by David Hinks
While it continues to be great growing conditions for vegetables such as broccoli, kale garlic and potatoes that like cooler temperatures and a lot of moisture it is certainly affecting the heat loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. In many cases the plants seem to have hardly progressed at all from the stage they were at when they were first transplanted into the garden.
While the heat-loving plants are off to a slow start, this is not the case with weeds and many of our common pests. The weeds are growing exceptionally well and conditions are great for both slugs and earwigs.
I try to grow my vegetables as organically as possible so there are limited tools available to deal with these pests. Slugs may be hand picked with a flashlight in the evening and dumped into a pail of soapy water. Traps may be built for earwigs which may be no more than rolled up newspaper. They are nocturnal and hide in the daytime. Shake them out of your traps in the early morning into the pail of soapy water.
I have become discouraged trying to grow cabbage and its relatives as they are attacked by so many pests. Flea beetles eat holes in the leaves early in the season and little green caterpillars chew away at them later in the season. An interesting approach to deal with them is to cover them with a spun fabric as shown in the following photo. It should be supported off of the plants and it should be put over them as soon as they are transplanted into the garden.
The first harvest of broccoli took place this week with the cutting of a reasonably sized head. The broccoli from the garden is very tender and doesn’t require as much steaming time as the broccoli from the supermarket that has been in a truck for several days. (Yes, I overcooked it!). As you can see in the photo I cut the broccoli head with a fairly short piece of stem. The broccoli plant will produce secondary heads. You can see in the photo the beginning of the secondary heads that will grow from the node where the leaves join the main stem. Growth may be slow if we get a lot of hot summer days but will speed up considerably in cooler fall weather producing until a very hard frost. Some of the older varieties are much better at producing secondary heads than are new modern hybrids that are bred to produce one large head for commercial harvest.
What happens when you miss the potato beetles on one patch of potatoes? As the following photo shows the plants leaves are soon devoured and all that is left is a bare stem.
I spend a lot of time on the weekend picking all of these larvae off the plants into a bucket. I then dumped the bucket onto a driveway and did a rain dance on them with my work boots (oops I have to stop with the rain dance already!). They can also be dumped into a pail of soapy water. I will check in a few days to see if I missed any. With any luck the potato plants may recover if the tuber sends up more shoots.
What to do with all those weeds. The obvious answer is to compost them. Smaller pieces will break down faster than large pieces so chopping them up or pulling them when they are small will result in faster compost. Even if I don’t have time to pull all the weeds I at least try to clip off the flower heads before they are able to produce seeds.
I generally avoid putting weed seeds or any diseased plant material in the compost pile. While a ‘hot’ compost pile may kill weed seeds and any pathogens, it is virtually impossible to maintain sufficiently high temperatures in the backyard composter.
It is necessary to balance `wet` materials such as vegetable and fruit scraps, that are high in nitrogen with `dry` materials such as dead leaves and straw that are high in carbon – aim for 1 part wet to 2 parts dry. Weeds depending on what stage they are at will fall more in one category than the other – older weeds being more carbon than young juicy ones. I also add some soil to introduce bacteria to aid in the composting process. I believe that this is just as effective as adding any of the commercial compost accelerators (and a whole lot cheaper).
Oxygen is necessary for decomposition to take place. This is why people turn their compost piles. I believe that if you successfully layer the dry and the wet turning is probably not necessary. For example in the winter time I keep a few old garbage pails full of leaves next to the composters and add a few handfuls of leaves after dumping in a bucket of kitchen scraps. We will certainly be revisiting the subject of composting.
It is still not too late to start a vegetable garden. 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. 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 if the weather turns hot.
For plants that are frost tolerant and that prefer cooler growing conditions such as lettuce 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 vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and other greens that 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.
There are still a few growing beds available at the AugustaParkCommunityGarden. There is absolutely no charge. If you would like to have a garden bed please let Jeff at Mills Community Support know that you’re interested. Jeff can be reached at email@example.com