Archive for August, 2008

Rain

August 28, 2008

Ever since I started gardening about 40 years ago (jeeze that dates me) I have always had a great appreciation for rain. Not the “when is it ever going to stop?” kind of Spring rain but the blessed relief kind of late summer, early Fall rain. As we get into more global warming and as water becomes a more valuable commodity I have an even greater appreciation for it.

Many years ago, we lived in the country in an old farmhouse with a dug well. Around the end of July we were reliably in water trouble. We put in a cistern and were able to purchase water for the house but at “trucked-in” rates one did not water the garden with cistern water. The only solution was to haul garden water in the back of my pick-up stored in many plastic garbage cans and taken from a local pond or someone’s spring-fed stock cistern.

Now I garden with city water (I have a small old dug well but it dies quickly when the water table falls below 6 feet or so) and I am aware of the downfalls of watering with city water … it is expensive and it is treated.  The expense is obvious. The treated part is that repeated waterings with city water adds more chlorine to the soil than I want to add. That’s why rain is so important.

It rained yesterday and continues today. A long steady shower that will not run off rather will perk down far and give the garden a good sustaining drink that will last for several days …. longer if the temps stay as cool as they are now. It is also free.  Further down you will see a recent post about both wintered over spinach and our current crop of greens … both of which will greatly benefit by the rain. Hey! Maybe I will throw in a row of radishes.

(update 9/4/08) The spinach came up beautifully with just an extra water or two from the hose. I also started a row of late arugula and a row of Rosso lettuce.

Over-wintered spinach

August 27, 2008

Now is the time to plant spinach for over-wintering.  Since September is one of our drier months, I’ll make sure to water the seed rows frequently to ensure germination. Once it is well up, I’ll cover it with screen or floating row cover to keep the critters from messing with it (especially the rabbit that my dog and cats have yet to dispatch).  It should be getting some egg sized leaves by mid-October and then it will really slow down its growth.  Around the endof November or the beginning of December, I’ll mulch it with chopped leaves and let it go for the winter.  If all goes well, I’ll uncover it in late March and it will be my first real crop next Spring. One more thing … I often get poor germination with Fall Spinach and have to try to move it to fill in rows and get good spacing between plants.  Spinach is a tap-root plant and should never be moved.  But … it turns out that late fall, if it is wet and moderate in temperature, is a terrific time to move Spinach.  It is not stressed by the heat, it is in a growing stasis, and it will have all winter to reconnect its roots to the soil.

Thoughts on tomatoes

August 27, 2008

(Original post was the middle of July) It is getting close to the tomato part of the summer garden. I am growing six different varieties. I have Brandywine as my main season table tomato with an Italian Romanesco as a trial this year. I do a few Early Girl plants for reliable first tastes. (Update: I will grow no more Early Girls ever again. They are good for nothing … literally. No taste at all and all water. I’ll just wait a few days longer for real tomatoes next year. ) My processing tomatoes are usually Speckled Romans and this year I did two plantings of classic Romas. I know, that’s only five. I won’t say much about the Brandywines since they are well documented and I’ll let you know how the Romanescos turn out. But I wanted to say a few words about the paste types.

(About the Romanescos

Tomato Romanesco

Tomato Romanesco

… they are doing well. They are about 1-1.5 lb per tomato, relatively juicy and seedy, and have a pleasantly sharp acid taste. They make a great bread salad and do well with oil. I’ll probably save some seed and keep them going next year. )

Update 9/4/08  Here (below) is a picture of the heirloom tomato bed with the Romanescos on the right and the Brandywines on the left. The Romanescos are at 6 ft. and the Brandywines are over 8 ft. The Romanescos are more productive per sq ft but we still prefer the taste of Brandywines … and they don’t swamp us in tomatoes.

Romanescos (left) and Brandywines (right)

Romanescos (left) and Brandywines (right)

First the Speckled Romans. This is an heirloom variety that has become my standard for a great processing tomato. It is as large as a San Marzano but much better tasting (deeper tomato flavor and somewhat sweet) and not as prone to blight. More importantly, and unlike San Marzano types, it is only a moderate indeterminate and it produces uniformly over the extended season … none of the usual heavy crops followed by death to the plant. Variations in moisture in the ground don’t bother it too much either. It is fairly dry so a great canner (skinned, cored and seeded). My seeds from several vendors failed this year but low-and-behold I had a few plants self-sow in last year’s spot. If they come true to variety, I’ll save my own seed for next year. (Update: the plants that self-sowed were not Speckled Romans but a beefsteak that I had nearby. Oh well … we’ll get’em next year).

