have taken out completed crops), begin tilling in mulch, compost, manure, etc. The ground is a great place to compost, from now until Spring planting.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

July Gardening Report

July has been an amazingly productive month for me this year. Let me address this by crop:

Tomato: Admittedly, curly top was very light this year. A few gardeners reported some curly top, but most had none, I had none. I planted eight tomato plants, 2 Celebrity, 2 Better Boy, 2 Ropac, and 2 Columbian. During May and June I sprayed the celebrity and the Better Boy with powdered milk. I did not spray the Ropac and Columbian plants. I also sprayed my melons (cantaloupe, casaba and watermelon) with powdered milk.

None of my tomato plants contracted curly top (nor have the melons). It’s difficult to know if it had anything to do with the powdered milk, or there just weren’t any beet leafhoppers around. I did not see any leafhoppers in my garden, but they are small and difficult to see.

Consequently, my tomato harvest has been amazing. The Ropac and Columbian varieties are touted as curly top resistant (maybe they are and maybe they aren’t), but I tried both varieties. They did not contract curly top, and they were both very heavy producers. I’ve never had a tomato plant set on as heavily as these did. The tomatoes were not large, and some were quite small, but the flavor was good, and we also used them in making salsa, so the size didn’t matter.

The Celebrity variety was a bit of a disappointment in its productivity (also disappointed last year, but curly top was such a problem I dismissed it), but the tomatoes were large and tasty. The only tomatoes in my garden that had any cracking were the Celebrity tomatoes. I may try another variety next year.

The Better Boy plants(indeterminate variety) set on late, but has produced heavily, and produced some of the largest tomatoes I’ve ever grown, consistently 8 to 12 oz size.

I was tempted to plant more tomato plants this year, but know that 8 plants is far more than we and our family can use–if curly top will leave them alone. Glad I didn’t plant more. I have harvested a large bowl of tomatoes every morning for about three weeks.

Corn: I planted three plantings of corn, four rows by about 12 feet long, about three weeks apart. I planted only Miracle Corn (I really like this corn). We have had more than we can eat and have given it away to neighbors and family. I place a couple of drops of vegetable oil on the corn silk after it emerges to eliminate worms and bugs. It was less effective this year than what I experienced in the past–not sure why. Still, most ears were worm and bug free. The third planting is just getting ripe now. I also planted four full rows of corn on July 20th, for my fall crop. Miracle Corn is a 70 day corn, so we’ll be eating this crop in October. We plan to blanche, cut off the kernels, bag and freeze much of this crop.

There is no reason, in this area, that you cannot enjoy sweet corn from your garden from about July 1st through October, if you make successive plantings.

As I harvest my corn, I take a large butcher knife with me and cut off the corn stalks low, then cut up the stalk into about 6-8" pieces, and just leave them in the corn rows. When I’m finished with the crop, I till it all back into the soil. My experience is that the corn stubble is all decomposed well before I begin tilling for the spring planting.

Cantaloupe: As some of you may know, I only plant one variety, Ambrosia, easily the best flavored cantaloupe on the market. It has a short shelf life and therefore you won’t find it in the grocery stores. I planted two rows (40 feet long), and we have been buried in sweet, tasty melons.

Casaba: I have never grown casaba before, but tried it this year (I normally plant Crenshaw Melons). Casabas are a little later maturing, and have only harvested two melons so far. The size of the casaba are a bit small for some reason.

Watermelon: I planted two rows of watermelons, a row of Striped Klondike, a half row of Crimson Sweet, and a half row of Green River. The Green River seeds came from my father in law who has been dead for 15 years, every seed sprouted, however. But I planted these a little later and they are not yet ready.

The Klondike melons are looking extremely good. We’ve only eaten a couple of smaller ones that cracked open, but the flavor, even for an immature melon, was excellent.

The Crimson Sweet are also not ready yet, but will be within a week or two.

Boysenberry: I have a small everbearing strawberry patch, and several boysenberry plants. During the month of July we have enjoyed an abundant harvest of both strawberries and large, plump boysenberries. This has been a real treat for us. The boysenberries are nearly finished, however. The strawberries have been producing since April 20th.

Green Beans: This past week I also planted two rows of bush type green beans, which are sprouting today. Beans are about a 60 day crop so they should be ready by October 1st.

I plan on planting spinach about September 1st, for a winter crop.

