Dear <<First Name>>,
A few of my crops were a flop, but here is the hands-down winner - Sungold Cherry Tomato. What a prolific plant with super sweet tomatoes! Bumble Bee, a yellow cherry tomato is also nice, but it splits very quickly. Sungold is a hybrid, so if you save seeds, you may get a surprise. Well worth buying seeds and putting up with it's wild growth!
This has been my most challenging growing season in recent memory. The early heat waves and strong winds were hard on young vegetable plants, especially tomatoes. Any plants without protection or shelter went into survival mode and flowered early. As a result, I have picked some paste tomatoes ripened on the vine. Unfortunately, the plants were set back so much that I’m not sure there will be much for sauce. My hopes for a nice melon crop were dashed and the lemon cucumber plants simply died.
Even my honeyberry shrubs got beaten up by wind, spoiling some of the fruit. My efforts to protect and water the garden certainly took extra time and energy, a bit of a forced break from computer time, which isn’t a bad thing in the summer.
The good news is that we are still enjoying loads of tasty organic food! Diversity is the key to all lifecycles, whether in the wild, in our communities or in the garden. Below are a few tips and thoughts you might find useful.
Mulch is Magic
When temperatures and moisture levels vary widely, the right mulch can make a big difference. For vegetable beds, straw mulch is great; it reduces moisture loss and wind damage (for emerging seedlings), and it breaks down a bit over the summer to feed the soil. Finding organic straw is very difficult if not impossible, so I like to get an “old” bale that has sat out in the elements, in the hopes that any chemicals have broken down over the winter. Alternatively, dried leaves or partially decomposed leaves also work well, though they tend to blow away in strong wind.
Areas under trees and shrubs benefit from a 2-4 inch layer of shredded wood mulch, such as Foothills Premium. That’s a mix of coniferous and deciduous wood and bark. I have also used the city’s free mulch; it’s whatever they have chipped from tree maintenance. The pile contains lots of sticks, so I’ve used a rake or my hands to pull them off to the side and get more chips.
In the attached photo, you can see an area that a previous owner covered with bark chunks between us and the neighbour. It’s very difficult to walk on and does not really suppress weeds. I used free city mulch to create a path I can actually use. Even my cat prefers to walk on the shredded mulch, rather than the bark chunks.
For several years, I have grown a small patch of corn, either at home or in my community garden plot. I have even had a few fat ears of corn from 4 plants in a large planter box. This summer, I was surprised to get mostly improperly pollinated corn (see image).
Most often, this happens when the pollen production from the top of the plant, from the tassel, does not land on the silks that emerge from the cobs. Hot, dry weather can reduce viability of the pollen, and silks may also dry out prematurely in unusually hot weather. Drought stress can also impact both pollen and silks. So there again, our crazy heat waves (and maybe a lack of water when I was on holidays) are likely the cause of our poor corn crop.
Apple Bagging - A Joke?
Another anomaly this year was our apple tree. Last year, I was frustrated with the large number of wormy and/or early falling apples. But this year, only one variety bloomed (on a multi-graft tree), with a few blossoms on some of the other branches. We had a long, cold winter, so that may be a reason. I received an email from the Fruit Growers Group with instructions for bagging apples. I didn’t think I could be bothered, but this year, I bought two packages of sandwich ziplock bags and bagged my precious few apples, thinning out extras. This was done in mid-June. I also left some unprotected and hung up two apple maggot fly traps. I was able to harvest a clean, maggot free box of apples. Even the unprotected apples seem to be fine, so hopefully my tree’s break from production has also discouraged the flies somewhat.
Update on unusual plants
I was excited to try some new plants, such as Crystal Apple Cucumber, Edamame soybeans, Ground Cherry, Diana Watermelon and Styrian Pumpkin. It would be unfair to say these plants are not worth growing, given the strange weather patterns this year.
My Crystal Apple Cucumber transplant was not happy with the wind, so I put a few extra seeds in the ground. Now that I have a tangle of vines (not sure I agree it's less scrambly than Lemon Cuke), it turns out that most of the cucumbers are a bitter! My Edamame beans rotted in the soil in a couple of locations and later seeded plants only set a few small, dry pods.
As for Aunt Molly's ground cherry (aka husk tomato or physalis), the plants in the garden did very poorly. The plant in my earthbox is much larger, likely because it's protected on the deck and received more consistent moisture in the earthbox. Production is still rather low, but the few handfuls have been lovely. The melons also did not fare well; the plants simply failed to thrive and I am hoping the single melon I picked before the frost warning is edible.
WHAT TO DO??? Next year will hopefully be better, so I will give it another try. Gardeners and farmers must be the most hopeful people. In the meantime, I was happy with the bounty hiding under the jungle of squash leaves! I had to pick the Styrian pumpkins before they turned yellow, but hopefully they will ripen nicely in the garage. And fortunately, there will be plenty of carrots, beets and potatoes, all good prairie staples.
Quick Tip for Powdery Mildew
Next year, make a mix of 4:6 parts milk with water and put it in a spray bottle. Start spraying the milk mixture on squash, melon, zucchini and cucumber plants in late summer. The milk helps to suppress fungal growth. If your plants are stressed, they may still get mildew but hopefully later than without the milk treatment. I have used both 3% and 2% milk.