Thursday, October 29, 2009

October snow dump

Did you lose your garden? Mine is somewhere under the 18 inches of white stuff in the photo left. What good moisture for us! In dry Colorado, you never object to moisture however it comes (even if you secretly wish it to be doled out a little more gradually). This snow event will probably end up yielding about 1.5 inches of moisture when it melts this weekend. It’s predicted to be in the 50s F so the white will be a passing thing.

In addition to the moisture, snow is a good insulator. I’m not too worried about my annual ryegrass cover crop (photo right) that is coming up or my kale and other fall crops. They should be fine and the moisture will give them a boost.

Gardening resurgence in New Zealand - Like us, gardeners in the southern hemisphere are getting on board the trend towards more vegetable growing in the worldwide recession. See the news from the “kiwis.”

Photo credit: Snow in garden and Annual ryegrass - Carl Wilson

Friday, October 23, 2009

Evaluate tomato performance

Before memories fade, now is the time to evaluate what tomato varieties performed well for you this season.

The tomato variety that performed best in my southwest Denver garden was ‘Yellow Taxi’ (64 days, photo left) This was followed by the widely adapted All American Selection, ‘Celebrity’ (70 days). ‘Large Red’ (heirloom 82 days), ‘Sun Cherry’ (58 days) and ‘Green Zebra’ (heirloom 75 days) were poor performers. All were sorely tested by the July 20 hailstorm that hit the western Denver Metro area. ‘Yellow Taxi’ and ‘Celebrity’ recovered and produced.

The cool, early summer this year affected all Front Range tomato gardeners. Longer season varieties struggled more than others. Keep in mind that if you have part day shade, your days to harvest becomes longer because it takes 1 ½ of your part shade days or so to chalk up one day on the published days to harvest rating. For you, choosing short days to harvest varieties is a must.

What tomato varieties performed well for you in 2009? Make your notes to guide your choices in future years. Share your experiences with our readers and help everybody. Do note your location in your comment.

Photo credit: ‘Yellow Taxi’ tomato fruit, Carl Wilson

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Last plants left standing

Wow. It was a cold and sustained hard freeze the end of last week. The low in Denver October 9th was 18 degrees F. The high on October 10th was 26 degrees F and low that night 17 degrees F. Both the high and low temperatures for Saturday the 10th were record low readings for that date. The photo right is of kale and lettuce under an inch of snow in my Denver garden that Saturday.

Even with a day and a half of readings below freezing, some hardy vegetables amazingly survive. Lacinato kale and onions, Purple Vienna kohlrabi and purple cabbage (photos) are still going strong. So are lettuce, radishes and hardy herbs such as parsley (photo). The root vegetables underground are also fine.

Now is the time to be glad you made those early July plantings of fall crops. You can be enjoying your garden until Thanksgiving.

Photo credit: Kale and lettuce under snow, Lacinato kale and onions, Purple Vienna kohlrabi, Purple winter cabbage, Parsley - Carl Wilson

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cold doesn't end garden chores

I overheard someone in the barber shop say how quickly cold weather arrived this year. If you’ve lived in Colorado for very long, you know that the unexpected is the rule. The arrival of snow in the third or fourth week of September is not unheard of. I saw the first snow-rain here on October 8 this year.

The usefulness of covering plants will come to an end this week as night temperatures dip into the low twenties F and hard freezes prevail in most areas. Covers help with a few degrees under freezing but not with temperatures this low and repeated over several nights. Some of the hardiest vegetables such as kale, cabbage, peas and parsnips may survive. (Red Russian kale shown with frost on leaves above left, and two days later unharmed above right).

If you have automatic drip or spray irrigation for your garden, it’s time to be concerned about freezing of exposed backflow prevention devices. Until you are ready to get the water blown out of the device for winter, some precautions may be in order depending on how exposed the backflow device is (photo left). Wrap an old rug for insulation, pull a plastic yard bag over the wrapped device for waterproofing, and cinch with duct tape to prevent wind from ripping it off (photo right). This will generally get you by for a short period.

Do plan to remove killed tomato, squash and other warm season vegetable skeletons after a hard freeze. You can avoid overwintering many vegetable diseases and insects by doing a thorough fall cleanup.

Early blight fungus overwinters on diseased plants and some weeds. Remove diseased tomato plant debris and clear weeds from the garden. If the disease was severe, consider moving tomatoes to a new location next year if you have this option. The unusual bacterial spot seen this year also survives on plant debris.

Viruses that affect tomatoes such as Tomato spotted wilt and Impatiens necrotic spot cause yellow rings or spots on fruit. If you see these, remove plant debris because viruses survive in plants, not soil. Note that lettuce, pepper and weeds such as bindweed and nightshade will harbor viruses.

Thrips insects that spread viruses from plant to plant overwinter as pupae in soil crevices or on plant debris. Flea beetles that chew shotholes in leaves spend the winter as adults hiding under leaves, dirt clods and other protected sites.

Fall plant cleanup and fall tillage tend to disrupt all of these pests.

Photo cedit: Two kale (frozen and two days later) and two backflow preventer (open and wrapped) photos, Carl Wilson

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extending the season in fall

The decision about what action to take with impending fall frosts can be complex. That’s probably why many simply throw a cover over their warm season crops (peppers in photo, tomatoes, etc.) and hope for the best.

The rhythm of the seasons with shortening days and cooler temperatures really speaks against fighting the trend. Harvesting tomatoes and letting them ripen indoors as discussed in the September 17 post may be a better choice in many ways. Cold temperatures destroy flavor and chilling injury decreases “shelf life” of the fruit leaving them open to decay. Room temperature indoors eliminates both problems.

Tomatoes will not be setting more fruit in cool temperatures so saving green plants is not productive from that standpoint. Concentrating on soil improvement by removing warm season plants to the compost bin and planting a cover crop as discussed last week may be a better use of a gardener’s energy.

Cool season greens planted in mid-summer (kale and mesclun in photo) tolerate frosts well. They may be more productive for the water applied in fall than warm season plants. Maturing root crops will also survive initial frosts and store well in the garden until dug for use.

Covers can perform well in radiational frosts experienced under clear nights. Cloth (photo left) will trap soil heat with the plants and is fine as long as it doesn’t get wet. Wet cloth loses heat due to evaporative cooling. Plastic traps heat and doesn’t have evaporative losses due to moisture but must be removed promptly the following sunny day to avoid cooking plants. Do remove any cover the next day to allow the sun to warm the soil again.

See CSU Extension Garden Note on Frost Protection and Extending the Garden Season for more extensive information including comments on use of space blankets and Christmas tree lights under covers.

Photo credit: Plastic to cover peppers, mid-summer planted greens, fabric covered tomatoes, all credit Carl Wilson