(without nematodes the goal)
Most of my soil this year was made from rotted weeds over several years. I had assumed that rotting weeds make for acidic pH. But someone writes, "Most organic mulches raise the pH slightly, making the soil reaction more alkaline. Oak leaves may be acid when fresh, but as decomposition occurs, the net result is an alkaline reaction." Everyone else I've heard has said that rotting vegetation is for making soil more acidic. It's hard to know when google advances some yahoo who just likes to be destructive, or different-but-wrong. google offerings for education can be trusted 10-times less than wikipedia.
When I say "heat-treated" soil on this page, it was a failure, done under plastic in the open sun in too-cool weather to kill all nematodes (microscopic roundworms). It may have killed some on the top soil layer only. But now I know I've got to heat the soil in an oven, which I'm willing to do or I can't have a garden here. However, I'm willing only if the soil in the containers can be re-used year after year without oven-treating due to nematode re-contamination from nematode-infested creatures getting into the container soil.
Whenever a plant show signs of nematodes, mark that container for putting its soil through the oven once again. I've read: "Root knot nematodes, including eggs, die when soil temperature exceeds 125°F for 30 minutes or 130°F for 5 minutes." I cranked the oven to 200F, with soil 2-3 inch deep in metal pans, and heated it at least one hour at that temperature. One can also let the soil sit in the oven an extra hour after shutting the oven off to make sure. I suggest this is not done in a house with all windows closed in case there's a health issue with soil gases.
I will try this year of 2023 to dry 1-inch layers of the soil outdoors in the sun, though I can't find how long the soil needs to be dry to kill nematodes, nor can I find how dry the soil needs to be. Putting soil in the oven when it's on the drier side seems best, for the oven helps to dry it out too. I don't think there would be a problem killing nematodes in a one-inch layer of soil laid on a plastic sheet, done on a pure-sunny, July day at noon upon a sun-heated piece of ground (my problem was that the ground was cold in May). Cover the soil with a second plastic sheet that's tucked in under the first sheet to keep hot air from escaping. This should get soils to well over 150F for at least four hours, but there could be added heat for three hours more if clouds don't roll in. It's a risk, so do a small amount the first year, and if it works, go gang-busters the following July. Otherwise, crank up the oven.
Here's what I say below in italics: "Most carrots were knotted, anyway, a sure sign that nematodes survived. Other carrots were not deformed, and so the nematode kill was hit and miss." It was almost doable then, and should therefore be easily doable in late June through to the end of August. Lots of time to prepare soils for the following year. It should not be a risk at all unless you are quite further north than myself at the lake-Simcoe region of Ontario.
In rare cases, I think, worms (and small slugs?) have slipped into the containers through holes I've drilled at their lower ends. Worms can contaminate the soil with nematodes. I didn't put the holes on the very bottoms, but a half inch above ground level on container sides, but will do it higher next time to dissuade entry of worms. Or, as my holes are only a half-inch wide, I can slip a spike (carpenter's nail) into each one to block worm entry, and the head of this nail won't keep water from pouring out if I overwater the soil.
When dumping soils out of buckets at each year's end, I can leave the soil at the bottoms of each container in the buckets in case nematodes got in, and this bit of soil can be heat-treated or sun dried just to make sure it doesn't contaminate the whole batch. I've got to get this soil to work so that I don't need to treat the whole batch every year for nematodes.
While writing below, I realized that one can put some gravel in the bottom of a container to keep critters from contacting soil through the holes. But, when it comes time to dumping the soil from all containers, at year's end to mix it up, that gravel will become a pain. You don't need to dump the soil each year from a container if you don't grow the same plant in it, but you should loosen the soil with a hand tool or spade that's been dry long enough to kill nematodes that may have been on what little soil is on the tool.
The heat-treatment had the second goal of killing weed seeds, and this was fairly successful because, when container soils did grow some weeds, they didn't grow fast or large. Many just remained seedling size for weeks, and I've never seen weeds do that before. Any small weeds growing in the container soils allows me to know which buckets need to be re-treated. Many weed seeds die at 130F, and nematodes die at that temperature too, and so if the weed seeds survive, it's a good chance some nematodes do too. My thermometer, under the plastic in the shade at the top of the heat-treated soil, got as high as 150F only on good days (late May, early June), but soil deeper down didn't.
I once thought that container gardening is dangerous in case it rains lots and chokes the roots due to too much water, but I've learned that the summer sun on the container sides both in the morning and afternoon dries the soil fast. In fact, if all years were like this one in 2022, I wouldn't need drain holes at all in these buckets. You might just leave your buckets hole free, and then you'll even have good buckets for holding water if ever you need them.
However, one hole an inch wide is useful for checking the wetness of the soil (with your finger), but this hole should not be at the very bottom.
