This week I asked my brother Tom to provide an update on his church’s community garden in Kansas City, Missouri. Back in February, he provided us with a brief overview of the planning and preparation involved in it. Today he recaps how the garden handled the drought and tells us what they plan for the fall.
Terry: How did the garden fare this summer?
Tom: It has been a very rough summer for the garden. It began with so much promise but as the heat and lack of moisture continued on the plants were stressed. For example the cucumber plants soon gave up their struggle and produced only 3-4 fruits. We had to pick them very early also as they became very bitter if left on the vine to grow to maturity. The Yukon Gold potatoes produced probably half of what we expected and the soil came up in big clods and were more like rocks as the potatoes had pulled out all soil moisture. We were able to get beets, turnips and summer squash before the intense weather struck. The green beans produced one big harvest and then were done as they stopped blooming and setting on beans. The collards have done well as they have deep roots and I have harvested them 4 times thus far and expect to get at least one or two more before frost. We deeply mulched the tomatoes and peppers putting down first newspaper and then at least 6-10 inches of straw. This plus frequent watering saved them. The hot peppers have done well but the bell peppers have produced small peppers with very thin walls to the fruit. Our tomatoes are loaded with blooms and some are approaching 8 feet tall in their cages so we should have tomatoes up until frost. The zinnias and marigolds have survived the summer though they do not look their best. The okra is producing but only reached about half its normal height and production is about half of normal. We won’t know for a few weeks just how the sweet potatoes were affected but expect the yield to be less than usual. We will have to get rain or water them heavily before being able to even dig them.
We have a few winter squash that are reaching maturity and I think they made it only due to the shade of a pear tree that stands close to the garden. Insects were not surprisingly too much of a problem apart from some grasshoppers eating ripe tomatoes and squash bugs on the zucchini.
Terry: Any plans for a Fall Garden?
Tom: We have done two different plantings of turnips and the first planting a couple of weeks ago is up but only half the seed germinated. The second planting just done this past weekend is up and looks good. I first made a row, watered it, then planted the seed in the moist soil and covered lightly with a rake. This seemed to help the germination and I feel accounted for the difference between the two plantings. Lettuce planted at the time of the first turnips planting has not come up. Regular red radishes planted then have come up. I noticed this morning that the Daikon radishes planted this past weekend are beginning to come up though the Buttercrunch lettuce planted at the same time has yet to appear. I will plant Black Seeded Simpson leaf lettuce in a couple of weeks when it is hopefully a bit cooler. It only needs about 30-40 days to maturity.
Terry: Overall comments or observations?
Tom: Gardening this summer was not for the faint of heart but it still had some rewards. When dealing with Mother Nature you soon learn that she controls the season and you can only react. Hopefully fall will still give us some produce before the frost arrives. It will soon be time to evaluate the season and decide what to plant for next year.
A few weeks ago, I commented to my husband that our tomatoes had so much more flavor this year. I assumed it was due to the Celebrity and Abe Lincoln Hybrid varieties we had planted. Later, when we cut into our Sangria watermelons, we were blown away with how sweet they were. This is the first year we’d tried the Sangrias and they are the best ever. As it turns out, the tomato and watermelon varieties may not deserve all the credit.
I did some investigating and found out that the drought is most likely responsible for the extra sweetness. Since there was a shortage of moisture, fruits are smaller and not as juicy making the sugars less diluted and more potent. The drought should make this a very good year for wine growers.
This summer we did have a few misshapen melons which we have never had before. As you can see below, the stem end is narrower than the rest of the melon’s body. It could be due to inconsistent watering or it didn’t get properly pollinated by the bees. In our case, I tend to attribute it to inconsistent watering because I’ve seen hordes of bees working in the garden.
I was glad to discover that this year’s drought has at least one redeeming feature. I hope your garden harvest has been as sweet as ours this year!
The summer taught me a few things about growing tomatoes. I’ve always heard that tomatoes love hot weather, and I believe they do, but not day after day of 100 + degrees and nighttime temperatures that stay above 70 degrees. The relentless, blistering heat did more damage than the drought. The tomato plants that I set out early produced very well. But the volunteer plants that came up later have not produced a ripe tomato yet. When the temperature was in the 100’s, the blooms on all the plants did not mature into fruit. They just sat. Now that the temperature has cooled off into the 80’s, the early plants are setting on tomatoes again. One of the volunteer plants has finally set a couple of tomatoes. I don’t know if it helped, but I sprayed Blossom Set on the blooms to see if I could spur them along. Of course, here we are in late August so the tomatoes will be racing to ripen before the first frost. I’m not too worried because if need be, I’ll pick them green and use them for relish or let them ripen in a window.
The tomatoes haven’t been beautiful, but they’ve been tasty and great for canning. We had 20 plants, but only thirteen contributed to the canning. Most of the plants were Celebrity and Abe Lincoln Hybrid varieties. Three plants were cherries, and four were the volunteers with no fruit. So far, I’ve canned 30 quarts and 8 pints. A good number of the tomatoes were split which I’m pretty sure is due to my inconsistent watering. It’s been tough trying to figure out how much and how often to water.
I am convinced that mulching saved the tomatoes from the intense heat and the drought. I think it kept the roots from burning up in our clay soil and preserved the moisture.
I also believe that the fertilizer I used this year helped with production and kept the bottom rot to a minimum. In fact, only one plant had the problem. The plants got a good dose of Sea Magic Fertilizer (it’s stinky and fishy) when I set them out. At the first sign of blooming, I gave them a generous dose of Miracle Gro. After that, I used Miracle Gro or a cheaper generic at every fifth watering. I think it helped with the plants’ calcium absorption. Next year, I plan to use more seaweed-based fertilizer.
The summer has been a tough teacher, but hopefully it will make us all better gardeners.
This blog post is for those gardeners who have such an abundance of zucchini that their neighbors won’t make eye contact in fear that another armfull of summer squash treasures will be presented to them. Here is a recipe to keep the peace. Zucchini jam sounds gross, but is very tasty and uses six cups of grated zucchini. I like to call it Z-Jam because it has a more user-friendly ring to it. This is another recipe that comes from the DeKalb County Sesquicentennial Cookbook.
6 cups grated zucchini, peeled 6 cups sugar
2 T lemon juice 1 can (20 oz) crushed pineapple, drained
2 pkgs (3 oz each) apricot jello
Add 1 cup of water to the zucchini. Bring to a boil and cook for 6 minutes.
Add sugar, lemon juice and pineapple. Cook 6 more minutes.
Add jello and cook 6 more minutes.
Seal in jars.
As you can see in the picture, the jam has a very pretty orange color and tastes wonderful on biscuits. It makes a great Christmas gift, too. And you know, it’s never too early to start preparing for Christmas!!!
The University of Missouri Extension Office has a handy and free app for your Smart Phone or IPad that is available through iTunes called Seasonal and simple. It contains all kinds of great info about fruits and vegetables grown in Missouri, such as nutritional facts, and guidelines on how to select and store produce, as well as serving suggestions and recipes. There are even four videos where a chef demonstrates some basic preparation and cooking methods. It even has a directory of farmer’s markets in Missouri.
If you don’t have a fancy phone or an IPad, check out the online version at http://seasonalandsimple.info/. If you’re not from Missouri, you might Google for your state’s university extension website. I’ve found university extension office have a wealth of info. Hope you enjoy the app!