Seeming no more than weed leaves and dried twigs, my oregano plants have barely started to bounce back from a surprisingly long winter.
Oh, what a day! I’d planned to spend Saturday planting and otherwise working in my garden. Instead, I spent the day chasing about: gathering stuff I’d need to get the garden in shape. But Sunday was better!
Assessing the garden
I started in the herb garden, looking over the perennials there and removing last season’s deadwood from the tarragon plants. A few tarragon sprouts were already poking through the soil and there are fresh green leaves on the oregano and thyme. Most dramatic was the rhubarb which is emerging like some kind of alien mushroom from giant spores stuck to the soil.
In the herb garden I noticed how dry the soil was, and I checked several planting beds where I made the same discovery. It was a dry winter and perennials were parched as they came out of dormancy.
I’m used to seeing crinkly rhubarb leaves poke out of the mulch in early spring. This year the crinkly leaves are breaking out of balls nestled on the mulch—looking a bit like brains busting out of tiny alien heads.
My goal was to plant peas so I knew I’d be in the yard for many hours. This was a perfect opportunity to help out the parched perennials. I set the hose on garden patch after garden patch and let it soak the soil as I worked on other projects. There were blueberry plants, raspberries, and herbs, and a remarkable number of ornamentals—roses, hydrangeas, coreopsis, heucheras, primroses, lilies, and azaleas—that I’d planted in the fall. It would be very sad to kick off the growing season by watching them shrivel and die.
Again: I wanted to plant peas. I always plant three 14 foot double rows of Wando peas, but on Saturday I had broken with tradition and invested in Early Frosty and Bolero—two varieties producers claim are prolific.
Inside the rodent fence are two parallel pea trellises running down the middles of double rows of peas. Considering all the steps and related tasks, planting two rows on Sunday felt an enormous accomplishment. Look hard above the far fence for a dark spot (like the dot of an “i” above the central fence post); that’s a robin that eyed me as I worked in the garden. The robin stars in the next photo (below).
Planting peas involves loosening soil and digging a trench, removing weeds, setting seeds, filling the trench to bury the seeds, and applying water to soak the seeds. Before watering I erect trellises that the pea vines will climb. The trellises were broken.
I’ve used the same pea trellises for 14 years. These are extremely simple: each is a 13.5 foot length of 48” steel fencing attached to three pressure-treated wooden stakes about five feet tall. There’s a stake at each end, and one in the middle. Despite the preservatives in the stakes, the stakes rot out through repeated use. Last year, after handling the peas, the trellises carried the weight of three enormous winter squashes and some of the stakes broke.
I pulled staples, cut new stakes, and hammered new staples to hold the weather-worn fencing on the new stakes.
Yep, a robin in spring after a dry winter has a lot of love for agriculture. This one stared me down as I finished up planting and watering two rows of peas.
Sure, and I can’t have young vegetable sprouts in my garden without erecting a fence to keep out rodents. The fence is as old as the pea trellises. It is a collection of wooden frames with chicken wire stapled to them. The frames stand end-to-end around the garden and are low enough that I can step over them to come and go.
I’ve replaced much of the chicken wire over the years, but have also nursed some of the frames through severe issues. Some chicken wire is so far gone that you can’t find shiny metal beneath the rust; there is only rust.
So, as I loosened soil, dug trenches, removed weeds, set seeds, and filled the trenches while periodically moving the hose from one thirsty perennial to another, I also pulled staples to free rusted chicken wire from fence panels, rolled out new chicken wire, used my handy staple gun to attach the wire to the frames, and cut the chicken wire from the roll. Someplace along the way I noticed the robins.
What robins have to do with it
Birds are among my favorite gardening distractions. Catbirds may be the most persistent pleasure: almost every year a pair nests near my garden and the two of them follow me around as I work among my vegetable plants. But robins seem the most agriculturally aware of my feathered visitors.
Across the yard from my pea planting, the hose was soaking young blueberry plants that looked thirsty after our dry winter. This robin happily gathered mud to complete its adobe-like construction in a nearby tree. I love that critters have learned about agriculture enough to take advantage—though there are some critters I’d rather not see in my garden.