A benefit to container gardening in a cold climate is where the ground is cool into June while sun heats up containers so well the soil stays warmish through the night. Ideally, if one can surround each container with an outer, circular shield an inch from the container walls, it will keep soil from becoming too hot in summer. But to simplify this task, stick a lesser-diameter container into the large one so that there's a gap of about an inch between the two. Saw / cut off the bottom end of the lesser-diameter container (it now becomes a tube), and sit its rim on the soil in the lower half only of the larger container. The roots can now grow from within the lesser-diameter container (its filled with soil too) into the larger-diameter container.
Probably, the best way to do the above is to use the blue, 4-liter water bottles from grocery stores everywhere. They sell for about a dollar in my area, and we get the distilled water, bonus, for that price. Cut the top end off only, put a few drain holes near the bottom. The soil goes only into the blue bottle. It fits into a five-gallon container with about a 5/8" air gap between them, but if you put the blue one so that it touches the north wall of the larger container, you get more air gap at the south side. Critters now need to go through the holes of two containers to contaminate the soil with nematodes. Or, don't put any holes in the larger container, hoping that the sun evaporates any water that drains into it whenever you do deep waterings. Order bottles bulk from a water depot store.
Let me give you a tip. Create a bowl shape with the soil at the top of the container so that when you water, the water doesn't drain fast between the soil and the container walls, because if you allow water to enter there, plenty of it will run to the bottom and get out the holes. It's a waste of water. By bowl-shape, I mean only that the soil around the perimeter of the container is an inch or more higher than in the center. You want the water to seep into the center soil of the container, and a bowl-shaped soil top will accomplish this.
At the end of this year of 2022, I dumped all weed soils in heaps on poly-plastic with some natural soil, and aim to mix it all up and dry it out in the spring. After harvest, I placed the containers on their side to avoid as much rain into them as possible, and then, when largely dry, the soil was dumped on poly-plastic sheets on the ground, then covered with poly-plastic over winter to be as dry as possible in the spring.
My aim is to spread it one or two inches thick in the sun, and then rake off the top 1/2-inch as soon as it's 90-percent dry, then place it on a separate plastic sheet to dry thoroughly to kill nematodes. The heat-treatment in 2022 killed or stunted most of the weeds and grass, and I can heat-treat more of this material in the oven in the spring, about three gallons per oven load per two- or three-hour sessions. It's a pain, but if I want success, I've got to try it. It will be much a waste if nematodes get back into the soil.
Perhaps the best thing for you to do is put off the garden one year, and heat-treat the soil on a plastic sheet on the ground in summer. That should definitely work.
Chances are, you won't make much weed soil as it takes years to make any significant amount. If you have boundless tall weeds, pull and pile them up (before they go to seed) because there should be some benefit to having partially-rotted stems mixed into your natural soil, especially if your soil is much clay.
I'm not fertilizing any type of plant after initial fertilization of one tablespoon per plant because I want to know how well or badly the soil will do without it, for a trib situation where store-bought fertilizer isn't available.
I didn't do a pH soil test in 2022, assuming soil is on the acidic side. There was about a cubic inch or more of wood ash added per gallon of soil, though not for all plants.
In 2023, after adding both vinegar to soil in one test, and baking soda in a second test, this soil proved to be roughly neutral in pH. There was very-slight, non-visible bubbling with the vinegar when it was poured full-strength onto wet soil; I needed to put an ear up close to hear the bubbling. And I thought I heard bubbling with baking soda too when it was added to a new batch of identical wet soil. I therefore may have made a mistake in adding wood ashes since this is roughly-neutral soil. Plenty of vegetative matter was present in the soil not yet rotted, and some say this material first makes soil alkaline before it makes it go more acidic.
In April and May of 2023, I started to pass last years weed soil through my oven, this time at 240F for 1 hour, 40 minutes from start to finish. Not having enough time to do all the soil in this way, I spread the dirt a half-inch thick on polyplastic sheets on the ground, and got lucky with two full weeks on non-rainy, much-sunny days.
This time, I didn't heat-treat much of the soil by covering it with a second sheet of clear polyplastic on the ground, but decided to kill nematodes by drying the soil to 99.5-percent aridness, and once achieved after a day or two, I left it bone dry for most of a sunny day to boot. The thinner you spread it out, the faster it dries, of course, and it's far less work to do larger areas with thin soil than to reduce area with thicker soils.
With a bit of the bone-dry soil, I put a clear sheet on top to hopefully raise the temperature high enough to kill weed seeds. I did about a half dozen, five-gallon buckets this way, and have marked them to test whether it worked or not. I marked other containers either as oven-treated, or sun-dried without heat treatment from the sun. I'll report back here the results later in the year for each of those three situations. I added no extra wood ash to the soil aside from a few, which I'm marking too for testing.
Also, someone writes: "Alternatively, remove the soil and spread it out under direct sunlight. The scorching sun can easily eliminate fungal growth."
