Friday, October 26, 2012

Indian Summer

Indian Summer has brought splendid foliage to the Valley, and we have been harvesting our best fall lettuce in years. Warm, sunny days and cool nights have given us all the salad we can eat.  Bak choy is ready to harvest in the greenhouse, and broccoli is producing heads. Cauliflower remains iffy. We may or may not get a crop. I have made a note to start the cauliflower a bit later next year. The late summer weather raised the temperature in the greenhouse into the 80s, which may have adversely affected the plants.
We may get our first frost next week, however. This will slow down lettuce, as well as our other late crops, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, dill, parsley, spinach and Swiss chard, but none of them are likely to be seriously damaged by the light frosts we can expect between now and Thanksgiving. That should be enough time for the crops to mature. The cooler temps may also induce the cauliflower to bloom. We will keep our fingers crossed. In any case, based on historical data, the first frost is arriving about ten days later than usual this year, following the fourth warmest summer in the lower 48 states since record keeping began in 1895. Does this mean we will have a milder winter than usual?
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac the weather here in the Central South will be cooler and snowier than usual. The entire Southeast, they say, will be “wet and chilly.” Accuweather says essentially the same thing. Here’s the map they posted for the upcoming season. Long term weather prediction is an inexact science, to say the least. Last year, Accuweather made headlines for being wrong.
We will take the mild weather for as long as we can get it. Besides lettuce, we are also harvesting baby beet and spinach greens, and our first crop of arugula is ready to pick today. I will make a delicious fall salad with dinner tonight. Thinning will allow the beets and spinach room to grow, which both will continue to do despite cold weather, as will the carrots. Last winter, we had carrots and spinach all season long from fall sown seeds. We just left the plants in their beds and harvested them as needed.
Protected by the greenhouse, sweet bell peppers, long frying peppers and pimentos continue to yield heavily. Fortunately, peppers are easy to freeze for later use. Just stem, seed, and rinse them. Dry well and pack into freezer containers, label and freeze. That's it. I also can relish made out of the pimentos for making the best pimento cheese you've ever eaten. (The recipe is on our In the Kitchen page.) We have been particularly impressed with the quality of 'Ashe County Pimento', a pepper we obtained from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange to try this year. It produces uniform, deep red, thick walled fruits with a small seed core and almost no blemishes. They look like tomatoes near the top of the image at left, showing part of one day's harvest last week. I have already made all the relish we will use through the winter, but the shape and size makes these peppers ideal for stuffing, also. We will definitely grow this one again next year. Two plants have provided all we need, and they are compact growers into the bargain. All our peppers have done extremely well with protection in the greenhouse.
Winter Garden Tips
As a general rule, the shorter days and colder temperatures of winter greatly reduce plants’ demand for water. Unless you observe potential wilting, you can reduce irrigation in raised beds to about half what it was during the summer, or even less. Cold, soggy soil will damage roots and spoil crops like carrots, beets and turnips. When in doubt, hold off on the water.
Similarly, plants need far less fertilizer now, because growth rates are slow. This is the best time to use organic fertilizers such as cottonseed meal, greensand, and phosphate rock. Their slow breakdown releases soil nutrients in the constant, small amounts plants need at this time of year.
Ideas From “Garden Talk”
I had great fun last Saturday morning on “Garden Talk” with Dr. Sue Hamilton on WNOX 100.3 FM. Our guest was Nancy Schneider from Stanley’s Greenhouse. We had a great discussion about re-blooming azaleas, like the wonderful “Encore” series that blooms three times a year, and likes full sun. One idea that came out of that discussion was to incorporate blueberries into azalea plantings. The two shrubs are in the same family and like the same growing conditions: moist, well-drained, acidic soil in full sun. The autumn coloration of the blueberry foliage compliments the colors of the azalea blooms.
We had several callers with questions and comments covering a range of topics. I’ll be co-hosting “Garden Talk” again tomorrow (October 27th) morning, at 8:05 AM. Join us and call in with your questions.

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