Agriculturally aware? When I turn soil, robins invariably watch from a safe distance and swoop in the moment I move away. They know that gardening means food: they find worms I’ve moved to the surface, and they eat well. But food is only part of the story.
In spring, robins get all hot-and-bothered and build nests. Mud is a key component of their nest-building. After the dry winter, mud has been in short supply, but here was this gardening dude making mud all over his yard!
Whenever I turned, whenever I looked up, whenever I moved the hose, at least one robin was there… and if they were anywhere near a freshly-watered perennial, they had muddy beaks.
The day’s tally:
- umpteen water-soaked perennials
- two repaired pea trellises
- two double rows of peas planted
- three fence frames repaired with five more in the queue (but erected and protecting the pending seedlings)
- three dozen gardening-themed photos
- a whole bunch of happy robins
Possibly a Cornue Des Andes tomato, though I don’t know. These paste tomatoes are fine raw and they grow large on indeterminate plants.
Tomatoes, peppers, and winter squash from my garden to yours! As in some years past, I collected seeds from many of my crops in 2012, and I’d like to share them with my readers. The box titled, What Might You Get? lists the seeds I’m giving away and briefly describes the vegetables that should grow from them.
Here’s how the giveaway works:
I have quite a lot of seeds to give away and will organize them into “sets.” A complete set will include all the types of seeds listed in the What Might You Get? box. I’ll give away complete sets until I run out of a particular type of seed. Then, I’ll give away sets lacking whatever types of seeds I’m out of.
Here are the rules:
1. The seed giveaway ends at midnight on Sunday, February 24. No new entries or mailing list bumps are valid after that date.
2. Get on the mailing list by leaving a comment on this blog post. I’d love it if you’d tell me something about your garden and make me laugh.
3. Send me an email HERE that includes your snail mail address as well as the email address you use with your comment. If you plan to “bump” your entry (explained below), I’ll need your twitter name and/or facebook name so I can identify when you bump. If you post on your blog about the giveaway, include your blog’s URL in your email.
Completing items 2 and 3, gets you on to the end of my mailing list. I’ll mail seeds on a first-come-first served basis until I run out of sets… but there are some twists. You can move up on the mailing list by doing any or all of the following:
4. If you’re on Twitter, tweet a link to this giveaway that includes the hash tag #skgseeds.
5. If you’re on Facebook, post a link to this giveaway and include the hash tag #skgseeds in the text.
Each day that you Tweet or post on Facebook as explained in items 4 and 5, you’ll move up one place on the mailing list. The most you can move up in a calendar day is two places—one for Tweeting, and one for a Facebook post. Except for a one-time bump as explained in item 6:
Three neck pumpkins running from 12 to 17 pounds apiece. Enthusiasts feel these are the best squash to use in pumpkin pie.
6. If you’re on Pinterest, pin the Seed Giveaway photo from the top of this post and include the hash tag #skgseeds in the description of the pin. Again, if I can match your pin to your email address, your entry moves up two spots on the mailing list.
7. Finally, if you mention my giveaway on your own blog and encourage your readers to visit and enter, you automatically receive my gratitude along with a complete set of seeds (but still on a first-come-first-served basis; would that so many people blog about my giveaway, there won’t be enough seeds to go around). I’ll mail seeds to the entire list of bloggers (in the order that they post) before I mail to any other entrants.
At Least Get on the List!
Don’t be overwhelmed by the options. At least leave a comment and email your snail mail address (items 2 and 3). You’re likely to get some seeds (though, when I run out of these types of seeds, if I haven’t gotten to your name on the list, you won’t receive any).
When you do get seeds, please think of me during the growing season. I’d love to get occasional updates—perhaps with a photo. If you let me know when you write blog posts about what you grow from Small Kitchen Garden Seeds, I’ll let my readers know about your posts.
One sad caveat: This giveaway is open only to folks in the United States and Canada.
The leaves of a neck pumpkin plant form a canopy along the top of a four-foot-tall trellis. Until they start to deteriorate in autumn, winter squash plants add remarkable textures to a garden. Left to run along the ground, leaves create enough shade to keep weeds from getting established.
