Archives for posts with tag: attrition

Warning:  Insect photo below.

Fall returned this week, like an old friend who had been away visiting others for a few months (family in the southern hemisphere, I believe).  It is good to see the autumn come around again and bittersweet to watch as our houseguest, summer, packs up and leaves.  We had some good times these past three months but we’ll have more fun with a different crowd in the months ahead.

The changing season gives me a warm feeling, even while the weather is turning decidedly cooler.  On the one hand, a swim in the pool has almost suddenly lost its appeal (time to close it soon) and I can actually wear long trousers, having faced up to the possibility a week ago.  In the morning, I need a sweatshirt when I go out for a run.

On the other hand, sleeping is much more comfortable.  The air is crisper—although not yet as dry as it will be in winter—and warms up by late morning.  It can be almost as hot as in summer, in an absolute sense, but the heat is usually moderated by cool breezes.  The sun is lower and shade is more plentiful; it provides a handy respite from the still-intense rays of light.  All things considered, this a good time to be outdoors.

Unless you are a vegetable.  Many of the plants have withered away, leaving only bare spots behind.  I’ve already mentioned the shortening day and increasing solar screening by adjacent trees (see August 25, 2013).  Now, with overnight temperatures dropping into the 50s and 60s, the vegetables’ growth rate has slowed to a crawl.  The tomatoes, green beans and squash are still producing but not as much and not as often.

The vegetables are starting to miss their summer companion and will soon be joining its exodus from the garden.

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Warning:  Insect photo below.

Believe it or not (I almost do not), we still have carrots, beets and turnips in the ground.  We’ve been storing them in place until we are ready to eat them.  Based on prior experience, the root vegetables experience no loss of firmness or flavor as a result of continued exposure to soil and the elements.

In the last few days, however, I have noticed that the greens are starting to look a bit tired.  Eight hours a day of unfiltered sunlight takes a lot out of a leaf.  Also, we are getting into fall now and the color of the leaves is changing.  I’m not talking about autumn reds and oranges; vegetable coloratura this is not.  But the green is fading and streaks of yellow and brown run through the leaves here and there.

Besides, these veggies were planted in the spring!  If we had sowed a second batch of seeds in late summer, they might be ripening about now.  The last of the carrots, beets and turnips are well past their intended season.

So, we pulled up all of them.

There were only a few turnips left, anyway (we’ve been intermittently grabbing two or three to add to salads these past weeks).  I’ve been saving their greens—they keep well in the refrigerator—but we found this last batch infested with caterpillars.  Most likely, these are the same critters who chewed the cauliflower leaves into lace.  With their preferred meal long gone, I suppose, they found the turnip greens to be just as delicious.

Likewise, just four carrots remained.  This is due more to the poor performance of the crop than our use of them in the kitchen.  Still, these final four are the best of the season, full-sized and full of flavor.  Two of the four are of the Atomic Red variety.  The color comes from lycopene (or so says the seed catalog), the same beneficial anti-oxidant in tomatoes.  Of the multi-colored varieties we planted this year (also, Purple Dragon, Red Samurai, Royal Chantenay, Snow White and Yellowstone), the Atomic Red have the sweetest flavor (and possibly the coolest name).

I’m happy to say that almost an entire row of beets had been waiting for us.  Most of them are Chioggia, which when sliced crosswise, display concentric circles of red and white flesh (the outside is always red).  There are only a few Touchstone Gold beets and they are generally smaller than the Chioggias.  The sparsity and scarcity (relatively speaking) are representative of their relative performance all year.  Although their color is lovely and bleeds into the leaves, giving them a yellow glow, the golden beets do not seem well suited to our soil conditions.

While we were at it, we harvested the first three ripe bell peppers.  What a happy trio they turned out to be.  They remained in the garden about three weeks longer than we anticipated but the extra time was well spent.  They never completely lost a slight tinge of green but even so, their colors are brilliant.  A long sweat over low heat (along with onions from the farmers’ market) should deepen their hues and intensify their sweetness.

The lettuce seedlings in the last three spots I planted (in the third go ‘round) have vanished, lost to overwatering (by Mother Nature, not to point a finger or anything) or, perhaps, too much sun (ironic, given how cool it has been lately).  This late in the lettuce’s season, I will say “uncle” and not try (again) to reseed.  On the other hand, the lettuces from the first sowing that I replanted last week (see June 14, 2013) are doing quite well.

And luckily, we still have excess heads of both types of lettuce from that first planting; enough, in fact, to transplant one to each of the bare spots.  After doing just that this morning, we now have 16 lettuce plants safely on their way to maturation.  Some of them are almost ready for partial harvest and, soon, we’ll start clipping leaves (the cut-and-come-back method of harvesting) for as long as the cool weather lasts.

