Garden Update – July 18th, 2016

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Seasons are funny things.  Looking back at my garden update from the beginning of June, everything is so barren, so brown.

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And now.  Green.  Rows upon rows of beautiful, exuberant life.

It seems like such a short time since June 1st.  Forty-seven days.  In the time between November and April, forty-seven days is nothing.  The brown, the cold, the lifelessness seem endless.  But now.  In summer.  In the one hundred and thirty-five days between our last and first frosts, forty-seven days is a lifetime.  Or a third of a lifetime, anyway, for these intrepid little plants, that put every ounce of their vigor into growing and bearing fruit abundantly in the short season they are given.

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Plants amaze me.  God’s design amazes me.  The precision, the engineering, the incredibly intricate symbiosis, the adaptability – infinite, yet boundaried.  What is my life, then, to be so humbled by a garden full of produce?

To have the vigor and purpose of a plant.  That would be something.

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Or a weed.  Oh man.  Talk about purpose.  Those guys are working it for every chance they can get.  But I have purpose too, and between cultivating with my stirrup hoe and hand weeding when I let it get too bad, I’m winning the battle so far.

Our other, and perhaps bigger battle, has been with rabbits.  You can see our new fence in the background of some of these photos.  It seems to be keeping the bunnies out, but our life has been so hectic lately that by the time we managed to actually get the fence installed, the rabbits had eaten all our lettuce, broccoli, and cabbage, and had done a number on our cucumbers and sweet potatoes.

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Weeds, and rabbit damage.

In happier news, our tomatoes are looking beautiful.   I mentioned in the April garden update that we planted three varieties – the heirloom Brandywine, cherry-type Honey Drop, and early producer Glacier.  They all seem to be thriving, and the Glaciers and Honey Drops are just beginning to turn!

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To support our tomatoes, we use a trellising technique called the Florida Weave, in which tall stakes placed between every 2 to 3 tomato plants, and twine is woven through the stakes and tomatoes at about 8-inch intervals as the plants grow.  As you would do for most trellising systems, we prune out all the “suckers” (shoots that form between the main shoot and the leaf branches) in order to keep the plant growing as a single stalk.

In theory anyway.  This year, I forgot to check for suckers until some of them were so big I worried it would damage the plant if I pruned them off.  For those suckers, I did what’s called Missouri Pruning, and pinched off the tip of the unwanted stalk.  This prevents the unwanted stalk from growing any taller, although you will still have to check it for suckers, just like the main stalk.

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This year, we’ve also been doing what’s called “bottom pruning”, or removing all the leaves below the lowest cluster of fruit.  This does a few things.  First, it improves air circulation (something I talked about in this post) and helps prevent soil-borne diseases from splashing up onto the lower portions of the plant when it rains.  It also forces the plant to put more energy into fruit production.  And apparently with indeterminate tomatoes (the kind that keep growing upwards all season), the first cluster of fruit will be the lowest to the ground, and the productive area will keep moving upwards as the plant grows.  So you can keep bottom pruning all through the season, ending up with a rather lanky-looking, but hopefully disease-free and thriving, tomato plant.

All our veggies took a hit from a recent dry spell, but we finally managed to get a sprinkler system installed, so we’re not reliant on hand-watering or hoping for rain anymore, and everything seems to have recovered nicely.  The one lasting effect we are seeing is a delay in harvest time.

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Peppers seem to be in full production now, and I just picked the first of the summer squash and green beans this week.

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The squash plant Rosie planted in her little garden patch is bigger and more productive than any of mine!  She’s also got two potato plants and a couple zinnias, and she’s mostly kept it weeded.  Not bad for a 3-year-old!  Ladybug mostly keeps busy playing in the “dirt.  pile.” or hauling “heavy gocks,” when she’s not being watered with the hose or “shampooed” with dirt by her older sister.

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The watermelons are sizing up too!  They seem to be growing daily, and we just found a couple little baby fruits on the cantaloupe vines.

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We did regular (Irish) potatoes and sweet potatoes for the first time this year, and as far as I can tell, they’re both doing beautifully.  The Irish potatoes are growing like mad.  I hilled them once – no small task, by the way – and they’re long overdue for a second hilling.  I think I may use straw or leaves for the second hilling.  I’ve heard you can do that, and it sounds easier than hauling around a bunch more dirt.

Another first this year is sweet corn.  Homegrown, non-GMO, beyond organic sweet corn.  Oh.  And it’s going to be blue.  I’m pretty stoked.

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That’s all for now!  I’ll be over on Instagram until the next update.



(First and fourth photos in this post courtesy of Jacob Melzer, my visiting cousin.  Thanks Jacob!)

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