September in the Food Garden
Fall is most definitely only a shake of a lamb's tail away.
Mornings and evenings are cool, with days getting shorter daily. How fast it all seems to go! Feels like just yesterday we were sweating in the mid-30 temps, hanging out on the patio till way late.. and now, the dark comes so early, mosquitoes abound, and hoodies are a must.
The super busy harvest season is upon us all. If you live on the west coast, you are hurrying because you know that the fall rains are on their way, possibly bringing Late Blight to your tomatoes, and if you are elsewhere in Canada or the States, you are hurrying because winter is just around the corner!
Tomatoes, Fall Rains, and Late Blight
Late blight on tomatoes is a real worry on the western coast, sadly a common issue with our late summer rains.
Late blight is a fungal disease that can kill your entire tomato crop in as little as 3 to 5 days. This fungal spore is spread by wind or splash back from the soil, it grows and spreads rapidly when our fall rains start and temperatures drop. You go away for the weekend... tomatoes seem fine when you leave, dead when you return. That is how fast it can go.
What can you do? If you hear that rain is forecast, here are a few things you can do ….
Pick all your tomatoes. Process the red tomatoes, or simply freeze them whole if you are not yet ready to deal with them. Use up the green ones by making chow-chow (a lovely green tomato relish) or fried green tomatoes, or chop and fry up in butter. Yum! This is the route that we have chosen. Usually the rains do not come this early, but this year they did, so we are canning like mad.
Tuck potted tomato plants under your eaves or on the porch, somewhere they can stay dry. You do not want the foliage to getting wet.
If you have them in a greenhouse, make sure to leave the door open for good ventilation, maybe even run the fan to prevent condensation build up. The condensation will spread the fungal disease almost as rapidly as the rains.
Cover your tomato patch with a roof of some kind, permanent or temporary, to keep the rains off and give your tomatoes an extra few weeks of ripening time. If you use plastic sheeting, do not drape it all the way to the ground, as you do not want condensation to build up under the cover, as that, too, may spread the disease.
Pick all your tomatoes, lay the green ones out on counter tops to ripen, or under the bed in boxes, etc... I find that the tomatoes do not retain their flavour this way, but it does help to save your crop.
Or... leave it to chance. If you simply are not able to deal with your tomatoes right now, take your chances, leave them be, and see what happens. They may be fine or you may lose them all. This is a pretty dicey option, but one that I have had to choose on occasion... luckily, all was fine when I did.
What to do if you get blight … Rotate your crops so that you do not plant tomatoes or potatoes in that same bed for the next 3 to 4 years. Do not compost your tomato vines. While the spores are not said to be soil borne(perhaps), they are wind borne, so why take the chance? I would either ship them off to the dump or make sure to have really hot compost to deal with the fungal issue properly.
Side note... A precautionary tale... You never, ever want to water tomatoes from above, water at soil level only. To prevent splash back from the soil onto the foliage, remove the bottom foliage on indeterminate (vining) and tree tomatoes (the new ones from the Dwarf Tomato Project) throughout the summer months, use weeping hoses or drip tubes rather than watering wands, and you can also put down mulch (newspaper, bark, cardboard, plastic, etc..), too.
Citrus Tree Fall Care
You will want to feed your citrus trees one last time for the year, sometime this month, and then not again until February. Use a slow release granulated citrus food that gets scattered on top of the soil, or a soluble kind. I do both. If you cannot find a citrus slow release, you can always use a vegetable one instead, that will work equally well.
This is also a good time to repot if it is in need of a bigger pot. Go up just an inch or two in diameter, never more, or you will end up with root rot and a very unhappy plant. Once you have reached the pot size that you want to stick with forever, just root prune every 3 or 4 years instead of upsizing. Here's how...
Lift the tree out of the pot, knock off some of the soil, pull off 1/3 of the bottom roots with your fingers. Just the ones that come off easily, these are feeder roots and they will come off by just combing through with your fingers. Do not cut them.
Add fresh soil to the pot, I use a high porosity soil mix with lots of perlite and add some chicken manure to it. My 'secret blend' is 5 parts potting soil to 2 parts manure. You can also add one part of well composted pine bark for added porosity, if you have some on hand. Use a really good potting soil for the best results. Remember, it is living in that soil for the next 3 to 4 years again.
