Monday, August 18, 2014

Garden update

Now that the heat wave we've had for the last six weeks has broken, I can start catching up on weeding in the garden during the day instead of at 5:30 am. I'm estimating we have one more month (until about mid-September) before our growing season ends, so some of the plants are in a race for time.

The other day I was weeding the potatoes when it occurred to me I hadn't posted a garden update since early June. So without further ado, here's how things have developed this summer.

I usually do my weeding with the aid of a pokey-stick hand weeder thingy. Very useful device.

But I couldn't use it with the potatoes because every time I plunged it into the dirt to loosen a weed, I hit a potato. Well shucky-darn.

There are eight tires of potatoes: two red and six brown (Russet). Although many of the leaves are curled, the potatoes themselves seem to be developing very well.

The corn has been a fascinating experiment. I'm trying a new variety this year, called Yukon Chief sweet corn. It was developed at University of Alaska in 1958, and it only takes 55 days from germination to harvest. Despite being a dwarf variety, it's supposed to be a vigorous producer. We planted twenty tires.

It's an interesting variety. When it was still very young, all the corn stalks split themselves into three.

This corn is tough. During three violent thunderstorms, it's been flattened in one direction or another. And all three times it's sprung back upright (well, mostly). That it itself makes me admire it.

To my surprise, when the corn was no more than two feet high, it started tasseling. What the...? But despite the small stature, it's been vigorously producing ears of corn. They're not huge, but they're abundant.

Don picked an ear the other day. It still wasn't quite ripe but it was already sweet. If this variety lives up to its promise, we'll never grow anything else. The ears are small, yes; but if it can survive multiple flattenings through violent storms AND complete its lifespan and produce abundantly during our short growing season, this is the corn for us!! Unless something drastic changes, we plan to double the number of corn tires next year (to forty).

Here are our "viney" tires in which we planted watermelon, cantaloup, honeydew, and pumpkins. We were still working on the garden infrastructure until late in the planting season, so these all got planted later than we would have liked. Still, they seem to be producing reasonably well. (I consider anything that ripens before the first frost as a success.)




The pumpkins themselves are still pretty small, but they'll fatten up in the next month.

Carrots. I planted two tires, but planted them late. I think I'll get mature carrots before the first frost hits, but we'll see. I may just let these over-winter and save them for seed next year. I also plan to put in more beds of carrots next year -- they're easy to grow and can beautifully.

The round strawberry beds (we also have two rectangular raised beds). These, if you recall, produced overwhelming quantities of strawberries this year. Wonderful success!

Brussel's sprouts. These poor plants got severely battered by the thunderstorms, but they're still alive. However I haven't seen any sprouts on them yet. We'll see if they do anything by the end of the season.

Broccoli. I only have two tires of broccoli and wish I'd grown more.

The tomatoes have done awful. I have five tires' worth of tomato plants (both paste and eating tomatoes) and every one has tightly-curled leaves, lots of flowers, but barely any fruit. Does anyone know why tomato leaves curl like this? Could it be the heat was too intense? I'm disappointed because I was looking forward to canning a variety of tomato sauces this year.

Lettuce. It's grown splendidly -- far more than we can eat -- so I'll save a lot for seed. Lettuce is NOT something I'm emphasizing in the garden (despite the fact that we all enjoy salads) because it's a vegetable that cannot be preserved in any way whatever. Therefore we'll only grow a tire or two for fresh eating.

Spinach. Between the heat wave and my trip to Portland, the spinach went beyond the eating stage into the seed stage. That's fine, I'll save it for seed. I only have one tire's worth anyway. However I'll probably grow more next year because spinach cans well and makes an excellent addition to many dishes (such as lasagna).

The onions are doing very well, though I feel like I "cheated" with these because I started them from sets. I planted 200 onion seeds in early spring but they didn't survive. Starting onions from seeds is more challenging than I thought and will take some additional research and experimentation before I get it right. Meanwhile, I'm glad sets were available.

Red bell peppers, a favorite of Younger Daughter. I'm particularly proud of these because I started them from seed from a store-bought bell pepper, and they've all grown splendidly.

