Garden Diary 2020 - September 1-30
We made an unexpected trip back to Missouri this month to say goodbye to a dear, sweet gardener - my mother-in-law. She represented an era gone by of rural farming during the Great Depression. While away, the garden flourished without me. Fall plantings began to emerge, while some summer crops and flowers found new life once the temperature cooled, bringing my heirloom tomatoes to peak production. Succession planted veggies continue to fill our baskets. I can't believe how quickly the season went! Check my intro article here, where I'll add links to my Garden Diary 2020 posts throughout the gardening season.
More Hiding Cucumbers
I found more overripe cucumbers hiding in the vines, despite walking by them every day. I may have missed the opportunity to eat them, but they are now candidates for seed saving.
Tomatoes Continue to Produce
While I've seen many gardeners pulling out their tomato plants in August, I have kept the ones not disease-ridden in the ground. The heirlooms are just beginning to take off after going quiet when the temperatures remained in the 90s. The cherry tomato plants have slowed considerably, but there are just enough to throw them in pasta dishes. Succession planted paste tomatoes, though not as productive as the first round, gradually accumulate to make a batch of sauce or soup. Using the space for less productive tomato plants is no consequence to me because it's not displacing any fall crops. Tomato season will continue in my garden until frost.
On the downside, these late season fruits seem to be more susceptible to cracking and worm damage. Aphids haven't slowed down either. Disease is already creeping up the newer Roma tomato plants. It doesn't appear I'll get a break from trouble.
Succession Planted Pole Beans
Also producing and climbing over the fence are the succession planted pole beans. They grew so quickly over summer compared to those planted in spring.
Monarch Butterflies Have Come
I'm so pleased that the milkweed planting came full circle. In July, I got to watch monarch butterfly caterpillars chomp away at my milkweed I had planted for them several years ago. Today, I captured the full grown butterfly drinking nectar from the zinnias. What a joy to give back to nature!
Before leaving for vacation in August, we had thrown some tomatoes in a plastic bag and stuffed them into the freezer. I didn't have time to process them and cook them into sauce. But just as the experts had reported, after they thawed a little, the skins peeled right off. They were very easy to process after that. What a great way to preserve the harvest when you don't have time!
Saving Cucumber Seeds
The overripe cucumbers finally got some attention. After letting them turn yellow, I cut them open, scooped out the seeds and let them ferment in a jar for a few days. I poured out the non-viable seeds that had floated to the top, rinsed off the good ones and placed them on a coffee filter to dry for a few days. As reported last month, I wasn't able to identify which of the three varieties was which since they all grew together on the same trellis. All the seeds are mixed up, but I have a few hundred. Let's hope they germinate next year!
When looking for a gift to cheer up a friend, I turned to my own garden. I filled a basket with tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, herbs and flowers until it was overflowing. I enjoyed putting it together just as much as she enjoyed receiving it. As I've said before, the best part of the harvest is sharing it.
Expired Flowers are Bird Feeders
Though the coneflowers and zinnias are winding down, the American goldfinches are visiting the garden more often to munch on the seeds. The garden is saving me money on bird seed.
Planted More Cilantro
With the weather is cooling, I was finally able to plant more cilantro in the herb bed. I had missed clipping this herb directly out of the garden all summer! I used the seed that I harvested in spring. I hope they germinate.
The caladium tubers I planted in spring were a pleasant surprise. The pink and green foliage brightened the shadiest spots in my garden. They are technically annuals in my zone, but I'm hoping that with a thick layer of mulch this winter, they will surprise me and return next year.
Sadly, we had to leave town again. My mother-in-law fell gravely ill and is not expected to remain with us for long. When we arrived at her house in rural Missouri, her garden brought memories and tears. We had just been with her a couple weeks prior, where she proudly showed us the crops she planted in the spring. Now she was unconscious, unrecognizable, unresponsive. But there in her refrigerator were the last tomatoes she harvested from her garden, and in the freezer were the blackberries she had grown and was saving to make one of her delicious, homemade pies. On the vines, the tomatoes, okra and beans had overripened. Basil was drying out. I didn't have the heart or energy to pick them. I just wanted them to remain as they were.
