Winter continues to hang on, even though it is now officially spring. We had 10+ cm of snow yesterday. It will be -18 tonight. We have lived in Ottawa for a decade and sometimes by this time of year the weather has been downright balmy.
The other day a friend and fellow gardener sent me a link about how to grow tons of tomatoes:
Yesterday was a perfect fall day to bring in most of the garden’s bounty. We will be getting frost warnings soon and I figure it’s just best to get going while the going is good.
The gardening season is winding down. It’s been a good one. We worked well alongside Mother Nature. The pests and diseases, well we tried various things to keep them at bay and in the end all they had some success, but then again, so did we.
At our community garden only a couple of weeks ago the gardens looked mature, green and bountiful. Now the gardens have been partly harvested and cleaned, plants are turning brown and the soil, which was mostly obscured by greenery is once again becoming a prominent feature. Our neighbour at “the farm” has installed a big plush bear with a winter scarf on their lawn chair.
We are still harvesting cauliflower and broccoli. This head of cauliflower was 4 lbs 10 oz.
Swiss chard grows all season and well, we can only eat so much swiss chard. There’s a very friendly woman who walks past the gardens often. She likes swiss chard and I asked her if she’d like some of ours. Thankfully, yes, she did and it’s been harvested nicely. It’s a shame to have Mother Nature and our efforts go for naught.
Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes:
We need to learn more about caring for tomatoes. We put cages around our plants but some plants were so laden with tomatoes the cages we no match for the weight. Any suggestions on what we should do differently? Different staking system or perhaps we should shape and prune the plants as they grow. In the end, though. we are enjoying a wonderful yield.
Who can’t grow zucchini
year one the cucumber beetles attacked our little zucchini plants and the plants never made it to maturity
year two we knew we had to protect the plants but discovered, too late, plants we thought were zucchini’s were not, they were butternut squash
year three we plant zucchini, we protect them and they make it to maturity but the yield is not amazing-perhaps a dozen in total. I swear mankind learned about camouflage from growing zucchini. There were no zucchini when I looked one day and the next day I found a 4 pound baseball bat size monster that had hidden under leaves for a long time. In later August mildew and squash beetles descend and have their way.
What is it about butternut squash
year one (before we invested in vast amounts of horse sh$#, er, I mean mushroom compost, we planted butternut squash. We watched our neighbours plants bear all sorts of butternut squash (they had invested in soil amendments) and we had one or two smallish squash at the end of the season.
year two the butternut squash plants are very happy. We decide not to plant too many and think we should try some winter squash too. What? The plants we think are winter squash turn out to be butternut. Since we started them from scratch, we can’t put the onus on a market garden for mis-labelling. Somewhere things got mixed up. Butternut galore last year and then mildew and squash beetles attack but the squash make it to maturity. Bumper crop.
year three-repeat of year two. Let’s not plant so many butternut-they spread too far and take up too much room. I take on starting the butternut and the winter squash. Given previous experience we should know what we are doing this year. And guess what, the plants I had thought were winter squash ended up being butternut. And once again, but later in the season than the previous two years, mildew and squash beetles descend. The yield is great. Some of the squash are well over 5 lbs, well over. And so there will be roasted squash and squash in soup and squash in muffins and so on. Do you have any butternut squash recipes to share?
Perhaps I should be asking for recipes for winter squash too. In the hopes that next year we grow some.
We are working alongside Mother Nature for another growing season. She’s been mostly tolerant with us although she continues to let us know who has the upper hand. This past few years of active vegetable gardening has made me realize how much you need to know to grow a parsnip. Or a cabbage. Or a squash. To grow anything really.
Here are some late August vegetable garden observations from the Ottawa valley. It might be seen as wisdom but that would mean I had knowledge and while I/we learn more every year, it’s a drop in the bucket of garden smarts. We have some particular ups and downs in our little plot.
1. Beans mature in 20 minutes. When you pick beans from the row or from the pole structures, you move along and pick all that are ready. When you turn around to walk back you see many more. They weren’t there before. Honestly.
2.Parsnips are not easy to grow. I blogged at one point about our efforts to grow parsnips last year. The package says parsnips take a long time to germinate. We knew that but found there were many “weeds” along the row and we pulled them up regularly. We learned, too late, the weeds were parsnips and so we had no parsnips last year. This year we tried again. Now we recognize their little tops (and know they don’t look like carrot tops). We sowed a row. We waited. Three parsnips came up. We re-seeded. None came up.
While parsnips will be sweeter if you wait to harvest them after a frost, I decided we’d eat them when they were big and healthy. By the time they got sweeter another creature might have decided they were tasty. And we only had three.
3.A Day Can Make a Big Difference.
Saturday: I visited the garden last Saturday. Mildew was showing up on the many squash plants, those ugly squash beetles that we had kept at bay were making a reappearance but overall the squash plants looked pretty good for this time of year. The tomato plants were burdened with tomatoes. So much so they were falling over. Should we have staked them differently or perhaps removed blossoms to make it so there wasn’t so much fruit? The leaves looked pretty healthy.