Finally, as I observe other gardens and talk to other gardeners, I notice a couple of things:

1) Weed Control: it’s a mistake to allow weeds to grow large. They are easy to remove when small, just a couple minutes a day will keep all your weeds out. Large weeds sap nutrients, water, and space from your garden, and if allowed to go to seed, will dump hundreds or thousands of weed seeds back into your garden–a big mistake.
2) Nutrients: many gardeners fail to understand the necessity of adding nutrients back into their garden, every year, even continuously. A successful garden will take out hundreds of pounds of produce, plus the weight of the plant that it grows on; so hundreds of pounds of nutrient must be replaced. Leaves, manure, compost, grass clippings, table scraps, or any organic material can, and should, be returned to the garden. If you have a chipper or grinder, then leaves, twigs, and other carbon based materials can be ground up and returned to the garden. This is a process I engage in year round, but especially during the dormant fall and winter period. All of the above mentioned material were completely decomposed by spring. The rule of thumb is this: it takes the same amount of time for something to decompose as it did to grow. Here is my recycling program: it goes from the garden to the table, from the table to the chickens, from the chickens to the garden.
3) Variety: many gardeners do not pay attention to the variety they plant–this is a mistake. The variety affects the flavor, production, and success of your garden. Experiment a little every year and settle on the varieties that have the best flavor, are the most productive, and do the best in this area.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

June Gardening

A few observations about gardening this year.

1. Curly Top : I've seen no evidence of the beet leafhopper and the accompanying curly top virus in my tomatoes. Nor have I seen any evidence of it in any of my vines. My neighbor had one of about 20 plants infected with curly top. I've asked a few neighbors and none have had problems with the disease...yet. I continue to spray powdered milk on my tomatoes and vines. Renowned agronomist Sylvan Wittwer told me that milk is a known defense against curly top and other tomato diseases. It isn't 100%, but it is known to be effective. So the powdered milk thing is not just urban legend, but has a scientific basis. Still, it's difficult to know whether this is just an off year for the beet leafhopper, or if the milk is having an effect. I suspect the strong southwesterly winds we experienced most days in May and June may have blown the leafhoppers far away from Toquerville.

2. Tomatoes: I planted Celebrity, Better Boy, Rowpac, and Columbian varieties this year. Rowpac and Columbian are supposedly curly top resistant. All are doing well. The Rowpac and Columbian are heavy setters and are loaded with tomatoes, though their size is smaller than I like. But the flavor of both is good, and very little cracking. The Better Boy plants have not set many tomatoes this year. Witter recommends Champion or Superfantasic over this variety, I may try these next year.

3. Corn: I planted four rows of Miracle Corn. Last year this 70 day corn was on the table at 70 days; this year, however, it will be about an 85 day corn. The cool weather slowed down its growth. Still, the corn looks great and we look to be eating some within a week's time. I've mentioned this before, but I always place a couple of drops of vegetable oil on the corn silk shortly after it emerges. This eliminates the corn borer and keeps the ears clear of bugs. It's an inexpensive solution, and avoids the use of pesticides. This year I put the oil in a small squirt bottle and just shot a little squirt of oil onto the silk. It worked perfectly.

4. Melons: I planted Ambrosia cantaloupe, Casaba, Klondike watermelon, and Green River watermelon. The Green River melon seeds were some my wife's father had saved (he's been dead for 15 years), but every seed sprouted. The Ambrosia and Casaba are doing well, with good melon sets growing nicely. This year I gradually moved my drip lines away from the base of the melons (and squash). This keeps the squash bugs at bay (I have no squash bugs yet). The ground remains dry at the base of the plants, where squash bugs like to reside.

5. Onions: I have been harvesting onions for eight weeks, and have now taken the water off and am drying out the onion bulbs. This onion crop was impressive, probably the best onions I've grown. I'm trying to dry out the onions better this year so they will last longer through the winter.

6. Squash: I planted zucchini and scallop summer squash. All plants look great and are producing all too well. Again, I've seen no squash bugs yet. I also planted a "turban" squash given to me by a friend of mine. This is a large, winter squash. The plant is very large and has set several turbans.

7. Berries: I am now harvesting large, black, delicious boysenberries. This is a first for me. The plants have grown well, and are producing a nice crop. We have also been eating strawberries for over two months. My raspberries flowered thickly, but produced no fruit, very disappointing. I've had others tell me there's did the same this year, so not sure what that is about.

Overall, this has been a wonderful gardening year for me. All the cool weather crops were excellent; beets, carrots, broccoli, peas, onions. I have green beans growing, a great crop of grapes coming, and a nice crop of figs. The figs, however, are about a month behind last year. After a disappointing pecan crop last year, this year's crop looks to be very good, the trees are thick with young, small pecans. My apricots mostly froze, but are enjoying the few that survived.

