Small Space Gardening by Diane Dryden is a series of garden articles that will run the entire summer with information for both new and experienced gardeners. Every two weeks the articles will update as the gardening year progresses; from picking out a site up to harvest in the fall.
WASHBURN COUNTY -- As the days shorten and grow cooler, the garden gets smaller. By now, you've harvested many of your crops, even if you've been gardening in limited containers.
Beans finally start to slow down now, and several gardeners I know, and will not rat out, have pulled out their still-bearing cucumbers and zucchini just because they are producing veg of which everyone has an abundance of their own and do not need yours.
This is when you'll want to take a serious look at your tomato plants and consider pruning off any new growth and blossoms. Little did I realize when I planted my Indeterminate Atomic tomato plants that they would go wild. They're not especially tall, but they are wide and impossible to stake. And they are plentiful. There must be hundreds on my three plants. They are especially meaty and really good, but their dark colors will make some strange-looking pasta dishes.
Determinate tomatoes are the ones that are determined to stay short. They produce fewer tomatoes, but the fruit is larger.
Some indeterminate tomatoes will grow up to 12 feet tall if given a chance. So this time of year, they have got to be pruned back.
On the tag or the package, if you started your tomatoes from seed, there was a number that indicated how long it would take the plant to go from blossom to fully-ripened fruit. The average is 50 days. There aren't 50 hot days left this year, so many new blossoms will not have time to ripen into anything savable. Now is the time to prune them so the plants' strength will go into the fruit, which is already ripening. Also, removing extra non-producing leaf sets will let more sun into the ripening toms while eliminating weight from the cages.
September 10 will be a traditional Harvest Moon if you're into moon-watching. As if our pioneer mothers didn't have enough to do, the bright full moon at the beginning of the month let her work into the night harvesting all the things she didn't have time for during her days full of child-rearing, clothes washing, meal making and possibly giving birth to twins.
Recently I had the pleasure to visit a woman who puts a great deal of thought into her gardening. She's spent the past 22 years becoming very clever.
Shell Lake's Bernadette Wabrowetz isn't new to gardening. Her parents ran a mink farm when she was a child, and her mom gardened. "She mainly planted what we'd eat fresh during the summer, along with potatoes, carrots, and onions. She was not a woman who canned. We had cows, too, so she made butter, cheese, and cottage cheese from the milk. This was enough for a woman with three kids who helped her husband raise mink."
Her mom was also one of those sneaky parents who gave her kids their garden space, addicting them to growing at an early age.
Bernadette, also a mother of three, gardened wherever she and her husband lived. Be it Montana, Medford, or Shell Lake, she gardened, freezing or canning the bounty.
In 2019 she got garden smart and incorporated raised beds three feet tall and self-watering.
They found 300-gallon totes on Craig's List and bought ten of them. They were all food-grade, so they knew they would be safe for planting. Wisely they sold five to pay for the gas needed to get them.
At first, they were used for water storage they captured off their roof for the garden.
Eventually, she and her husband, Kent, remodeled the totes by cutting off the top foot- and -a -half so shorten the 3 x 4 x 4 ½ foot containers. The containers were already equipped with spickets to the bottom to allow complete drainage when needed.
Inside the containers, they added a drainage pipe the length of the bottom of the tote and up the side level, which would act as a fill pipe sending water down to the foot of washed gravel.
landscape cloth was added on top to keep the soil from leaching out. Quality composted topsoil was added to about four inches from the top of the tote.
Their son and daughter-in-law own and operate the Sawyer Creek Cattle Company, which gives them access to all the manure they need. Additionally, they have a large compost pile they mix in, so their soil is premium.
This pipe is one of the secrets to their success. The saved rainwater is run through the pipes and surrounds the bottom foot of rocks with water. The plants at the top send their roots deep into the soil to access the constant supply of water that wicks up. They also drilled a hole into the tote at the top of the gravel for drainage; otherwise, the tote would become waterlogged if it was overfilled or due to a large amount of rain.
