Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

August Garden: Pruning, Harvesting, Record-keeping, Hail Protection

Gold Nugget tomatoes

Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes are an early, determinate variety.

Published Aug. 29, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Busy Bee: August is a busy time of the month when it comes to your garden care.”

By Barb Gorges

In July, I could scarcely believe how much growth my vegetable plants put on. Hot weather is particularly good for tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, my main crops.

And this month brings a full crop of gardening issues: pruning, proper harvesting, note-taking, winter harvest planning and hail protection.

Pruning

It was easy to see that allowing one square foot for each of my yellow cherry tomato plants–as per the seed package directions–was inadequate. By the end of July, I couldn’t even see the support baskets. Plus, since we’d been out of town, I missed my chance to pinch suckers when they are tiny, something the garden books all mention.

But when I checked with local expert Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, he said it wasn’t necessary in this climate—our plants need all the leaves they can get to nourish them in our short growing season. The only pinching that is helpful: tomato blossoms that won’t produce ripened fruit before frost. Cheyenne’s first average frost date is Sept. 20, meaning often it is earlier.

Shane said he also might snip a few leaves from around a tomato to give it more sun and encourage it to ripen more quickly.

Harvesting

When my husband Mark grew prodigious amounts of tomatoes years ago in Miles City, Mont., I was the one who harvested them because his job in fish management kept him out in the field. I just pulled them from the vines.

But now, after talking to Shane and reading the book “Grow, Cook, Eat,” by former Cheyennite Willi Galloway, I’ve learned that snipping or cutting vegetables is best. Or, in the case of beans and peas, at least use two hands, one to hold the plant and one to pinch. A sharp knife is good for harvesting broccoli and the leafy things. As a general rule, it seems it is better to harvest at the young and tender stage. This means checking your garden often enough. Plus, in some cases, harvesting encourages more edible growth.

Next year I plan to be less tomato-centric and learn how to cultivate and harvest carrots, cabbage and maybe cantaloupe.

Note-taking

In addition to starting a wish list of vegetables for next summer, now is the time to make notes on successes and failures.

I also need to remember where I’ve planted tomatoes and their cousins, eggplant and peppers, so I don’t plant them in the same place at least the next two summers—a 3-year break insures no species-specific viruses will lurk in the ground.

Now is the time to figure out why the pansy leaves turned bright yellow with green veins. It’s chlorosis, same as many trees in Cheyenne get. If the yellow isn’t from insufficient watering, it may mean that particular plant has not been able to take up enough iron and needs a treatment of iron chelate. Different kinds of plants and even different varieties of the same kind have different capabilities for wresting iron from our alkaline soils, Shane told me.

Now is the time to find a sunnier spot in the yard for the poppies and peony that didn’t bloom, to prepare for moving them after the first frost.

Spring was the time to make notes on how the tulips and other spring bulbs fared and mark where they are so I don’t accidently damage them while planting more this fall. Late summer is the time to order bulbs and corms and tubers of interesting perennials to plant in that in-between time after the first frost and before the hard ground freeze.

I’m keeping my eyes open for more information about the Laramie County Master Gardeners’ bulb sale beginning September 9 at its annual Garden Walk.

Winter harvest planning

Garden authors Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch harvest vegetables year-round at Four Season Farm in Maine. They harvest greens throughout the winter from cold frames or inside high tunnels with floating row covers over the plants—double insulation.

Some greens they start in August for fall harvest. Others mature by winter and remain static, but alive, for mid-winter harvest. As space becomes available, Eliot gets an early start on spring greens.

The trick is to find a spot that is shady in the heat of summer so the seedlings get started, but that will be sunny by the time leaves fall, Barbara said in a recent edition of her garden column in the Washington Post.

I asked Shane if folks around here have tried this. He said many greens may not survive mid-winter here, but spinach sown in mid-August will green up in April.

We had a cold frame years ago: an old storm window supported over the soil by a frame of boards allowing the window to slope towards the south, with hinges at the back so it could be propped open on warm days.

Mark used it to put seedlings out early. Extending the season in the other direction would be an interesting experiment. But we may have to invest in one of those heat-activated hinges to open the top on hot Indian-summer fall days we are out fishing or we could cook our greens before they are picked.

Coleman’s book, “Four-Season Harvest” is a good guide, especially for interesting greens like mache (put the tent over the “a” for the French accent). It also has a handy time-table for planting in our zone.

Hail protection

Aren’t we proud to be hail capitol of the U.S.? So what does one do to keep her garden from being flattened?

Grant Family Farms, based in Wellington, Colo., plants in fields scattered over a large area, since hail storms tend to be very localized.

Home gardeners are of three camps when it comes to hail.

The first is to build a roof or cage of hardware cloth–wire mesh–over each raised vegetable bed, or make little caps over each plant.

The second is to run out and throw something over the plants when hail threatens. Jan Nelson-Schroll said she puts cushions on top of her tomato baskets. She said this isn’t a solution if you aren’t home or the hail is too big for your safety. Smith suggested installing poles beforehand that are taller than the plants for draping a tarp or sheet over so that the plants aren’t flattened by the weight.

The third is to do nothing. Master Gardener Kathy Shreve said her garden is too big to cover.

For more tips on protecting your garden and recovering from hail damage, visit the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website, www.botanic.org, and click on Garden Tips. You may also pick up a copy at the greenhouse.

Annual flowers

Why is it that the sunflowers the birds planted are more successful than the sunflower seeds I bought and babied?

How many annual flowers, like the cosmos I started from seed, can I cut and bring inside to enjoy versus the number to enjoy outside? And of the flowers left outside, how many should I deadhead to keep more blooms coming versus the number of old blooms to leave to go to seed so I can establish a self-seeding stand?

Garden report

By Aug. 16 the heliotrope was finally in full, deep purple bloom. The seed catalog picture did not do it justice. It is worth the wait. We picked our first Japanese-type eggplant July 25. It was only 8 inches long, but now that we have more patience, we’ve let them grow bigger. The “Gold Nugget” yellow cherry tomatoes started ripening the first week in August and the gold rush is picking up as we prospect under the leaves to find them. The red cherry tomatoes are just now ripening. The pumpkin vine has put on yards of growth in the last month, and nearly a dozen pumpkins. The winter squash is a dozen feet long, but no squash. It’s kind of late to try hand pollination and get something to ripen.

So far so good. Can you hear me knocking on the wooden tomato trellis?

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