I just picked about two cups of fresh lima bean and an armful of small late season tomatoes from the garden to make some soup. For the most part, the rest of the garden is bare and has been for many weeks now. I should have taken this year off. It would have been the perfect year to have burned the weeds and tilled the garden in late spring, and just to have sown in a cover crop of some legume such as white clover and then have tilled it under for its organic mass come fall. Instead I gave up on the garden midsummer and never got around to finish the gardening daylog that I was working on for August. But for those interested in reading, here is what was going on.
I had a wonderful "Sunday" on Friday July 20, 2012. It seemed like that we have not had a 'perfect' Summer’s day all summer until then. We recently endured the worst heatwave since 1995 and have been suffering through, along with most of the country, a severe drought.
The previous week we were fortunate to receive a good 40 minute downpour from an isolated thunderhead. I was driving home from work and as I approached towards the dark cloudburst the heat of the day fled from the downdraft of cold air from on high. I literally could smell the rain in this cold air. As the storm passed, a quarter mile from my home, the heavens opened up with drenching, gutter-overflowing rain.
This was a very isolated storm but the rest of the region received more widespread relief that Wednesday night as a cold front came through.
Early on in July, I harvested the remainder of the golden beets and cabbages. This capped the spring growing season which, compared to recent years, was very fruitful.
I am very pleased to announce that I succeeded in growing a very modest yet very tasty crop of Supersweet corn. I had to water nearly every day in the drought and the stalks got blown over right at pollination time. Not every stalk grew to a decent height and on those that did, not every cob was completely filled out with kernels. Japanese beetles ate up the corn silks and the ends of the cobs were chewed on by little black beetles and even fruit maggot here and there. But, after trimming the ends, the fruits of my diligence went onto the grill and onto my dinner plate.
Another water intensive crop that I babied through the drought were the onions. I harvested some very respectable sized Walla-Wallas this year. I have grown these sweet onions before with great success. This year the overall yield was not as bountiful as last but I will fill a stocking or two with them this year. I grew Copra onions, a storage cultivar, as well. Most of them ended up on the small side. But they will be appreciated when the Wallas have all been eaten I am sure.
While most of my potatoes are still growing, the Yukon Gold's came ready to harvest this month. The yields were very disappointing. Out of a pound of seed potatoes I think that I only yielded maybe four pounds tops. I hope that the remainder of my cultivars have better growth. (Update: The yields of the other cultivars were also poor)
The Japanese beetles have been chewing the hell out of the pole beans as usual. Right next to the pole beans, the lima beans are completely untouched. This was the case last year and I am wondering if maybe a bush-style green bean would be unappetizing to the beetles. My mother grows bush beans instead of pole beans and I do not see her bean leaves all full of holes
Speaking of Mom's garden, I am (pun coming) GREEN with envy over her garden. We rarely have the kind of heat in which melons thrive and she has got beautiful charantis and watermelon vines crawling about vast sheets of gardeners fabric. How that woman can use that fabric and not have armies of squash bugs lurking underneath is beyond me. Her zucchini, yellow squash and butternut squash plants are all huge and healthy too. She has a bit of a powdery mildew problem and a bit of wilt transmitted by cucumber beetles, true, but she has the “garden-of-eatin” compared to what I have got going on.
My cucumbers are scrawny, scraggly, pathetic specimens which have yet to produce any fruit. Those are the ones that have not died of wilt. I have cucumber beetles everywhere and they are chewing the shit out of the cukes. They have left their mark on the melons too. I had to pull up the entirety of one cluster because of wilt and the rest are pretty stunted looking with very few fruit. I got some begrudging growth from the summer squash plants but the zuccini plants just seemed to flat out refuse to grow at all. As usual, a found squash bugs at regular intervals which I crushed. I had gotten only a handful of squash harvested when I noticed that every one of the plants had sawdust around the base of the stems. Sure enough, they all had squash vine borers in them. Multiple caterpillars infesting each plant. So much for squash. (Update: In the end, I had a total failure from the cukes, and the melons only grew to baseball size)
To round out the summer garden woes, my okra plants are still only a few feet high. They are flowering and setting pods, but they are woody before they get two inches long. How useless! Now that I have corn, onions and tomatoes, I should be making vegetarian gumbo but not with these plants. When I return to gardening, I am going to go back to using Burpee's North & South Hybrid.
But I really think that I am going to take a break next year. The vermin have taken a hold and I need to break them by starving them next year's generation. So much for grandiose aspirations of Spring. Instead of planting any fall crops, I have started on a scorched earth policy!
Last month I read that drenching nutgrass with diluted molasses will kill the nutlet and, eventually with repeated applications, the weeds will disappear. I gave up on that in favor of using fire. So far, I have used my Flame Weeder twice to incinerate the nutgrass and everything else where I am not currently growing anything. The nutgrass comes back fast, but the idea is that each time the nutgrass has to re-grow itself, the nutlet depletes a considerable amount of its stored energy. If the plant is continuously killed before it can restore its caloric deficit, the nutlet will eventually exhaust itself and die. I have noticed that with even the hardcore chemical herbicides that kill nutgrass, repeated applications are often necessary. So it would seem that whatever method is used to kill nutgrass, the endgame is to starve the nutlet.
We shall see, I have plenty of propane and plenty of summer left to stay this course. By fall, I shall at least know enough to finally write my Nutgrass node. If I succeed I might have enough time to put in a cover crop of clover. A few seasons of letting a legume manure crop grow to infuse nitrogen into the soil will do it some good.
Well, once again that was in last July. In the eight weeks between then and now and since I last wrote anything about gardening, I have fairly eradicated the nutgrass. After the fourth of sixth burn, the little of it that came back, I just pulled out by hand. I can conclude then, that nutgrass can be killed, over time, by exhausting the nutlet.
The drought eased in my corner of northeastern Illinois and it did turn out to be a good one for tomatoes and eggplants both of which thrived as the early blight that they typically get did not appear due to the lack of moisture. It was so dry that even the mosquitoes were almost non-existent. We had about a dozen or so nice peaches, but zero apples. Somehow I mistakenly planted broccoli instead of Brussels sprouts for a fall crop, but besides that, I did not plant anything else. The fennel was looking good but bolted recently, probably from drought stress.
Oh, well. Next year will be an off year for me vegetable wise, but it shall have something to write about in growing a cover crop to try to restore nitrogen and organic material into the soil. Maybe I will buy a soil testing kit to see what else the soil is lacking after about ten years of continuous cropping. I am also hoping, as I have already written, that I can break the life cycles of the various species of vermin that have become so abundant. Hopefully they will starve or leave to lay their eggs elsewhere.
In the meantime, I have taken many notes from a book on Chinese agriculture which I am hoping will turn into at least two, perhaps three, good writeups once the humdrum of Winter sets in. Facinating stuff. But besides study and soil management, it is going to be a year at the farmer's markets for me for 2013. Eh, maybe I will find another spot to grow a couple tomato plants as well.