I returned to the Sunshine State a few days ago, just before an early snowstorm dropped an inch of white stuff on my driveway in Conesville. I was not at all unhappy that I missed this first sprinkling. I had just put a three inch layer of straw on top of my asparagus, carrots and beets, hoping they will overwinter for an early harvest next April. Wet snow will hopefully hold the straw in place. I also mixed a full ball of peat moss with the soil in one of my raised beds and added about 20 pounds of rabbit manure on top, for good measure. All vegetable gardens will benefit from the addition of organic matter such as peat or compost. Plowing a three to four inch layer in the topsoil each fall is perhaps the most important step you can take in maintaining or improving your garden soil.
The 1,438-mile trip to Bradenton, Fla. Was generally uneventful, but a bit more expensive than last year, with gas prices ranging from $ 3.59 in New York to about $ 3 in South Carolina and Georgia. Florida costs around $ 3.20 right now. That works out to about 40 gallons for my thrifty Subaru, costing me about $ 130 for the ride. The fall foliage in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina was at its peak, making driving more enjoyable. It’s cool here, by Florida standards, with morning temperatures around 50 degrees, but 70 degrees in the afternoon.
I brought back some of the onions I grew from transplanted plants that were planted on May 21st. I prefer to grow seedlings transplanted to “young” onions, as they seem to perform much better for me. Most seasons, onion tops start to tip in early August, signaling harvest time, but this year some of them have continued to grow until November. These “Sweet Sandwich” onions grew really well for me as usual. Some bulbs weighed half a pound! I also put half a dozen green onions, bought at the supermarket, in my planter in mid-May. I harvested fresh scallions all season from these six plants because cutting the stems just allowed them to grow new stems.
I also planted Yukon Gold and Norland potatoes on May 21 and they also grew really well. In August, I noticed that creatures had dug tunnels in several of my raised beds, including the potato bed. I saw chipmunks and moles going in and out of holes, but I didn’t think much about it. Moles are carnivorous, eating worms and larvae, not plant roots. Chipmunks will eat almost anything and everything in the garden, including insects, but they are generally not considered a major pest of root crops.
I was appalled to see a vole using the tunnels in late August and when I was finally able to dig the potatoes in October 90% of them were partially eaten. I should have harvested in August, before the voles took hold! I had hoped to bring 30 pounds of potatoes here with me, but ended up with only about 2 pounds!
My next planting was on June 6, when I transplanted 4 more ‘Big Beef’ tomatoes as well as zucchini and winter squash sown directly from seeds that I harvested from the squash crop. winter of last year. A few days later, I installed my “Marketmore”, slicing and pickling cucumbers at the base of my six foot tall tomato cages, which were made of sturdy steel and rewired. I have been using the same tomato cages for over 40 years now and they should last forever, although “forever” for me is probably not yet 40. Cucumber vines climb into tomato cages, allowing me to ‘double the harvest’ the same space each year. This system works well for me, but sometimes I will miss seeing a cucumber hanging among the tomato foliage inside the cages until it is 1 foot long. . The cucumbers did well with the first harvest on July 28 and they practically continued to grow until October. I know some readers have trouble with cucumber plants succumbing to diseases or pests that transmit diseases every year. The trick to getting a good crop of cucumbers is to spray them as soon as they are planted and keep spraying them weekly, with a fungicide, until they start to bear fruit. I do the same for my tomatoes with great results.
My first harvest of tomatoes was on August 7th, both for the ones that were transplanted early (May 21st) and for those I planted on June 5th. The two week delay in planting did not delay the first harvest at all, once again, demonstrating that there is no point in planting tomato seedlings until the soil has warmed to 70 degrees or more.