We have a lot of peppers which will flush red when they're ripe.

Hot peppers, possible the one single item in the garden that thrived during the heat wave.

We're growing several types: cayenne, cascabella, and habinero.

Horseradish. This is rescued from one of last year's weed-infested tires from an untarped part of the garden. I thought I'd killed the horseradish because we dumped the tire, rescued the roots, and then I put the roots aside and forgot about them in the sun for several days. Then (hoping to save some of the roots) I soaked them in a tub and -- you guessed it -- forgot about them for several days. At that point I figured the roots were too far gone to regrow, but I planted them anyway. Several grew -- yeah! -- so we'll divvy the roots up this fall and re-plant again.

The horseradish is attracting these tiny black beetles that have apparently been munching on the leaves.

But it's also attracting ladybugs, which at first I thought were munching on the beetles.

Or perhaps the ladybugs are just eating aphids. I think I see one in the upper left of this photo, in one of the leaf's white spots.

There were also a lot of wasps on the horseradish for some reason. Are they eating the beetles? I couldn't tell -- and didn't want to get too close to find out.

Of course the raspberries did well...

...and the blueberries are producing abundantly.

The herbs have flourished. Here's basil:





The peas have done poorly, so poorly that we didn't even bother putting in fencing for the vines to climb (because they didn't get big enough). The problem with the peas is simple: I planted them too late. Peas love cooler weather, and this summer's blasting heat wave did nothing to help them. I've had bumper crops of peas in the past, however, so I'll plant earlier next year (since now our infrastructure is now in place) with anticipation of more success.

The few pods I have, I'll save for seed.

Despite losing a lot of green pears in the last storm, the pear tree (our surviving remnant of the original 15 trees we planted years ago) is bearing well.

The beans are the biggest failure. I planted only two tires of beans (dried beans) because I've had spotty success with beans in the past. (Green beans grow well, but I didn't plant any this year - I ran out of tires.) But for some reason dry beans have problems here. Often the tender young leaves get eaten right after germination, making me wonder if robins or some other birds were nipping them off. So this year I netted the tires right after planting... and the beans still grew up stunted and undersized. Why? We don't have a slug or snail problem here, so I don't know why they won't grow. Are they being devoured by insects?

If there's one take-home lesson from this year's garden, it's the success of the drip irrigation system Don installed. Not only is it far more time- and water-efficient, but it insured the plants would receive water even during the hottest days of our heat spell when NONE of us wanted to go outside to water the garden by hand. (All we had to do was dash out, turn on the drip irrigation, and retreat back into the house.) The only thing not on the drip system are the strawberry tires, the carrot tires, and some of the herbs. I water these by hand and it only takes about 20 minutes a day.

We're also learning what grows reliably as a survival food (potatoes, corn) and what doesn't (beans). If the time comes when we're forced to live off the garden, this is important information to know.

We have lots more space in the garden and next year will install a lot more tires and irrigation. We also plan to fence off and plant an orchard, giving it one last chance.

But the success (and some failures) of this year's garden, as always, taught us a lot... and underscored the need for the learning curve to happen now, before it's a matter of life and death.

And of course, we can't forget those men and women whose tilling of the earth feeds us all, every day. A friend sent this.


  1. Do your tomato leaves have thickened veins? Is there any way they were exposed to broadleaf herbicide? We had three hundred plants ruined by herbicide drift, and it can drift for miles.

  2. i had/have the same problem with my shell beans. the sprouts come up and the first true leaves get shredded and shot so full of holes the plant dies. not sure if it is ants(early in the year they are voratious), earwigs, or some other insect.
    as much as i dislike using chemicals, a single application of sevin at 1/2 the recommended strength did the trick...even saved most of the sprouts i had written off.
    i look at chemicals the same way i look at bullets....i hate to use them, but if you are trying to steal my families food, i'll do what's necessary.

