Sunday, August 10, 2008

Summer At Long Last!

The Thumbelina Carrots
I finally harvested the Thumbelina Carrots on the 24th July. They took four months to reach maturity. One month longer than stated on the package. However I weighed the crop produced in an 8 inch round pot - a half pound of small, sweet carrots!
Not bad results at all.

So now I am going to be even more ambitious! On the 1st of August I filled a large 5 gallon (?) garden centre, black plastic pot with my potting soil mix and planted two kinds of full sized carrots - Chardonay and Red Nantes - not for any particular reason other than I had them on hand. I planted the seeds individually about one inch apart and they are already sprouted. There are about fourteen seedlings per pot. The height of the container should give them lots of room to grow downwards. We'll see what happens. Should get a late fall harvest of carrots. I have read that carrots can stay in the ground over winter and pulled as needed.

The Tomatoes
The tomato plant on the outside of the balcony is thriving! Lots of health leaves. The tomatoes are coming up. They seem to be a small variety of tomato. I see lots of flowers but I worry that all those flowers are not getting pollinated. I have noticed what looks like a small wasp visiting the flowers. I did resort, at on point, to playing cupid and used a Qtip to facilitate the process of spreading the pollen around. Tomatoes are growing. I am waiting for them to ripen on the vine. One fell off on its own and we ate it. It had that tomato flavour I remember.

The tomatoes in the containers at ground level hanging on the fence are growing well. You can tell that they are not getting as much sunshine, different varieties of tomatoes are coming up but not are ripe as yet.

On the 9th of August I decided to take no chances and covered the tomatoes downstairs with clear plastic. Brian Minter mentioned mid August onwards is when that the deadly fungus hits, the combination of cooling temperature and the occasional rain. I opened out clear garbage bags and pinned them with clothes pegs but did it in such a way so that it is opened on one side and there is lots of air flow.

I think we push boundaries trying to grow tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest. So we do so knowing it is risky business. Last year, here in Richmond, all our tomatoes were wiped out by fungus early in the season. I particularly felt for a Russian gentleman in our community garden who committed fully to growing only tomatoes both last year and this year. Lost every one. and this year too.

So, we water from the bottom, not the leaves. Clip the lower leaves so the spore, which are carried in the soil don't splash up on the leaves. We cut off the suckers growing in the axils or all the energy is concentrated into the main crop of tomatoes. The hope is that the tomatoes will have gotten to their full size and ripened before the first frost. In mid August we cover the plants with plastic to spare ourselves the disappointment of loosing all our patient work to rampant mold! All for the love of an organic tomato!

I went to the Tuesday Farmer's Market on Saltspring Island in the Straight of Georgia last week,the first week of August and their tomato harvest is in full swing. Lots of lovely ripe tomatoes. They seem to get more sunshine and they are also drier.

The Cucumber
Got one whole cucumber off the plant so far and lots of little cucumbers coming up.

Fall Plantings
Now is the time to get more seeds going for a fall harvest.
At the same time as I did the full sized carrots, 1st August, I did more arugula, West Coast and Provencal mesclun, spinach, a five variety lettuce mix, collard greens and Italian broccoli.

Good thing I used my Qtip on the strawberry flowers. We have strawberries! They are not growing in ideal conditions as they are in small half pots on the wall. They would probably do much better in a larger pot. They have a dense, fibrous root ball.

Summer Care of the Perennial Container Garden
The perennials were really starting to feel the heat towards the end of July. They let you know by dropping pathetically. So it is important to keep up with the watering. Water more frequently and deeply. No skimping! I usually water the small containers every two to three days or when I notice that the surface of the potting mix has dried out. I do find, however, that since I used coco fiber as the basis of the last batch of potting mix, it hold the water very well and I do not water as often. I try to keep up with the watering because I don't want to stress the plants out because it shows up in their growth. I aim for ... Thrive not Survive!

At the beginning of July, I dug into my one of my compost bins and harvested some lovely compost and added it to the surface of the pots as a mulch. That really gives the plants a boost. It keeps the root ball cooler, hold in the moisture and adds more nutrients to tide them into fall.

I also tidied up all the plants at this time. Deadheading the flowers, cutting off dead leaves and straggly stems. This refreshes the look of the garden as a whole and encourages a new growth spurt. So I am looking forward to another flush of new leaves and perhaps even flowers.

The garbage bin of compost that was full and left to digest at the end of March was ready for harvest at the end of June. That is three months to decompose down to compost.

When I emptied out the garbage bin into another container, I placed the container in the sunshine to encourage the worms to migrate downwards. Then I was able to remove the top layer of compost and put it to good use. I removed the compost layer by layer until the worms were in the bottom of the container. I then relocated the worms into a new garbage bin so they could take up residence and get to work chowing down on all those delicious veggie scraps.

Refinement to my compost bin
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I compost in adapted plastic garbage bins. Up until this point none of them had holes in the bottom which meant that the compost tea would saturate the bottom of the bin and cause anaerobic conditions. Not ideal for composting. I recently acquired the perfect planter from a client that had no holes in it and bottom of garbage bin fits snugly into the top quarter of container. So I drilled drainage holes into the bottom of the garbage bin (and one in the top of the container, under the bottom of the garbage bin) so the compost tea can drain from the garbage and collect in the container. Now I can use the compost tea as a liquid fertilizer and aerobic conditions with be maintained though out the garbage bin. I will further improve the set up by settling the base of container into the gravel floor to stabilize it. At present the set up is top heavy making it awkward turning the contents with the garden fork.

Compost Teas
I have been using the Stinging Nettle and Comfrey and Compost teas as tonics for my plants over summer. This year I have fertilized with liquid seaweed, the layer of compost the teas and epsom salts which I added to the tomato plants to encourage flowering and fruiting. I have to keep my eye out for a source of comfrey leaves as I need to harvest more to replenish my supply.