The problem with bone-dry soil is that I've got to get it all wet again. I don't trust just pouring water to the top of the bucket because it finds passage between the container walls and soil faster than it does straight down through the soil. I therefore poured about four inches of soil into a container, added water, then got my hands in it to mix it up to assure it was all wet. I repeated this process until the container was filled, and only then (it's a lot of work) did I transplant into this soil.
For a 99-percent dry soil to the rim of a 5-gallon bucket, it took 40 cups = 2.5 gallons of water to make soil wet-fit for roots (on the wet side rather than the dry side). A five gallon bucket has 80 cups of dry soil, and so it takes 1 part water to 2 parts soil to suitably dampen my soil.
This garden is in central Ontario roughly at the latitude of the U.S. Canada border.
BASIL (Likes 6 - 7.5 pH) -- No issues for two plants, both grew well in containers. The leaves cannot be subject to high heat, for dehydrating, on a flat, solid surface. Try turning 45-degrees away from the sun.
BEAN (Likes 6.5 pH) -- Seed planted in May. Transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone (no native soil) mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and a teaspoon of fertilizer in a one-gallon or half-gallon bottle. Some were transplanted to two-gallon containers. Plants growing well in both one- and half-gallon bottles. Slight browning of lower leaves only. Plants are three to four feet tall on July 9. Beans as long as eight inches arrived before end of July, lower leaves were constantly browning, and beetles that liked no other plant were eating bean leaves. Beetles were with green tinge, and copper/red markings on a black back.
Beans that formed at all were tiny and deformed (curled) in the middle of August, and production stopped with sick-looking leaves. Could be nematodes that took a few weeks to hatch on the roots. I didn't let beetles infest the plants enough to cause this problem. Things went from super beans to badly-mutated beans like a horror story. Heat-treat soil better next time.
However, some beans returned to normal shape (long) in the last half of September, so maybe the cool nights dampened nematodes. I don't think lack of water causes deformed beans. One-gallon and even half-gallon containers worked fine at first. I suggest one-gallon bottles 2/3s full of soil for the 2023 experiment (I want to use as little soil as possible to save on heat-treating).
Don't plant garlic with/beside beans.
BEET (Like 6.75 pH) -- Seeds planted in May. Transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and a teaspoon of fertilizer in a one-gallon or half-gallon bottle. All fine by July 9, with thriving leaves. Only a few of them were large enough to harvest by the end of July. There's no notable difference between plants in one-gallon verses half-gallon bottle. Roots only need four inches of soil, but soil dries out more thoroughly. I watered almost every day, not to my liking. Containers need a sun shield to keep them from drying out so fast.
Most plants grew not bad. I blanched and froze the leaves. No major insect issues. By August 27, still no major issues, a few leaves pest bitten, but not most. The leaves are fine in salads or even on a sandwich. By August 27, there were jarred beets in a salt brine.
Beet leaves did not grow much after August 27, and some beets not growing at all, suspect nematodes have set in. I suggest 100 beet plants for a one-year supply per person, which is two beets per week in salads, but lots of frozen leaves and stems for soups, and lots of dehydrated leaves for tribulation storage.
For harvesting beet seeds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H4UIBl
BROCCOLI (Likes 6.5 pH) -- Store-bought started, transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and a tablespoon of fertilizer. Lower leaves always rotting away, probably due to all plants being in five-gallon buckets but only half filled with soil. Lower leaves are trapped there above wet soil, not good, but I didn't have containers half that volume. Use shorter containers next time, or better yet, use a non-soil filler (gravel?) for the bottom half of a container to protect soil from worms / slugs, and fill a container's upper half only with soil. That's a super fix.
No major insect issues on leaves. The first head of broccoli was about July 26, two inches wide by July 30. Only one other plant has a visible head. All plants are under a tree in shade from about 1pm to 5 pm, to prevent bolting. It worked, no bolting at all. Plants were about 15-20 feet from the trunk on its north side to allow ample morning and late-afternoon sun (our sunset is after 9pm in summer).
Harvested eight plants about August 20, and the remaining four are ready any day now at August 27. I harvested the final four about August 30 (well before frost) due to flowering coming out. All heads on the small side. For one person eating fresh broccoli, I suggest four plantings two weeks apart so that final harvest is in October. These plants are frost-hardy.
As nematodes may not have bothered this plant, I should try in-ground plants next year. Or, perhaps, the soil used for the broccoli plants may have been successfully heat-treated. Several buckets of broccoli had zero weed/grass growing, suggesting a high temperature at heat-treating time. However, broccoli roots were very small when pulled out of soil; if this is not normal, it can indicate nematodes. I hope so, because it then signals that broccoli can withstand some infestation. Small roots can explain no bolting (in a previous year, broccoli had bolted). I think it's a big deal to be able to grow this plant with less than three gallons of soil.
