Gardening in Almonte: Scapes, Suckers & Succession Planting

David

Garlic Scapes

The flower/seed heads that grow on a long stem from the middle of the garlic plant are called ‘scapes’. They can be snapped off and then minced and used in cooking or made into pesto. They have a strong garlic flavour. Connoisseurs recommend that they be used as soon after picking as possible as they become tough quite quickly.

There is virtually unanimous agreement that if the scapes are removed the garlic plant will put more energy into the bulb which after all is the part of the plant that we want to harvest. Some gardeners pick the scape when it has one curl, others wait until it has two; I pick it whenever I get around to it – but it should be done very soon!

Tomatoes Suckers

The question of removing suckers from tomatoes does not enjoy unanimous support – in fact, it may instigate a spirited debate! And in general there is a lot of discussion about the best way to grow tomatoes. Many people believe that suckers (the branches that develop where the leaves join the main stem) should be removed so the plant puts more energy into the fruit on the main stem and that lower leaves should be removed to help prevent blight. Generally I do not sucker or prune my tomatoes. I tend to believe that it is a waste of time and may even contribute to sunscald as it reduces the foliage canopy. I believe that the key to healthy plants is to set down mulch under the plants and then have a cage to support each tomato. The mulch helps provide consistent moisture and the cage keeps the fruit off the ground. That being said tomatoes are generally very vigorous and adaptable plants and whatever has worked for you is the best way of doing it.

A compromise that seems to me to have merit is to adopt a differing strategy for determinate tomatoes such as paste tomatoes as opposed to indeterminate tomatoes such as Beefsteak. I just let the determinate tomatoes go whereas the beefsteak tomatoes respond well to staking and taking the suckers off. Better have a good stake – these can grow 12 feet in a hot summer!

Succession Planting

Do not despair if you haven’t planted your entire vegetable garden yet.  It is not at all too late to start a vegetable garden. Seeds of short season vegetables such as beans and zucchini can be planted now with a reasonable expectation of success. Vegetable seedlings such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers may still be planted as well – if you can still find them at seasonal garden centres at box stores they will likely have these plants on deep discount soon as they wrap up their operations for the season.

We still have about two month and a half months (about 75 days) of reasonable growing conditions for plants that need heat. Plants such as beans may reach maturity in as few as 50 days from seed, beets a few days longer and zucchini a similar period. If they are planted now in warm moist soil they should germinate and grow very quickly to maturity leaving a period of about three weeks to enjoy a harvest. However it is important to realize that plants that love heat such as beans will definitely slow down into September as the days get shorter and the temperatures get cooler. Carrots may also be started now for a last crop for winter storage. Frequent watering or covering the row with a board or bag may be necessary to encourage them to germinate in hot dry weather.

Even if your garden is fully planted now, there will be opportunities for additional crops. While it seems like we are still a long way away from a meal of fresh beans from the garden, nonetheless it is time to think about planting another bed with beans and beets and maybe carrots (perhaps where the lettuce and spinach have gone to seed and been pulled out). This is often termed succession planting.  Rather than plant all of the beans at once, plant some every two or three weeks thus spreading out the harvest over an extended period. I will want to plant my last crop of beans about mid-July. One of the ironies of gardening however is that very often our best laid plans go awry. I very much enjoyed the presentation of Hillary Moore at Almonte and District Horticultural Society last week as she described her travails at trying to ensure a continuous supply over the season for a CSA operation. The early beans languish in cooler weather and then the later ones grow like gangbusters when things really warm up so that the two crops arrive very close together. We can put as much planning and forethought as we want, but Mother Nature is always going to throw us a curveball that we are not expecting.

Many gardeners are also choosing to plant their potatoes late in an attempt to escape the ravages of the Colorado potato beetle. The adult beetle over-winters in the soil, emerges early in the spring and then lays eggs on newly growing potato plants. If you plant potatoes late they have hopefully moved on to your neighbours – I planted most of mine last week. You will probably want to plant a potato that matures in 60 days rather than a 90-day potato.

For plants that are frost tolerant and that prefer cooler growing conditions such as lettuce, radish, arugula and spinach the growing season may well extent to the end of October or a whole four months of growing time left. Mid-August is probably the best opportunity to plant – they will grow very well as the days get shorter and cooler in the fall. The trick is to get them to germinate in warm soil. Frequent watering may be necessary. A trick that I have read about but not yet tried is to put pea seeds in a moist paper towel, put that in a baggie and then put it in the refrigerator. Check frequently and when the seeds have germinated plant them in the garden and than stand back!