“Be careful what you wish for!” I was recently reminded of that phrase by my friend, Carter White, of West Stockbridge. Well, about two weeks ago I was wishing for some rain since my rain barrels were empty.
I rely on two rain barrels, located beneath the eaves of the garden shed, as the sole source of water for the vegetable garden. Since we have a well as the only source of water for household use, I prefer not to run hoses to the garden for fear of having the well run dry.
My wish did come true, beginning on June 28 with a terrific storm that hit many parts of the county. Here, in West Stockbridge, my rain gauge collected 2.7 inches of rain that stormy evening and night. Initially, I felt relieved that our garden soils were finally getting a sufficient amount of moisture. However, over the course of the next five days, there were other bouts of rain though not as abundant as that initial storm.
Thus, as I write (Monday, July 5), I am now bemoaning the fact that my vegetable garden soils are saturated and muddy, and thunderstorms are predicted over the next four days. This reminds me of something my old friend and former neighbor, Seth Stockwell, of Great Barrington, once said: “The rain barrels are fullest when you need them the least.”
Why am I so concerned about such wet weather? There are many reasons. For one, saturated soils are muddy and trudging on muddy soil leads to compacted soil, thus reducing the oxygen level in the soil and potentially causing plant roots to die. Another concern is the leaching of plant nutrients, especially nitrogen and potassium. Also, prolonged wetness of leaves and developing fruit results in diseases and subsequent death of the plants. Most annoying of all to me at present is how this wet spell, combined with some very hot weather last week, has spurred growth of weeds. Hoeing weeds when the soil is so wet is very difficult as mud accumulates on the hoe. Crawling on my hands and knees to pull up weeds is almost as frustrating and contributes to soil compaction.
WET WEATHER TASKS
It is this condition, i.e. wet weather, which is dictating several of my garden tasks at present:
- Place a layer of straw on the ground between the rows of vegetables, but not over the soil directly around the vegetables. Walking on the straw will reduce some of the compaction of soil and smother many of the weeds that have sprung up recently. Leaving the soil bare right around plants will help with the evaporation of excess moisture in the root zone, but will likely have a nice crop of weeds surrounding the vegetable plants. However, I will place a patch of straw beneath the fruit of summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins and melons to prevent contact with wet soil.
- Apply fertilizer, preferably a granular organic one, e.g. dried animal manure, compost or worm castings, to the soil around long-season plants including vines crops, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and sweet corn. Read and follow the directions on any packaged product used. Mineral nutrients in granular fertilizers are less likely to leach since the organic materials must first decompose in order to release the elements.
- Spray vine crops and tomatoes with an organic fungicide, such as Serenade Garden Fungicide or Neem Oil, to prevent foliar diseases prompted by persistent wet foliage and the splashing of fungal spore laden soil onto the plant leaves. Mycostop Biofungicide can be used to prevent root rot diseases. As with any pesticide, organic or non-organic, read and follow the label directions.
When not obsessed with the consequences of persistent rainfall, turn attention to these enjoyable gardening ventures:
- Harvest some of the small fruit of summer squash. Once a zucchini or yellow squash reaches a length of 3 or 4 inches I’ll pick it. These are very tender and flavorful, and can be sliced and added to salads. For other culinary uses, such as making zoodles, let the fruit develop a little more.
- Begin harvesting ripe blueberries and red raspberries. Keep in mind that blueberries are not fully ripe just because the berries have turned blue. They need a few additional days to increase their sugar content. The easiest way to determine when a blueberry is fully ripe is to use the thumb roll method of harvesting. Simply place the thumb and index finger around a berry and gently roll back the fruit with the thumb. If the fruit easily comes free, it is ripe. When blueberries begin to ripen, pick the berries every other day. With red raspberries, I harvest daily since individual berries ripen quickly. If a ripe berry is left on the plant stem too long it gets moldy, a situation made worse with persistent wet weather of late. Red raspberries are ripe when the fruit develops a deep red color. Use the gentle tug method to determine ripeness. That is, gently tug a berry. It will release into the hand if fully ripe. Who knew that harvesting ripe berries involved such intricate techniques?
- Carry a wide-mouthed jar of soapy water when making the daily trek around gardens and landscape. Japanese beetles are out and plentiful. In lieu of spraying, I simply place the jar beneath a leaf occupied by the beetles and touch the leaf. The beetles react by falling to the ground, only in this case they fall into the jar of soapy water. The same technique often works with gypsy moth caterpillars, though they are not always so accommodating. With regard to the caterpillars, it appears that they are almost done feeding for the year.