This has been a great summer for vegetables that like lots of sun and heat – this includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, sweet potatoes and the vining crops such as squash and pumpkin. Of course I do need to add the caveat that it has only been a great gardening year if you had water available to irrigate the garden regularly.
I was looking for a measure to compare this August with the previous few years and found that Environment Canada publishes a statistic called ‘cooling degree days’ that is defined as follows:
“Cooling degree-days for a given day are the number of degrees Celsius that the mean temperature is above 18 °C. If the temperature is equal to or less than 18 °C, then the number will be zero. For example, a day with a mean temperature of 20.5 °C has 2.5 cooling degree-days; a day with a mean temperature of 15.5 °C has zero cooling degree-days. Cooling degree-days are used primarily to estimate the air-conditioning requirements of buildings.”
The preliminary number for August 2016 is in excess of 120 – by way of comparison 2015 was 67, 2014 was 56 and 2013 was 57. The great drought year of 2012 came closer at 98 but 2016 has really been an exceptional year!
But like all good things the outdoor gardening season is fast approaching its end and many gardeners still have lots of green tomatoes. Some suggestions that I have heard recently to encourage tomatoes to turn red include:
- Slicing downward with a spade out about a foot from the stem of the tomato plant for about half of the circumference – this slices some of the feeder roots and may trigger the plant to hurry up and ripen its fruit (the plant feels threatened which increases the urge to reproduce)
- Picking off the blossoms and tiny tomatoes that have no hope of developing into any size so the energy of the plant goes into ripening the larger green tomatoes. Some gardeners also do this for winter squash (not zucchini), picking off the blossoms and small squash so that all the energy of the plant goes into developing the squash that will hopefully mature before frost hits.
- Collect recipes for green tomatoes!
- Do not apply fertilizer and go easy on the water (returning to the theme of stressing the plants!)
Over at the squash patch
And speaking of squash, I visited the Hoop Housers’ squash patch on Monday to see how the squash are ripening. The squash patch is about 1500 square feet – the whole patch was covered with heavy-duty landscape fabric as that part of the garden had a lot of perennial grass roots. Holes were cut in the fabric every six feet and a half bag of well-rotted composted horse manure was added giving a total of about 30 ‘hills’ (basically just a clump of plants). This worked remarkably well with very good growth and virtually no weeds – helped by access to water for irrigation..
Squash are warm-season crops. The approach that we took was to start the squash seed early indoors under lights around the first of May in biodegradable pots. Around the end of May the squash, pot and all, was transplanted to the squash patch.
When planting squash it is important to know if you are planting a summer squash or a winter squash.
- Summer squashes, such as zucchini and patty-pan, are harvested when immature, and used as a fresh vegetable stewed, boiled or fried. They develop very rapidly after their flowers have opened, and must be harvested before the rind begins to harden.
- Winter squashes, such as butternut and Hubbard, are not harvested until they are fully ripe and the skins are hard and impervious to scratching. They are either pulled or cut from the vine with a portion of the stem attached to the fruit; removal of the stem leaves a wound through which decay organisms may enter. Three or four months are required to mature a crop, and the fruit are all generally ready to be picked at one time.
A couple of hills of summer squash, zucchini and Yellow Crookneck, were inadvertently planted in the squash patch along with one hill of cucumbers. However the remaining hills all fell into three species of winter squash (of the genus cucurbita).
The variety of Cucurbita pepo that we are growing is acorn squash.
Within the species Cucurbita maxima we are growing several varieties of Hubbard, including a small orange Japanese version, a small blue-gray version and a couple of buttercup types.
Within the species Cucurbita moschata we are growing a couple of varieties of Butternut squash.
Particularly fascinating to me is the reproductive strategy of cucurbits and the crucial importance of pollinators. All squash produce both male and female flowers separately on the same plant. First, the male flowers form and bloom, allowing pollen to be available as soon as the first female blossom appears. There are typically 10 male blossoms for every female flower. The order and numbers in which these flowers appear vary somewhat as to the time of year, the stage of plant development and the number of fruit already pollinated and beginning to size. Developing fruit temporarily reduces the occurrence of female blossoms further down the vine.
Female blossoms are short-lived. Female blossoms of squash open first thing in the morning and close a few hours later (24 hours at the most), never to re-open again. If these blossoms are not pollinated they abort and fall off the plant. Generally, the female blossom is open from about 10:00 a.m. to about 3:00 p.m. In addition, each cucurbit flower has to be visited at least 15 times for complete pollination. Incomplete pollination results in small and misshapen fruit – hence the importance of having an abundance of pollinators, in this case, bees.
There are no stupid questions!
Hands-on educational opportunities are available weekly throughout the summer.
- ‘Weed and learn’ sessions take place at Augusta Park Community Garden on Thursdays from 9 to 11 in the morning and from 4 to 8 in the evening
- Gardening advice is also available Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30 at the garden in front of the Food Bank at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place.
Master Gardeners will be there to help with your gardening concerns.
Great Veggie Grow-Off
Please remember to drop off surplus garden produce at the Hunger Stop (aka Lanark County Food Bank) – the latest intelligence I have received shows that while we still have slight lead in the race for the coveted trophy, Carleton Place is gaining rapidly! All you have to do is bring your armfuls of produce to the Food Bank at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place and make sure that it is weighed and credited to Mississippi Mills.
The Food Bank is open:
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
9:00 am – 1:00 pm
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Try to drop your produce off first thing in the morning if possible.