Sunday: When I arrived I wondered if this was the same garden. Overnight it seemed the plants had receded from their fruit. Squash plants looked shrivelled and beleaguered. Leaves on the tomatoes had spots on them and a number had started to curl and die. This process must have been under way the day before but it seemed to be such a big change. Anyone got any suggestions/advice? The fruit looks fine and there will be lots of both.
I spoke to our neighbour Kahlil and asked him about a couple of other things in our garden. For example, our pepper plants are healthy but only now do we have a couple of blossoms on them. It is way too late. Kahlil said he has been gardening at his community plot for 32 years and his observation is that every year there are “two things that don’t work”. It’s a mystery, he says. One year green peppers are great and the next year the same variety of seeds will have disappointing results.
We won’t be at the garden for 32 years. Perhaps Mother Nature is handing us more than two failures a year as she realizes our overall experience will be shorter than Kahlil’s and we need concentrated lessons. On the other hand we have harvested beautiful cauliflower and broccoli, cabbages and carrots and we will have tomatoes and huge butternut squash. It’s a pleasure to visit and work at the garden, ups and downs and all.
Caroline and I are well into our third year of tending our vegetable garden plot at a local community garden. Previous years I blogged more often on our efforts to become locally renown green thumbs. Come to think of it, other years I just plain blogged more often.
Since it is August already I’ll give a very quick history of our efforts and observations to date:
Planning next year’s garden starts pretty much as you are gardening in the current year. It also takes up to three mid-winter coffee and muffin meetings at Grounded Kitchen and Coffee House where you spread out all the books and records and bring out the planting wheel. We talk crop rotation, soil amendments, powdery mildew and companion crops. The planting wheel indicates which crops grow well or not well next to each other. It’s planning to make a project manager proud.
We decided to start many plants from seed this year. Let’s just say Caroline is much better at it than I am. For weeks on end I had plants downstairs with grow lights, upstairs in the bedroom and living room, using watering mats and transplanting when they got bigger. End result? By the time I moved the plants out to harden them off gradually, I’d say at least 50% of those plants perished. Someone, please, tell me what I did wrong! What a bunch of work for nothing, I thought when it happened. I’ll never do try that again, I thought. And the next week I thought, this won’t beat me, I’ll go at it again next year. You have to be part masochist part eternal optimist to be a gardener. At least if you have my level of knowledge, you do.
Spending money on vast amounts of mushroom compost, Lee Valley Tools Drip Irrigation systems and row covers is a good investment. Accountants and economists would not find the investment cost-effective if you look solely at the cost of buying things at the grocery store versus our inputs. We rationalize by factoring in the value of working with Mother Nature (good for your soul), knowing how the food was grown (totally organic, no animals were harmed in the making of these beans), spending time with a dear friend and boring our family and friends with talk about our “farm”. I think it’s similar to having an ugly baby where the parents see beauty and others look and say politely “Well, that’s a baby!”
Parsnips are very difficult to grow, at least for us they are. They don’t want to sprout and after two plantings we have 4 lonely parsnips. Pretty pathetic. We had trouble last year too. However we learned then it was because we thought their tops looked like carrots and when other shapes emerged we weeded them out. Pulled out our very own parsnips, we did!
You cannot outsmart Mother Nature. For example, we didn’t plant potatoes this year as there were too many potato bugs and diseases in the past. So this year the potato bugs decided to go at our tomato plants as a surrogate! Fortunately they haven’t been too bad at all compared to past years. Also, we have some sort of grassy weed that grows right next to our wanted plants. If you pull up the grass then you pull up the vegetable too. The weed is saying “Oh yeah! If you take me, I’m taking your plant with me .
For every hour you spend picking vegetables be ready to spend one to two times as long cleaning and storing them when you get home.
Zucchini wear camouflage. You look for them one day and there are none and a few days later they are as big as a baseball bat.
Your vegetables will not necessarily be the size you see in the grocery store. We waited for a few of our tidy smallish cauliflower to grow into monsters and they grew grotesque and discoloured instead. We should have picked them earlier.
We are taking our time putting our allotment garden to sleep this fall. Most of the plant material has been cleared except for some swiss chard and a half row of lovely fall carrots. We’d tried the carrots a few weeks ago and they were delicious. After a frost we knew they would be even better.
The worst of people
You can imagine our surprise (and perhaps some of the things we said) when we met at the garden this week, shovels and forks in hand, thinking of enjoying those carrots and they were gone! Pulled up and taken. The thief or thieves must be into composting for they pulled the tops off the carrots and laid them neatly down on top the now empty row. The nerve! Carrots are pretty inexpensive in the store. Whoever you are, we’d rather you go to the green grocer for your vegetables! You have to be a certain sort to take something someone else has planted, watered and tended.
The best of people
On the same visit to the garden, a woman who has walked by and chatted with us throughout the gardening season came by to say hello. We had given her some swiss chard earlier in the year and she wanted us to come by for coffee and a snack to say thank you. And so we did. The snack turned out to be hearty delicious Lebanese lunch complete with Lebanese coffee! Mmmm good!
Within a 3 hour period on a sunny late fall afternoon we saw the worst of people and the best of people.