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Friday PhotoEssay – September 4, 2015

Labor Day weekend seems to be the official “end” of summer, although many gardeners still have lots of produce coming in through the month of September. Many years the best peppers are harvested this month. I know that although our tomato plants look awful (and we’ve removed some of the worst), there are lots of green tomatoes still on the plants.

The lettuces in the close bed really pop with that neon green color, don’t they? The strawberries are also looking very healthy and most of the flowers still look great.

There are often spiders everywhere in the garden at this time of year, especially when it has been a rainier summer. I almost walked into a big web stretched between the grapes and the peanuts this morning. This spider was on the web, but then ran off to hide under this grape leaf. As annoying as the spiders may be, they are generally considered beneficial for the garden, so don’t try to kill them!

We did such a good job keeping the squash vine borers and squash bugs at bay this year that our zucchini finally succumbed to another problem – powdery mildew! Many squashes and pumpkins are highly susceptible to powdery mildew, although newer varieties have been developed that are resistant. We removed these plants right away, because we didn’t want the disease to spread. On the neighboring trellises, I’ve seen a couple vines with spots of mildew, but nothing major yet. If you don’t catch the mildew early, removing the plants really is the best option.

We transplanted the rest of the lettuce on Tuesday and surrounded it with some rabbit guard fencing, since we’ve had some rabbit troubles this year. We decided it wasn’t very pretty, but at least it should be functional! Hopefully the un-munched lettuce will be pretty enough to offset the fencing.

We harvested a bunch of squash this week, mostly the ‘Tromboncino,’ which seems to be very productive. We’ve also started harvesting a few others, including a huge ‘Green Striped’ Cushaw that will be featured in our next Saturday Sampler. I’ve been checking out potential recipes!

Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Friday PhotoEssay – August 21, 2015

We seem to be in a bit of a late summer lull in the Demo Garden. We have a few things going for fall, the tomatoes are looking worse every week, and the squash aren’t quite ready to harvest.

As you can see, the tomatoes continue to look more grey or brown than green, even though the tops of the plants are a little bit crazy. The beans we planted a couple weeks ago are up, but the spider mites seem to have attacked immediately. Luckily it is a bit cooler, keeping the mites slowed down somewhat.

For the third year in a row, the begonias and coleus planted in this section of the garden look amazing! I’ll be honest that I don’t love begonias, but they are stunning in this spot.

In this wheelchair barrel planter, we had potatoes in the spring that did extremely well. Since then, we tried planting beans but they didn’t grow well. It seemed silly to think of a nutrient deficiency when the potatoes did so well. But then we planted radishes, and it was clear two weeks ago (above) that the leaves were pale yellow and stunted. Below you can see the improvement.
We fertilized and although there is still a bit of chlorosis (yellowing) they have grown well. We often forget with vegetable gardens that when we harvest a crop we are taking all of the nutrients from those vegetables out of the soil and consuming them. Just because a spot produced well last year or in the spring doesn’t mean that it won’t need additional fertilizer or compost before planting another crop. Maintaining and building our soil is a continual process!

This is something cool that you don’t see every day! This is one of the vines of the ‘Tromboncino’ squash. One of the neat things is that the seeds were planted at the other end of the bed and this plant has climbed all the way to the opposite corner of the bed. The other neat thing is that the vine has gone from round to flattened. This is a phenomenon called “fasciation.” A mutation happened at some point during growth and that mutation continued to manifest in all future growth on this vine. It doesn’t hurt anything, but it is a bit bizarre.

This is also the ‘Tromboncino,’ but these squash are a much darker green color than the others have been. I don’t know if this is a different vine (genetic variation of the seeds), if this is related to the mutation causing the fasciation shown above, or if this is a different mutation. The vines are such a jumble that I don’t think it is possible to sort out at this point. Anyway, it’s interested to all of a sudden have different colored squash!

I also caught this praying mantis hanging out on one of the squash last week. They can eat many insects, including grasshoppers, but I wonder if this one has been feasting on squash bugs?

Have a great weekend!

Friday PhotoEssay – August 7, 2015

Another week, another downpour, more squash bugs and spider mites! This gardening season has certainly come with its share of challenges in the Demo Garden, and I’m sure you are experiencing the same things at home.

The general overview shows that things are still looking pretty green, although the tomatoes are looking a little sickly with all the spider mites. The squash are still looking pretty good, despite the onslaught of squash bugs.

The ‘Tromboncino’ squash are still producing steadily. I prefer that over getting too many zucchini! I captured this image this morning while the squash blossoms were still open. Female squash flowers have the immature fruit behind the flower and then the fruit continues to develop following pollination. I thought it was pretty neat to see how big the squash is already in this case, even before pollination! You could even harvest the squash at this point and stuff the flower with cheeses and herbs, then saute as is.

We are starting to see more squash bugs on the trellised squash. It isn’t unexpected, but nice that it held off until now. We are picking off eggs and nymphs as we see them as well as spraying once a week. We have also seen a couple of vine borers that our Master Gardeners caught early and tried the “surgery” method of cutting them out of the stems. So far we have no casualties of squash vine borers, which is a win in my book!

Our Quiet Garden area is looking beautiful right now. There are several coleus, begonia, and impatiens varieties that are showing their colors in good form. These are all varieties that are either on our Prairie Star list of recommended annuals or they are in the trial right now to determine if they are worthy of being on the list.

I noticed a few squash in the zucchini area that are showing this grey mold. It looks like it is primarily on squash that were not successfully pollinated, thus being more likely to rot. That predisposition to rot, combined with the rain this week and the density of the stems and leaves has probably resulted in the grey mold. The best thing to do is to just remove squash like this ASAP to prevent the mold spreading to other squash or the stems.

