Friday, August 2, 2013

Garden Update - August 2nd

    2013 has been one of my best gardening summers since we moved back to Washington State.  Part of that is due to the wonderfully warm sunny summer we have had thus far.  Also, the fact that my vegetable garden is so much larger has helped a lot.  Part of it is just plain dumb luck, as in the expression "Better to be lucky than good". However, I also think some of my gardening success stems from the fact that I've learned a few things over the years, specifically about gardening in Western Washington.

   We've had a very good fruit year so far, starting with the strawberries and proceeding through the raspberries and cherries. I would have done better on raspberries if an errant goat hadn't done some unauthorized pruning. We had some rain at the wrong time that caused the earlier sweet cherries to split, but three later varieties produced pretty well. I was even able to can some sweet cherries for some of my grand kids. I actually would have been able to can a whole lot of sweet cherries if it hadn't been such a busy summer.  Between Cousin Camp IV, visiting grand kids, and Quentin's vacation, I've been pretty busy. I hate to see any fruit or vegetables go to waste, but I don't always have the time to process it when it needs processing.  Strawberries, raspberries, and cherries are all particularly perishable.

     We've been picking blueberries for the past few weeks. It is so nice to always have more blueberries than we need every year. I even took the five bushes near our duck pen out of production this year due to a mummy berry problem. The remaining ten bushes are still keeping us very well supplied.  For the benefit of those unfamiliar with mummy berry, it is a fungus that causes the blueberries to be hard and shriveled up like little blueberry mummies. The fungus has a two parts to its life cycle.  The first part is a fungus in the ground that produces the spores that infect the berries. The second part is the infected berries fall to the ground and reseed the ground with the fungus.  One way to get rid of mummy berry organically is to remove the old mulch and replace it. Another method is to simply pick all of the blossoms so there is no fruit for one year. I chose that approach for our blueberry plants near the duck pen. I pruned off all of the blossoms to eliminate this year's fruit crop.  Next year we'll see if that worked.  Meanwhile, we also have some mummy berry showing up in the main blueberry patch.  I'm going to try mulch replacement in the main patch.

     So, why not use a fungicide to get rid of the mummy berry?  The simple answer is the honey bees.  While most fungicides are not directly toxic to honey bees they do have a serious indirect effect on their health. Everyone knows that honey bees gather and store pollen which is an important source of protein for the developing larvae. But bees don't merely store pollen. They inoculate the pollen with a particular fungus that causes some lacto-fermentation of the pollen which makes it more easily digested by the bees.  It's the honey bee equivalent of yogurt. When bees gather pollen contaminated with fungicides it disrupts the natural hive flora much like some anti-biotics can have a bad effect on human digestive flora.  This was discovered recently when honey bees exposed to supposedly harmless fungicides while pollinating almonds got seriously sick. A significant number of colonies died as the result of this secondary effect.

      The rest of the fruit season is looking pretty good too. I just started picking plums and I have loads of relatively scab free apples on my trees.  I've actually eaten a few of my summer apples this past week. They were still a little tart but almost ripe. My "Korean" pear tree is also loaded with fruit.  I picked my first handful blackberries this past week as well.  My grape vines are loaded with developing clusters. I try not to count my chickens before they hatch, but I can't help myself. The fruit forecast is looking pretty rosy.

Mishirasu, one of four varieties on my "Korean" pear tree.

A cluster of Interlaken grapes
   Things are also going well on the vegetable front.  I harvested a bumper crop of garlic.  We've  also done well with peas, beets, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. My dry beans are looking good and I picked the first few beans from my Blue Lake pole beans yesterday. I planted early butternut winter squash on purpose. They are doing very well and started setting fruit several weeks ago.  However, I also ended up with both a pumpkin and a hubbard squash plant that each volunteered from the compost that I used with my pole beans. Fortunately, there was a big empty space right next to the pole beans so it looks like I grew them there on purpose.  I have artichokes developing on one of my two artichoke plants. The Jerusalem Artichokes (aka sun chokes) have gone absolutely crazy. They are currently eight feet tall and covered with yellow sunflowers.

My first home grown artichoke

Jerusalem Artichokes run amok

      We've been picking a few tomatoes here and there for several weeks, but we should be inundated with tomatoes pretty soon.  I set up a hoop house to protect the tomatoes from late blight, a bad fungus that affects both tomatoes and potatoes. I've been told that late blight was the cause of the infamous Irish Potato Famine. I used the hoop house to give the tomatoes more heat earlier in the summer. Now I only put the plastic cover on when we have rain in the forecast.  Keeping the tomato plants dry and warm helps prevent late blight. I also try to water them without getting their leaves wet.  I put the plastic cover back on last night and here it is raining as I write this.
Pickling cucumbers with my ramshackle tomato hoop house in the background
      The six tomatillo plants were a gift from my friend, Terry Johnson. He first planted them about twenty years ago and hasn't had to buy tomatillo seeds ever since. They reseed themselves every bit as well as cherry tomatoes. Terry simply transplants the volunteers he wants to keep and weeds out the rest.  I  also had two additional tomatillo plants that grew out the compost I used on the pole beans. Terry gave me a bucket of tomatillos last summer that I turned into salsa verde. Apparently some of the seeds found their way to my compost pile.  One very nice thing about tomatillos is that they aren't affected by the late blight.  Another nice thing about tomatillos is that I have always liked salsa verde. What is not to love about trouble free, self starting, disease resistant vegetables.

The developing tomatillo fruits look like little Japanese lanterns

This is my "field" of Rockwell dry beans

Way too many summer squash plants. What was I thinking!

Young Butternut Squash fruits

I see pickled beets in my future.

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