  3. Patrice, Did the side shoots on the corn produce any ears?
    ~~ Tricia P.

  4. The high heat you've had coupled with a few heavy rainstorms is most likely the cause of your tomato leaf curl.

    However, it could also be e a sign of a viral infection. Normally this virus is transmitted through whiteflies.

    If those were my tomatoes, I would make some green tomato relish or chutney and take out and destroy the plants. It's way too late in the season for any of those flowers to produce tomatoes.

    My only failure this year was beets. And I gave up on rows of basil as the quail and pheasants dig up the seeds. I finally planted the basil in pots on the deck and it's gorgeous.

    I'm in Post Falls, so our weather is similar.

  5. My wife has had problems ever since we moved to Texas. If we happen to have a cool spring they do well but as soon as it gets hot 95 and up the leaves curl up and they do not set fruit. That sounds like what happened to yours.

  6. Your tomato wilt sounds like early blight. However, here's a great index -- with pictures -- regarding tomato diseases put out by the plant pathology department of Cornell University.

  7. Yay --- garden pictures! Boy, it sure has come a long way! It looks great. Well, except for the tomatoes and the beans. Oh, well.

    Would it make you feel better to know my winter squash is a disaster this year? I consider sugar pumpkins to be a staple winter storing food: Lots of calories and nutrition, in the flesh AND the seeds, with no special processing needed. I'd be in dire straits right now if I had to depend on my scrawny pumpkins for food this winter! Now I have to go and BUY some. The shame.

    Regarding the bean plant devastation --- It might be birds. Whenever something is getting my plants when my fence is a virtual Fort Knox, I assume something is flying in over the top of it.

    Awesome garden.

    Just Me

  8. Beautiful, Patrice!

    Have you tried Minnesota Midget cantaloupes? Ours are already ripening now so I bet they would work well for your shorter growing season. Best cantaloupe we've ever had! They're small but amazingly sweet.
    Blessings from the East Coast,
    Mary Beth

  9. After leaving a comment, I received a long email that I think indicates that my comment is somewhere in a spam filter - either that or you don't exist. Except we know you exist.

    Anyhoo, I'll try again.

    The high heat you've had coupled with a few heavy rainstorms is most likely the cause of your tomato leaf curl.

    However, it could also be a sign of a viral infection. Normally this virus
    is transmitted through whiteflies.

    If those were my tomatoes, I would make some green tomato relish or chutney and take out and destroy the plants. It's way too late in the season for any of those flowers to produce tomatoes.

    My only failure this year was beets. And I gave up on rows of basil as the quail and pheasants dig up the seeds. I finally planted the basil in pots on the deck and it's gorgeous.

    I'm in Post Falls, so our weather is similar.

  10. The problem with your tomato leaves could also be just inconsistent watering at inconsistent times. I live in eastern wa and we also had the monstrous heat! My plants did the same until I started to religiously water heavily both late at night when it cooled off and again in the early morning, then they perked right up!

  11. Patrice,
    You can "preserve" your lettuce (along with many other greens) by dehydrating then grinding the leaves and getting green powder. You won't eat it in a salad but you can get all the nutrition by adding the powder to a smoothie, etc. Great for winter when you need the nutrition from greens.

    It's also the fastest way to preserve. it only takes a few minutes to rinse the greens (lettuce, etc.) and throw it in the dehydrator. Then you ignore it and go about your business as it dehydrates. When it's dry, throw the dry, crumbly leaves in a grinder (coffee grinder, blender, etc.). Grinding takes about one minute. Pour into a jar and put away in a dark cabinet. Done.

    It's very forgiving, you don't have to get the times perfect. Drying a little too long is better than not long enough.

    I consider this a great prep because the green powder you make will last forever and ever (and e-v-e-r) and it's an easy way to get a lot of nutrition.

    Love your blog,
    deb k

    1. I LOVE this idea! I'll never again diss lettuce as an unnecessary garden space-taker-upper. I'm going to try this.

      Just Me

    2. I just reread my first comment and realized I wasn't clear about how much powder to use. Sorry. Don't pour a whole bottle of powder into one smoothie. When I started I used one teaspoon of green powder. It all depends on taste and what you are used to. Now I use one to two tablespoons. Whatever strikes your fancy!!!

