Monday, June 11, 2012

Independence Days update, 6-11-12

Above: this year's pale purple, glade, and yellow coneflowers in glorious bloom.

Today we are experiencing the first decent rainfall in the last month. Since all the rain barrels filled to overflowing from being empty, it appears that a half inch or more has fallen since the rain began. Considering that I had measured only about a quarter inch of rain in the preceding month, today’s rain is a big help. Combined with rather cool temperatures forecast for the next few days, at least for June in St. Louis, it means very little watering outside of the container plants will be needed this week.

Mike and I have been watering for multiple hours each day for the past couple of weeks (me the vegetable gardens and a spring-planted perennial border, him the mycelium-inoculated mulch piles and logs), in order to keep plants and mycelia alive and growing. We are fortunate that St. Louis has a steady water supply from the Missouri, Mississippi, and Meramec Rivers available to permit us to do this. We also collect roof runoff in six 55 gallon drums sitting under our downspouts, used primarily for watering container plants and also as a backup source to drain into the rain garden during drought periods. The rain garden receives its water as overflow from one set of two linked barrels and also directly from half of the roof over our front porch. This weekend I noticed that the great blue lobelia and jewelweed plants in the rain gardens were wilting from lack of water, so I emptied the two sets of two linked rain barrels into the rain garden. Each was around half full, so the rain garden received something in the vicinity of 150 to 200 gallons of water. The water in the other two barrels fed some new trees, shrubs, a grapevine, and chocolate mint plants I added this spring as well as the collection of subtropical and tropical plants in containers. I had just used up the rest of the collected water two days ago, so today’s rain is most timely!

Planted: hull-less pumpkin seeds. I noticed that some self-seeded bok choy plants have appeared in the butternut squash bed. These are progeny from last year’s bok choy plants. This week I’ll move some of them to where the current bolting bok choy plants are, to become the fall bok choy crop, and leave a few others to be companions to the squash plants. I’ve successfully raised bok choy seedlings over the summer for fall planting in the past, so I have reason to believe this strategy will work. I’ll collect seeds from this year’s bolting plants as well.

Harvested: garlic, potato onions (a type of perennial multiplying onion, tasting like yellow onions), topset onions (another type of perennial multiplying onion, also called walking or Egyptian onions), lettuce, bok choy, snow peas, shell peas, dill, nasturtium flowers, plums. I’ve held off on harvesting collards and kale so far, but this week I’ll start on them.

Preserved: I froze some more plums.

Waste not: we are doing just fine so far without air conditioning, though I will note that it hasn’t gotten real hot yet. The house has not gone above 83F, and that was a couple weeks ago during the hot spell the last weekend of May. This weekend we left the house open rather than close it up it the morning when the high was forecast to be around 90F. My theory has been that the house would warm up more slowly if we didn’t let the hot outside air in, waiting until after sunset when temperatures cooled to re-open the windows. Because we’ve had the house sealed, the effect has been to also keep generated humidity in the house. It felt better, we discovered, to allow low-humidity air to keep moving through even if it may have raised the interior temperature a degree or so above what it would have been if we’d closed the windows in the morning ... and I’m not sure it got any hotter after all. We’ll have to try this when the dewpoints are in the 60Fs or even 70Fs, more typical of St. Louis summers, rather than in the 40Fs to 50Fs that they have been this summer, to see if it holds true then as well.

Want not: we bought a used fruit press, a small one suitable for home tincture pressing and wine-making, and another used 5 gallon glass carboy for wine-making.

Eat the food: more homegrown salads and more stir-frys with the homegrown bok choy and snow peas. We also shelled and ate the shell peas sauteed in butter (delicious!). We’ve been enjoying fresh plums as dessert, removing inhabitants beforehand as I described last week.

Build community food systems: nothing particular this week.

Skill up: I’m mulling over how to attach a chicken coop to the south side of a garden shed and construct the coop in such a way as to use solar heat to keep the chickens more comfortable in the winter. Basically the coop would be designed as a small solar greenhouse. Constructing the two will be a fall project. I already have a location in mind.


  1. The garden's looking good! When do you normally plant fall potatoes? Have you had success with them before? Do any particular varieties seem to do better for that purpose?

    1. The Missouri Extension recommends planting fall potatoes on or before July 15. When I tried fall potatoes before, I planted them in early July. The year I planted them that the rest of summer was near average temperatures, I got a high enough yield, say three or four times the weight I planted, that I considered the time and space well spent and used. The year I planted when July through September was considerably hotter than normal, I didn't harvest as much as I planted. Unfortunately, there is no way to know in advance what the weather will be for the rest of the summer. Watering well and mulching deeply, however, could up my odds of getting a good crop by keeping the soil cool and moist, the way potatoes like it. I plan to try that this year.

      The best advice I can offer on varieties is to choose an early variety rather than a mid-season or later variety. If I plant on July 15 I should have no trouble getting a 60 to 70 day variety to mature, the range considered early in potatoes. 60 days brings us to September 15, but since day length and temperature are decreasing in September, we need to allow an extra two weeks for maturity. That brings us to the end of September. The above-ground part of the potato plant will die with the first frost, precluding further growth of the tuber. In my slightly cooler location the first frost is most likely to occur sometime in the last two weeks of October. Hence I should be able to mature an early potato planted in early to mid July, but mid-season and late varieties may have the tops frozen off before the tubers are mature, reducing yield. In practice this means I'll plant the early 'French Fingerling' potato I'm growing that has already matured and been harvested rather than the late 'German Butterball' potato (still in the ground at this writing, though it looks like the tops are beginning to die back).