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It’s a Brave New World

By Beet 2021 08 August 31 Comments

I don’t know how to interpret this summer’s weather other than to say climate change is not coming, it’s here! Since mid-June, the temperature has climbed to over 95°F every single day at my house. I’ve been without A/C since June 23, so I sympathize with my plants, which are wilting or burning up. The broccoli limped across the finish line in July, giving me one of the sparsest crops I have had in years, and so far, I have not seen any side shoots. I may as well pull it out. The peas had barely begun to produce when the vines turned to crispy critters. The poor carrots fainted and bolted in the heat. I quickly picked the lettuce and wrapped it in wet paper towels and put it in a Ziplock bags to preserve a small number of heads. Thanks to steady watering, my tomato plants are still green, but the flowers dry up without producing any signs of fruit. It’s just too hot for them to set. It is safe to say that the eggplants and the peppers are the only plants that are (relatively) happy and producing.

Although August is usually the month to direct seed many greens such arugula, collards, corn salad, Oriental greens, Swiss chard, cress, lettuce, endive, kale, kohlrabi, mustard and turnip greens, I can’t imagine how they will fare in the excessive heat once they germinate. You may want to wait to sow some of these delicate greens until late August or even early September when it often cools down substantially after Labor Day. Unfortunately, I won’t even get to try for a fall vegetable garden because TID water went off in mid-July for the season! If you are lucky to have garden irrigation the latter part of this summer into the fall, you can sow for later transplanting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and Pak Choi. You can also direct sow daikon radish, beets, peas, parsnips and rutabaga. If the hot weather persists, planting onions (as you usually can do for next year’s crop) would be a waste of seed as they do not geminate well in very hot weather.

If your beans are producing, be sure to pick them regularly so that they continue to produce. They may also need some fertilizer and more water to continue production. Fertilize vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers while they are in heavy production. If you planted corn, this is the month for your corn feast. Early in the month, give your corn another shot of fertilizer to get it across the finish line. You can also try hand pollinating for fuller ears. When the ears start to appear and the tassels are yellow-transparent, strip the tassels on top of the plant of their pollen and shake it onto each ear. Whenever I do this, I am pleased with the results.

August is usually when I start canning and preserving what my garden produces. Peaches usually ripen now and they can be frozen, dried or canned. For several years, I have been making what I call vegetable pasta sauce which is simply a medley of whatever vegetables are ripe at the time together with tomatoes. My very favorite canning recipe book is The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. I love their recipes! Every one I have tried has been perfect for me. 

We are in the brave new world of climate change. 

I would welcome your comments on how gardening is changing in the Rogue Valley and tips on how we can adapt to still produce the fruits and veggies we all love. I’ll include your tips in this column in the coming months.

July and August: The gateway to fall harvest

By Beet 2021 07 July 37 Comments

July and August are the gateway months for fall vegetables. Get out your leftover seeds and order more of those you don’t have enough of. Pull out that scraggly lettuce and gone-to-seed arugula to make room for a second crop of beets, carrots, collards, endive/escarole, Florence fennel, kale, kohlrabi, peas, rutabaga, scallions, Swiss chard, and other Oriental greens. Make sure you get them in the ground this month or next to ensure a bountiful harvest starting in September for some things and on through the fall and winter for others.

Fall sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, late varieties of cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy and radicchio can be started indoors for transplanting later. If you’re like me, you will have a hard time finding room for many of these, but it is well worth it when you can have fresh vegetables much of the winter (with a little protection from the coldest weather).

July is also the month when much of what you planted earlier begins (or continues) to give you a return. A trickle of tomatoes from early varieties such as Siletz, Oregon Spring and Fourth of July starts in early July, becoming a steady stream by the end of the month and, if you’re lucky, an avalanche in August. If you planted Longkeeper, you may still have ripe, fresh tomatoes in November.

I have not yet had a ripe tomato (in mid-June) due to the 2,000-foot elevation and cool weather, but I am checking my tomatoes daily nonetheless. They have blossoms. Can tomatoes be far behind?

The kohlrabi bulbs are now big, ripe and ready for salad with carrots and various greens (tomatoes and cucumbers soon?). I have never grown kohlrabi and having tasted the fresh, crisp flesh, I wonder: why not? They are delicious and now that I know, they will be in my garden plan next year. I have never had much luck with cabbage. Kohlrabi is a good substitute and could be made into coleslaw.

Baby Nantes carrots are a delight and so tender when steamed with a little herb butter. I’ve given up on “designer carrots” in various hues. I know other people like them, and I hope you grow them if you do, but give me a good Nantes carrot any day.

