Garden Notes: When food and water run out, resourcefulness can save the day

This idyllic Dutch vegetable garden on the Schellingwoude dike, Amsterdam Noord, shows how much food a compact, well-managed plot can produce.
Photo by Albie Scott

This idyllic Dutch vegetable garden on the Schellingwoude dike, Amsterdam Noord, shows how much food a compact, well-managed plot can produce.

Many of you are discovering the thrill, and just plain fun, of harvesting, whether it is your very own tomatoes, beans, potatoes, or cucumbers. If you are new to growing some of your food, you are discovering that success requires a daily commitment of time, observation, and close inspection.

Cucumber beetles and squash bugs are not deterred by a single application of neem, but are by two or more. Weekly — not just once — applications of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) really do allow worm-free broccoli to be grown. Keep after weeds, one row at a time. Thereafter, practice the mantra Pull Three Weeds every time you enter the garden.

Continue to tie in indeterminate tomatoes. If you have started with a fungicide program, be sure to continue it: Serenade is one compatible with organic growing. Strip bean plants regularly to maintain their production. Form the habit of processing smaller amounts regularly for freezing.

Replacement crops sown now in vegetable gardens keep the food coming. Due to our lengthy, mild autumn on the Island, many, many crops may be planted now for fall harvest, despite the fact that sunlight levels do decrease as the season moves along.

Make succession sowings of bush beans, beets, peas, sugar snap peas, carrots, dill, cole crops (Brassicas) of all descriptions, and plant out as space opens up such replacements as winter squash, leeks, greens, and radicchio.

DK’s “Fruit & Vegetable Gardening: The Definitive Guide to Successful Growing” (DK Publishing, New York, 272 ppg. 2012) is a beautiful and reliable guide to techniques and know-how for food production.

Death and life in the garden

The dry weather continues. Stressed plants become more susceptible to potential pests and pathogens. It is harder to retain moisture in sandy, free-draining soils than in those with high humus content, so it is incumbent upon all of us who garden in these hot, dry times to increase our gardens’ organic matter content. That goes for not only in the soil but also on the soil, through mulches that will eventually add their breakdown products to it.

Cut back perennials such as hemerocallis, veronica, nepeta, or salvia that have gone by. New, fresh leaves and/or flowers will emerge, giving the bed a renewed appearance. Continue with dead-heading, staking, weeding, edging, and mulching. Prepare chrysanthemums and pansies for late summer bedding.

Grey water capture is at present of more use than rain barrels. When there is no rain, the content of rain barrels soon runs out (unless they have been regularly drained into pump-able cisterns). Yet we continue to generate grey water until outright water rationing is in place, and can train ourselves to store it for uses that do not require it to be pristine.

Grey water is generally not usable in drip systems; it may clog the pipe due to some of the matter it contains. It can however be poured into plastic jugs, such as milk containers, and carefully saved and applied that way.

I water animals here, and after they have used the water in their pans, I transfer it to large watering cans and water deserving or needy plants. It has usually acquired some extra nutrients — thank you, geese! — and that is a plus for the soil around roses, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, and broccoli.

Mulch rings around newly planted or stressed trees and shrubs may make the difference between survival and croaking, until more plentiful rains return. Eliminating grass and weeds that compete with the desired plant for moisture is also helpful. Better thought-out plantings would avoid planting hydrangeas or ferns, for example, in south-facing locations, or in front of heat-retaining foundations.

Speaking of better thought-out plantings, it is time to think twice about using maples, everyone’s “favorite tree,” as a street tree. It is a tough time to be a tree, any species of tree, but we can perform due diligence before creating plantings that struggle and eventually fail under our eyes, then having to be yanked up and replaced. Maples’ root systems are shallow and spreading — the reason lawns fail to thrive beneath them — and the paved, heat-retaining streetscape is no longer a tenable location for them.

When it is this hot and dry, weeding, especially patios and driveways, becomes a snap — the sun has half-done the job.

The prolonged heat and dryness has promoted an explosion of fleas, for which I can offer no remedy, only to inspect your pets closely and bathe them often. Many pets treated with the apply-able pesticides are nonetheless tormented by fleas: check the legs.

If you garden organically, it is likely that you want to manage pet vermin organically as well. Ordinary human shampoo suds work fine to immobilize fleas, until they are physically removed from the animal. Drown them, along with ticks, in a jar of water with a drop of dish detergent added.

Slow Food, fine evening

Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard produced a fine evening of community, good food, and a stimulating program, Recipe for Change, at Agricultural Hall on July 17th. A nice feature was cards on the tables with suggestions for positive change, “things I can do,” to support Slow Food’s credo, “Good, Clean, Fair.” To the emphasis on buying locally, I would add, grow more of your own!

Watch for further details on the SFMV September 9th Tomato Fest. It is not too soon to plan your Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair (August 16, 17, 18, 19) entries, either. Premium booklets are mailed at the beginning of August.

Polly Hill Arboretum

A great resource for Island horticulturists, The Spongberg library at PHA is open by appointment. Join Holly Bellabuono at PHA for a Herbal Walk, July 31, from 1 to 2:30 pm. Please call 508-693-9426 for more information or go to pollyhillarboretum.org.