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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Beginning Of The End

Fewer and fewer plants in the mellowing light
I am probably pushing things here, but for my money, the beginning of the end of summer is here, and I couldn't be happier about it.  Not that the Portland area has been frying like the rest of the country- far from it, although it's ninety-eight out there.  This has been one of the cooler summers we've had, certainly since I've been here.  An early fall would admittedly not be good for my tomatoes and melons, but it would have its merits.

The light is mellowing out, like it does in the autumn, and autumn is my very favorite time of year.  Always has been.  This morning I harvested the last few pickling cucumbers for the last batch of pickles.  The vines were pulled off and piled into the wheelbarrow.  I also harvested the last single Eight Ball zucchini and those vines were also pulled and piled into the wheelbarrow.  They both appeared to be suffering from verticulum wilt, which I can't account for since it's a soil-borne fungus, and I imported my soil.   Obviously, I could have imported it with the soil, but I also have it in other parts of the yard that did not get imported soil.   I'll let the plants dry out in the wheelbarrow some and then burn them, after which I can add the char to the compost piles.  To add them now would be disastrous.  I have it (the wilt) in the raspberries as well, but I'll have to live with it because the only way to kill it is to solarize the soil.  Fortunately, that's a fairly easy thing to accomplish.  But I certainly can't solarize soil in which I'm growing something long-lived like raspberries!  I may have to replace them, at some point, at which time I'll solarize before replanting.

So what is soil solarization?  Soil solarization is the practice of baking soil under clear plastic in the sunlight to kill off anything that's living in it, basically.  Depending on how good a job you do, soil pathogens and parasites like nematodes can be killed to a depth of eighteen inches.  To do that, you need to flatten the soil so that you have the best contact possible between the plastic and the soil, and you need to moisten the soil, which makes some organisms more susceptible to cooking in the ensuing heat.  I have also learned that clear plastic is better than black plastic (which surprised me) because it allows more radiant heat to build up under the plastic, i.e., in the soil, than black plastic does.  The other thing you need to do for maximum effectiveness, is to do this for four to six weeks at the height of the summer.  Needless to say, I'm not going to get the maximum benefit because it's well after the height of summer, but if I can kill some things off in these next few days, that will help a lot.   Obviously, if you opt to solarize your soil properly, you'll need to commit chunks of space during the height of the growing season.  I still think it's a good idea, however, and it would require the same kind of letting lie fallow the ground that you turn over to green manuring.  Kind of a sacrifice, but worth it in the long run.  I'll have to choose a bed or two to do this to, and will probably green manure it first this fall and winter, grow something early in it next spring, solarize it over the summer, and then grow a winter crop in it.  This works with the whole crop rotation thing.  Before I forget, another benefit to soil solarization is that it makes some nutrients, like nitrogen, more bio-available to your crops.

Save the onions!
I've also decided what to do with all the onions I pulled last week.  I can't store the onions that made flower stalks, which is a whacking two thirds of my crop.  I was going to freeze them, but I'm quickly losing space over to things I hadn't planned on freezing,  so the larger of them I'll chop up and dehydrate, and the smaller I'll turn into onion marmalade and can.  Since it's supposed to be as hot tomorrow morning as it was today, it looks like I'll be up before dawn cooking again.  I think I'll do it outside, though.

But getting back to the beginning of the end, I, for one, am going to milk this part of season for all I can.  Autumn comes but once a year, and since this is the first year for me for Big Gardening, I'm going to enjoy it.  The only thing that could wreck that is if I actually found a job and had to go back to work.  Which would be ironic as hell.


Miriam said...

What do I need to know about storing onions with flower stalks? We have a few of them. Do they go bad quickly?

I love autumn, too!

Paula said...

Yes; onions that produce a flower stalk can't be stored because they spoil quickly. It actually makes sense, if you think about it.

Onions are biennials, so they store their energy for the next year over the winter in a bulb. Once they've done their job and procreated, or made a flower stalk and then seed, they've done their job and can die.

Usually they don't produce a flower stalk the first year, which is why we can store them, but if the weather is whacky and tricks them into thinking they've survived a winter, they'll make a flower stalk and go to seed.

I hedged my bets by planting some later, but I'm might not get bulbs- but I also bought some seed for winter varieties that are more scallion-like anyway. I can cook without celery, and maybe carrots, but I've got to have my alliums!