Grow Your Own Fresh Veggies Over Winter

I like to say that Ohio is a four season growing environment.  I grow and harvest every month of the year including January and February.  I recently did a class on Growing Over Winter and many asked if I had a recording of that to view.  You are in luck.  Check out the Growing Over Winter webinar below.

There is still plenty of time to get seeds in the ground so that you can enjoy some fresh veggies all year long.

Tips for a Successful Zucchini, Squash and Cucumber Harvest

For many backyard growers, community gardeners and urban farmers, growing the cucurbits can be a challenge.  This vegetable (fruit?)  family is affected by a large number of garden insects as well as both bacterial and fungal disease.  There are a few tips and tricks that can be used to make sure some harvest makes it to the table or sales booth in 2019.

First thing to do is mind your pollinators.  Cucurbits are commonly dependent on pollinators as they have separate male and female flowers.  Once the flowers emerge, use of pesticides can damage pollinators and lead to decreased harvest.

 

The male flower is at the bottom right. It is simply a flower at the end of the stem. The female flower of this yellow summer squash is behind the male flower and has an immature fruit at the base.

 

Scouting is a very important part of the Integrated Pest Management strategy.  I had not seen cucumber beetles in large numbers until the July 4th holiday weekend.  Then I started to see them in moderate to large numbers on my summer squash in central Ohio.

 

Adult Striped Cucumber Beetle. This bug will damage leaves, stems, flowers, and fruit while feeding. It also transmits a bacterial wilt that can rapidly cause death in cucurbit plants.

 

 

This is an adult squash vine borer. They lay eggs at the base of the stems and their larvae then tunnel through the stem of the plant disrupting vascular flow and often killing the plant.

These plantings of winter squash, both Waltham Butternut and Buttercup, died over the last weekend in July while the summer squash persisted. Suspects include squash vine borer damage or bacterial wilt from cucumber beetles.

Squash bugs are another common pest of cucurbits that can be present in large numbers in plantings.

Squash bug eggs are laid white, then rapidly change color to bronze. They are commonly found on the underside of cucurbit leaves and should be removed immediately when discovered and discarded away from the plants.

 

This is the juvenile form of squash bugs. They can achieve large numbers fairly rapidly.

 

One great strategy to get a harvest of summer squash is to plant a summer planting now for a fall harvest.  Many of the pests of cucurbits will be transitioning to their over-wintered habitat and become less of a problem in fall.

Planning and Planting Start Now For Your 2019 Fall Garden Harvest

It is hard to imagine with tomatoes barely starting to ripen that now is the time to start planning and planting for the 2019 fall garden harvest.  The backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer should plan one season ahead to make sure they maximize harvest in the future.  Right now is the time to think about filling the spots in the garden that will open up after the spring and early summer plants are removed.

The goal is to make sure the garden is planted with no bare soil the entire year,  including winter.  That requires planning. First consider crop rotation.  To do this you need to know your vegetable families.

Take this opportunity to make sure that you keep your ground planted at all times.  There are a number of short term crops that could go into the garden right now that will allow harvest prior to the frost date:

  • Green Beans – can be planted every two weeks for the next month.  Choose rapid bush type varieties.

Beans were planted August 1st. Row cover may be needed overnight for frost protection. Uncover when temperatures warm to facilitate pollination.

  • Peas – Sugar Snaps are 70 days until maturity.  Germination can be tricky with hot, baked clay soils.
  • Summer Squash/Zucchini – plant now or wait until closer to the end of the month in order to miss cucumber beetles for a fall harvest.

Picture taken Mid-October. Notice due to delayed planting their are no cucumber beetles or stink bugs infesting the plants. Planting date was August 1st

  • Swiss Chard – plant now for a fall harvest
  • Green Onions – plant now for a fall harvest
  • Tomato/Pepper – transplants of short season varieties(if you can still find them locally) are possible right now in case the grower has lost plants due to pest damage.  Rotate to another spot in the garden.
  • Lettuce – can be planted from seed or transplant.  May need shade cloth to protect from heat.  Start transplants indoor every two weeks for the next three months for a fall and early winter harvest.
  • Brassicas – start indoor transplants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Asian greens now to transplant outdoors in late August.