      Last week I bought a bunch of beets (I think it was 4 beets tied together) at the health food store. The beet greens were so pretty, no yellowing, holes or anything. So as soon as I got them home, I cut the greens off, rinsed them and tossed them in the dehydrator. A few hours later I remembered them, took them out of the dehydrator, ground them in a dry blender and got two tablespoons of dried beet green powder. (Just to give you an idea of how much it made.) So one tablespoon of that powder was the equivalent of all the greens on 2 beets, and I didn't have to taste the beet greens because they were in a smoothie.

      Have fun for anyone who tries it.
      deb k

  12. As easily as anyone I can see an outward sign of what most regard as wealth...big fancy houses, expensive exotic cars, first-class world travel...the list is endless...and feel a certain real attraction from time to time. But for sheer jealously, pure longing, a palpable, wistful desire, for me nothing can compete with the images of a bountiful garden. Even knowing the unimaginable amount of hard work it represents, I am overcome with jealousy. Smiling, good-natured jealously, but all the same. I am currently not in a position, space-wise, climate-wise, time-wise, else-wise to even begin to address my shortcomings in this regard. Were I there, I'd give you a big hug, Don a solemn handshake, and without words, wander endlessly, in awe, around the tires, til someone came with a flashlight and fetched me out of the darkness.

    All the best.

    Jeff - Tucson

    1. Were this my blog, I'd be printing out this comment and having a calligrapher do it in a piece of art that I could frame. It's one of the best comments I've ever read anywhere.

      Just Me

    2. LOL -- You beat me to the punch. I have a blog post up and ready for tomorrow highlighting his beautiful words.

      - Patrice

  13. As I'm sure you know you can keep carrots in the ground all winter with a heavy cover of straw. Brussels sprouts taste much better after a few light frosts - in CT we would harvest them even with a couple inches of snow on the ground. We grew the Yukon Chief corn for years. Small plants great for our small surburan garden and great taste and yield. The only problem we had was getting to it before the skunks - thy loved it too. Your tomato plants look like they have early blight - check with your local Extension Service or state University on line for photos. It's a big problem, both early and late blight, here in Florida.

  14. I live in Wyo. so my growing season isn't much longer that yours. I don't plant my carrots until the end of the first week in July. I mulch them with a bit of straw to help the soil from drying out so much. Carrots can take a bit of frost in the fall. When the frosts begin to get colder I cover the carrots with a cold frame. I usually don't dig my carrots until the end of October or depending on the year early Nov. By that time the cold weather has driven the sugar out of the leaves and into the roots. The carrots are much sweeter and are full size by the time I dig them.

  15. live in Mo, the two shoots on the corn are suckers we detatch these. your main plant will produce larger ears. side dress your corn at 6in height with 24-0-0 or a manure cocktail, pull dirt and lay the H2O to it. corn needs 1 inch of H20/week during the silk period. The tomato we use copper sulfate once a week good alround for blossom rot, leaf bl......your garden looks great. How do you store your potatos, we can ours 120 quarts this year. wish my blue berries looked like yours.

    1. Thank you for the corn tip. I will try that next year with my Yukon Chief.

  16. Patrice, this is a fantastic article on how to properly prepare the soil for an orchard:

  17. Oh my goodness! Melons! I am so jealous! We live in similar areas (NW Montana) and I haven't been able to grow melons to ripeness. What varieties are you planting?

    1. Elizabeth,
      I live north of Coeur d'Alene, ID and grow Blacktail Mountain watermelon (they were developed just up the road in Cocollala in the 1970's), Minnesota Midget Melons, Green Nutmeg Melons, Charentais Melons (very yummy!) and Sakata Sweet (ok). I purchased all my seeds for these from Sand Hill Preservation in Iowa over the internet. I also get seeds from Denali Seed/Best Cool Seeds in Alaska,for obvious reasons. Best Wishes.

