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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Air, Sunlight, Soil, Seed, and Water

Summer proceeds, and in high contrast to last year's drought we've had generally cool weather with regular soaking rains. Still, the first half of July was dry and we eventually resorted to irrigating the gardens. The tripod-mounted sprinkler head is a welcome addition to the toolkit, eliminating the hassle of trying to clamp a conventional sprinkler to the top of the stepladder.

In this, the east garden, the squash and pickling cucumbers are going great guns, but the other cucurbits have had problems. The gherkins failed altogether – I suppose the seed rotted in the wet conditions after planting, and the melons (an original planting and a second variety that replaced the gherkins) have barely covered their mounds and are just now beginning to flower. The sweet potato vines, so lush last year, barely get going before the deer browse them back to nubbins, a cycle that has repeated several times so far. I'll be surprised if we get a crop. The russets on the other hand have produced a lot of top growth and I suspect are also doing well down below. Potatoes are a solanaceae – the nightshade family that also includes tomato, eggplant, chili pepper, and tobacco – and are seldom browsed by mammals. (Sweet potato is a convolvulaceae, the plant family that also includes morning glories.)

The volunteer sunflowers are doing great but, as last year, the birds are eating the seeds from the flower heads even before they mature.

The sweet corn is more than eight feet high and the ears are now filling. The stalks are quite slender and a few have remained lodged after being knocked down in one or another of the thunderstorms. The height and fragility makes me suspect an excess of potassium in the soil, though we've done very little fertilizing either this year or last.

This is the dill patch, which I finally cleared of purslane and other weeds than put down a thick layer of grass clippings as mulch. We're using the flower heads for pickling rather than the feathery sprigs. These plants should self-seed and we can look forward to a permanent patch of dill back here by the perennial asparagus.

I've done lots and lots of weeding, mostly but by no means only purslane, and applied lots of grass clippings to suppress new growth. Eventually, cultivation should stop bringing new weed seeds to the surface where they can sprout, as the buried seed supply becomes exhausted, but that could take years. Mulching is an alternative or complementary strategy, leaving just enough soil exposed for the desirable plants.

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