The crunchy / hardy leaves are super in salads, and new shoots of broccoli fruit continue to grow after original fruit is removed, all growing well up to September 19 thus far. Broccoli leaves (out of the fridge) in a salad without lettuce, spinach or kale is GOOD! It definitely makes growing broccoli a bonus, especially as broccoli leaves take up so much room for merely one fruit per plant. These leaves are dark green and packed with vitamin A. They are a must for trib survival. One broccoli plant gets more greens than three spinach plants.
However, the insects, or more likely the grubs, feast on the lower leaves that are less than crisp, when softer and lighter green (near-ready to go yellow). Whatever is eating them, it's not by day, but they generally leave the crisp leaves alone, though not always.
CARROTS (Likes 5.4 pH) -- Started from seed, transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and teaspoon of fertilizer in a one-gallon-or-less containers. I should have prepared more soil without ashes for things like carrots. Most carrots were knotted, anyway, a sure sign that nematodes survived. Other carrots were not deformed, and so the nematode kill was hit and miss. Use one-gallon bottles for four carrots each, and hug the bottles to keep sun off their sides.
CABBAGE (Likes 6.4 pH) -- Store-bought, transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone. I can't remember what else was added to it. They have grown fine, with fruit forming but no full-grown by August 27. Like the cauliflower, they get yellowed leaves one at a time at the bottom, no issue at all. No pest infestation. By September 12, the largest head is about six-seven inches wide. Ready to harvest when it feels very hard to a press of the hand, but by the first freeze at the start of October, most heads were not six inches, so plant earlier or fertilize for faster growth. Cabbage harvest time. Don't need to blanch cabbage for dehydrating; just chop it up and dry.
Cabbage can handle repeated freezes to at least -3C.
CAULIFLOWER (Likes 5.4 pH) -- Store-bought, transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone mixed with no ash, a little sand, and a tablespoon of fertilizer. One plant out of about six store-bought produced a half head before any other started. By July 30, only two heads, the first about five inches wide, and the second only two inches. No leaf browning, no major insect issues. In fact, the plant that has the large cauliflower has leaves pitted in insect holes, unlike the other plants (yet it grew the fruit fastest). Some plants in five-gallon buckets half or little more filled with soil, others in four-gallon garden planters filled with soil. The ones started from seed are growing leaves fine by July 30.
The second cauliflower fruit went bad, almost black all over from mold or some disease. The third one did the same. I noted the plants were beside the heap of weeds I pulled, and so I moved the plants further away from that pile in case it's producing the mold. The fourth fruit is about three inches in diameter on August 27. This one was picked clean-white on Sept 5, in really good shape, with two more coming up behind it nice and clean. One of the latter was picked on Sept 12, all-white.
By September 5, several plants had no fruit started yet, and yet they had many leaves. So I cut off some leaves to see if it would quicken heads, and two or three plants got new heads (2 inches) as of Sept 10, should make it by Oct 1, but this variety needs earlier start in spring unless fertilizer makes it go faster. By September 19, two plants still had no heads at all, seems wrong. I suggest lack of nutrient is the problem.
After five days of wet weather until September 21, the largest cauliflower went moldy; the others are still white. It seems the longer the mold has to infect the head, the greater the chance of ruin. I think the problem is mold in the leaves that surround the head. Cut leaf mold off as soon as it appears. Cut the cauliflower off as soon as mold appears on it because it goes deep fast. Get it while mold is shallow. This problem could be due to the garden surrounded 60-percent by forest on average 10-15 feet from the garden fence, and though the remaining 40-percent has some open air, it's not more than about 50-100 feet from other tall trees and even a 20-foot hill. This garden is in a basin where molds don't get cleared out of the area very fast. After cleaning the mold off the head that was not full grown to begin with, the equivalence of about a quarter head was saved. I'd grow this plant for the leaves alone. They can be dried in about a day of full summer sun.
Try this soil mixed with natural, heat-treated soil next year to see if growth is faster / better.
There's lots of green in crunchy cauliflower leaves. They are being dried after the stem running through the leaf is cut away, and as these stems are not bad tasting, they are being partial-boiled for freezing (they all went into soups no problem). About half the leaves per plant are crisp at harvest time, the other leaves are soft or yellowing, though for a dire trib-like situation, they are edible. Even the fat stems below the leaves taste good, a little like celery, after a partial boil. The leaves from one cauliflower plant are much more than the leaves on a spinach plant, a real bonus.
Cauliflower roots are consistently coming out of soil with a ball of soil about six inches round, meaning that they need only a two gallon container...unless roots are small due to nematodes.
Dehydrated Cauliflower popcorn (needs blanching).
Cauliflower handles repeated freezes to at least -3C.
KALE (Likes 6.75 pH) -- Seeds planted in May. Transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and teaspoon of fertilizer in a one-gallon bottle. Grows fast and easy. Lot's of harvest throughout July, and still producing on July 30. No major insect issues.
