It Will Soon Be Autumn

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Cool season vegetables replace summer vegetables.

From the time they get planted in early spring, tomato plants are expected to perform a bit better than they did earlier in the season. They start out with only a few early tomatoes, but quickly become prolific. Production continues to increase as the plants grow all through summer . . . until now. Newer leaves on top are not staying so far ahead of fading leaves below.

While the weather is still warm, it is difficult to say how tomato plants know that autumn will soon replace summer. They do not seem to be intelligent enough to realize that every day is imperceptibly shorter than the one before. Nor do they seem to be sensitive enough to notice if the nights get slightly cooler. They just know, and they tell all their friends.

If zucchini plants have not started to fade and sag, they will soon. As weather cools, they no longer grow faster than the mildew that they tolerated all summer. Any fruits that are present now should have time to finish developing, but there probably will not be many more after that. (Zucchini fruits are eaten before mature anyway.) Other warm season vegetables are in a similar state.

Acorn, Hubbard, butternut and other winter squash grow through summer just like summer squash do, but are not harvested until the vines wither in autumn and winter. Unlike summer squash that continue to produce many tender juvenile fruit to replace what gets harvested through summer, winter squash plants put all their effort into one or two large ripe fruit.

Warm season vegetable plants still need to be watered as the foliage slowly deteriorates. They only begin to need less water as they lose foliage and the weather gets cooler. They may like to be fertilized one last time, but will not not need it again. Any last phases of corn will stay thirsty later than other vegetable plants because they deteriorate slower, and are rather thirsty anyway.

Seed for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and certain other cool season vegetables can be sown in flats or cell packs now so that their seedlings are ready to go when the warm season vegetables relinquish their space in the garden. If space allows, seed for beet, turnip and turnip greens can be sown directly into the garden. Carrot seed should still wait for cooler weather.

Jellin’ Like A Melon

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This is one way to make the fruits of summer last.

Jelly and jam made from garden grown fruit affords more prestigious bragging rights than merely growing the fruit. Using unusual or disregarded fruit makes it even more interesting. It is not too much work, but involves a different kind of creativity. So many of us who are proficient in the garden are not so proficient in the kitchen.

Apricot, peach, plum, grape, blackberry and raspberry are the most familiar choices for jelly and jam. Nectarine can substitute for peach. Prune works like plum. Strawberry is rare only because not many gardens produce enough for a batch of jam. Sweet cherry is not as tasty as tart types, but is sometimes made into jam because it is relatively common.

Apple and pear are not often made into jelly because they have such mild flavor. However, they are sometimes mixed with other fruit to blend flavors, and because they can provide pectin. Quince has a richer flavor, and makes a traditional jam known as membrillo. Crabapple likewise makes a classic jelly. Apple can be made into apple butter.

Pectin is what puts the jell in jelly. Many fruits are naturally equipped with it. Apricot, peach and cane berries do not have enough. Plum, prune and grape initially have enough, but it breaks down as the fruit ripens, which is why jelly recipes without added pectin often designate that fruit must be firm or just ripening. Otherwise, pectin must be added to get jelly or jam to jell.

With added pectin, pomegranate, fig and rhubarb (which is actually a vegetable) can be made into jelly and jam. Orange and lemon marmalades do not need to be cooked as much with extra pectin. Sweet oranges (which is what almost all oranges are) lose flavor with cooking. (Sour oranges for marmalade are very rare here.)

Pectin also makes it possible to make jelly and jam from some rather unconventional fruit that may not be useful for much else. Elderberry, hawthorn, thimbleberry, rose hips (some varieties), Hottentot fig (the larger fruited type of freeway iceplant) and even coffeeberry and manzanita are all worth trying. Indian hawthorn and Catalina cherry have enough pectin to jell on their own.

Cucumber

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Cucumber can ripen in summer too.

Is it a winter vegetable or a summer vegetable? Technically, like many vegetables, cucumber, Cucumis sativus, is actually a fruit. It dislikes the locally arid warmth of summer, but also is intolerant of winter frost. It performs best through spring and autumn. Seedlings grown as winter ends should be ready for transplant after the last frost. Vines grown now produce a bit more before first frost.

However, in some gardens, some varieties of cucumber can remain productive all summer. Discolored older foliage is more unsightly than detrimental. Newer growth cascading from above might obscure some of it. Vines can climb trellises or over shrubbery. If vines sprawl over soil, the fruit will stay cleaner if set on leaves or newspaper. Regular harvesting promotes continued production.

Most cucumbers are classified as slicing, pickling or seedless cucumbers. There are many varieties within each classification. The most popular are only a few inches long, and harvested before maturity. The largest cucumbers are as long as two feet, and as wide as four inches! Hot weather unfortunately causes cucumbers to be bitter. Rich soil and regular irrigation promote better flavor.

