Be Careful What You Wish For! 8.7.14

Photo by David Hansen

Photo by David Hansen

By Miriam Hansen.

Between the cucumbers, summer squash, peas, blueberries, raspberries, cherry tomatoes and basil, we’re flattened!

My daughter and her friend held down the fort while my husband and I sea-kayaked in Quebec’s Saguenay Fjord. We came home from our week’s vacation to twenty-odd quarts of pickles and freezers overflowing with summer squash, raspberries and peas. Worst of all—depending on your perspective—the peas, which certainly should be done by now, have started flowering and producing again. This violates my cardinal rule against picking, blanching and freezing snap peas and beans at the same time.

You know your garden has exceeded expectations when you are relieved to find an inexplicably dead pepper plant. The rest of the peppers have responded to the combination of compost tea and Sul-Po-Mag with great fruit set and stocky, dark green growth. Sul-Po-Mag, the commercial name for sulfate of potash-magnesia (langbeinite), contains 22 percent soluble potash, 22 percent sulfur and 11 percent magnesium. You can sprinkle it around each plant or spray a dilute solution of it directly on the leaves.

We’ve been noticing a fair number of wilted tips on the raspberry canes. Turns out the culprit is raspberry cane borer, a slender black beetle with a bright orange thorax and a black abdomen. The female beetle girdles the top of the cane in two concentric rings about an inch apart. She then lays her eggs in the cane between these two girdles. Quickly strangled by the girdling, the top of the plant withers and you get that characteristic brown, drooping growing tip. When the larva hatches, it bores its way down the stem and pretty much destroys the entire cane. My husband clipped the cane tips just below the second girdling. This removes the developing larvae. The tips need to be burned or somehow destroyed to control the infestation.

We are still seeing early blight on the lower tomato leaves but no sign of late blight yet. Still, it is time to be vigilant. The tomatoes are starting to ripen, and if you check the late blight website—http://usablight.org/—you will see that ithas been spotted in northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. That means it will be moving into Vermont within the next couple of weeks. Last year we began spraying with a copper fungicide but quickly decided that, since we are primarily home growers, we would just manage the crop with diligent removal of lower leaves and suckers, and keep our eyes open for any sign of the infection. This week I will top the tomatoes (remove the growing tips) to get all the energy going into the fruit. At first sign of the blight, we’ll pick the crop, bury the plants and ripen whatever has not yet ripened on the porch. I have not run out of tomato sauce in thirty-five years, blight or no blight.

Now is the time to start more radishes, salad turnips, cilantro and leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and Chinese greens for fall production. I start mine in trays under lights. I get the best results that way, but you can also seed them in the garden and transplant them into beds, which you will eventually cover with row cover. Greens started now will be ready to transplant at the end of August. I usually start two lots; one now and one at the end of August to transplant into greenhouses at the end of September. Usually the first crop is ready for harvest in mid-October, and the second lot overwinters in the greenhouse, ready to eat late March or early April.

My celery is ready to be blanched–not the process of plunging the stalks into boiling water for a few minutes, then into freezing cold water, then draining them, and so forth. While many experts will insist you need to, I assure you it is not necessary. I’ve been growing and freezing celery with great success without this kind of blanching. I chop it up, pop it in a freezer bag, suck out the air with a straw and put it in the chest freezer. I use the celery primarily in soups and stews. Blanched celery will probably last longer– up to a year– than the stuff you don’t process, but I don’t have the time for this extra step. If you want to do this, two or three minutes in the boiling water will do the trick.

The kind of blanching I’m going to do is out in the garden and just involves slipping almond milk cartons over the bottom two thirds of the plant about two weeks before they are ready to harvest. I save my almond milk cartons all year for just this purpose, cutting off either end. This kind of blanching protects the stalks from the sun and turns the strong-tasing, dark green stalks into the sweet, pale green stalks most of us are accustomed to seeing in the supermarket. But if you’ve only tasted supermarket celery you’re in for a treat!

Writing this column is a great pleasure and hearing from readers that something is helpful is its own reward. That said, The Bridge does pay me to write the column. If something I’ve written in the last five years has been useful to you, I’d urge you to support the Bridge with a donation. Producing a free paper for two decades is a difficult balancing act. Your donation is a source of moral as well as sorely needed financial support.

Thanks and happy harvesting!

 

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