The tops of onions will fall over in July, indicating that the bulbs are fully developed. The first time I grew onions, I was unaware that this would happen. I was panicked. They looked so healthy a week ago! What happened to my onions? Never fear, it’s part of their lifecycle. Withhold water so the top will begin to dry out. After the top becomes limp, gently pull out the onion bulb. Onions may be cured by laying them on racks, cloth tarps or cardboard in a shady area. Be sure to keep the bulbs in the shade, but the tops can be in the sun to dry out. Good air circulation is a must or the onions may rot.

Onions whose necks have not dried sufficiently will not last long in storage, so make sure the necks are dry. When cured, cut off the bulb leaving about 2” of neck. Store in a single layer in well-ventilated boxes or net bags at 55° to 65° F. Walla Walla onions must be eaten within three months or they will spoil. Storage onions will last up to 10 months if properly stored. I have also frozen chopped onion for use in cooking.

If you are lucky enough to have raspberries, you probably know how to take care of them. After they bear fruit in June, cut those canes to the ground in July. When fall-bearing raspberries start to bloom, fertilize them well with a heavy nitrogen fertilizer (33-0-0). July is also the time to fertilize June-bearing strawberries with a balanced fertilizer (16-16-16).

We are about to enter the hot part of the summer and today the Talent Irrigation District shut off the ditch for 14 days. It’s a good thing I bought several 55-gallon trash cans and filled them with water.

They hold all the water my garden will have for two weeks. Sorry, roses. You are way down on my list of plants to water. Unfortunately, I have a couple of new trees this year which need regular water until they are established or they will likely die. Wish me luck. I am just hoping to keep everything alive this summer!

July garden guide

Here are a few of the many things to do in July:

Direct seed: Amaranth to Swiss chard bracket the plants in this category for July.

Sow for transplanting: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, park choi, radicchio.

Don’t forget to control pests and diseases

For more, check out the Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley

September is the gateway to autumn

By Beet September 2020 31 Comments

About now you may be questioning why you love gardening so much. The heat, the weeding, the bugs, the inexorable growth of plants now hiding your garden pathways… Oh! Enough about my garden!

September is the gate to autumn. We think about planting trees, perennials, and cooler weather crops. The soil is still warm and invites the newly planted to expand their roots so they’ll be rarin’ to go for next year.

Cool weather annuals shine as they welcome autumn and fill the holes left by the spent beauties of the summer. There is still time to enjoy mums, pansies, kale, dusty miller, asters, black-eyed Susans, dahlias, and others.

Climate change has tricked traditional planting times so they may need a bit of finessing. An eye to the various weather apps helps our temperature/rain divinations. At least we can count on knowing the length of days as seasons progress.

It’s time to harvest. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Tomato plants should be de-flowered and the smallest fruits removed to redirect energy to ripening the existing fruits before frost, though it wouldn’t hurt to have a green tomato recipe or two on hand! A ripe tomato will detach from the plant with the slightest tug. Nearly mature green tomatoes will ripen after harvest.

Summer squash should be picked smaller rather than larger for the best flavor and to avoid production of excessive seeds.

Winter squash is ready to harvest when the stem is brown and shriveled. Store at room temperature for about a week to give skins time to cure and then at about 55 degrees F. Cull the smallest fruits so the larger ones can continue to develop.

Melons have been wonderful this year. I was surprised to learn that melons do not ripen after harvest. They’re as sweet as they are going get when you pick them.

Potatoes are ready to harvest when the tops die down. Store them in a dark place.

Divide peonies and iris. Transplant woody ornamentals and mature herbaceous perennials. Plant bulbs for spring bloom. Daffodils, tulips, crocus, alliums–all are spirit boosters after a long winter. These bulbs thrive in pots, too, as long as the pots are fair-sized to defend against freeze damage.

Lawn refurbishing is perfect at the beginning of September. Rake thatch if needed, even out low spots with compost, over-seed, fertilize, then finish with a thin topping of compost. Finally, avoid any traffic over this area until the grass is established. Water two or three times a day, every day, for successful germination. Never let new grass seed dry out.

Repatriate house plants from their outside summer homes if low temperatures threaten. Top up potting soil and lightly fertilize. Check for spiders and other unwanted house guests that might like a longer lease on their living space.

As gardeners, we know this list is woefully incomplete. There’s so much more to talk about! Here are two great local references: The JCMGA Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley give a lot of advise for the Rogue Valley climate, and the OSU Extension has a great September Garden Calendar.

We are living in tumultuous times. Uncertainty is the daily fare. Our unfailing defense is nature, in our own gardens, walking our neighborhoods, or out in open wild places. Breathe the smells of nature, the scent of pine trees, the tangy scent of tomato plants, the anise smell of hyssop, and the salty ocean. Breathe, release, repeat.