The Drought (Heat Wave, June 2021)

Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but here in the upper Midwest we’ve been experiencing some crazy heat. This, following an exceedingly dry spring (and now summer), has put us in a drought. And my plants are not happy.

We’ve been experiencing at least 90F highs since June 5. I had about four days between having to shelter my pepper plants in the house overnight due to frost warnings before the high temperatures kicking in. Spring? What Spring??

After a week of these high temps, I kind of gave up. I’d been watering my garden every night and checking each and every plant several times a day, every day, and even so I lost a bunch of them. I lost 4 out of 5 of my expensive Joan J thornless raspberries. All of their new growth had started to go brown, for some reason, right before the heat wave anyway, and when the heat wave hit, they went down like a house of cards. Even the largest one finally gave up the ghost today, apparently. Also, half of my strawberries have died–for the most part these are the ones from disreputable sellers that I would have been surprised if they had survived and produced fruit anyway, but still. And my sweet peas–out of season at this point, true, but still–need constant watering or they turn into prematurely dried sweet peas. At this point, my attitude is: If you’re not strong enough to survive this, then I don’t need you in my garden, no matter how valuable of a plant you are. Suck it up, buttercup.

My plants are also getting heavily hit by some kind of black speck that just looks like dirt got splashed up on the plant’s leaves, but is in fact some kind of nasty bug that is killing many of my plants. It appears to like my dahlias and poppies best, for some reason. And my cabbages! I expected the cabbages to be attacked by the cabbage worms, sure, but these tiny black bugs are even worse. An entire beautiful Napa cabbage plant turned to lace overnight. Cabbage worms, even at their worst, can’t do that. So I’m spraying BT and dusting with diatomaceous earth pretty much every day. My understanding is that this hot dry weather is perfect for these bugs, so until we get out of this drought, this is the situation we’re in. If nothing else, cabbage grows really quickly and I can try again in the fall.

Some good news?

As long as I keep on top of the watering, my potatoes are extremely happy. I’ve never grown potatoes, but they are big and lush and energetic despite the heat. My tomatoes are also coming along quite happily, and my squash seeds are germinating and sprouting really fast. Also, when they are not getting eaten alive, my dahlias are also loving this hot weather. And the rest of the strawberries–those strong enough to survive–are thriving and putting out a ton of fruit. I have my first home-grown strawberry (Albion, from Johnny’s) a week ago! It was tasty, but not mind-blowing. What was mind-blowing was tasting my first home-grown snap pea about two weeks ago (Magnolia Blossom Sugar Snap, Baker Creek); the flavor was amazingly sweet and complex.

Surprisingly, my snap peas and my lettuces are still growing apace. No issues there. I think it helps that I’m primarily growing Salanova lettuce varieties from Johnny’s, which have some kind of heat resistance. My peas in the Greenstalk are producing steadily and have huge vines. The ones in raised beds and containers (planted about a month or so later) are growing and starting to produce, but the vines maybe a bit shorter than they should be. As this is the first year that I’ve ever had any success with peas, I have no idea.

Also thriving are the old raspberry bushes in the yard. I had dug out most of them because they were old and worn out, and the bed was infested with a ton of large elm and maple saplings. (We have a huge problem with random tree saplings popping in our garden and lawn–anybody else have this issue?) But some raspberry canes on the far end of the bed did survive, and they are producing heavily this year. Also, my next-door neighbor’s out-of-control raspberry bushes jut through our fence and, this year, all of those errant canes are heavily laden with raspberries 🙂

I’ve had other setbacks– my mini butternut squash (Honey Nut, Botanical Interests) took 11 days to germinate; it was so slow that I ended up going online and bought a different type from a different seed store and started again (Butterscotch, bred by Johnny’s). Of course by the time the new seeds arrived, the old ones had finally sprouted. I also found out that the type of tulsi basil I had been attempting to grow (just called “tulsi basil”) was not the type I was looking for–the type I was growing turned out to be almost scentless, whereas the type I’m looking for should have a really strong spicy smell to it. So I had to track that variety down (called “Kapoor Tulsi” from Johnny’s; MI Gardener also apparently has it but they were sold out), buy the seeds, and start over my tulsi basil from scratch this month. I also accidentally topped off my only Dad’s Sunset tomato plant the day after I finally tossed the rest of my back-up tomato seedlings. Sigh. Maybe I’ll try it again next year.