Winter squash is by far one of my favorite vegetables to grow. Happily, it’s also a really easy plant. It’s easy but for a few challenges:
- It requires a lot of garden space
- It’s susceptible to Squash Vine Borers
- It’s susceptible to squash bugs
- It can host mold that can kill an entire plant
- It may not set fruit without human intervention
No, seriously, it’s easy to grow winter squash. You can beat all of the challenges with little effort, and the reward is a harvest of delicious, nutritious, and versatile food that stores well and could last through the winter.
Squash vines on trellises are strong enough to support the fruits they grow. Here, a modest butternut squash hangs from the vine. I’ve had 17 pound neck pumpkins do the same. The vines hold up fine, but one year three squashes on the same side of a trellis were enough to collapse the trellis.
Optimize Garden Space
Winter squash plants are vines, and a single hill (three or four plants set close together) can spread over 100 square feet or more of ground. Minimize the ground they cover by providing trellises and training the plants up. I’ve run trellises north-south, and others east-west, and the squash have been happy on both. My trellises are only four feet high, but I’d design seven-foot trellises if I were starting over.
On the other hand, under the “Beat the Squash Bugs” heading, you’ll see that I plant squash in the garden in mid-July. I grow peas on sturdy trellises starting in late March and they’re done by July. So, I simply leave the trellises in place for the squash when I stomp down the pea plants.
Beat the Squash Bugs
Your simplest defense against bugs is to grow bug-resistant winter squashes. I’ve had great luck with butternut squash and neck pumpkins. Both seem immune to squash vine borers (SVB), and I’ve harvested squash from them even when they were crawling with squash bugs.
But I have almost no squash bugs anymore and the reason is simple: I hold off until mid July before planting winter squash in my garden. This may shorten your growing season too much if you live in zone 5 or below, but here’s the trick: Start hills of squash in early June by planting in containers.
Each sawed-off drink bottle in this photo contains a “hill” of squash seedlings about 14 days after I planted seeds. I start the seeds in early June to transplant in mid-July. Usually, that beats the squash bugs, but for added assurance, I plant butternut squash and neck pumpkin which are both amazingly immune to SVB and squash bugs.
For each hill, cut off the bottom third of a 2-liter soda or juice bottle, poke a few holes in the bottom, fill with potting soil, and set three or four seeds and inch deep. Keep these containers in a sunny screened porch until mid July (or under protective cover such as cloches, hoop tunnels, floating row covers, or screened enclosures), and keep the soil moist. Around July 15th, transplant each hill of seedlings as a single plant into your garden. There’s a reasonable chance that squash bugs will have given up on your garden by then, and none will bother your winter squash.
Will Your Squash Plants Mold?
My butternut squash and neck pumpkin plants have never developed mold, though I’ve grown other types of squash plants that have molded. So, start there. You’re already choosing these varieties because they resist SVB; perhaps they are also mold-resistant. By planting late, you keep the squash bugs down, so there won’t be sap oozing out of the squash leaves. Sap drawn by squash bugs can provide a great environment for mold to grow, so beating the bugs may beat the mold. Finally, by growing squash up on trellises, you promote air movement in your squash patch; that reduces moisture on the leaves and discourages mold.
It’s easy to identify a female squash flower. The blossom protrudes from the end of a miniature squash, and the flower’s pistil is a central stalk that forks into landing platforms for bees. Amazingly, a squash blossom starts to wilt about when the sun is highest in the sky. Pollination must take place before the flower wilts.
Don’t Go Fruitless
Many squash growers report frustration when their plants fail to set fruit. They report that flowers appear, but the young squashes attached shrivel and die. Squash flowers draw more attention from bees than anything else in my garden, and you’ll probably have the same experience. However, leaving pollination to the bees can lead to poor squash production. Photos in this post show how I pollinate my winter squash—every winter squash. It’s one of my favorite tasks in the garden and I’ve never lost a squash that I hand-pollinated.
Butternut squash and neck pumpkin are very similar. Neck pumpkins have a milder flavor, but if you serve it in place of butternut, few diners will notice the difference. People in central Pennsylvania favor neck pumpkin for pumpkin pies. But beware! A large butternut squash might weigh two or three pounds. A large neck pumpkin can weigh 25 pounds.
I gotta say: it’s really satisfying to drag a 17 pound vegetable out of the garden. Managing the few quirks of winter squash is a minor inconvenience for the pleasure. Give winter squash a try. You can grow that!
