Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer Garden Harvests

With fall approaching and summer harvests at their peak, I hope you are enjoying the fruits of your labor.  If you have experienced some success and some frustrating disappointments, don't worry that is part of the garden experience.  Gardening has lots of variables from weather, drought, pests, neglect, etc and adapting to those variables is part of the experience.

Thomas Jefferson, whose most intimate passion was horticulture, said,

"Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one thro' the year.  ....I am still devoted to the garden.  But tho' an old man, I am but a young gardener."

I hope that you too are still devoted to the garden and the abundance it has the potential to bring.  Where ever you are experience wise in the adventure of gardening there is always the hope of a better season. 

Most years are favorable to cucumbers.  If you are a beginning gardener they are a good choice to start with.  Cucumbers need a trellis.  They are climbers and keeping the fruit off the ground is helpful.  

This year I inter- planted with snapdragons and nasturtiums. I really like the combination.  I use hog fencing for a trellis.

There are different types of cucumbers:  slicing (for fresh eating), pickling, and specialty varieties like lemon, English or Armenian.
My favorite slicing is Summer Dance and Armenian.  Almost any pickling variety is prolific.  

Be sure to give them adequate water.  Drought stressed cucumbers with be misshapen and bitter.

Trellising cucumbers allows for good air circulation to prevent fungal disease and allows the fruit to grow straight.

 The pictures below show pickling cucumbers and Armenian.  Armenian cucumbers are actually in the melon family but taste like a cucumber.  I think they have incredible flavor and crispness, for a cucumber, and everyone who tries them decides that cucumbers are actually good.

 Root crops like beets and carrots are another great choice for the beginning gardener. This picture below is Bull's Blood Beets which are great for greens with the added benefits of antioxidants of betalins and not anthocynains in the leaves.  This unique antioxidant provides support in different ways than other antioxidant-rich veggies.  Forms of this antioxidant are found in the roots of both red and golden beets.  Golden beets are my favorite they are much sweeter. 

Carrots are another easy crop to grow.  They need a soil free of rocks with lots of organic matter.  They can be tricky to get to germinate.  If at any point they dry out the seed or seedlings will die.  I always hand water a freshly planted bed or carrots in both the morning and evening.  You can lay a weed block or row cover fabric directly on the ground over the seeds to help hold in moisture but be sure to remove it when they begin to germinate.  Another problem gardeners have with carrots is planting the seeds too deep.  Carrot seeds just barely need to be covered.  You can sprinkle the seeds and brush the area with your hand and that's about all you need to cover them.

Both red and golden beets are easy to grow and can be succession planted throughout the season. In most zones you can even get a fall crop.  Always direct seed beets

Carrots are delicious eaten fresh but roasting them with beets, potatoes, rutabagas, and onions is one our families favorite meals.

Peppers have actually struggled this year and are finally coming on.  Our summer has been rather cool and unfortunately not to the finicky tomatoes liking.  My tomatoes are all still green but the peppers are now doing great.

Green beans are about done for the season.  My favorite green variety is Slenderette which is a hybrid.  The heirlooms I include Royal Burgundy and Yellow Pencil Pod.  I am allowing them to produce seed for next year.

Regularly harvesting green beans is critical to having a long harvest.  Also pull off any misshapen beans. If you have a lot of small curled beans they are probably water stressed.  Only harvest when the leaves are dry.  Harvesting wet can easily spread disease.  The only real disease issue is mosaic viruses.  There are different viruses but in most causes it causes a mottled discolored leaf.  They are spread by vector insects so pesticides are ineffective.  It is best to pull and destroy any plants that may be affected.

Watermelon and summertime go hand in hand.  There is an exciting world of melons for the home gardener.  One of my favorites is an orange fleshed variety so try something along with old time favorites.  Everything you need to know about growing melons is in this link:


Nothing is better than a homegrown muskmelon.  Muskmelons can have netted skins or be smooth.  They can be ribbed or non-ribbed.
The American melon with the ribbed skin and orange flesh is what most people know as a cantaloupe.  

The French Charentais melon is smooth grayish color with only faint ribs.  The flesh is orange and absolutely heavenly. I highly recommend trying these French gems. 

What would summer be without corn on the cob?  I have two gardens, one for field crops and a garden of raised beds.  Corn needs to be planted in large blocks of at least 5x5'  for good pollination. A good portion of the field garden is devoted to corn. I have a link for more info on growing sweet corn. 

 There are other options besides sweet corn.  There are dent, flour, flint, and popcorn.

Dent corn is characterized by a depression in the crown of the kernel caused by unequal drying of the hard and soft starch making up the kernel. They are the typical field corn used for animal feed, cornmeal, and fuel. (Bountiful Gardens)

 Flint corn, containing little soft starch, has no depression. Popcorn is considered this type as are the colorful Indian or ornamental corns. Flint corns are more cold tolerant. (Bountiful Gardens)

 Flour corn, composed largely of soft starch, has soft, mealy, easily ground kernels. Sweet corn has wrinkled, translucent seeds; the plant sugar is not converted to starch as in other types. (
This year I'm growing Blue Hopi Flint corn, Floriani for cornmeal and flour, and a popcorn.

I like planting winter squash and pumpkins on the outside rows of the corn.  They like to climb the corn stalks and being on the outside still get plenty of sunshine.

This is a mini butternut.  I love the size which is good for 1 or 2 people.  This is perfect for me because I'm the only one in my family that enjoys winter squash.  This variety also seems to produce more fruit than larger varieties.

My grapes did great this year.  I always feel like I'm battling a beast when it comes to controlling the growth of grapes.  To get a good crop they need to be pruned heavily.  I honestly feel if I stood still too long by the grapes the vines would entangle me and I would never get free.

The biggest challenge I have with grapes is keeping the birds and wasps away.  A radio tuned to talk radio works fairly good with birds.  Homemade traps with wasps have helped somewhat.  I've tried tulle but the birds just get stuck inside.  Sadly I always lose some of my crops to both pests.

I grow both table grapes and Concord grapes for jelly and juicing.

A little cooler summer was great for broccoli and cauliflower.  I plant a large spring crop and a small late summer crop to be harvested in the fall.  Above is Graffiti which is just a gorgeous color.  It loses its color if steamed but retains it better if roasted.

Cheddar is another favorite variety of cauliflower.  If you grow brocolli and cauliflower through the summer be prepared to deal with aphids and caterpillars.  There are effective organic methods to deal with these troublesome pests.

This is our field garden.  This year we put weed block cloth down and shredded bark in the paths to make weeding easier.  I usually rotate corn, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, and melons in this area.

I tried tomatoes in the field garden and they weren't very happy. They weren't very happy with the cool summer either and are still showing there disgust by staying green.  But " the failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another."  Blackberries loved the weather and I had a huge crop that is still coming. My little grand daughter is pretty happy about that!

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