Summer Vegetables Like Warming Weather

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Summer Vegetables Like Warming Weather

Tomato, pepper and eggplant plants should be out in the garden by now. They typically get planted only a few weeks after the last threat of frost, so that they can start to disperse their roots early. Growth above ground accelerates as the weather gets warmer. Fruit develops and ripens through summer.

These three types of vegetable plants get planted as seedlings for two main reasons. First, when they go into the garden, seedlings are bigger and more established than seeds that need to take time to grow are. Secondly, the cost of the few plants needed for an average garden is not much more than the cost of seeds.

Now, zucchini, melon and summer squash can be done either way. Not many plants are needed, so the expense of seedlings is minimal. However, seedlings are a bit more fragile than those of tomato, pepper and eggplant. Seeds grow so efficiently that they get established almost as readily as seedlings do, so are just as practical.

Regardless of how they get planted, the weather has been so odd this year that there has been only minimal advantage to planting seedlings and sowing seed on time. Tomato, pepper and eggplant plants that were planted early may not be much more mature than what could be planted now. Harvest will be delayed either way.

Bean, cucumber and corn all grow best from seed. Seedlings take more time to recover from transplant than seed take to germinate and grow. Besides, so many plants of each type are needed that seedlings would be expensive. A single package of seed is cheap and goes a long way, so is probably sufficient for an average garden.

Corn is one of those vegetables that produces on a rather tight schedule. Seed that gets sown at any particular time matures at the same rate, so that all the fruit finishes at about the same time. This is why corn gets sown in phases. If timed properly, a subsequent phase begins to produce as the preceding phase gets depleted.

Winter squash, including pumpkin, are similar to summer squash, although they are more tolerant of unusually cool spring weather. They too can either get planted as seedlings or sown as seed. They take their time to produce fruit that ripens by autumn, so have more time to catch up.

Horridculture – Neglected Seedling

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They are so cute when they are young.

This was not planned very well. Actually, it was not planned at all. While sorting through the seed for a vegetable garden, I found a can of seed for winter squash that was a few years old. They might be close to five years old. I really do not remember. I did not expect them to be viable, but did not want to discard them without at least trying to test them for viability.

Rather than just put them in damp rag for a few days, I plugged a few seed into a spider plant on a windowsill, and forgot about them. I really did not expect to see them again. When the first one emerged, I though it was a weed, so plucked it out. When I realized what it was, and that it came out intact, I felt badly for it, and like the original seed, could not discard it.

I do not remember why, but at the time, I did not want to go out to can it in a real pot. Nor did I want to plug it into the garden while I was still getting other seed situated. I therefore planted into an empty eggshell from those drying for coffee. I scraped a bit of medium from a potted bromeliad. It was happy on the windowsill for maybe a few weeks.

The other seed germinated too, but were more carefully removed and plugged into the garden. Since the seed was still viable, I sowed more around the junipers outside. Somehow, in the process, I neglected to put the little seedling in the eggshell out into the garden with them. It has not been happy in here, so has not grown much at all.

Now that the winter squash are already growing well outside, and the summer squash are already producing, this unfortunate seedling still needs to go out to join them.

If I were to grow seedlings inside again, I would do so in some of the cell packs that we recycle from work. They are more efficient, less wobbly, and they do not look so ridiculous.

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Now it wants out!

Seed Of Doubt Gains Popularity

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Seed for vegetable gardening is scarce.

Many of us who are still sowing spring seed know the doubt. Seed for warm season vegetables and bedding plants is presently scarce. Consequently, we doubt that all the varieties that we want are still available. Many unusual varieties that we purchase by mail order or online are sold out. Some more popular and reliably obtainable varieties in supermarket seed racks are going fast too.

Home gardening is very suddenly more popular than it had been for a very long time. Those who can not work at their respective professions have much more time to work in their gardens. Many want to grow a bit more produce at home, in order to shop amongst others in supermarkets less frequently. Many who have never enjoyed gardening before are now taking a serious interest in it.

This adds a few more complications to planning the garden. Choices really are limited. Some of us must be satisfied with what we get. Instead of trying new and unusual varieties, we might need to try old and common varieties. It might be a new and unusual experience, and an interesting way to learn why they have been so popular for so long. This applies to young plants as well as seed.

Although more varieties are available online and by mail order, it is now more important to purchase them early. Delivery is not as prompt as it was prior to this increase in popularity of gardening. Seed providers are overwhelmed by the demand. Since it is already late in the season, it is probably too late to order seed that start in spring. It is not too early to start procuring seed for autumn.