Goodbye, Sweet Gardener
Today, my sweet mother-in-law passed away. She grew up on a farm in rural America during the Great Depression, and remained a gardener and cook the rest of her life. In her day, the struggle to survive was real. As a child, she traveled by horse and wagon, lived in a house fueled with wood and coal, and had no electricity.
My father-in-law, who passed away 15 years ago, grew up with even less. After farming all of his life, he spent his retirement tending to the tomato garden, his pride and joy. I wished I had been interested in food gardening when he was still with us. I would have tapped every bit of knowledge I could from him.
Their passing doesn't just represent a personal loss - it represents an era gone by. Life was simple, but hard. People worked to survive. I will miss their wisdom, experience, and pleasant natures dearly. And I will also miss their love of the garden.
We will return to Virginia next week along with her two cats. Now we have six! Seed starting indoors this winter should be even more interesting!
Most of the tomato plants are fading, but a few are going strong. Succession planted tomatoes continued to grow. Cool weather and a little rain kept them going for two weeks without my care. Bush beans planted in mid-July were ready for harvest. Hot peppers produced magnificently. The mystery squash vine produced more fruits, but is now covered with mildew. Fall flowers, like sedum, are replacing the expiring summer blooms.
Pole beans are looking ragged. I didn't have a chance to harvest them before I left so I'm letting them develop their seeds for saving. Some had already dried out on the vine and were ready for picking and storing. Beans are one of the easiest plants for seed saving. I have enough for me and to give away.
Flowers from Seed
As summer winds down, I've had a good opportunity to evaluate which flowers grew well from seed directly sown into the garden and which did not. Cornflowers, Alyssum, Marigolds, Amaranth, Globe Amaranth, Calendula, Zinnias, Nasturtium, Asters, Bee Balm, Sunflowers were very easy and bloomed well.
Candytuft, Dianthus, Snapdragons and Phlox were underwhelming. Salvia and Coleus took awhile, but came around. I had no luck with Impatiens, Painted Daisies, African Daisies, Celosia, Delphinium, Foxglove, Canterbury Bells, or Snow in Summer. A had a paltry success rate with Lobelia and Petunias.
Columbine, Shasta Daisies, Lupine, Sweet William, Poppies and Lavender produced foliage, but never got large enough to flower. Perhaps those that are perennials will do better next year. Another effect of direct sowing from seed is that the flowers tend to bloom much later than those purchased as transplants from the garden store. If you like to spread out your blooming season, so that the garden always has color from somewhere, this is one way to do it.
Trellises Worked Well
I'm very please with the four bamboo trellises I made and installed in spring. They were all sturdy enough to hold up to the weather and handle the weight of the plants. By the end of the season, they were completely covered in vines, making their homemade, inexpensive construction indistinguishable. They all worked as planned.
The four, black-eyed susan vine transplants that I set at the base of the three panel trellis filled out the entire structure by the end of the season. The vine grew most thickly at the top where it had better access to the sunlight. The pole bean trellis managed to stay together through multiple plantings of beans. They dangled from the top just as I had hoped. The three cardinal climber vine transplants on the tee-pee trellis grew to the top, swung back down, and twisted their way around the neighboring plants. I was especially surprised that the cucumber tent trellis was able to support eight cucumber plants. Regular harvesting and the support of the back fence kept it in tact.
I succession planted a Roma tomato and some pole beans seeds along the fence in mid-summer. In the rush of summer activity, I barely staked them thinking the fence might serve as a support. Instead, they relied on each other! The beans and tomatoes are so intertwined I can't tell one plant from the other. Their relationship seems to be working - they are the most productive, least disease stricken plants of their kind in the garden. It may be just a coincidence, but it's worth trying again next year.
It's been a difficult month for our family, but the garden offers comfort and joy. Summer veggies are fading, but still producing. Marigolds are still vibrant after surviving the intense heat of the pavement with no extra watering. Zinnias are still growing but fading, calendula planted in late June is flowering nicely. Cornflowers are still self-seeding. Amaranthus is still going strong. It appears the garden will remain colorful all the way until frost.