Carrots, broccoli, zucchini, beets, radishes, lettuce, onions, beans, peppers, peas, and even potatoes are some of their successful crops this year. Even cucumbers feel free to tumble over the sides onto the ground. Due to their past success, they now have eleven totes planted.
The Wabrowetz' figure their garden can go several weeks without adding water. They've gotten even smarter and have installed a watering system that's pure genius.
Water is still collected from part of the house by a gutter. That water is directed to a fifty-five-gallon drum that filters into a second fifty-five-gallon drum farther down. This is the beauty of living on a property that gently slopes south.
A sump pump n the second water butt automatically pumps the water out into six full-sized totes up on the hillside. These create their garden water supply.
When needed, a hose attached to the totes is opened, and water is gravity-fed down to the tubes.
Their next project is to extend a drip irrigation hose that will water their blueberries, elderberries, currants, grapes, red raspberries, apples, cherries, and peach trees beyond their tote garden.
If you're wondering what happened to all the tops of the totes they cut off, they've inserted them into the soil as underground 'raised beds.' This allows them to control the soil type and weeds.
Now that they garden in the totes, they don't have to bend down to harvest or pull weeds. They never have to water by hand. And with all that time on her hands, Bernadette still has time to raise four hives of bees and entertain nine grandchildren.
Speaking of kids, they've all returned to school now, and it's time to do something with all those tomatoes coming in like gangbusters. If you're canning them, take a tip from another intelligent woman I talked to years ago. She did not bother with 'slipping off the tomato skins' by dripping them into boiling water for a bit. She just washes her toms, cuts off the blossom end and any bad parts, and plops them into her food processor or blender. Her attitude is, why eliminate the skins? That's where the nutrition is.
You can't argue with that theory, and it eliminates a great deal of work.
Here are a few things you can add to those tomatoes from the blender to make Minnesota Tomato Mixture. It's good as a soup or as a soup starter. It even makes a great drink if you blend it all together before you serve it hot or cold.
- 12 c. tomatoes that have been processed in a blender
- 1 c. chopped celery
- ½ c chopped onion
- ½ c. green pepper
- 3 tsp. Salt
Bring all ingredients to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes. Pack into clean pint or quart jars. Place in a pressure caner and take the pressure up to 15 pounds. Turn off the caner and do not remove the jars until they are completely cold.
If you want to give this an Italian twist, add the following spices at the beginning:
- 2 t. minced garlic
- ¼ c. basil
- 1 t. thyme
- 2 T. oregano
September 10 and 11 are the best dates to put in your spring bulbs like iris, daffodils, tulips and peonies.
Next time we'll cover putting your garden to bed, important crop rotation, and green manure.
Previous Small Space Gardening Articles:
- Sun Patterns And Soil Types
- How To Read Seed Catalogs, Packets And Difference Between Perennials And Annuals
- Plot Planning, Bulb Starting, Crop Rotation, And Saving Toilet Paper Tubes
- Seed Starting Using Grow Lights, Heat Pads, And Toilet Paper Tubes
- Seed Starting, Determining How Much Of Each You'll Need, Soil Types
- Growing Herbs And Starting Potatoes
- Early Crops, Container Tips, And Creating A Successful Compost Pile
- 3 Sisters, Watching The Moon, And Finally, Planting Your Garden
- Garden Update, Berry Bugs, Annuals Vs. Perennials, And Trees
- Ponds And Water Features, Wild Flowers, And Garden Update
- Blight, Mildew, And Mulch. No, They're Not Lawyers, But Just As Intrusive
- Second Cropping, Seed Saving, A Garden Visit, And A Few Summer Recipes
- A Garden Visit, Drying Herbs, Carrots No-No's, Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Pruning Tomatoes And Say Good Bye To Wasps
- Another Garden Visit, Harvesting Beets, Potatoes, And Nadapeno Peppers