It is also a good time to share surplus with friends and neighbors who may be experiencing the same scarcity of seed and seedlings. Although it is too late to wait for delayed delivery of seed that gets sown in spring, it is not too late to sow some types if they are already available. If left outside to avoid personal interaction with recipients, seed might need protection from rodents and birds.

Anyone who is experienced with gardening knows that it involves challenges. This is certainly a new one.

Six on Saturday: Blank Slate (& Asphalt)

 

While unable to work at my second most time consuming job, I developed a bit of unused space into a vegetable garden. I would not have done so if I had known how much work it would be, or how much of what seemed to be usable space was just trash, brambles and a shallow bit of soil on top of pavement. Alternatively, I should have had the main unpaved area bulldozed first.

Now that it is halfway through spring, this new vegetable garden is finally started!

1. Four decades of junk mixed with wicked brambles was removed to expose less than four hundred square feet of cruddy slope. Rain draining from the deck eroded a gully in the middle.P00425-1

2. To the right, disfigured juniper should be temporarily obscured by cucumber vines expected to grow from seed sown just above a ditch. Indeterminate tomato vines will be added soon.P00425-2

3. Across the road, more junk, weeds and brambles were removed from between a curb and fence, only to find that the area is paved to the fence! Pole beans will be pleased with the fence.P00425-3

4. Posts supporting the deck had too much potential to ignore. Dragon fruit plants can climb them to the top and cascade downward. The posts are pressure treated, so will be painted first.P00425-4

5. ‘Kadota’ fig can grow as a hedge where the outer surface gets sunlight under the downhill edge of the deck. The area behind it is too shaded to be useful. The area in front is for vegetables.P00425-5

6. There are plenty of radish greens growing wild outside of the garden; but a few radish roots would be nice too. These are developing splendidly, and should be ready before anything else.P00425-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

When It Rains, It Pours

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Mudslide!

The only reason we developed a small vegetable garden here this year is that we have been unable to go to work for about a month. Without my second most time consuming employment, I had time to clear a small unused space (which was not nearly as simple as that sounds) and sow seed for vegetables. It was a late start a month ago, but not too late.

In fact, there was still time to do it before the last storm to go through. I know that sounds trivial, but as a Californian who is accustomed to gardening in a chaparral climate, and sometimes where there is no water available, planting prior to a storm ‘seems’ to be rather important. I know it is not. Water is available here. Otherwise, I would not grow vegetables.

Not only was there a storm, but there was a second storm later! Of course, it is not really that simple. The first light duty storm was nice, and soaked things sufficiently. Then the weather stayed strangely cool for this time of year. Nothing germinated. Then the second storm was brief but torrential enough to erode all of the recently sown seed right out of the new garden!

It was too comical for me to be too annoyed by it. I only needed to see what survived the erosion so that I could replace what did not. I almost replaced everything anyway, just because I was that certain that nothing survived.

Well, as it turned out, not much was missing! The garden got a slow start, and was delayed again by cool weather, but somehow seems to be recovering nicely. Even some of the very old seed that I did not expect to be viable has germinated.

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A late batch of radish somehow survived.

Now, I must go work in the garden.

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Late but ready to go.

Poppy And Periwinkle

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Even though I know they are slightly purplish, periwinkle look blue to me.

Clearing space for a new small vegetable garden is more work than it will be worth. It took more than a day to remove the thicket of bramble from a triangular area that is only about forty feet from front to back, and not much more than twenty feet wide. After so many years of getting trash dumped on top of them, the brambles were unusually prolific with gnarly root burls.

There is still significant work to do. I still need to condition the soil and groom the adjacent junipers before sowing seed for the warm season vegetables for this summer. Now that I can see that the junipers that were formerly concealed by brambles are worthy of salvage and grooming, I will need to clear a bit more garden space across the road, and cut back a few trees above.

When finished and producing, the garden will not produce enough. The four hundred or so square feet in the main part of the garden should supply enough for two people; but realistically, it would more likely produce enough for me alone, with a bit extra to can for when it is not producing much. There are about a dozen on our crew. They all have families. I need a quarter acre!

The math of it all is frustrating. So is all the work to get it started. It all seems so futile. I know we will appreciate the little bit that we get. I will still get plenty from the weeds that grow wild around the baseball field, so will not take much from the garden.

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As simple as they are, poppies are still my favorite native wildflower.

For now, I try to visualize what the small vegetable garden will look like in production this summer, even if all that I see blooming are the poppies and periwinkle on the outskirts.

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My illustrations are more technical than artistic. It looks like someone else took this one. Ignore the pickup in the background.