By Lesley Arrandale
It’s officially hurricane season and the weather is beginning to change. We’ve had relief with some rainfall, but the accompanying humidity is here to stay, and the weather will get more oppressive as the summer goes on. We must be prepared for storms and worse.
I find myself eyeing the somewhat unkempt wildflowers in my front yard and hearing my husband’s assessment of the situation — some of them need to go. “Editing” a garden is not something I’m good at, even though I know that some perennials and annuals that are over their first flush can be cut back and will be revitalized. So the blanket flowers, Virginia spiderwort, and wild petunias will all get a trim, and pulling annual weeds will go along with that task.
I won’t worry too much about the insects being displaced. Now, in early June, the beautyberry bushes and Simpson’s stoppers are blooming. I have a lovely stand of sunflowers (Helianthus sp.), which are insect magnets, all volunteers from last year’s plants. These are about four-and-a-half feet tall, although my neighbor who gave me the original seed was told when she received them as a gift that they are the gulf coast version of our local groundcover beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis). Clearly they are something else, but after some research, I still can’t identify them. As they bloom well in dry soil with little care I don’t much mind, but I’m still curious.
Some of my vegetables are doing well. One Sweet 100 cherry tomato plant is looking very healthy, but the Everglades currant tomato developed brown, crinkly edges on some of its leaves and I decided it had to go. I had hoped to identify the problem but referring to this document: https://tinyurl.com/v3szmyh5, I found it impossible. The best advice is to choose tomato varieties specifically bred for resistance to as many diseases as possible. Follow good cultural practices, including crop rotation, watering and fertilizing correctly, and scouting for insect pests. If you intend to grow a late summer crop, refer to https://tinyurl.com/2p9fznsf for more details.
A miserable parsley plant turned out to have its roots full of root knot nematodes, just where I had hoped to put in some okra. Okra is very prone to damage from nematodes, so I found a home for them elsewhere. Unfortunately it’s impossible to eradicate nematodes completely without removing and replacing the soil. They do tend to be quite localized and the addition of organic matter, like good compost, can help keep numbers down since nematodes flourish in sandy soils. There is a commercially available soil drench, approved for organic gardens, which is formulated to suppress them, but a cheaper method of control is by soil solarization: https://tinyurl.com/4fvdhcx3. This is best done during the summer, to ensure the soil gets good and hot. And choose nematode resistant varieties of vegetables thereafter!
I’m growing a couple of tomatillo plants again. Last year they did very well, and I had a good crop of the small papery husked fruit for salsas. Occasionally we used them in place of tomatoes in stews. I’m hoping the eggplant, chili and sweet pepper plants do well; they are in good shape so far. Even the cool season kale plants are holding up, but I’m not sure for how long in the heat.
The summer solstice isn’t far off as I write, but we have a long way to go before fall and our temperatures begin to moderate. In the meantime, take care to look after yourself and check out this resource for practical tips for working safely in your garden: https://tinyurl.com/vss7xb64. My strategy is to work for a short time, on most days, but I need to get out earlier in the day!