Find more You Can Grow That posts at youcangrowthat.com.
If a female squash flower doesn’t receive pollen from a male squash flower, the fruit dies. Amazingly, this happens often even when bees are very active in a squash patch. It’s disheartening to see a squash rot away like this. Protect your investment in squash seeds by hand-pollinating every blossom.
A male squash flower grows directly from a stem; there is no fruit beneath it. The stamen is a single or split stalk obviously coated with pollen. Look carefully and you might also notice a dusting of pollen all around the inside of the blossom.
To pollinate a squash, find and pick a male flower. Then peel the petals away from the stamen. Discard the petals.
Hold the stem end of the peeled blossom and wield it like a brush to “paint” the pistol of the female squash flower. Be careful not to agitate the bees in the blossoms, though in all the years I’ve pollinated squash, a bee has never shown interest in me. Bees have flown into blossoms I was holding before I had a chance to strip off the petals, but the bees ignored me. You can use one male flower to pollinate several female flowers.
This small pile of winter squashes includes neck pumpkins and butternut squash. The wine bottle gives you a sense of scale; the largest neck pumpkin in the heap is nearly two feet long. A well-developed winter squash that is still green at harvest will ripen slowly at room temperature in your house.
Native Seeds S.E.A.R.C.H. in Tucson Arizona hosted visits from hundreds of professional garden writers learning about the mission of preserving genetic diversity in our food crops.
I had the privilege of visiting Native Seeds S.E.A.R.C.H. with the Garden Writers Association. This is a seed bank in Tucson, Arizona that tracks down unique seeds to preserve in the event that agricultural calamity should befall our country or the world.
Suppose a new fungus emerges that decimates our corn crops, or an insect pest emerges that favorites key legumes. Quite possibly, we could find some varieties of corn or beans that resist the fungus or insects. But we won’t be able to do that if the seeds for those varieties don’t exist.
The Peril of Monoculture
Modern agricultural practices result in wide distribution of a very limited variety of food plants. Huge swaths of our food belt grow a single variety of sweet corn—or several varieties that are so genetically similar they are all vulnerable in the same ways. Without a backup plan, simple biological changes in the environment could leave us all hungry.
Perhaps even more disturbing: So much of the corn and canola grown in the US is from genetically engineered seeds. Scarce but growing scientific studies suggest that the very genetics engineered into our food are responsible for the alarming rise in dozens of systematic diseases in the United States. Our government has not required long-term testing of these food products, and the plants harboring these potentially poisonous genes can cross-pollinate with pure plant breeds, making them as dangerous to health as the genetically engineered plants.
Home Gardeners as Potential Saviors
Home gardeners are one seemingly feeble protection our food supply has against these risky biological experiments (monoculture farming and genetic engineering). If we, the home gardeners, select heirloom varieties; if we grow our crops from seed bank stores, we can extend the genetic lines of an enormous variety of food plants that simply don’t interest commercial growers.
It was encouraging to see the excitement of this group of professional garden writers as they examined bowls of heirloom seeds. These writers will carry the message to their readers: help protect us against an agricultural disaster; diversify the food you grow. We home gardeners may have the power to save the world.
Learn more at the Native Seeds SEARCH website: Native Seeds SEARCH.
Enthusiastic garden writers got to examine bowls of seeds of all kinds of food plants. One see we examined appears to be the genetic precursor to all varieties of modern corn. How cool is that?
Central Pennsylvanians call these winter squashes Neck Pumpkins. The squash also goes by the name of Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash.
Grow winter squash in your kitchen garden! These plants always delight me with their aggressive growth which leads them to overwhelm tens of square feet of garden space. These are not plants for a small garden, though you might accommodate them by providing trellises and training the vines away from your other vegetable plants.
I’ve reported on neck pumpkins several times over the years. This one grew on a vine I set in the garden in mid-July. So, in just two months the plant went from seedling to harvestable 17 pound squash. There are more in the garden.
Neck Pumpkin Characteristics
Neck Pumpkin is a distinctively central Pennsylvania winter squash. The fruit is like a giant butternut squash though lighter in color and milder in flavor. Still, the squash is nearly all meat. This fruit is enough to make, perhaps, 14 pumpkin pies—or to serve squash side dishes at dinner for more than two weeks.
