Post #G12: Further reports from my garden

Posted on July 21, 2020

Just a few brief gardening updates.  If you’re not into gardening, move on.

Shade your tomatoes. It appears to work.

See these little green guys, pictured left?  We’ve gotten to know each other on a first-name basis this past month.  Every day, I would come out and swear at them, individually, and at length.  And every day they just sat there, full-sized yet completely unripe.


But note the slight tinge of orange, on the alpha tomato.  That just showed up today.  He and his green brothers and sisters appear to be ripening now.  Just two days after I set up a sun shade for them.

As discussed in Post #G11, this year a lot of Vienna gardeners are experiencing tomatoes that won’t ripen.  Myself included.  Gardening gurus on the Vienna plant swap Facebook group suggested that the problem was that it’s too warm.  We went from too cold, to too warm, and didn’t spend enough time in the 75F sweet spot that promotes tomato ripening.

A quick check of the science verified high temperatures as the likely culprit, with a common solution being to shade your tomatoes.  So, two days ago, I shaded my tomatoes using a couple of pieces of PVC for the frame, and three layers of very thin floating row cover as the roof.  The idea was to reduce light transmission by 30%, which I verified with a light meter.

And two days later, amid the hottest days of the year, as if by magic, those very tomatoes are now starting to ripen.  Oldest first, as is the way of the tomato world.  With no other tomatoes in my garden ripening yet.  Either that’s a heck of a coincidence, or shade is just what they need to ripen in this hot weather.

So I’m checking this one off in the gardening success column.  Give it a try.  Per the reference above, you can shade them by doing something as simple as draping thin shade cloth over your tomato stakes.

Damnable squash vine borer (SVB) moth is still here.

I thought we’d reached the end of the SVB season, but that’s not yet so.  I saw one this afternoon on and around my pumpkin vines.  They are tough to catch in the best of times, but when the weather gets hot, they speed up.  I didn’t even manage to get close.

The practical upshot is that this extends the period over which I am spraying the stems of my cucurbit vines, per Post #G11.

Plausibly, the reason nobody would give a hard date for the typical length of the SVB season around here is that it’s hard to tell.  I might even have been SVB-free these past few days, and just had another one show up.  (They only live about five days, on average, in the field.)  It may be just plain difficult to tell when the season is actually over.


Are canning supplies the next shortage?

We eat what we can, and what we can’t, we can.

Source:  Wal-Mart.

A canning supply shortage would make sense.  First, you couldn’t find seeds locally.  Then the hardware stores sold out of (and remain sold out of) many common pesticides.  And now that gardens are producing, it seems to be unusually hard to find canning supplies locally.

My go-to local supplier is Twins Hardware in Fairfax, where they have a ridiculously complete home canning section.  But they’re out of wide-mouth pints and quarts.

I checked Giant in Vienna, which manages to have a fairly good stock of canning jars most of the time.  Nothing but some regular-mouth pints and then some half-pints and decorative jars.  Oakton Giant either doesn’t carry them or is fully out-of-stock.

But one of our local Wal-Marts remained abundantly stocked with canning supplies of all types, as of today (7/21/2020).  A tip of the hat to the aforementioned Vienna plant swap group for that advice.  They must have had 50 12-packs of the wide-mouth pints that I was looking for.

For whatever reason, I could not manage to get the Wal-Mart website to tell me that this particular store a) existed, and b) had that much stock.  Which may well be why there was stock left.  Only because my wife joined that plant swap group years back did we find out, by word-of-mouth, where we could get some jars.  If you want to know which store, join that group.  I ain’t blabbing.

I’m scrambling to find jars because my cucumbers just won’t quit.  Bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, cucumber beetles, and no doubt some hits by the SVB.  And yet they are still cranking out cucumbers.  So I’ve started running out of canning jars.  I’ve now made three gallons of pickles (two lacto-fermented, one bread-and-butter).  I’m getting set to do a gallon of vinegar pickle spears this afternoon.

I didn’t expect this because I’d never had a garden succeed before.  To me, cucumber vines were these pitiful little plants that might give you a cuke or two before they died from exhaustion.  Or any of the bugs and diseases mentioned above.  But that was fair, because I never did much beyond planting the seeds and maybe watering now and again.  But this year, I’m taking it a lot more seriously, and planted this square in the middle of my sunny back yard.  And I wasn’t prepared for the results.

Oddly, having a successful garden is making me a much pickier home canner.  It’s one thing to ferment and can some market-bought pickling cucumbers.  It’s another thing entirely to do that with the fruits of your own labor.  So now, quarts are not good enough (you have to keep them in the boiling water for longer).  It’s wide-mouth pints or bust, despite the extra labor.

Bottom line is that I’ve never had a garden produce much of anything before.  So I planned for and planted for failure.  Now I’m scrambling to find enough canning jars.

I’m so desperate that I made dehydrated pickle chips, from my fermented dills.  Not only to they vastly reduce the amount of storage space required, they are like little pickle flavor bombs.  Sour patch kids:lemonade :: dehydrated pickle chips:pickles.  You really have to like pickles to like these.  But if you like pickles, give them a try.

Cut them into pickle chips (quarter-inch thick or less), dehydrate at 125 to 135F, stop when they are crispy.  Not a snack for the faint of heart.