I arose yesterday morning to an outdoor temperature of six degrees – granted this was in a rural area that is usually a few degrees cooler than temperatures in town – nevertheless it was a bit of a wakeup call that much cooler temperatures are not far off. After a summer of exceptionally hot and dry conditions it is time to focus on harvesting the more tender vegetables. Remember to keep an eye on the forecast low temperatures and prepare to cover your tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. The cool-weather plants such as kale, Swiss chard, parsley and salad greens will continue happily for a few more weeks.
Tomatoes have been very cooperative this year and are turning red quite happily as the following photo shows. Even the early blight has not been a huge problem yet and the late blight has not been seen yet. However, many gardeners have found their tomatoes splitting. This may be due to very dry conditions followed by bounteous rain. The outer skin got the memo to grow slowly because of the dry conditions whereas the message that the inner parts of the tomato received after the rain was “full speed ahead!”
Last year I waited until the end of September to harvest my Sweet Potatoes. In hindsight this was not a wise strategy. I store my Sweet Potatoes over the winter and use the tubers to propagate the new crop. Even though the vines were still lush and green when I harvested the tubers last fall, their ability to sprout slips this spring was severely compromised. These heat-loving vegetables are not happy when overnight temperatures drop down below ten centigrade to the extent that it may affect their ability to propagate new plants the following year.
I went down to Augusta Park on Monday to check on the plants that are happily growing on the berm. As the following photo shows growth was very lush this summer.
The next photo shows the Okra plants that I first noted about three weeks ago. They have continued to grow as if they are in the Deep South and have become vey handsome plants.
The variety of Sweet Potato that I grow is called Georgia Jet. I plant Sweet Potatoes about two feet apart on a raised bed and cover the bed with straw which prevents the vines from rooting at every node (where the leaves join the stem). The objective is a central group of large tubers rather than pencil-thin tubers at every node.
Unlike regular potatoes where the tuber is planted in the garden, Sweet Potatoes are started by planting either shoots (called slips) or vine cuttings in the garden. Slips can be purchased by mail order (one Canadian source is Mapple Farms) or can be grown by placing tubers in water or moist peat moss 4 to 6 weeks before slips are required for the garden. The key to successful growing of Sweet Potatoes locally is choosing a variety that will produce a good crop during our short summer. DO NOT try to grow slips from a tuber purchased from a supermarket. The varieties found there generally require 120 days to produce a crop compared to the 90 or so days of hot weather available to us. Georgia Jet is by far the best variety that I have found for the local climate, having excellent taste and producing many medium and large sized tubers.
Once the tubers are dug they should be cured right away. Curing requires a space that can be maintained at about 30 to 32 C with high humidity for a week. This allows the skin to toughen and slows down the rate at which the tubers will dry out. Tubers can then be stored at temperatures between 13 and 18 C (much warmer than the storage requirements for regular potatoes). A properly cured tuber can be stored for a year or more and can be used to start next year’s crop.
A good time to compost!
This is also the time of year to review your composting set-up. A good compost pile needs four elements: some carbon-containing material, some nitrogen containing material, oxygen and some moisture. One recommendation is that the amount of moisture is slightly damp, about as damp as a wrung-out sponge, however in my experience it can function quite well with a higher level of moisture.
The set-up can be as simple as four pallets wired together or any of the ubiquitous black plastic bins but generally the pile should be no more than three feet in any direction. It is important 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. When composting kitchen scraps over the winter, make sure that you have ‘dry materials’ available. There are lots of free materials such as leaves in the fall – I store several old garbage cans (with a lid on to keep them dry) full of leaves and throw in a couple of handfuls after I dump kitchen scraps in the winter.
Don’t try to compost a lot of wet green material that is tightly compacted such as lawn clippings. This mess is likely going to smell bad and will make composting an unpleasant exercise for both you and your neighbours. Always mix 1 part of wet greens with at least two parts of dry materials such as leaves and add a scoop of garden soil. If your compost starts to smell bad, add more dry material.
To turn or not to turn? Oxygen is necessary for decomposition to take place. This is why people turn their compost piles. Turning the compost pile once a week can produce finished compost in 8 weeks or less. I believe that if you successfully layer the dry and the wet, turning is probably not necessary but it may take longer. Other strategies would be to layer with course materials such as sunflower stems or to insert pipes into the pile that will act as conduits for oxygen.
Hands-on educational opportunities were available weekly throughout the summer.
- September 8th was the last day for the ‘weed and learn’ sessions that took place at Augusta Park Community Garden on Thursdays. A huge debt of thanks is due to Master Gardener Gerda Franssen who was at Augusta Park faithfully through the summer.
- Gardening advice is still 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. September 20 will be the last evening. Experienced gardening experts will be there to help with your gardening concerns.
Next spring will bring many more learning experiences as the Almonte Library and the Neighbourhood Tomato join forces to bring a series of gardening workshops.
Great Veggie Grow-Off
We are counting down the days until this year’s wrap-up scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend. Please remember to drop off surplus garden produce at the Hunger Stop (aka Lanark County Food Bank). 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.