I plan to do a seed giveaway this winter and seeds from this neck pumpkin will be among the offerings. Check back in January or early February for details. Here’s video I recorded when I harvested the neck pumpkin in this post:
Three types of wax beans grow this year in my small kitchen garden. The one on my fingers is a Golden Wax Bush bean. The one in the middle is a Kentucky Wonder Wax bean that’s a bit young; these can grow longer and thicker without becoming woody, but I like to catch them right when they turn yellow. The bean on my palm is the Mystery Wax bean – that is, I don’t know what variety it is. I work a lot harder to fill a canning jar with the Mystery beans than I work to fill jars with the other varieties.
Beans are still growing strong in my small kitchen garden, though frost may be no more than two weeks away. I’ve learned a few things about beans this year which surprised me just a bit because I’ve grown beans for the past 18 years, and I’d participated for ten years in my mother’s kitchen garden where she grew beans.
Wax Beans in my Garden
I prefer wax beans over green beans, so I usually plant more of the first than the latter. This year, I planted about twice as many wax bean seeds as I did green bean seeds, but I planted three varieties of wax beans: Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole, Golden Wax Bush, and a mystery variety (it’s a mystery because apparently I threw out the seed package when I used up the seeds; I hate that).
I’d never seen a climbing wax bean before this season and I was very pleased to find Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole bean seeds at a local garden center. The beans grow quite large, but they’re more pleasant to eat when I harvest them before they’re obviously mature. They start green and turn white as they plump up and I prefer their texture when I harvest right as they turn. They’re just as good when a bit green as they are when they turn white.
Just a few weeks after planting, seeds of climbing (pole) beans produce lovely stems that wave around in the air until they find something around which to curl. The plants spiral upwards as they grow and they put out more and more stems that eventually cover everything within reach.
The Golden Wax Bush beans are what I’d consider a “generic” wax bean. These are probably what I grew up eating, or at least they look and taste the same. The beans reach four-to-six inches and they form smooth cylinders that are tender and stringless until the seeds inside start to bulk up.
The Mystery Beans started as rather small seeds; no more than half the size of bean seeds I’ve planted in past years. These produce prodigiously, but the pods are about half the thickness of any other beans I’ve grown. The Mystery Beans also tend to be shorter than Golden Wax and Kentucky Wonder beans. These beans grow smooth and stringless, and it seems they can remain on the plants for weeks without getting tough.
Grow Big Beans
What I’ve learned from my wax beans: Grow big ones. The smaller Mystery Beans grow on plants that require just as much space as Golden Wax bean plants. They take just as much effort per bean to harvest, clean, and prepare for canning, freezing, or cooking. But, 30 Golden Wax beans might just satisfy my family for one meal; 30 Mystery Beans would leave half of us without. In other words, when it comes to eating, canning, and freezing, I have to work twice as hard for the smaller Mystery Beans. In the future, I’ll choose larger beans.
Looking across my small kitchen garden at the climbing bean trellises. The low greenery in the foreground is a row of bush beans – Golden Wax to the right, some type of green bean to the left, and way off to the left, Mystery Wax beans. The towers at the left rear of the photo are climbing beans. Each tower has two types of beans on it: Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole and Blue Lake Pole. It’s impossible to tell from the photo, but each tower is a tripod made from eight-foot stakes (the preceding photo shows one leg of a bean trellis tripod).
Eschew Bush Beans
Most of my bean-growing experience has involved bush beans. Until four years ago, I’d never planted climbing beans. Climbing beans have been way more entertaining—I love the way they curl around stuff and produce food all season long. This season, I had a stunning revelation about growing beans in general: Grow climbing beans.
It can take 5 to 10 minutes to harvest from a 14 foot row of bush bean plants. During that time, you must somehow get your hands to within six inches of the ground. When I was 35 years old, bending down like that seemed like reasonable behavior. Now, in my 50s, it’s painful to stand up after bending low for 5 or more minutes.
Climbing beans don’t ask for such dedication. In fact, my climbing beans produce food starting at about knee level and going up to seven feet, which is the height of my trellises. To harvest climbing beans, I rarely bend and often reach up in lush foliage. It is never painful to harvest climbing beans.
