Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hot and Humid

You have to love the way weather in Arkansas changes drastically on any given day. I think we are firmly set in Summer weather now with the torturous high temperatures combined with high humidity. We don't like it and neither do a number of the plants commonly grow in home gardens.

Lovely Gladiolus
Many of my squash plants have rotated between healthy and hosting powdery mildew from all the humidity. Not to mention the sad rotting of fruit on the vine from the excess water in all of our Spring rains. I've seen other losses with the small storms this past week, including my gorgeous Gladiolus that was only two-thirds bloomed. The winds snapped off the whole flower section, which was as tall as me. It currently sits in a vase in my kitchen so that perhaps it will finish blooming before it dies off completely. My potato plants also suffered in the storm and I may have to dig some of my potatoes early because it does not appear that some of the plants are going to recover.

Quart of wild blackberries
Despite these issues, I have so much food coming out of the garden that I'm already having to give it away. It might help if I stop gleaning fruit from around town and purchasing extra vegetables from the Farmers' Market.... or rather, it's time to get out the jars and begin canning, methinks. I pulled out my trusty Food in Jars book yesterday and made some peach butter (so much better than apple butter!). As soon as my mustard seed arrives, I'll begin making pickled vegetables. So excited to try pickled zucchini and green beans, you guys. I really hope that they turn out awesome so I can share those recipes with you.
WIld blackberry plant

In case you are interested in storing local food like I am, the online Farmers' Market currently has gallon options for blueberries and blackberries. I splurged last week and bought a gallon of blueberries, a decision I do not regret. I froze half the blueberries and ate the other half in various ways. If you'd rather spend time than money on such a venture, there are many wild blackberries fruiting at the moment. I have an awesomely huge patch right down the road and have collected two quarts of blackberries recently. They aren't as big as the blackberries you can get from the store, and they have more seeds, but they are just as tasty in my opinion. Plus, it helps that they are free.

First sunflower is blooming at my house!

Bee balm, attracting pollinators. :)

So far, Wayne and I have harvested eighteen (18) pounds of produce from our garden. Most of which was Italian Green Beans at a whopping nine and a half (9.5) pounds. Closely seconded by zucchini and yellow squash (from one plant each) at two point nine (2.9) pounds each. I have gotten to collect a few ripe tomatoes of the smaller variety, but am still waiting on the larger ones to ripen. I very much hope that I won't have to make only green tomato salsa this summer....but you never know what mother nature feels like throwing at you.

Some drawbacks/solutions
I have recently discovered what much of the ugliness I am facing in my tomatoes are caused by. One of my tomatoes has been infected with Tobacco Mosaic Virus, which can be spread by people smoking and then handling the tomatoes. Very unfortunate that I didn't know this previously because there are smokers around my garden often and it could kill the plant. As an added bonus, there is no cure or deterrent for the virus in non-disease resistant cultivars.

Home gardens can produce oddly shaped produce.
Many of my tomatoes are also suffering from early blight. This causes yellowing of the leaves and brown spots that form in a circular pattern. This early blight is a symptom of all the rain combined with the humidity and heat conditions we have been experiencing lately. It can also be cause by overhead watering combined with the Arkansas heat, so if you are watering your garden using this method, it might be better to water at the base of the plant, even though it takes longer. For my plants, overcrowding might also have caused this issue. Next year, I will not be using the square foot gardening method with tomatoes, especially the bushy varieties that I have in the garden currently.

Tobacco Horn Worm
One of the Master Gardeners informed me yesterday that one way to control the spread of diseases is by applying liquid copper solution to the plants. This is an organic fungicide that won't cure the disease but will hopefully stop it from damaging all of your tomato plants. It is also recommended that you remove any infected leaves as soon as they are noticed. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before touching any other plant.

I have also found Tobacco Horn Worms in both my garden and one of my worksite gardens. Though this worm is beautiful, he can decimate a plant very quickly. The one I discovered in my garden yesterday had eaten half of the top foliage on my orchid pepper. Chickens unfortunately won't eat this worm so you will need to kill it yourself and discard the body. If you let it go anywhere near your home, he will find his way back. I tried feeding a live one to the chickens yesterday and found him on the side of the garden closest to them munching my tomato plants this morning. I dislike killing bugs, but this one had to go.

Lacewing eggs, how cool are they?
Besides these issues, my garden is faring rather well. The aphid population has greatly increased lately. I can only assume it because of the increase in ladybug and lacewing population. Speaking of lacewings, check out the awesome eggs they leave on plants!

If you see these in your garden, just smile and leave them alone. They are our friends since they eat aphids, cabbage worms, and white flies. Mother Earth News actually suggests that you can spray a light solution of sugar and water (1 tablespoon of sugar per cup of water) on plants with aphid problems in order to capture the attention of more lacewings and ladybugs. I didn't have to try this, but I will next time my infestation gets as bad as it did two weeks ago.

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