    Start many types of greens indoors now and repeat every two weeks. . Can be transplanted outside later in the season when the weather cools down.

  • Radish – wait until later in the season to direct seed.
  • Beets – can direct seed in the garden now for fall harvest.
  • Carrots – can direct seed in the garden now for fall harvest.
  • Herbs – start more basil now from seed outdoors for a late summer harvest to pair with fresh tomatoes.
  • Cover Crops – keep your garden planted.  Summer cover crops like buckwheat can be planted now, plan on your over wintered space.

Buckwheat is an excellent summer cover crop for developing soil health, suppressing weeds and providing for pollinators.

Think about the spot that you will use for over-wintered spinach production using low tunnels and row cover.

Winter is Coming.

 

Make sure to address fertility.  Did your most recent harvest take out your nutrition?  Address that prior to planting the fall garden.

Keeping Tomatoes Healthy in Wet Weather

We are in the middle of a period of wet weather that is predicted to deliver multiple inches of rain to central Ohio and even more to other soaked parts of our state.  Tomatoes are a crop that can suffer several problems related to heavy rainfall that can shorten the harvest period and affect yield.  There are a few things that the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer can do to keep their tomato plants healthy and productive though heavy rain periods.

Key Garden Tasks to Keep Tomatoes Healthy in Wet Weather

  • Mulch – organic or non-organic can both be used.  Be careful if your plasticulture is not permeable to air and water,  the heavy constant rainfall may saturate the soil and drown the roots if the soil cannot dry out. Mulch also acts as a barrier to keep soil borne fungal spores off lower tomato leaves.
  • Fertility – contstant rainfall can leach fertility from soil making it unavailable to the plants. Make sure to monitor plant growth and health carefully to avoid a nutrient deficiency.  Foliar feeding can be used when the ground is too saturated to irrigate with water soluble fertilizer.
  • Pruning – promote air circulation by pruning lower leaves.  Try to minimize lower leaf contact with soil.  Use sterilized pruners to remove any diseased leaves and make sure to put diseased leaves in the garbage and not the compost after pruning.

 

This plant needs mulched around the base to prevent soil borne fungal spore contact with leaves. Pruning of the lower leaves will also promote air circulation to assist in disease prevention.

 

These discolored leaves suggest fungal disease in this tomato plant. The leaves need pruned with sterilized pruners and then discarded into the garbage and not the compost pile.

 

This tomato has both organic and plasticulture mulch at the base to keep fungal spores in the soil and off plant leaves. Pruning needs to be done to allow air circulation at the base of the plant.

 

This tomato plant has had lower leaves removed for air circulation with a combination of compost and plasticulture mulch at the base of the plant.

 

Monitor tomatoes carefully for signs of blight, remove the diseased leaves promptly with sterilized pruners and dispose of disease materials in the garbage, not the compost pile.

Make sure to address fertility needs as production increases.  Heavy rain can leach nutrients into the subsoil where they are unavailable to plants, decreasing yield as the season progresses.

Ohio State University Extension has an excellent fact sheet on Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden.   There is also a plant disease diagnostic laboratory on campus where the grower can send samples if an accurate diagnosis needs confirmed on possible diseased leaves.

Using Cover Crops for Weed Control in Spring

Cover Crops are a valuable tool in the toolbox of the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer.  I planted a mix of cover crop species last fall in my community garden plot to keep the soil alive over the winter, prevent erosion and increase soil organic matter.