The second batch, from seeds planted about first of August, has already produced good leaves by August 27. This is a winner product here, and dries well in the sun. However, there has been slower growth after August 27 to end of September, perhaps due to nematodes higher in numbers in the soil. Leaves maintain not bad in September, but growth is not much. They grow well in August even in half-gallon containers, bonus.
Some kale leaves get a white film that wipes off. I'm not reading that this is dangerous to eat, and I've been eating all such leaves after a rinse. Some say it's "wax," others talk about a bacteria that grows white. Mine's not waxy, just a dry film that doesn't look dangerous.
Nematodes -- I can't find an article with specifics on drying nematodes to death. All I can find is: "Till the soil 2-3 times in the fall. This breaks up the soil, turning the nematodes up to the surface where they will die off from exposure to the sunlight." That's pretty useless because only the top layer gets dry, and nematodes can move deeper to stay moist. Spreading soil an inch thick on plastic sheets when there's a three-day sunny period, and just move the soil every few hours to get the bottom soil to the top. I can't find how long to leave the soil dry to make the kill certain.
ONION and GARLIC (like 6.5 versus 5.4 pH) -- Most planted from sliced onion or garlic cloves having sat in water for a couple of days first. Didn't get any decent cloves for either plant, not sure why, but got continual leaves. Will use oven-treated soil next year.
Onion leaves survive frost down to -3C no problem, and plants are still looking normal to October 15. "Green onions are also called bunching onions, spring onions, and scallions. They are perennials that keep coming back year after year, which means you can have an endless supply of fresh scallions grown from free kitchen scraps!"
PEAS, Snow (Likes 6.5 pH) -- Seeds planted in May. Transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and teaspoon of fertilizer in a one-gallon or half-gallon bottle. The plant in a five-gallon container half filled with soil grew best, but no notable difference between plants in one-gallon verses half-gallon bottle. Lower leaves always browning and dying, but upper 3/4s or more of plant looked great, thriving. No insect issues by July 30, but by about July 28, lower leaves were covered in white-blight spots. This suddenly but cleared up, and it happened right beside the onions / garlic I had growing there in containers. After moving onion containers, no white spots continued.
Some pods, filled with peas, were ready to pick by July 25 (I'm not picking them as typical snow peas prior to pea formation). Plants started to die off, nematodes suspect. After two big rains after August 20, the plants started to look better by August 27, but most didn't produce much more pods, and most withered. "[Peas] do not tolerate the heat of summer very well at all. Planting sweet peas where they get some afternoon shade from the summer sun can help. — Peas are very fussy about their water requirements. You need to keep them moist, especially during the hot summer months." Next year, grow in partial shade.
The second planting of peas was a total dud. By the end of September, no peas at all. Plant this second batch earlier. I don't remember when the second batch was planted. The vines are super-healthy, the flowers are out, on September 29 (cold nights), but there was no fruit. Peas handles repeated freezes to at least -3C.
SLUGS -- Slugs sleep under the containers, and so it's a question of whether it's a plus or minus when gardening with containers. I suggest it's a plus because, if you check out videos on capturing slugs, one method is to lay wood flat (as a trap) on the ground upon moist soil. Slugs are attracted to hidden places like under wood so that the sun doesn't beat down on them by day. Okay, this means that every container is a slug trap, and they lay their white, pearl-like eggs there too, bonus. A garden with no containers will invite slugs to sleep under leaves instead, and you won't be able to find them as easily as you can by lifting containers. I would have had a severe infestation if not for the containers. Now I know why there are always frogs in my garden: they're up all night with the slugs.
At present, it appears that lifting all containers every couple of weeks should be satisfactory, but perhaps this method will reduce populations to the point that every month is all we need. It's a messy, slimy job to deal with them. I've squashed them with my weed trowel, leaving them under the containers. You might like a different method.
SPINACH (Likes 6.7 pH) -- Transplanted into heat-treated weed-soil alone (no native soil), some (not all) mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and a teaspoon of fertilizer in a one-gallon bottle. These containers were under a tree for shade in the middle of the day only. Half the plants or more developed yellow spots on the outer, lowest leaves, which are the pick-to-eat leaves, the largest ones. The spots, which grow in size in irregular shapes, only attacked those outer leaves. Thinking that there might be something living in the weed-soil as the cause of the problem, eight of infected spinach plants were removed from their containers, and planted in natural soil. Plants grew free of spots there (but bolted immediately due to lack of shade).
The weed-soil was growing small weeds and grass, and so the soil wasn't treated hot enough, perhaps allowing fungus and nematodes to thrive in the heat. White patches on leaves disappeared almost totally after I put an inch of other soil on top of weed-soil. Some plants, even under the tree, started to bolt in mid-July, and most were bolting by July 30.