If you desperately need to grow bush beans, build very high raised beds, build planters on tables, or install a green wall system that can nurture your plants at thigh or waist level. For me, a lazy (and old) gardener, I’ll stick with climbing beans.
I wanted this to be a Beet Armyworm, but from what I could find online, Beet Armyworms won’t make it through the winter. So… this is probably a Tomato Fruitworm – more destructive than a Beet Armyworm
My small kitchen garden keeps me on my toes. It’s not enough that certain tasks must happen within a few calendar days each season. There are also diseases such as rust and blight, nutritional issues such as low nitrogen or high acid in the soil, watering challenges having to do with drought or excessive rain or both, weed issues, and insect imbalances—either too few pollinators or too many fruit- and vegetable-eaters.
I recently shared a story of Tobacco Hornworms and a Cardinal. This post isn’t so much a story as it is a “look!” I discovered a tomato pest of which I had known nothing until this past week when I found it in my small kitchen garden.
Pests my Kitchen Garden Doesn’t Need
As you can see in the photo, this worm chewed a hole through the skin of a tomato, then chewed a strip of skin down from the first hole and started on a second, deeper hole. That’s when I caught it in action.
I’ve seen this kind of damage on tomatoes in the past, but had never spotted the culprit. From casual research, I’ve decided this is a Tomato Fruitworm though it eats more like a Beet Armyworm does (from what I read here). Beet Armyworms aren’t supposed to range as far north as I live, so I’ll blame this worm’s behavior on timing: had I not found it when I did, it might have taken residence inside the tomato it was sampling.
I moved the worm into the meadow across the street but I suspect there is at least one other Tomato Fruitworm enjoying my tomato patch. Several fruits on one of my volunteer plants at the opposite end of the garden from this tomato have round holes in their skins. Ugh.
Because I pluck suckers from my tomato plants, the plants tend to grow very tall. I build trellises that support the plants up to about seven feet, and invariably the plants grow three or more feet above them. That last three feet of foliage rarely produces ripe tomatoes though there may be flowers and later green tomatoes before frost kills the plants. Having seven foot plants in July suggests they may pass 11 or 12 feet before the season ends.
I grow a lot of tomato plants in my small kitchen garden. Just over a month ago, I posted about how I’m maintaining this year’s tomato grove and I embedded a video there that shows how to pluck tomato suckers and start young tomato plants on hang string trellises. Find the post at Tomato Plant Maintenance in My Small Kitchen Garden.
I planned to post a second video a week later to demonstrate how to twist a tomato plant together with a hanging string and provide support for the plant. Seems things got away from me. Many of my plants have already grown above the tops of my trellises which are about seven feet tall. I can no longer twist those together with the hanging strings.
On the other hand, I created the promised video a week after I posted the first. It’s embedded below. Please have a look to see how to manage growing tomato plants on a hanging string trellis. Find information about how I assembled my hanging string trellises, at my blog post titled Tomato Supports in Your Small Kitchen Garden.
Maintain a Tomato Plant on a String Trellis
I’m not used to seeing so many tomatoes forming in early July! These may take another month or longer to ripen but they’re off to a great start. Notice the scar in the stem near the bottom-right of the photo. That’s where I removed a sucker from the plant. Also, you can see the string that spirals around the plant’s stem to provide support.
I cram tomato plants into my raised vegetable bed. This year, in a space that is 10 feet by 14 feet, I set 76 tomato plants and wrote about it in June in a post titled Tomato Spacing in My Small Kitchen Garden.
To manage so many plants in such a small space, I borrow methods from blogs (sadly, things I read before it occurred to me to keep track of the sources), Cooperative Extension documents, and Dad.
Hanging String Tomato Trellis
From a blog, I learned the hanging string trellis method—something I’d seen years before in a book about growing vegetables vertically. My trellis resembles the one I saw in a blog only in that strings hang down to support the tomato plants; the structure supporting the strings is my own concoction. I described the trellises in a post titled Tomato Supports in Your Small Kitchen Garden.
By late June I’d built the trellises for my tomatoes and hung strings for most of the plants. The video embedded in this blog post shows how to start a tomato plant on a hanging string trellis and how to pluck suckers to keep the plants growing up instead of out.