Toquerville gardeners should appreciate the excellent gardening weather we have here. Two elements make the difference, in my opinion. First, although the days can get hot, Toquerville warms slowly in the summer mornings, and usually begin cooling by 1-2pm in the afternoon. So there is really only a few hours of hot temperatures. Second, the evening always cool (it was 66 degrees this morning), so plants do not get significantly stressed by the summer heat. This is not typical of St George and Washington, and areas south.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

May Gardening Report

May was a spectacular month for gardening in Toquerville. Warm days and cool nights was perfect for onions, broccoli, peas, beets, carrots and tomatoes. I've never had better onions, broccoli, beets, carrots, and peas--the weather was perfect.

It's also interesting to see how much the garden changes since my last post (6 weeks ago). I have been harvesting broccoli since May 6th, green onions since May 7th, beets since May 10th, carrots since May 20th, and peas since May 22nd. And my harvest has been excellent.

My beets are about done, the peas will probably be done within a week or so. I continue to harvest flowerettes from the broccoli plants, and expect they will be ok for another couple of weeks.

But if the weather was perfect for the cool weather crops, it was not quite so good for the warm weather crops like corn, melons, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. All are doing well, they are just behind their growth from last year, due to cooler temperatues.

I have three plantings of corn however. My first planting was April 12th, second planting was May 6th, and third planting was May 26th. The first planting is nearing the tassel stage (this week I think). I planted Miracle Corn again this year, was very pleased with its performance last year, great flavor, large ears, and it doesn't blow over in the wind. With the successive plantings, we should have delicious corn for two and a half months.

The other good news (fingers crossed) is I have had no evidence of curly top. Due to the cool, wet spring weather, the beet leafhoppers have not appeared in my garden--yet. I am experimenting with two "defensive" measures. I planted both Rowpac, and Columbian varieties, both claim to be resistant to curly top. For my other two varieties (Celebrity and Better Boy), I have sprayed them with a powdered milk mixture. By this time last year, I had already lost most of my tomatoes to curly top. Last year I took no action against the disease, and had to replant most of my tomatoes, and eventually got a fair crop.

Friday, April 23, 2010

April Garden and Weather Report

It has been an unusual Spring, wet, cool, and frosty. I planted my tomatoes on April 2nd. On April 6th, it got down to 32 degree and froze my tomatoes, peppers, most of my apricots, and a few peaches. Admittedly, I was shocked to see frost on the ground that morning, since the weather report the night before called for a low of only 39 degrees, partly cloudy and breezy--so I was not worried. If you think Al Gore knows the weather 100 years from now, consider that between 10:30 pm, and 8 a.m. the following morning, it cleared off, there was no breeze and it froze--the weather report was off considerably.

Even with the unusual weather, it is still a great spring for gardening, lots of rain (8.45 inches of rain at my house since Jan 1st), cool temps, and not much wind.

My onions, peas, beets and carrots are loving this spring of 2010. I replanted my tomatoes and peppers, and planted Miracle Corn on April 12th, and it is now up. I also planted Ambrosia Cantaloupe, Casaba, and summer squash.

With the cool weather, there are not many pests yet, but the aphid are showing up on my peach tree leaves, so they will get sprayed tomorrow. I use a non-chemical mixture of Tabasco hot sauce and Dawn dish soap in a sprayer. It works very well for aphids and is non-toxic.

If you can dodge the rain and the wind, it's a good time to spray 2-4 D product on morning glory, dandelions, and other broadleaf weeds. Remember that 2-4D drifts, if it's windy, and can damage garden crops and fruit trees--even your neighbor's crops and trees, so always avoid spraying if there is any wind.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March Gardening

January was wet, February was wet, March IS wet. Consequently, the soil is also wet, and makes it difficult to till. I was able to get my garden tilled in early February, and got a few cool crops planted in mid-late February. But I have been unable to till the garden since--just too wet.

Toquerville has received almost 8 inches of rain since January 1st, already above our annual average rainfall. And with the El Nino pattern, it will probably continue wet well into May. But the El Nino pattern also means we will have fewer strong, north winds, and we have had fewer strong north winds than the past three years. So young, tender garden plants will not get beat up so badly from the wind. And I have not yet needed to water either my garden, grass or trees. I would suggest that because the soil is so saturated, to be careful about watering just because it warms up. I doubt trees will need any water for some time yet.

I have onions, peas, beets, carrots, and broccoli up and growing. Your cool weather crops should be in by now.

March Checklist:
1. Cool weather crops should be in the ground by now.
2. Roses should be pruned
3. Fertilize (spikes or granular) fruit trees, berries, shrubs
4. Till garden as soon as it dries out sufficiently, for planting tomatoes, potatoes, summer squash, melons, corn, etc.
5. Setup your drip system, this picture shows mine. I have my drip on a timer so I know the garden always gets watered, even if I forget about it, or am out of town.
6. Be thinking about Curly Top, and how you're going to combat it. I am going to plant some resistant varieties this year. See my earlier posts in this blog for a more complete treatment of this subject. It's been a wet winter and spring, so the Beet Leafhopper will be abundant this year.

