Friday, July 9, 2010

New Garden Weirdness

So. It's been so long since I've posted that I was actually too chicken to check and see when my last post was. Things have been busy here. Like much of the East Coast, we have been getting creamed by this heatwave. Lawns are brown and dormant. Even some of the trees appear to be going dormant- leaves turning brown and falling off, as if it was fall. That's a bit worrisome. But my garden is what's really been on my mind lately.

Because I put the garden in late this year (after finishing the spring semester and then digging the new garden bed), it was not well established when the heat hit. Oh, and then there's the "huh?" problem I had getting it going. Where I live, the soil is almost without exception a little on the acidic side. I mean, I had never seen a soil sample test alkaline... until problems in the new garden led me to test the soil. After finally getting plants into the new garden, they immediately started deteriorating. The leaves turned chlorotic. Bugs began devouring them. They didn't put on any new growth. It was bad. And, the few tomatoes on the Romas developed blossom-end rot.

Blossom-end rot is linked to uneven watering and calcium deficiency. I knew the problem was not uneven watering, so naturally, this pointed to a problem with calcium uptake. Often, BER can be treated by applying lime. On acidic soils, this really isn't often a problem. On alkaline soil, however, applying lime could cause trouble. Most plants are not fans of a highly alkaline environment, and liming decreases acidity. So it was a good thing I didn't rush out to the garden with my bag-o-lime, and instead decided to test the soil. Lo! It came up alkaline. This was such an anomaly that I had to repeat the test to believe it.

The alkaline test result presented me with a bit of a quandary. How to increase calcium and acidity...quickly? I suspected that, for some unknown reason, soil calcium was bound up rather than absent. A little research turned up the solution, which was to apply fertilizer intended for acid-loving plants. This variety of fertilizer is high in sulfur, which increases acidity.

Let me tell you... this was an almost miraculous cure. It took a few days to begin to see results. At first, the only sign of improvement was the hint that perhaps the bugs were devouring the garden less quickly. But over the first week or so, the leaves started re-greening. At this point, just about everything seems to be growing well, flowering, and setting fruit. The one big exception is the Roma tomatoes. While they did set some fruit, the plants themselves are barely hanging on. I'm not sure why either. When I transplanted the tomatoes, the Romas appeared the strongest. Unfortunately, they went downhill fast.

It's more than a little disappointing, too. I was relying pretty heavily on the Romas this year and now it looks like I'll harvest very little from them. The pair of San Marzanos I received from a fellow master gardener is doing well though. Not well enough to fill the pantry with jars of tomato sauce- but hopefully there will be enough "regular" tomatoes to still put up some sauce.

Oh well. The garden is always a "win some/lose some" proposition. What else is there to do but Keep Calm And Carry On?


  1. Been a hot spring/summer here also. My biggest problem has been the potato bugs. YUCK. Oh, and the fact that tho the broccoli raab is hugely tall, I see no hint of tiny florets on it. What the heck is that all about???

  2. Hmm... I wonder if your broccoli raab has decided to bolt? It's in the right family to bolt in heat- but you should see flowers. Maybe try a fall planting? Also, if there's too much nitrogen in the soil you can get tons of leaf and stem growth but not flowering. No potato bugs here (knock on wood), just earwigs (my least favorite bug, naturally). My front yard is so dry that big cracks have opened in the ground. Not good!