A second batch was started from seed between mid-July and July 27, all planted in their final containers with five or six inches of soil depth. No leaf issues at all in the second batch, all using about half weed-soil and half heat-treated native soil. No ash or fertilizer was added to this soil, and the spinach is looking fine by August 28, and still clean of leaf rot by September 19, though I'd like to see faster leaf growth. No frost yet by September 19. By September 29, the spinach has not become bushy at all, but has few though super-looking leaves per plant. Soil gets too cold nights. Given a greenhouse, this second planting would be super. Solution: add fertilizer to speed growth: start the second batch at the first of July because, I hope, small plants won't bolt through July, and August brings cooler weather to help prevent bolting.
Spinach can handle repeated freezes to about -3C. I've got some outside as of October 28, still looking fine but not growing. Fall is a natural fridge for spinach, but many plants got infested on leaf undersides with small-brown round bugs (or maybe they were eggs) that wash off easily and do not seem to eat the leaves. I didn't look closely at their details.
SQUASH, Butternut (Likes 6.25 pH) -- All from seed, some frozen in my freezer, others fresh (no freezing) from store-bought squash. Transplanted to heat-treated weed-soil alone mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and a tablespoon of fertilizer. Most in about four gallons of soil, but some with less to test them. The first fruit, about two inches long, appeared July 28. Most plants have no fruit yet, just buds, by July 30. All plants creeping along the ground, not up a fence. I was able to move the containers around until end of July to mow grass. No insect issues at all, and very few yellowed leaves, constantly one at a time and usually near the "bottom" of the stem.
In mid August, many female buds dropped dead before the flowers opened. One person thinks this is a natural protection so that the plant doesn't produce too many fruits in unfavorable conditions, or when the plant is still young with insufficient leaves to handle many fruits. Someone else thinks it's from over-watering, and another thinks it's from low pH in the soil. By August 20, one plant in the blue 4-gallon bottles (had distilled water initially) still had zero fruit even though this plant was amongst the first to be planted. I notice that the squash plants in these blue bottles have the most-shrivelled leaves when soil starts to dry out, and the problem can be that hot sunlight gets into the soil due to the plastic being partially transparent. These containers should be protected from direct sunlight.
By mid August, there were a good number of regular bees. But, fearing they weren't doing their job, I pollinated any female flowers I saw opened or nearly opened. Once squash take, they all grow good and fast. But the way it looks thus far, by the 20th, each plant might produce only three squash because many females drop dead when the fruit is a half-inch to an inch long. Even after two solid rains after August 20, with soil nicely damp for about a week, the females were not producing much better. Not all survived, and so it doesn't seem to be a too-little-water issue. On August 27, I counted about an average of 1.25 fruit per plant. That's not very good at all with frost coming probably before the end of September.
Sad. By September 3, I don't think there have been more than about five new squash surviving since the heavy rains, and some 25 others just died off while small and non-pollinated. It was a total bust for new squash in September. Leaves went yellow in greater numbers, but actually made a greener comeback during a period of about ten days of constant cloud and rain until the end of September 27. Too much sun and low water apparently yellows leaves in September. These plants would be dynamite if the born squash survived. I watered all plants harder starting about September 1 hoping for the best, but this crop has been much a failure with just one large fruit per plant.
I've been watering these plants DAILY for the last month, but maybe wasn't watering enough on a deep level. I think they need a deep-watering every four days instead of every seven. However, when plants grow well in the first half but not in the second half of the season, nematodes are once again suspect after their eggs hatch on the roots.
The problem may not be water, but heat of summer. I'm reading that female squash flowers die off in heat. Some days after September 3, about the 8-11th, there were quite a few surprising female survivors, with squash now numbering almost 2 per plant on average, though many are very small by the 12th. Then again, there was only an additional one or two fruit between the 12th and 19th, though plenty of male flowers. The squash plants near the house are dying off with high number of yellowing leaves, maybe due to less fresh air. Lots of rain and clouds between September 16-20th...and up until the 27th too.
At harvest on October 7, with -3C coming that night, I filled six 5-gallon buckets with squash, some tiny i.e. not enough warm season to get large. Even the white-skinned ones of medium size, with green lines still showing, taste good raw, immediately off the plant. It's not a must to cook squash, all the more reason to grow this as an important trib-survival food. I overdid the squash produce this year (for me alone) even though the volume of fruit has been dismal. But by dehydrating it, it's going to last years. Squash remains good at cool room temperature for months.
Even mild freezing ruins the frozen part of the squash. Once the frozen part is sliced out, it will last a significant time. Even the very small squash are great for eating. The small ones are more tender, but this speaks only to butternut because I haven't grown other types. Squash seeds can be roasted and eaten.
TOMATO (Likes 5.4 pH) -- The heat-treated weed-soil alone mixed with some wood ash, a little sand, and a tablespoon of fertilizer in roughly four gallons of soil as a starter, has the tomato plants growing well. Store-bought plants grew to two-to-three feet tall as per July 9. Home planted tomatoes, started from seed in May, about a foot tall on July 9. No leaf roll-up on home-planted variety (don't know variety, typical-round tomato, medium size). Store-bought plants have tomatoes about the size of cherry tomatoes by July 30. Home-planted tomato plants doing fine, and the one in the natural ground has grown as well as those in containers. No browning of leaves yet by July 30, but all tomato plants get curled leaves when in dry soils, which is almost daily with container gardening.
