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.