Digging Deeper Vol. 12

Whether or not you attribute it to “global warming,” there certainly seems to be a shift in our climatic weather patterns over the last 10-15 years that trends toward extended periods of above normal temperatures accompanied by moderate to severe drought conditions.  This has caused our underground water tables to fall drastically, making it ever more difficult to maintain adequate moisture levels in our fruit and vegetable gardens, even with irrigation.

This season has been no exception, and with our abundance of record-high temperatures during the latter half of June and first half of July, our fruit and vegetable crops have suffered heavy damage from the heat and drought.  Even though we try to anticipate and prepare for problems such as blossom-end-rot on our produce, the hot conditions are so extreme that, even with irrigation, it is impossible for the plant’s root system to absorb enough water to counter the moisture lost via transpiration through the foliage.

The end result has been very limited yields of crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, peppers, etc., and even many of the harvested fruits are under-sized or malformed.  In addition, quite a number of small fruits and even some near maturity simply baked and rotted in the high heat.  After enduring day after day of this “cruel and unusual punishment,” the plants can no longer cope, and the growing season is cut very short.

While it saddens me and is even a bit discouraging when I think of all those hours I spent out there in the heat trying to make things better, I’m not about to surrender my hard-earned license to garden and raise my own food that I know is safe, fresh and nutritious.  I simply examine the results of the season, making careful notes of the successes and failures, and move on to prepare and meet the next gardening challenge.  For instance, I could plainly see that my heirloom pink and red Brandywine tomatoes considerably surpassed new hybrid varieties in their ability to adapt to the extreme heat, so I have already purchased several similar plants to grow a “fall” crop of tomatoes in containers to eat fresh here at our home where I have better control over conditions.

Although the harvest was reduced, we still were able to can tomatoes and lots of salsa (our first personalized recipe) and to freeze considerable amounts of yellow and zucchini squash, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, and eggplant that came from our gardens.  As planned, we supplement with blueberries, cherries, strawberries, butterbeans, field peas and okra from local markets, and we will soon have our freezer and pantry filled with wholesome, delicious meals to enjoy on winter days when we can no longer grow them for fresh harvest outside.

By then, the struggles of this “hot and dry” season will be tempered by the anticipation of the opportunity to embark on a whole new gardening adventure in 2013 with a clean slate and high hopes for better returns.  We’ll have plenty of time to re-examine this year’s pluses and minuses and develop a better game plan, and our enthusiasm will return as we determine and place our seeds orders.  In the meantime, we will continue to improve our garden soil conditions with nitrogen-fixing cover crops like white clover in the early fall, and we will grow cold-season crops like lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, kale and turnips for fresh use.

In the fall, our gardening efforts will shift to the landscape, when the weather conditions will be much better for planting trees, shrubs and perennials, as we begin to create the “outdoor rooms” of our new home.  We have been growing many of the specimen plants in containers in our “front-yard cottage garden” this season, and they have gotten rave reviews from our friends and neighbors.  We have also been busy propagating and sharing some of them, which is what continues to make gardening so rewarding and exciting for us.

It’s only a little more than two months, and fall will be here.  We’ve already begun to order seeds for more fall perennials, and it’s time to make plans for your shrub and tree needs.  If you don’t already see everything you need at Head-Lee Nursery, just let the folks help you find a source, and they will get it in for you in plenty of time for fall planting.  In the meantime, happy and prosperous gardening to all!  

By Guest Author Randy Peele

As has always been the case with my garden writings, I would like very much for all of you to interact with me in “Digging Deeper.”  Recommended topics, critiques, opinions, questions, etc. all are encouraged and welcomed, and I look forward to hearing from you by e-mail at email@headleenursery.com