It’s early for a season recap but even so, I will have to start thinking about what might work better next year.  My initial thought is that we might want to start the lettuce indoors next year.  We chose not to do so this season based on the belief that transplanting the seedlings would be problematic.  I have found, however, that once they reach a modest size (three or four leaves), the lettuce plants can be replanted easily and effectively.  The compartmentalized seed trays we use will further facilitate the process.

Alternatively, it is possible that the lettuces would do well in containers.  The pots would have to be large enough for several heads to fit but small enough to be easily moved out of the pounding rain or beating sun.  Translucent covers might also be a good idea and more manageable with a smaller container.  Further, with this approach we might be able to grow the lettuce in warmer conditions.  If so, we could start experimenting later this year.

Ideally, we would have mature lettuce at the same time the tomatoes are ripe.  That’s right:  I’m thinking BLTs.

Yesterday, it rained and rained, through the night and into this morning.  More than an inch and a half had accumulated by the time the storm passed.  There will be no need to run the water for several days.

With the soil in the planters moist (but not soggy) and the sun finally shining (but not too brightly), it seemed like a good time to redistribute the lettuce seedlings.  The first seeding was very successful and there are two, three or even four heads growing in each spot.

On the other hand, three of the spots from the second and third seedings are bare (with three others likely to become empty soon).  Using a trowel, I dug a large hole in one of the vacant spots and then scooped out a lettuce plant, taking a generous clump of soil to protect its roots.

I carefully placed the lettuce plant into the hole and then used the displaced soil to fill the newly-created void.  Of course, there was not quite enough soil from the first hole to completely fill the second.  Digging holes is not a conservative process.

Regardless of how careful I am in containing the spoils from each excavation, a small portion always gets lost.  The remainder becomes more compacted and the result is a slight depression anywhere I have dug.  As with friction (which always acts in opposition), this phenomenon is unyielding and immutable.

After repeating the process a few times, the budding heads of lettuce are now spread out over most of the lettuce patch.  I’m not sure how the transplants will react to the move but I’ll keep a close eye on them to insure they do not dry out.

So maybe we don’t bother trying to grow lettuce next year.

The third round of lettuce seedlings have sprouted but not every seed and not at every location I planted.  I’ve kept them covered and moist (if anything, we’ve had too much rain lately) but there is nothing but bare soil in some of the spots.

And the seedlings that have sprouted are so very small and fragile.  The romaine lettuce sends up a stem that is no thicker than a few strands of hair.  It is easily knocked over by wind or beaten down by rain.  The red leaf lettuce is not much hardier.  Even in fair weather, the miniscule sprouts are susceptible to burning in the sun.

Meanwhile, one of the second planting of red leaf lettuce has disappeared.  I’m not sure if it disintegrated in the heavy rains or was melted in the heat, but it is no longer anywhere to be seen.

Not very encouraging.

On the other hand, the first planting of lettuce seems to have turned a corner.  The individual heads are getting larger daily and are sending out new leaves.  We will soon have to eat the excess or transplant it elsewhere.  Given our lack of success with subsequent sowings, the latter is most likely.

A friend of Rachel’s brought us a pot of Italian arugula seedlings (she took some of our surplus vegetables) and perhaps we will plant them with our other lettuces.  The arugula is already established (and easily recognizable with its narrow, jagged-edged leaves) and, according to the friend, very easy to grow.

The effects of last weekend’s heat wave on the second batch of lettuce seedlings have lingered into this week and more of them have wasted away.  Of the 24 seeds I planted (three each in eight spots) and the 16 (or so) that sprouted, only three red leaf seedlings remain.

To make up for the loss, I reseeded the remaining red leaf location and all four of the romaines.  I covered each spot with an old cloth napkin (to reduce evaporation) and will keep a close eye on them.  With luck, the new seeds will sprout and the seedlings will get established before the heat returns.

I may have to do the same with the Delicata winter squash seeds if they do not sprout in a day or two.  They are well past their expected germination date and may have succumbed to the high temperatures as well (the Kabocha seeds sprouted two days ago).

The seedlings from the second round of lettuce planting have not been doing very well.  They popped up quickly enough but despite frequent watering, they are taking a beating from the relentless sun of the last few days.  It was unseasonably hot over the weekend—with temperatures in the 90s—and a few of the tiny seedlings have already withered in the heat.

If the attrition continues, we may have to reseed.  There should still be enough time to get a crop harvested before the average temperature increases above lettuce’s comfortable range.

Or, we might try Rachel’s idea to transplant—carefully—some of the heads from the first lettuce planting.  That sowing was more successful and there are three or four small heads growing in each location.  We will need to thin them anyway (our plan is to let only one or two grow larger) and rather than eat what we cull, we might fill in the gaps in the second planting.