The seeding season is about over: Only the smallest leafy greens (corn salad, lettuce, arugula) can be sown this week and still have a chance of making a good crop this fall. If you want more kale, chard, spinach or Chinese cabbage, look for well-grown starts at local nurseries. These still have enough time to produce a usable harvest for this fall and winter (but do get them planted as soon as possible). The wet weather this week provides a good opportunity to transplant seedlings you started earlier. I have a bed of leafy greens and lettuce that should be thinned so I will transplant some of the plants into an empty bed vacated [finally!] by the last of my onions.
Splitters: With this wet weather, watch out for splitting fruit and vegetables. I found an exploded zucchini this morning, cracked from one end to the other. This happens when plants have been kept rather short on water as many gardens are on the coast during the dry season. With the arrival of substantial rainfall they take up water inside faster than the skin can grow, so the fruit or root splits. Split carrots and other roots remain edible though ugly and you don’t have to dig them early, but split fruit has to be picked. In particular, watch late plums right now and pick them immediately if they are splitting. Split fruit quickly starts to rot and becomes a big draw for wasps attracted to the sweet juice. If you need to process plums quickly, they are excellent dehydrated; they can also be frozen now and dealt with later to make juice or jam.
With the onset of fall rains, maturing cabbage heads can take up water too fast and can also split. If that happens, use the cabbage immediately as it will soon rot. You can prevent splitting by cutting or disrupting some of the roots: Grip each head and give it enough of a yank or twist to break some roots (but don’t pull it out) OR use a shovel to slice down on two opposite sides of each plant to cut some roots, while leaving others intact.
Start staking top heavy plants: Fall wind storms can arrive any time and take their toll on tall and top heavy plants that spend the winter in the garden. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale are most in need of support to prevent stems from being broken or plants uprooted. Use tomato cages or drive in 3 or 4 stakes around the stem of each plant. Also, I am repeating myself, but be especially alert right now to bracing branches of apple trees heavy with fruit as this is when they can be most damaged by high wind.
Keep trapping SWDs: Recommendations for managing spotted wing Drosophila, the little fly that left those tiny white maggots in berries, cherries and other fruit this summer, continue to change in light of experience. Some experts are now recommending that you put out up to 3 traps (how to make the traps is described in my June 14th message.) and keep them in place long past when there is attractive fruit available. The objective is to mop up as many adults as possible before they find a sheltered place to overwinter. Last year I caught huge numbers of flies daily right up until the end of September and then numbers dropped off rapidly. I plan to keep my traps out until the end of October this year in hopes of depleting the overwintering SWD numbers.
Powdery mildew redux: As always, this time of year we see a lot of white powdery patches and spots on leaves of squash family and other plants. Up until the rainy weather this week, we had perfect weather for powdery mildews to germinate and spread. These fungi germinate in humid weather, particularly when days are warm and nights are cool, but the fungi can’t grow when there is water on the leaves. These fungi attack the oldest leaves and least vigorous plants first. Keeping squash growing vigorously with liquid fertilizer, if necessary, and lots of irrigation water, helps keep powdery mildew at bay during the growing season. By now, though, some gardeners have squash plants with little or no green leaves left and they often ask whether you can compost the leaves. Yes, you can. And don’t be in a rush to pick off damaged leaves as this won’t control the disease. If leaves are green under the white blotches the leaves are still feeding the plant. When leaves turn brown or when the whole plant is finished, you can safely compost the material, even in a cool compost pile.
About Linda A. Gilkeson, Ph.D.
Linda earned a Ph.D. in Entomology from McGill University in 1986, then moved to British Columbia to work for Applied Bio-Nomics Ltd., a company that produces biological controls. From 1991 to 2002 she worked for the provincial government, promoting programs to reduce and eliminate pesticide use. She was head of the provincial State of Environment Reporting Unit for the next six years, then the Executive Director of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy until the end of 2011. Linda now devotes her time to writing, teaching and consulting.
Linda has co-authored pest management training manuals for the government and organic gardening books for Rodale Press. She has self-published two books: Year Around Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast and West Coast Gardening: Natural Insect, Weed and Disease Control. Her recent book, Backyard Bounty: The Complete Guide to year-Round Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest, has become a BC best seller.
As a private consultant, Linda is a regular instructor in the Master Gardener programs in BC and is busy year around giving workshops on pest management and organic gardening.
Linda has served as President of the Entomological Society of Canada, the Professional Pest Management Association of BC, the Entomological Society of BC and the Salt Spring Island Garden Club. She was awarded a Queen’s Jubilee medal in 2003 and an outstanding achievement award from the Professional Pest Management Association of BC in 2005.
Follow Linda's work at lindagilkeson.com