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Porcelain garlic.
Porcelain garlic.

Checkered weather makes for hard times in the garden

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Wind, rain, no rain, high heat...the weather has been varied and extreme across the North Country. Gardeners are struggling with flattened corn, dried out soil, and fast-growing weeds.

Cooperative Extension horticulturist Amy Ivy offers a pep talk and some advice in her weekly conversation with Martha Foley, along with a reminder: It's time to harvest the garlic!

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Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

Martha Foley: You know, I was so struck this morning when you said it was so dry over in the Champlain Valley. We just got torrential rains, at least in parts of St. Lawrence County. Of course you can’t really know what’s happening everywhere.

Amy Ivy: Oh, it’s been so spotty. And you know after all that rain we were just so flooded for so long. I can’t believe that we would be needing to irrigate but all last week we had to irrigate heavily during the week. It’s dry out there on our side.

MF: That’s crazy. I mean it was a dry week for us too, but boy, we got a dose over the weekend. And a lot of trees uprooted and broken…

AI: And we’ve had terrible storms but they haven’t produced the rain. So the main thing is, look at your own garden because these summer storms tend to be very spotty. So you've got to look at your own garden. It depends on your soil type and race beds verses in ground, and all that. Especially heavy soil, clay soil, huge cracks, just like crevices in these soils.

I was watering my own garden Saturday morning and the water was just rushing down these big cracks in my soil.…And how ironic, who would have guessed, half of my perennial garden wilted. I mean, just shriveled up. They were peak bloom on some of them and they just went right by because it was so dry.

MF: Well, I didn’t have that problem. We sort of had the problem of the rain just flattening, you know, the day lilies are all sort of lying on the grass and that sort of thing.

AI:  Yes and because things were so lush, you know, because of all the rain we had in June, and because we didn’t have much light things grew really tall and lush. But the wind just knocked things over. So it’s been a challenge.

MF: Well here’s another thing, too, I was away from my garden for not even a week, just a few days, and I got home yesterday, noon. And I thought I had been pretty well keeping up with the weeds. But my gosh they grew fast. The heat and the wet, it’s crazy. So it’s almost impossible to know where to start.

AI: Yep, I feel your pain. I avoided the garden, I was really busy this week, but it was so hot. I just couldn’t bear to go out the garden. I figured, okay, you’re on your own for, you know, three or four days. And I’m the same way. When I finally got out on Saturday I was just overwhelmed by how things had grown. And yes, that exact thing. Where do you begin?

And so part of it is your own priority. For me, I really want tomatoes. So I first went to my tomatoes that had put on about a foot of growth. That was amazing! So I started out by tying them, I have a trellis system that I use. And so I tied them, the new growth up to the support and pruned out the extra suckers. The lower leaves looked terrible so I was finally able to get rid of those but with the new growth they really have turned around now. My tomatoes, and I think everybody’s I’ve seen, have just barely hung on through June. And so they like hot and dry, so they’re pretty happy as long as they can get enough water to not wilt.

MF: So what about things, I was looking at my spinach which is going to seed and the arugula I pulled out, how about things like beets and the root crops? I’m a little concerned because some of the weeds are large now. There’s a grass that grows, I don’t know what it’s called but it comes up everywhere. And when you pull it up it’ll bring a pretty good sized bunch of soil with it.

Amy: Yeah it’s a challenge with those root crops. And the same thing goes for thinning them too: If they get too big and you pull up something right next to them it really is quite disruptive to the crops. So you know, the ideal is to not let that happen but it does happen, it happened last week. So if it is something …that you can cut off without pulling it out, that’s the best. So you could take grass shears and go through and cut next to those plants, but the problem is with the grass weeds, their growing point is down low, that’s why you can mow your lawn and it doesn’t kill it. With that, if you just cut it off, the roots would still be there competing with your root crop. So it’s a little bit of a judgment call. But they’re competing.

So the aggressive grasses would definitely be worth getting out of there. It would be disruptive. What you could do is pull them out. What I had to do because my soil was dry was I actually watered my garden and then I weeded certain areas. And it was much easier and less traumatic to the crop to pull the weeds out. And then I watered them again right after I finished so the disturbance from pulling things out I hope will settle back down again.

Because leaving the weed is a problem and taking the weed out is a problem so you know, what are you going to do? You do the best you can. So certainly up close to the plants, try to make sure they have enough room. Especially things like the beets and the carrots…those are the two main ones that come to mind for root crops that most people grow.

MF: So last quick question. Time to harvest the garlic, yes?

AI: Yes it is, most people I know already have, I harvested mine this weekend. If you’re not convinced, because mine was still pretty green and I always hesitate to harvest it too soon [but] if you wait too long, when you pull it out the wrapper leaves will be gone and it will just be virtually loose cloves and those are not going to keep well.

So if you want to convince yourself, pick one, pull one up and cut through the bulb horizontally. So you’re sacrificing the bulb, I mean you can go ahead and chop the rest of it up for dinner. But cut through it horizontally and look at the center. And if the very center part, if it’s a hard neck there will be that stem coming up through, but even with the soft neck, look at the center and if it’s starting to open up at all, then it’s time to harvest. And don’t wait longer. If it gets loose in the center, the looser it is in the center, the more open it is in the center, the shorter the storage life will be.

MF: Well actually we pulled one up last night, and we ate part of it. And it was delicious and I think it is time. Although mine had not really started to yellow and the leaves to dry off like that, just a couple, but I was a little suspicious.

AI: Right I did the same thing, because mine had not yellowed down so much. A lot of people though, I don’t know if it was because of all the wet or what, a lot of people's actually finished earlier than normal and there’s were pretty much all brown and a little too far gone. It’s been a really tough year so far. So don’t be too hard on yourself gardeners out there. I know everybody wants the best. I’ve heard a lot of gardeners with a lot of angst about, 'things don’t look as good as usual, things are smaller.' That’s okay, everybody is experiencing that.

MF: Well thanks for the pep talk.

AI: We all need one about now! And be nice to your growers! When you’re out at the farmers market, don’t complain to them, they have been struggling so hard. Be sympathetic, be supportive, thank them, pay whatever they want you to pay. It’s been a really tough year.

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