Monday, August 26, 2013

Straw Bale Update

Strawbales August 26th
The six nice firm straw bales that were set out on the driveway at the beginning of the season are breaking down. On the left of the photo the tomato plants are tilting and the bale is about half of its original height.

Production by the tomato plants in the bales has been significantly less than the same seven plants that are in the regular garden. Although these plants produced the first tomatoes the difference in time was only a few days. When I was keeping track of the individual plants the straw bale plants produced about half of what the garden bed plants did. And after that the difference increased. The plants that produce the larger tomatoes (brandywine, Hungarian heart, jetstar and Polish linguisa) were far less productive than those in the garden bed.

Location might have been a factor, these plants being on the shady side of three arborvitae, but it is more likely that lack of nutrients and inability of the straw to retain moisture the way that soil does were bigger factors. The plants were watered daily and were provided with green sand, bone meal and blood meal mixed with compost but that wasn't sufficient.

The squash plant did fairly well and kept up with the squash plant in the garden for quite a while. The first squash were picked from the bales on July 4th and the first from the garden on July 16th. As of August 10th, when I stopped keeping track of where squash came from, the plant in the bales had produced 10.7 lbs and the plant in the garden 10.2 lbs. Then there was a five day period in which it was watered only once and production dropped after that.

One problem with the bales is that water tends to run to where the edges of the bales meet and, over time, enlarge the gap between the bales. I tried to counter this by planting in the middle of the bales.

It will be interesting to see how much structure is left in the bales at the end of the season.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Suggestions for Next Year

I am not always thinking ahead. I continue to plant too close together, I sometimes plant too much or too little of something, and I frequently see ways that I might do things differently. Included in those categories this year are:

1. Plant peppers with space between the rows. Last year I just planted the peppers too close together. I improved this year and put more space between them. But they are still too close together, such that the ones in the middle seem not to produce very much. I think that in the space where I had 34 pepper plants I could plant 24 with more space around each plant and get similar quantities of peppers. I will still plant them about 12 inches apart but with about 24 inches between rows. I also have longer stakes for the peppers but only used a few of them this year because I already had them tied to the wooden stakes.

2. Don't plant so many tomatoes. This year, because of the straw bale experiment, I planted nearly twice as many tomatoes as I would otherwise. I ended up planting 17 plants, as opposed to 6 last year. (Six is not enough.) I think about ten plants would be sufficient. I will not plant the Ida Gold and Glacier tomatoes again. They are both determinate plants and have small tomatoes. The Ida Gold had very tough skins and the Glacier tended to crack. Instead I will plant one early tomato (such as Fourth of July).  I also need to find a way to support the large yellow determinate tomatoes. They produce well but I put them in tomato cages which do not provide enough support and many of them ended up on the ground. The Polish linguisa and Hungarian heart tomatoes are good varieties. Not sure about the Jetstar or Brandywine.

3. Plant fewer cucumbers and have the poona kheeras grow up a slanted trellis. Perhaps then the cucumbers will hang down under the trellis. The lemon cucumbers grow throughout the garden, which is a problem because they invade the space of other plants. One solution may be to plant them in the blueberry area, but this requires having the blueberry harvest done before the cucumbers have grown very much. We prefer the lemon cucumbers.
The use of kaolin clay seemed helpful. It appears that some of the cucumbers were infected because they have wilted. Others, however, were apparently not affected. It may be that some were effectively sprayed while the others weren't. The cucumbers near the trellis were planted there from seed and sprayed as they grew but they were only sprayed twice and their location made it difficult to do so effectively. Some that I started inside and sprayed thoroughly and planted elsewhere in the garden seem to be fine. Cucumber beetles have been present throughout the gardening season.
Spraying the patty pan squash plants was effective for both plants, and the production has been excellent (sometimes a little more than we can handle).

4. Prune the grapes. We have far more grape clusters than the two plants can handle. The grapes are small and it remains to be seen how many will ripen. I pruned the grapes in March. I pruned again later but there were still way too many. I assume that if I prune properly, so that there are perhaps 40 to 50 clusters, the grapes will be larger and the clusters filled in. This will take some serious and thoughtful pruning.