Sunday, December 11, 2016

Farewell Gardening Season 2016

This year is one for the books, not just for gardening but for world and national events. Since this is a gardening blog I won't attempt to write about the intense election year that just took place. I just hope you agree with me that being out the garden is the place to get away from it all.

Last year my end of the year garden blog dealt with two areas - weather and insects. In 2015 we had too much rain and too many Japanese beetles. In 2016 we had less of the former and more of the latter. Let's visit some of the vegetable tales first, then a few comments about the landscape. I'm Japanese beetled out (for now), but you can read all about them starting here - Japanese beetles.

Without even looking up the exact rain totals for 2016, we were dry most of the summer and all through the fall. The living proof in my garden was the potato crop. In '14 and '15 they were more than content growing in the cool, moist temperatures, the yields were outstanding, the taste beyond any super market spud. This year I had to move them out of the baking hot raised bed garden area to the coolest part of the landscape with afternoon shade. I grew them in Smart Pots so moving them was the easy part, keeping them watered almost every day got tiresome and I could tell by looking at them that they just weren't liking the unrelenting heat. You'd think the tomatoes would be just the opposite and love the hot days, nope, not them either.

Some years tomatoes are more fussy than a three month old during the dinner hour. Instead of crying, a tomato will quickly show you what's bothering it. Temperatures over ninety degrees, especially for several days on end reduce flowers from forming and if they do flower, many of them simply dry up and drop off the vine. Fuss, fuss, and more fuss, I had lots of dropped tomato blossoms last summer. Denver was mostly in the nineties from June 9th into September, so their fuss quotient was over and beyond.
Throw in just one night of cool temperatures (less than fifty-five) and tomatoes sulk, often taking several days to resume proper growth, this happened more than once in mid-late August. On the 19th it went down to 51 for a couple of nights, then as low as 49 on August 25th. And no, I didn't pull out the cover cloths for protection (should have). It pretty much stayed in the mid-fifties at night from late August through September with a few warmer nights here and there. As days got shorter in to the fall, the harvest, which should have been robust was just so-so. Now this was my garden in central Denver and I realize there are always exceptions or gardeners who say they had a great tomato season. They are the ones right now enjoying their home canned stewed tomatoes or sauce. Not me, I'm back to store bought 😪.

Tomatoes appreciate fertilizer during their fruiting period, but too much will lead to more foliage growth and less fruiting, too little fertilizer is an invitation for early blight. This year I didn't have early blight, but I did have tomato spotted wilt virus which is very difficult to prevent, plus there's no cure once the plant is infected. Pulling and not composting the diseased plant is the only option.  

A thrip insect carries and spreads the fungal disease when they take up residence in your tomato's leaf tissue. These guys (thrips) can be found on many different weeds in the garden and move to tomatoes or other night shade vegetables. They can also hitch hike home from garden center plants. Read all about their life cycle from this CSU Fact Sheet. The plant symptoms of TSWV look much like other fungal or nutrient problems, including bronzed or spotted leaves, tip die back and a general lack of vigor, the fruits may become mottled or develop ring patterns. I lost four tomato plants to TWSV, I got a firm diagnosis from the Jefferson County Plant Diagnostic Clinic.

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
Next year I vow to purchase certified virus-free tomato seeds and grow my own plants or look for garden center varieties that are resistant to TSWV (not easy to find, your best bet is a reputable independent garden center, you may not find labeled virus-free vegetable plants in box stores). I also try to keep the garden area and near the alley fence weed free, but no doubt the weeds up and down the alley off our property may be harboring thrips. 

Basil veil over Smart Pot to keep Japanese beetles off!  It worked!

The basil crop was outstanding this year, no more downy mildew issues at all, the key was growing them in Smart Pots and not directly in the ground. I was able to seed three successive crops and used the leaves in salads, sandwiches and pesto with plenty left to chop, process with oil and freeze. 🙌 

I didn't plant squash this year after the garlic harvest, instead I planted a cover crop to improve the soil tilth and renew the fertility in two of the raised beds.

It was an average year for peppers and eggplant, I think the excessive heat and possible water issues (not enough) may have hurt them, but more than that I noticed that the roots really didn't reach out much in the soil. My hunch is that I just didn't score the compacted roots as well as they should have been cut. I checked out the root ball when I pulled the plants, sort of a visual root autopsy. The plants were small overall, another sign they just weren't growing well. My fault, my bad, thank goodness there's always next year!  

Final Swiss chard and lettuce harvest December 1, 2016
I skipped the early spring cool-season planting of the leafy crops and broccoli, but the August fall crop was a boom with several cut and grow again opportunities. In fact, the lettuce and Swiss chard finally pooped out or honestly, I threw in the trowel just a few weeks ago in early December. 😊

As for the ornamentals and rest of the landscape, despite a couple months of higher than average water use I have no complaints. I attribute the water use on establishing new plantings from the house build (especially the trees). In time that will even out and with the small turf area and water thrifty plantings, I look forward to much lower water bills. In earlier blogs I wrote about the new planting beds, I'll keep you posted on how they fill in over time.
Long Lasting Fall Colors and Textures
This past recent fall was visually delightful - the autumn colors were prominent and long lasting. It also seemed like the fruits and seedheads on shrubs, hawthorns, crab apples and many more plants held on for weeks, which only added to the orange, red and purple fall color parade. 

Winter has finally arrived in the Denver area (the mountains are getting tons of the white stuff, so come on out and ski). Snow has been spotty along the Front Range so far - we'll welcome any moisture to replenish our dry soils. Warm days in the 50s seem to sneak in here and there between the Canadian freeze events that have been seeping in to Colorado. Take advantage of the dry days above 40 degrees to water unfrozen new plantings and south facing areas of the landscape. After you drain the hoses, head inside for a warm cup of (your choice) and peruse the 2017 garden catalogs. Dog ear the pages or bookmark the company on your toolbar. Place your orders soon but save some dollars and support your local garden retailer. Better yet, stroll on in and get some seeds or other garden supplies. Breathe in the moist air and dream.....of you know what......spring. 😎

Fall Fruit was AWESOME in 2016

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