Put the plant back into the pot, fill in around the edges with the fresh soil mix. If your roots are showing at the top, you can add about 1/2" of the blend on top, just enough to cover the roots.
I leave my citrus trees outside until November, usually. They are hardy to 0°C so can be left out till I have the greenhouse all cleaned up and set up for winter. Remember that they do not thrive inside the house where it is hot, dry, and not bright enough. If you do not have a greenhouse, you want to find a place that is bright and you can keep the temperature at around 5° to 7°C degrees all winter. I will post more on winter care as we get closer to the date.
Before they go into the greenhouse for the winter, spray with soapy water for aphids and then check for scale, a common problem with citrus. They look like flat brown 'dirt' on the undersides of leaves and on the branches, too.
If you find scale, wash off the leaves with baby wipes or soapy water and a wash cloth, plus scrub down the branches and trunk with a soft bristle brush and soapy water. Rinse off well with a good strong spray of water. Placing your trees outside all summer also helps prevent/control scale, as bugs and birds will eat them. Do not have your citrus trees hanging around with other plants that are prone to scale, like Sweet Bay trees.
Like me, the rest of you are probably canning and harvesting like mad. We are making tomato everything, from stewed and diced, to ketchup, salsa, and pasta sauce. I can post those recipes if you all want, just leave me a note : )
The dehydrator is going nearly non stop with garlic or hot peppers.
Oven is roasting the cherry tomatoes to make into a caramelized, yummy tasting addition to anything that need depth of flavour. Paste tomatoes are better for this, if you have extra, as they are less juicy.
Peppers have been picked and pickled or dehydrated. This year's is the earliest crop that we have ever had. Mostly, peppers are picked and processed in late September and October, and will even last well into November outdoors. Some will save the plants through the winter as they are fairly easy to keep over, however they tend to get buggy with aphids and white fly, so I prefer to toss and start fresh.
Potatoes have good winter skins and are ready to harvest for storage when the vines die back. Lightly lift the vine, harvest the potatoes that are clinging to the vine, then dig around in that area for the rest. When you have dug up your entire potato bed, go through it one more time to find the little stragglers. Store your potatoes in a cold room or garage, in a box with a towel or burlap sack thrown over it to prevent them from going green.
What to leave in the garden …
Harvest everything except your winter hardy crops like kale, brussels sprouts, parsnips, carrots. Celery can also be left in the garden, harvested as needed. If we get snow or a cold snap, it will wilt, but will start to regrow from the crown as we warm up again.
Beets can be left in for another month or two. Carrots can be left in all winter, to be harvested as needed. Leave your greens, lettuces, dill, cilantro, cabbage, squash, cucumbers (see powdery mildew below) in the garden for now.
Chances are pretty high that your squash, and maybe cucumbers, too, are full of powdery mildew. This is also a very common issue for us in the late summer season. However, unlike the blight issue, mildew is not a really big deal.
Squash and cukes will continue to ripen even if they have a terrible case of the mildews. The spores are not soil borne, so not a problem to throw them into your compost bin after the season is done. Leave squash and gourds on the vine until the skins are not easily punctured by your thumbnail.
Winter Sowing and Growing
Sow these seeds now for a winter crop... hardy greens and lettuces, radishes, turnips, beets, chives, cilantro now. That is it. Is too late for anything else from seed. I know, is heart breaking to realise that you have missed the window, but everything else needed to be sown weeks ago.
From starter plants.. sprouting broccoli (harvest in March), cauliflower, greens, lettuces, spinach, kale, turnips, chives, cilantro. Walla walla, or other over-wintering onions, if you can find the starts. Is too late for seeds.
Broad beans and garlic get planted next month.
Other Bits and Bobs...
Flowers and Herbs.. Hardy annuals can be sown after garden clean up for earlier blooms next spring. Stay tuned, a blog post about those is on it's way.
Greenhouse Clean Up … Soon! Is too early to power wash the greenhouse inside and out with the power washer as we are still on watering restrictions. The week ahead is supposed to bring some rain though, so hopefully soon. Till then, we sweep and scrub corners and tracks with bleach water to kill off algae and bugs.