Early Blight and Late Blight
From Cooperative Extension I learned more about blight than could possibly be useful to me. The most influential tidbit is that in a test plot using half a dozen organic blight preventatives, only copper-based chemical applications (considered organic) prevented blight on tomato plants. ALL other organic methods of control failed.
Early blight apparently isn’t as nasty as late blight, but the best treatment for both blights is to use preventive measures. In other words, do what you can to prevent your plants from getting sick.
With my plants so crowded, blight is a great concern: If even one plant develops blight, the others are likely to do the same. So, I’m treating my plants with a copper-based fungicide. If it rains, I treat the plants once they’re dry. Without rain, I treat them every two weeks.
Yes, copper can build up in the soil, and that’s a bad thing. So, I use the lowest recommended concentration of fungicide and I expect not to reuse this particular garden space for tomatoes for at least two growing seasons. If my prophylactic blight treatments fail, you’ll be able to hear me crying about it in my blog later this year.
From Dad I learned to pluck suckers. Plucking suckers isn’t necessary to maintain healthy tomato plants. However, if you want to fit a lot of plants into a little space, plucking suckers helps. Training tomato vines up a string (or a stake) is quite easy when there is a single main stem. I wrote about plucking suckers in a post titled Tomatoes: Are You a Sucker Plucker?
Video Demonstration of Tomato Plant Management
I recently captured a video of myself plucking suckers from a tomato plant and then stringing up the plant on a hanging string trellis. This shows how I get a plant started on the trellis once the plant is about 18 inches tall. I’ll create another video in a week or so to demonstrate how I manage a plant when it grows beyond the highest loop of string around its stem. The video is three minutes long:
Looking toward the northwest corner of my raised vegetable bed, you see sick, stunted, and yellowing pea plants to the north (right), and vigorous plants to the south. The northern plants took a beating from water that accumulated in the soil during a three-day rainstorm in late April or early May.
I’ve lost a lot of pea plants in my small kitchen garden. After the winter that never happened, we’ve had less than average rainfall and I planted just about everything at least two weeks earlier than usual this year. The pea plants grew vigorously until we had an impressive three-day rainstorm. That’s when trouble started.
Drainage Problems in my Small Kitchen Garden
Last year’s biblical rainfall revealed that my kitchen garden is drainage-challenged. I had no garden soil until June; instead I had mud. Things dried up in June and I was able to plant but six weeks later, rain returned and whatever was growing in my raised vegetable bed was wet until autumn.
So, I started excavating a rain garden. I dug a trench to channel water away from the vegetable bed and I dug a deep hole as a reservoir to hold overflow during heavy rains. Soil I removed to make the drainage channel and reservoir went into my raised planting bed. I also bought a hopper of sand—about one cubic yard—and added that to the planting bed.
Overall, I raised the level of soil in my vegetable garden about three inches … and then I planted.
My Raised Vegetable Bed Needs Work
The new drainage system and the deeper soil in my raised bed handled the impressive three-day rainstorm pretty well. At no time during that rain was there standing water in my planting bed. Apparently, however, water was not far below the surface at the northwest end of the garden.
I’ve served fresh peas only once so far, with more to come in the next few days. We’ll most certainly eat all the peas in-season this year and none will make it into the freezer. The sickened pea plants have shown me where I need to increase the depth of soil in my raised planting bed.
Half of my pea plants are in the northwest end of the garden and they’re not happy. Their roots must have been saturated for five or six days. That was long enough, I guess, for them to start rotting, and the pea plants are dramatically stunted. As you move south along any row of plants, the vines become more vigorous and about two-thirds of the way along the row, pea plants tower six or more feet.
From the healthy plants, I’m harvesting more peas per vine than in any previous year. However, the harvest will clearly be less than half of what I get in a typical season. Makes me sad because homegrown peas taste nearly as good after freezing as they do cooked fresh and I love to have a gallon or two in the freezer to serve into the winter (I don’t start serving the frozen peas until we finish with fresh vegetables in the fall).
This fall or next spring, I’ll add more soil and sand to the northwest end of the raised vegetable bed and try to provide a buffer between rain-saturated soil during wet spells and the roots of my vegetable plants.