  18. Our tomatoes here in Anchorage have curling leaves too. But the best outdoor varieties for here are Polar Beauty, Polar Star, Early Tanana and Black Prince...and we are getting a wonderful crop this year. I get the seeds from "Irish Eyes" in WA. We use south wall exposure to get the most sun, plant them in black pots and use fish fertilizer, epsom's salt, and the commercial blue stuff, and 8-32-16. Thanks to you I will try Yukon Chief corn again. My son uses the black garden felt on most stuff to get the heat and gets fantastic results, so I will be using that from now on. I did discover this year that I can TRANSPLANT turnips, rutabagas and carrots if I lift them early (3-4 leaves) and plant them about every 3 inches, and water them well right away. Great way to save seed! I also put lots of wood ash on the turnips and rutas. I start the leeks, green onions and tomatoes in late January, everything else in March-April and start moving stuff outside in late May. We can expect a frost any time now (late August), but last year I picked the last broccoli the first week of November, highly unusual for us. Love your blog! You keep me going!

  19. Hey I have a problem with peas also. to the point that I did not
    even plant them this year. But a lady who writes for our local
    paper but lives on the west side of the contienel divide soaks
    her peas in milk over night before she plants them and then has
    more peas than she can use. I have never heard of such a thing,
    but who knows it may work

  20. Hey have any of you read Farmer Boy. After I posted the abovc
    I remember Farmer boy. Once his pumkins started, he spliced
    the vine some how, pease read the book and Maybe Patrice
    can explain better than I can how he did it. But he spliced the vine and milk went up the vine and really grow a big punkim

  21. Loved that garden update - so pleased to see that most of your vegies are producing bountifully. Jenny

  22. Where I live, it's the pill bugs that eat the bean shoots. Usually if I plant enough, they will pull through when they get a bit bigger. The pill bugs only chomp the tender sprouts. You could try neem oil to deter anything that eats leaves.

  23. I just wrote a post and it sent me to reopen and I lost it....HMM
    Anyway, I love your garden...
    My Grammy had a beautiful veggie and flower garden in Upper Mi. where I am originally from....I would go visit in the summer and help weed and eat the wonderful fresh veggies from...She also had raspberries on the side of their garage...I would help pick them and eat some before she would start making raspberry jam (my favorite)...
    Now I am a Grammy of 8 and have bad arthritis and can't do a garden...But, thank you for the wonderful memories this post brought me....I miss my Grams and her wonderful jams and veggies out of the garden and the beautiful flowers she cut fresh for the table...
    Love from NC

  24. Have you tried planting field peas? They are a pea similar to black eyes but smaller and do well here in the heat of central SC.

  25. Wow! Your garden really gives me something to aspire to!

  26. I live in California and I only planted 3 tomato plants. 1 cherry, 1 black and 1 Roma. I got about 20 cherry tomatoes, 3 black that stayed small and oddly shaped never ripened, and not one Roma. I thought it had something to do with the fact we are in such a drought year again. Out of 7 Zucchini plants I got 3 zucchini, but my lettuce and beets were all over the place.

  27. I am working through the same thing in terms of what grows and what doesn't here (Texas). The heat means lots of things I could grow in California do not react well. This summer has been a learning curve - I hope I can figure it out before next year.

  28. I had a new pest this year, after the Weed and Pest guys sprayed the next door neighbors fields with FLEA BEETLES to help with control of leafy spurge. I guess they forgot to tell the beetles to stay in the field and out of my garden. That is what are are your plants and they will decimate them. I used diatomaceous earth and my brother sprayed Neem oil down at his garden.
    They destroyed our potatoes and went to work on the basil and all other leafy plants.
    Your garden is definitely picture worthy! Mine not so much, but it's from too much rain (which I hate to even write since you posted about the drought). My driveway circle garden has lavender, sage, oregano, cilantro, summer savory that all show signs of too much water, along with the catmint and Russian sage I grow to add color and height variety, plus the deer leave these plants and herbs alone.
    Getting ready to pot up some strawberries for transplant in Idaho, hoping they do as well next year as yours did this year.