Wind broke off some stems, but after sitting in water for days to grow roots, they were planted in the ground, and they survived leaves intact, even with their yellow flowers surviving. They are all about a foot long. They get to the safe stage better in my sandy soil with fertilizer than in the native soil alone. They stay wilted longer in native soil, in danger of dying off. They were put into the ground between July 24 and July 29, but will they produce tomatoes in time?
By August 20, all's well. Some cherry tomatoes going red already, and many green tomatoes of different varieties are doing well. The in-ground plant has noticeably lighter-green leaves; the others are almost turquoise. The natural soil isn't harming the tomato plants at all, which was the case in two previous years when I did a half-dozen in-ground plants. Not many, out of over 20 plants, have browning leaves at the bottom. Apparently, growing them in buckets off the ground prevents browning leaves better.
On August 22, I noted for the first time that the bottoms of some tomatoes were flat and black, ruined. It turns out to be end rot: "This symptom, which can also occur on related members of the nightshade family, such as peppers and eggplants, is usually a condition known as blossom end rot (BER)...Despite the name, blossom end rot is not a bacterial rot, nor is it a disease. It is a condition caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant when the fruit is forming and will often resolve itself as additional fruit begins to set."
It doesn't necessarily mean that the weed soil lacks some calcium, for the article says: "The plant grows so fast that it is unable to take up sufficient amounts of calcium to keep up with the fruit development. Stress factors render the plant unable to process the calcium the plant does take up from the soil. These two causes are most commonly due to insufficient watering, particularly with container gardening." Yup, it turned out that for fear of rotting roots in the containers, and for fear of losing nutrients out the container holes, I wasn't watering enough. One day, when the squash plants ceased to grow in length, I decided to drench every plant in the garden, and that very night it rained nearly three inches to boot (though the weather forecast called for almost no rain). This was super because it showed me that an absolute drenching of container soil is good. The only problem is, I was watering daily in the heat, an unexpected hassle. Should I just grow them in the ground?
"Blossom end rot can also be the result of over-fertilization during early fruiting." I'm relieved that this problem isn't from pests. "Calcium is the most abundant element in wood ash..." But tomatoes like acidic soil, and ash makes it less acidic. For your information: "Calcium is essential for all plants, but the following are especially responsive: apples, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cherries, citrus, conifers, cotton, curcurbits, melons, grapes, legumes, lettuce, peaches, peanuts, pears, peppers, potatoes, tobacco, and tomatoes."
Up to 3/4 of each reddening tomato has completely disappeared, rotted away from these black growths. Nothing can be eating the tomatoes from the bottom up because not one tomato shows wet flesh. Every tomato having the black, leathery bottom are half gone, other less than half gone, others up to 3/4 gone (only the top 1/4 of the fruit remained). This is horrible. So, on August 27, I removed all black-bottom fruit, cut the black off, and put the remaining tomato parts in the fridge. I will monitor each plant morning by morning to see how this rot develops. There's no tomato out there with the rot on Aug 27, not one red one either, aside from red ones on six cherry-tomato plants not affected by this rot.
It's now (Aug 30) 11 days after the first heavy rain, and nine days after the second rain, and I've kept the tomato plants moist since. No tomato has turned red over these 11 days, and not one has the rot either, suggesting that the plant was previously in a hurry to ripen tomatoes due to lack of sufficient water, and then rot set in maybe due to lack of sufficient water. When plants are in native soil, I water small every three days only at the roots (not the whole area with a sprinkler).
On September 1, three tomatoes, one beside the other, started to turn red on the same plant (looks like a beef steak kind), and on the 2nd and 3rd of the month, they went full red with no rot. A plant beside it then had a small red one without rot (doesn't look like a beef steak plant). Then, in the same area as those two plants, one tomato went red without rot on the 4th. All three plants are interspersed amongst the four cherry tomato plants. But at the far end of the garden with six plants huddled together along the back-fence line, two red-turning tomatoes both had rot forming on their bottoms on September 3. I cut a hole into the bottom of a plastic container to see that soil was bone dry at the bottom, even though I thought I had recently watered these tomatoes heavily. I watered them hard on the 3rd, doing the same to all tomato plants along the fence line. The only rotting tomatoes to date were along this fence line, amongst 13 plants. All tomatoes there are still green aside from the two red-rot ones above. Is there something causing the rot from beyond the fence in the pine and maple forest? Another reddening tomato in a single plant amongst the pea plants started to rot on the 4th.
On September 5, one reddening tomato at the fence line has no rot, a promising sign that the roots have taken much better in moist soil. Between the 4th and 19th, some tomatoes on one plant have the rot, some don't when red and ready to pick, but the situation improved between 19th and 29th in heavy cloud and constant rain, with most reddening tomatoes not having rot. It looks like a dry-soil problem, and the containers are the culprits.