As for the Romas… I turned off of them a few years ago. They are too small for easy processing and kinda juicy for canning. The crop is too intense at one time and I always got too many bad tomatoes (black spot). But, I am trying something different this year. I have a pyramid made up of clay chimney liners … 7 on the base, 3 on the next level and 1 on top. They are filled with my own compost and each has a Roma in it. The plants are doing spectacularly well and most of them, since they are determinate, are not touching the ground. I’m hoping this will limit disease and keep the fruits from rotting. I also have a few plants traditionally planted. If we get a great crop, the wife and I are thinking of halving them, seeds and core out, and then drying them. (Update: They continue to do well but, as I remembered, it is unwise to let Romas ripen totally on the vine. If you try they will rot or attract every insect that ever tried to eat a tomato. I pick them when half ripe and ripen them in the house … much better. )

Oh … and my one Sweet 100 cherry (variety number 6) is half way up the 8 ft trellis by the deck. It is usually over the top by Labor Day.

Here in NE Ohio, I had tomatoes till late October last year and actually made it to Thanksgiving the year before. Sounds great but I am greedy. I leave them in too long and that makes it tough to prepare the garden for Winter and the coming growing season. You all know that a November tomato is not going to taste like an August tomato … but it does beat a shipped-in, store-bought tomato from most any month.

Getting back to greens

August 26, 2008

Here in NE Ohio salad greens take a hiatus during the last of July and the first part of August. If you try to mature greens then, they will simply bolt to seed. So, you hope that the tomatoes are ripe and, if so, you have nice caprese type salads of ripe tomato, sweet onion, basil, good oil and even better vinegar (maybe break out the good balsamic). Or you steam up some green beans and then plunge them in cold water to rapidly cool, add some onion, savory and oil and vinegar. But, if you are like me, you are anxious for salad greens to come back. Our greens are coming back as I write this post.

The arugula that I planted about a month ago

Rustic Arugula

Rustic Arugula

struggled with the heat and with flea beetles but has come on strong in the last week. It looks great (see above) and is ready to harvest. It might be a bit more flavorful than the Spring planting but who will quibble in August. I just put in another planting and it germinated in two days. It should mature with a mild flavor and keep well into the Fall.

We love to grow frisee, the smaller finely cut endive.

Frisee

Frisee

Frisee

I have a lot of it ( dozen or so plants) nearly ready to harvest. I will pick/thin every other one for salads and let the remaining ones grow more full and tie them up to blanch. I also have a few smaller ones for later in the season. BTW … a great way to blanch greens and even cauliflower is to wrap the leaves up from the outside and then hold them in place with one of those large rubber upc bands that you get in the supermarket around veggies like broccoli. The bands provide just enough tension to hold the outer leaves in place without killing the leaves.

One of my three favorite lettuces is Cimmeron,

Lettuce Cimmeron

Lettuce Cimmeron

a red’ish Cos type that in cool Springs and nice Falls makes amazing Romaine heads. I have some nearly ready for harvest now and many more at smaller states of development. I also just transplanted in some Speckles, my second favorite, a beautiful Bibb type that when left to develop mature heads turns a gorgeous blend of flesh and pink on the inner leaves. My third fave is Crispy Frills, and I fear that I have used up my stash and I can no longer obtain seeds for this. I have none in the garden now. Anyone who knows of a supplier, please let me know (used to be Burpee). Crispy Frills is/was a loose leaf type that was both flavorful and as crisp as lettuce can get … almost to the point of being brittle.

Finally, in the greens department, I have a bed of nice escarole plants coming on. These are still a month or so away from harvest,

Escarole

Escarole

While you can use them raw in a salad if you get to the very blanched inner head, we use them as cooking greens, usually with pasta and anchovies.

Ask anyone and you will hear that, in an extended season garden, September may just be the month to stay home and eat. Once the greens are in we will have an abundance of produce. Add to the greens tomotoes, cukes, peppers of many types, eggplants, onions, fresh garlic, potatoes if we want to steal some, green beans and maybe some early fennel.