Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Tomato Jungle and August Update

This has been an unusually cool and wet summer.  The past week has had highs between 61 and 67 degrees with overcast skies and rain more days than not.  Despite this (opportunity for rampant disease), my tomato plants have never looked better.  You can see above that they are a green, disease free, jungle of foliage.  I generally, but not always,  plant peppers and eggplants or carrots and beans at their feet.  This minimizes the soil splashed up onto the lower leaves in the rain thereby reducing the chance of disease.  This year I have a thick "under story" of peppers and basil.  By this time of year I expect that the lower leaves would at least be yellowing and dying of old age but they aren't.  Only the far end plant, the Sungold cherry is showing any sign at all of septorial speck or yellowing.

Beautiful, healthy foliage with clumps of fruit

And the production is good.  Each plant has a normal amount of large fruit set and waiting for warmer days and nights to ripen.  Last year I was very diligent about standard tomato pruning theories, removing suckers and all leaves below the first blossoms.  But the result of that was a reduction of producing vines.  That combined with the poor growing season seemed to completely demoralize the plants and they gave up the will to live.

For comparison:  my main tomato bed the first week of August 2013 teeters on the brink of extinction.

A more typical August (2012) picture with diseased and dying lower leaves removed.

August 2011 lower leaves removed and fruit ripening

Typical August picture (2011).  Onions pulled and drying and tomatoes doing well.

Elsewhere in the garden the potato plants have died back and been removed.  Now that all the plant has been cut back and the potatoes have no way of continuing to grow, the tubers should be left in the soil for a week or two for the skin to begin to harden before storing.  I plan on leaving mine in the soil until frost since the bed is well drained and I am not concerned about pests.  There are some small onions along one side which I plan on pickling for "cocktail" onions.

Here is a first for my garden.  My potato plants produced berries.  The potato is a first cousin of the tomato and will sometimes produce berries from the flowers.  These look just like cherry tomatoes but are not edible.

Each berry contains seeds just like a tomato and would produce potato plants that would not necessarily have the same characteristics of the parent plant.

The melon patch is still looking great.  I have 30 cantaloupes and I'm guessing they will ripen in the next week or two.  I have a dozen watermelons growing and getting bigger every day.

 The sweet potato plants (and zucchini beyond) are doing well.

Back in the tomato bed the bell peppers are soldiering on.  They were late to flower and what few flowers did come have dropped half of the set fruit due to the cool damp conditions.  Each plant has one or two fruit doing fine.  Above is my single Purple Beauty pepper.  The second plant is just now blooming.  You can see in the lower background of the photo above one of the few examples of a tomato leaf yellowing from old age.

In the next bed the second planting of cucumbers are flowering well and setting fruit.  The earlier row has produced well and are fighting through wilt but as soon as this row begins producing the old diseased row is coming out.

Behind the cukes the bush beans are pushing through the fusarium root rot which is taking half the seedlings sometimes before they break through the soil.  There is room down one side for a row of fall lettuce to be transplanted soon.

This was the earlier bed of peas.  The peas have been pulled out leaving the carrots and now I have planted two rows of bush beans down the center.  I have learned that the Purple Queen beans, although sold as "bush" beans, really want to climb at least 3 feet and so, when available, I put pieces of fencing along their rows for them.  This keeps the plants supported off the ground and allows the beans to grow long and straight instead of curling when they meet with the resistance of the ground.  It also prevents the bean pods from picking up rot in the soil. I have been pulling carrots as needed for more than a month.

The two beds of black beans are producing.

These black bean seed pods will be allowed to dry on the plant before being shelled and stored as dry beans.  The garden is feeding us well this year and has been much less work than normal.  This time last year I was in the heat of battle with cucumber beetles and other pests which are no significant trouble this year.  In 2012 we were on the brink of drought with a significant amount of watering in July, but the season was going well.  In 2011, August was a break from constant morning watering in July but an exhaustion of tomato sauce and other harvest preserving.  This past week my efforts have been concentrated on baking and freezing zucchini bread.  The weather has been cool enough to make baking a possibility and I still have one monster zucchini lurking about the kitchen demanding further action.  This is about the time of year when I begin to fantasize about a summer without garden chores and ensuing food preservation labors.
Norman Thelwell, an English artist renowned for his cartoons of ponies and children and other English life, illustrates the possibilities very well in this garden allotment illustration from the PUNCH Summer 1954 number.

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