I have only one tomato plant in the ground (aside from cherry tomatoes), and there was not one rotted fruit on that plant, though its leaves have gone yellow throughout, in September, whereas the leaves for the container plants have remained dark green to the end of September (aside from the common yellowing nearest the ground). Is this a good trade off, less healthy leaves, and fewer tomatoes, for less watering and no need to heat-treat the soil?
About half the cherry tomatoes were picked by the 19th, and half of them are cracked when picked. I like them red and sweet, but they crack by then. They go in salads, and so cracking is not an issue. If picked with a little yellow still left, they can be ripened in the house, but will crack there too.
Cherry and other tomatoes can be frozen without blanching or skin peeling. Just pop into the freezer. "How long do frozen tomatoes last? Without vacuum sealing, you’ll want to use your tomatoes within about 8-12 months." That's good till the next harvest.
"HOW TO CAN TOMATOES [WITHOUT A PRESSURE COOKER]" 10 pounds of tomatoes with 5 teaspoons of salt. She calls for a teaspoon per quart jar. Sterilize jars before dumping in boiled tomatoes, though I can't see why they can't be sterilized in a 200-degree oven after tomatoes are poured in and sealed with lid. She says to cool jars upside-down on lids. I don't see why a half-inch gap is needed at the top. The less air the better, is my thinking. "These will last for 1-2 years." With just one teaspoon of salt? Shouldn't there be more? Inquire.
Someone else says a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. See acidification "Dip [tomatoes] in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins split...Add bottled lemon juice or citric acid to jars (See acidification directions). Add 1 teaspoon of salt per quart to the jars, if desired. Raw pack -- Heat water, for packing tomatoes, to boiling. Fill hot jars with prepared raw tomatoes, leaving ½-inch headspace. Cover tomatoes in the jars with boiling water, leaving ½-inch headspace. Hot pack -- Put prepared tomatoes in a large saucepan and add enough water to completely cover them. Boil tomatoes gently for 5 minutes. Fill hot jars with hot tomatoes leaving ½-inch headspace. Add cooking liquid to the jars to cover the tomatoes, leaving ½-inch headspace."
Someone else says no salt needed, just lemon juice: "Now add lemon juice. They need the extra acidity to keep. For the pints add a tablespoon, for the liters/quarts add 2 tablespoons." A little salt won't hurt because, likely, whatever you use the tomatoes for in the end, you'll want some salt in it.
More than half the cherry tomatoes failed to become red by the first frost at about -3C (October 2), which froze the green cherry tomatoes slightly (didn't fully freeze the large, green tomatoes, though most leaves were ruined in a lighter, earlier frost). Video below shows one way to can green cherry tomatoes. Add a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of lemon juice, and spice, to a quart jar, and pour boiling water over uncooked tomatoes in the jar. Then do a one-hour water bath, though I don't see why we can't put them in an oven at boiling temperature or higher for an hour as an alternative, or cook them first and then jar them. No de-skinning of these small tomatoes needed, and who would want to?
With 13 plants not including the cherry tomatoes, the harvest in the first week of October produced about 300 tomatoes, with half or more between small and medium size, and about 80-percent green. Some got circular lines, not at all healthy-looking, but this is only a skin problem. Almost none of the tomato containers had weeds or grass growing, suggesting few or no nematodes. Green tomatoes are excellent for keeping longer. Two weeks or less on a sunny window sill gets them red, and two weeks more gets them soft and delicious. This is a great advantage for storage, giving us much time before we need to jar them rather than having to preserve everything in the garden upon harvest time. Think of it: 13 plants alone, way up north, will give three tomatoes weekly for two people for one entire year.
I took the chance of keeping green tomatoes overnight during a light frost VERY BAD IDEA. Although only small parts of about half the tomatoes froze slightly, these parts started to rot very fast in storage. Even tomatoes that did not show signs of freezing eventually softened at one spot with deep-going rot, all within a month. I lost about half of the tomatoes, which is to say I was able to salvage, on average, about half a tomato after slicing out the rotted parts. DO NOT LET TOMATOES FREEZE. If they do, can them right away, or slice out the frozen parts from the start, and hope they turn red before too much rot develops at the slice if you prefer them red when canned. As it turned out, I don't like the taste of green, canned tomatoes in my soup.
There are many types of threats to garden produce. If you plan on container gardening especially, but even in-ground, plant more than you will need or want for the year. If it all grows, you can preserve much of it for the following year, and reduce your growing load in the second year. Make sure your seeds are viable before storing them only to discover in spring they are not good. If your seeds are not viable for any reason, you'll have the entire winter to find some from another source. Seeds in my area are being sold without a date, is this not absolutely corrupt of the seed providers? They are selling some bad seeds, and they know it. How can the retailer know when the seed have gone bad?