Winter rye, forage radish, hairy vetch and crimson clover blend

This species mix, especially the winter rye component, can be challenging to manage in the spring depending on when the soil is worked.  The winter rye will die from mowing or crimping when it is going to seed and nearing maturity, but when tilled young, some of the grass will continue to grow.

The city tilled the garden in late March, some of the cover crops persisted and will continue to grow without further tillage or herbicide application.

The majority of my plot will be used for summer vegetables.  I do not want to leave the ground bare until that point as the cover crops will continue to grow in spaces and weeds will fill in the rest.  I would also lose organic matter and fertility from spring rains.

I rototilled over half of the plot to create a seed bed about 10 days after initial tillage.  This will kill most of the remaining over-wintered cover crops and created a seed bed for planting.  There is a loss of organic matter from tillage, but I did not have the option to drill in the seed.

I followed up with a planting of Buckwheat.  Buckwheat is a versatile cover crop that tolerates poor soils, rapidly germinates, weed suppresses, attracts pollinators and when mowed, will rapidly break down prior to the next planted crop.

 

 

I will let the Buckwheat grow until mid-May.  Then I will mow the space which will kill both the cover crop and any annual weed that germinates within the Buckwheat planting.  It will also weaken any perennial weed that is growing.  I will let the residue decompose for a few days and then till and apply plasti-culture mulch in the pathways prior to summer vegetable planting.

 

2019 Spring Planting Update for Central Ohio

Our first sunny days in the 50’s and 60’s are here and many backyard growers, community gardeners and urban farmers are looking to get outside to start spring planting.  One important step in this process is to make sure the seed that you are using will have decent germination rates to ensure that you do not start with a crop failure at the beginning. Click HERE for a link to vegetable seed viability times.

Have you soil tested your vegetable garden recently? Making sure that you have enough nutrition present to grow your vegetables is another important step in making sure that you have a productive season.  Contact your local Extension office to find out about soil testing kits for purchase.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction center has their three month projection for April-May-June for temperature and precipitation.  (LINK)

The three month precipitation prediction calls for a greater than normal chance for increased precipitation.

 

The three month temperature projection calls for a greater chance of warmer than normal conditions.

One very important variable to monitor is soil temperatures.  Since seeds are in primary contact with soil and need that seed-soil contact to germinate, it is more important to monitor soil temperature than air temperature.  Certain seed varieties will need certain temperatures based on what family of vegetable they are in.  Most spring vegetables germinate reliably in cooler soil than summer vegetables.

Currently soil temperatures as monitored by the Columbus Station (Waterman Farm) of the OARDC Weather System are around 40 degrees F at 5 cm and 10 cm soil depth.  (LINK) If you garden in a raised bed, you may have warmer soil than a level garden plot.  This may allow earlier planting than normal.

Make sure that you do not work the soil via tillage if it is too wet, especially with the heavy clay soils common in central Ohio.  This could create a poor growing condition for the entire season if large clumps of compacted soil are created when tilling wet soil.

This community garden was mowed last fall with the residue left on top of the soil. A seed bed was created via tillage a few days ago when the soil was at the right moisture level.

If you have started transplants under grow lights in a seed station, it may be time to transplant them into individual cells.  Check out this video  that will show how to divide and transplant seedlings into cell packs. 

Good choices for spring vegetables to direct seed into the garden once your soil is above 40 degrees F:

  • Spinach
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Swiss Chard
  • Cabbage family

Seed potatoes can be planted later this week if the soil is not too wet to work.  If you wish to plant onions but are unsure if you should use seeds vs. sets vs. transplants then click on this article that goes over the benefits of each type of onion planting.

It will be time to plant transplants in the garden as soon as we get a few more degrees of soil temperature increase.  If you have transplants under the grow lights, it is important that you harden them off for a period to acclimate them to their future outdoor home.  It takes about 3-7 days of gradually introducing transplants to outdoor weather and temperature before they will be adjusted and have success in the ground. Do not forget this step, it is important to do this to minimize transplant shock.