The Master Gardeners planted some lettuce seeds for transplanting outside later this month. Starting the seeds indoors and transplanting is one way to make lettuce available to harvest earlier in the fall than if we were to wait until the weather is cool enough to plant seeds outdoors. I usually plan on about 4 weeks from when we plant seeds to when the plants are ready to go out in the garden.

This is ‘New Gold’ Lantana that is planted in the containers near the garden entrance. It is looking spectacular right now! This variety is on our Prairie Star Annuals list as a variety that thrives in Kansas and blooms consistently all summer. It definitely looks like a winner this year.

Have a great weekend!

A Look at the Parthenocarpic Squash

Outwitting the squash vine borers is one of the ongoing themes in the garden this summer. Let’s take a look at our parthenocarpic (no pollination needed) squash trial.

This is the fancy cage we built for the row cover over the squash. We hadn’t really made new row covers/low tunnel frames for the new raised beds yet, so this seemed like a good opportunity to try something new. One of the things that I’ve always struggled with on our raised beds is how to manage the lower edges without resorting to a bunch of bricks or milk jugs of water. I had this idea to use a PVC frame along the bottom edge that the row cover could be clamped to. We also decided to make a larger, square frame because the squash get big, especially under cover.

The biggest problem we’ve had is that there’s no good way to open the row cover when we need to get in and work on the plants or harvest. When we take the clamps off, it tends to tear the fabric. So…it’s a good idea, but still a work in progress.

That’s what the clamps look like, in case you were curious.

The squash under the row cover are looking quite jungle-esque. This is pretty typical when you have plants under a row cover. They are protected from the wind and they are slightly shaded, so they tend to get a little bit tall and leggy. You can see the longer, skinnier stems on these plants compared to what you might expect. It’s also nice and warm under the row cover, so the plants grow quickly.

As you can see, we are starting to get some flowers. With most squash, when using row cover to circumvent the squash vine borer, we would take the row cover off right now. However, since we are using parthenocarpic varieties that supposedly require no pollination to set fruit, we shouldn’t need to do that. It will allow the protection to continue until we take the row covers off.

 So…is that translating into squash? As you can see from this picture, the answer is not so much. There are several squash that are clearly rotting and have not successfully set. Now, it could just be early and this will straighten out. It could be that the varieties we picked are only partially parthenocarpic. Or it could be that the project is a big bust and we’ll have to take the row cover off to get any zucchini. I looked up the varieties we chose to see if there was any data on how they do. ‘Partenon’ was listed as setting fruit 69% of the time parthenocarpically. I didn’t find any data on ‘Segev’. So, we’ll see how things continue! The plus side is that even if we have to take off the row cover now, the plants should be large enough to withstand quite a bit of squash vine borer damage before they die.

Friday PhotoEssay – June 26, 2015

Long time, no photoessay! I could be wrong, but I think that the Friday PhotoEssays (and hopefully other posts too) are back for the remainder of the summer! Let’s get all caught up on what’s been happening.

As you can see, most of the garden seems to be growing well. We had a little bit of a hiccup last week and over the weekend with the irrigation system being down due to a problem elsewhere on the grounds. Bad timing! Everything looks a little bit scorched from that experience. It’s hard to catch up with watering when things get too dry.

The squash in the vertical garden are looking good overall. I saw some wilting in the heat of the afternoon yesterday, but I think it is just the hot and dry. I checked several of the plants for signs of squash vine borer and didn’t see anything. I also checked the soil, which seemed dry. I turned the water on! It’s nice when the solution to wilting is easy and not a pest. I read an article just this morning that said that squash vine borers prefer Cucurbita sp. with large hollow stems over smaller, solid stems. That probably accounts for at least some of the purported resistance of these varieties.

Only a couple of the varieties are starting to flower and set fruit yet, so when they progress further I will do a closer look at this garden bed. I’m a little surprised that the plants aren’t larger, but it is probably mostly weather. They might want a little more nitrogen too, given all the rain.

This is the parthenocarpic squash (don’t need pollination to set fruit) under the row cover set up. This picture is from about 2 weeks ago. It’s been a little tricky keeping everything sealed around the edges with the wind. But…it’s better than nothing! I should go take another picture of this today to show you, but it’s hot outside! The plants are now so big that they are pushing out on the row cover fabric, and there are flowers and fruit setting under the row cover. I’ll hopefully take a closer look next week.

Most of the tomato plants do have fruit set on them, and there are some really interesting differences in the sizes of the plants. I’ll plan to do a more in depth look next week or the week after. This is the ‘Indigo Apple’ tomato plant, which is a variety with purple coloration. The shoulders are already starting to show the coloring on these tomatoes.

We often have one of the red/purple basils somewhere in the garden, but most years they either get washed out or turn green. Apparently the key is to plant it in a shadier location! This ‘Red Rubin’ basil is under the lattice area where it gets more shade and the color is great! Of course, it isn’t very big either, but it seems like a fair trade for the color.

It’s in a tomato cage, but it’s not a tomato! This is a dwarf, container-type raspberry. It doesn’t look like it is producing anything this year because it died back to the roots over the winter. It is staying nice and compact though. I don’t know that it will every need the cage!

The beans are all looking good and seem to be producing well, after they had a bit of a rough start. This is the ‘Dragon Tongue’ bean that has purple stripes/splotches.

We’ll finish up for this week with this cool looking coleus. It’s name is ‘Rodeo Drive’ and I suppose it does look a little bit like a crazy bull, but I just think it looks cool.

Have a great weekend!