Consider fertilizing your garden with a water soluble fertilizer through your drip system. Monoamonium Phosphate is what I use. Ballards Nursery sells this fertilizer, it is a low nitrogen, high phosphate, water soluble fertilizer, and I dispense it through my drip system. This fertilizer comes in a 50 lb bag, but will last you two or three years, or more.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spring Garden Guide

Spring is not far away and it’s time to begin planning your spring garden. This January and February have been cooler than last year (A year ago, it was 65 degrees on Feb 8th), so I’m holding off planting for a bit, plus my garden is too wet to work.

A Few Tips
1. Don’t till your garden while the soil is sticky wet, wait until it dries a bit. If the soil sticks together, you will have hard, dirt clods for a good while. If it’s too wet, which mine is right now, just wait a few days, let the wind and the sun dry it out a bit. Toquerville has had 4.5 inches of rain the past three weeks. That’s a lot of water, let the soil dry out.
2. It’s still not too late to till in leaves or other compost material, but get it in the ground. A few weeks of sun and additional tilling, and it will be broken down nicely. Here’s a rule of thumb: it takes as long to compost a material as it did to grow it. So if you have two year old sticks in the garden, it will take two years to break it all down. Leaves? They are out and grown to size in a matter of weeks, so a few weeks of leaves in the ground, and they’re done. If you tilling in now, plant your early garden in another spot, and plant your later crops where you’re now mulching in compost material.
3. Plant what you eat. It doesn’t make sense to grow things because they’re easy (like radishes), if you don’t like radishes, then try to push them off onto your neighbors.
4. Grow only the quantity of a crop you and your family can eat, or give to family and neighbors. Remember your neighbors are also gardening (probably), so go easy on the quantity. It’s better to grow a wide variety of crops, in small amounts you can eat, than to grow a lot of zucchini (for example) that you can’t give away. A full row of zucchini will feed the entire town, but several rows of melons will go fast.
5. Nearly all crops do best, produce the best fruit, best flavor, best size, etc, when they grow fast. So if you plant early and the temperature stays cold, they won’t grow much, but will sit in the ground, waiting for birds to eat them down.
6. Planting onions from seed can be tricky to obtain a good germination. When I plant seed, I cover with white plastic until they germinate, it works well. But I prefer planting the small dry sets, every set grows, they get growing faster, and still reach a nice size. Plant sets with the bottom down. Sets are fail proof.
7. Fruit trees should be pruned by now.

Crops To Plant Now
The following crops can be planted now, and for the next couple of months. If the garden can be worked, isn’t too wet, and it warms up a bit, these crops will grow in cool weather:

1. Peas – can go in the ground anytime now
2. Broccoli – wait a couple of weeks, plant sets deep to avoid wind damage
3. Carrots – wait until it warms a bit, they’ll germinate better (a week or two)
4. Beets – wait until it warms a bit (a week or two)
5. Onions – can go in the ground anytime now
6. Spinach – can go in the ground anytime (I’m harvesting spinach I planted in late August)
7. Lettuce – wait until it warms a bit, and protect it from birds

Keep in mind the birds are hungry right now, and until things green up, they will be looking at your garden as food for them.

Plant In April-May (just wait until temperatures are in the 65-75 range)
1. Tomato
2. Potato
3. Corn
4. Melons
5. Squash

Varieties of Preference
I believe in planting the right varieties, varieties with the best flavor, that do well in this climate, and that provide good production. Here are my preferences:

1. Corn = Miracle Corn (great flavor, 70 day maturity, doesn't blow over
2. Tomato = Celebrity, Better Boy, Floramerica (hard to find), great slicing tomato. Rowpac, Columbia and Salad Master all claim to be resistant to the Curly Top virus.
3. Cantaloupe = Ambrosia, by far the best flavored cantaloupe on the market. This variety has a poor shelf life, so you will never find it in the grocery store, so you must grow your own.
4. Beets = Ruby Queen, or Detroit Dark. Both varieties do well.
5. Onions = Sweet Spanish. I grow onions to last through the winter, Sweet Spanish is a good flavored onion, and will last through the winter. Sweeter varieties like Walla Walla, and Texas, do not store well, but have nice flavor.
6. Watermelon = I had good success with the Crimson Sweet, but haven't really tried other varieties. Melons were flavorful, good size, and disease resistant.
7. Squash = I grew zucchini, crookneck, spaghetti, and Toquer Squash with good success
8. Crenshaw melons and Casaba melons do well here, get them in early (April-May) and enjoy them all summer