And finally , if you’ve read recent posts, I also had to toss a bunch of my dahlias for crown gall (or suspicion of having crow gall). I ended up digging out every single one of my dahlias just to make sure they didn’t have gall. A few I gave only cursory inspections of–if they had come from a small, independent grower who hand-picked each tuber, for example–but the rest were given a through examination. From that, I ended up throwing out another five tubers, and if they had arrived in bunches of 2 or three , those tubers as well. And, due to the heat, even the ones that didn’t have gall didn’t have a chance to regrow their roots before the heat kicked in, so… probably ⅔ of my dahlias, gone. I(Later that same day, though, that I got an email for a last chance sale on dahlias at Swan Island dahlias, so I ended up picking up a few more. Though their tubers are expensive, at least I know Swan Island rigorously inspects each their tubers. (the tuber’s name is stamped on the bulb itself).

But, man. This heat can stop ANY TIME now.

2020 Garden Recap: Squash

By far my most successful crop this year were my winter squashes. This group surprised me considerably, because I realized i didn’t know a thing about which type would vine and which wouldn’t. I hadn’t grown any squash since I was a kid, which was part of the problem, and I was working off of hazy 30-year-old memories of the garden we had when I was young. So I planted a bunch of different types, and learned a lot as I went.

Things I learned:

Zucchini and Yellow Crookneck are not vining squashes. It’s a huge, sprawling, bush plant that, next year, will be planted by its lonesome in a container. Also, the zucchini plants I bought at the local big box store did not produce at all, so I ended up buy seeds and planting them again right before fall for a quick harvest. Again, I did n’t get much zucchini (or yellow crookneck squash). I’m highly tempted not to plant any next year, but I did just pick up some seeds for a cute Patty Pan-type of zucchini, so I may have to give that one a go.

Butternut Squash is a vining squash. And how. This was by far my most productive squash, which is surprising as I had to toss my original batch of seedlings from the local nursery due to powdery mildew, and started from scratch with Waltham Butternut Squash seeds (Baker Creek) in mid-June. These seeds took off and never looked back. I ended up with eight mature squash, six of which were full-sized (two of them didn’t have time to finish growing before fall kicked in). Unfortunately, though they grew wonderfully, their taste turned out to be very mild. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at all. So, despite my luck with them, I don’t think I’ll be growing this variety next year.

i also picked up a few acorn squash plants from the local nursery. These, apparently, are not vining plants despite being winter squash. (A friend who received seedlings from the same pack had hers sprawl rather dramatically over her garden, but I’m not sure if it was actually vining or just a really big bush.) Either way, I only harvested one squash per plant, and they were not that tasty either, though it may just have been that I picked them too early.

A new squash I experimented with was the Red Kuri Winter Squash (seeds, Botanical Interests). I’d seen it on several websites where it was touted as being one of the most tasty of all winter squashes. I had good germination, but my plants all kept having what looked like sawdust build up around the base of the stem. It wasn’t until after I had pulled up one and was able to pull up another that I realized that they were suffering from the dreaded Squash Vine Borer. I did save my third (and final) plant by dissecting the stem and removing the grub, but alas, the lone Red Kuri squash did not fully ripen. I’m up in the air about planting this again next year, as it seemed especially susceptible to the vine borers–none of my other varieties of squash plants were affected. And yes, this is a vining variety, though it doesn’t get past 8′ as far as I can tell.

Last, but not least, is my all-time favorite squash from this year’s garden: the Musque de Provence pumpkin, and heirloom variety from southern France. I can’t say enough about this pumpkin. It’s absolutely gorgeous–it looks exactly the way Disney’s Cinderella’s pumpkin looked, deeply lobed with lovely curly tendrils. And the foliage is strikingly varigated–massive heart-shaped sage green leaves with white inkspots dotted throughout. The pumpkin can also be used for soups–the flesh is a deep orange and is slightly sweet, the flavor slightly reminiscent of cantaloupe. As the flesh is sweet and mildly stringy, I recommend it for soups and pies rather than roasting. Baker Creek states that you could even slice it thin and eat it fresh. (I tried this–it’s okay, but leaves a bit of a dry, powdery aftertaste.) If you have the room, I highly recommend planting this one. Be warned, though, it will grow at least 20′, if not longer, and will spread widely if you don’t keep it in check. I harvested four pumpkins off of one plant, though only one was large enough to decorate with (15.6 lbs.)