Monday, May 23, 2011

A Summery Summary

Time flies. The Summer's long finished and so, nearly, is the Autumn. Before having a look at what's going on at the moment I'm going to do a bit of a review of the Spring/Summer season and talk about the spectacular successes and the... er... other things.

The Good
Well you've probably already seen all the good stuff here. The corn was spectacular, the potatoes were tasty buried treasure and the sweet golden beetroot like jewels in our Summertime salads.

The world's cutest corn cob
 The carrots continued to provide orange, yellow and purple crunchiness and the early Summer lettuce crop was also wonderful, with the Australian Yellow Leaf variety in particular outyielding everything else in sight. The sunflowers were enormous, with only one mysteriously beheaded and the others slightly munched on by cockatoos, but not before the neighbourhood had a good chance to stop and admire them. The yellow-stemmed chard powered through its second summer, providing more than we could eat. I also planted a small trellised bed with frost beans (more on that when I finally get around to writing "Beans Pt 2") which was very productive.

Pretty frost beans dried for storage.
The mysterious goings-on in the as yet unseen back yard have also been very fruitful but I'll keep you in suspense on that one too for now..

The Bad
The tomatoes were a disappointment this year. Had I pulled out the volunteer "Tommy Toe" plant that sprung up in the wrong bed we would have had very few on our plates. The ones I actually planted were very slow to get going then started to wilt and look miserable just as the fruit was coming on. I have a few ideas about why, one of which is that the weather basically sucked. I shouldn't feel too bad though, because I'm not alone. From what I've heard and read just about everyone in Eastern Australia had tomato problems this year. Fortunately that one volunteer plant did very well, and kept us in tasty tomatoes for a few months. This year I tried growing some "Crystal Apple" cucumbers and they were pretty nice, but unfortunately we got maybe 6 or 7 before the plants dropped dead. The basil just didn't seem to get going at all, and the tiny plants sat there sulking until early Autumn before finally deciding to grow. Likewise the first round of rocket produced some unhappy, spindly plants as they bolted to seed in the hot weather.

The Ugly
The much anticipated fig bonanza failed to eventuate. The fruit was a little slow to appear, probably due to the big prune I gave the tree last year. The scale that was left after the prune was sprayed with white oil twice, so all was looking good for a bumper season. I even bought some netting to stop, or at least reduce, the losses from the nightly visits by a couple of hungry bats. But it was all to no avail as the tree was practically skeletonised one leaf at a time by wave upon wave of leaf beetles and their larvae. It went something like this:

1. Leaf beetle appears, it's this innocuous looking brown beetle.
2. Many leaf beetles appear, then go on feeding frenzy, feasting upon the new leaves as they shoot.
3. Leaf beetles lay leaf beetle eggs.
4. Leaf beetle eggs hatch into vast numbers of icky leaf beetle larvae. Sort of like green and black caterpillars.
5. Leaf beetle larvae reduce leaves to leaf skeletons in short order.
6 Did I mention that there vast numbers of them?
7. Leaf beetle larvae turn into leaf beetles. Goto 1.

Damge from leaf beetle larvae. That black blob in the centre is a fig covered in them.
Spraying white oil, "mechanical" removal and general harassment of the blighters had little impact. As a consequence, there wasn't a whole lot of fruit. I think we actually ate maybe half a dozen and left the rest to the bats. So it looks like a rethink is required for next season. There will be further pruning to try and get the tree to a more manageable size. Possible severe pruning. Also further research is needed into the best way to rain merciless death upon deal with the leaf beetles. I also tried to get in a late crop of "Parisian Pickling" cucumbers as well, but they dropped dead before producing anything but flowers and aphids.

The Verdict
The source of most of my problems this year was the weather. December was nice, but January and February were very hot and dry. We had 7 consecutive days with tops over 33 degrees. One night I went outside at midnight and it was still over 30 degrees. Nuts! The heat no doubt caused a few things to bolt to seed early and generally knock everything around a bit. Then March and April were wet. Stupidly so. March had about 50% more rain than the long term average, April more than double. With all this moisture it was party time for bugs, mildew and other damp-loving nasties. The mildew killed off the cucumbers, the beetles got the figs and I suspect it was some sort of fungal wilt or nematodes that bothered the tomatoes. So for next Summer I'm preparing a new bed for the tomatoes, in which I'm currently growing mustard as a biofumigant to kill off the nematodes and other soil-bourne baddies. This will be dug in and left to decompose for a while before the tomatoes go in next spring. The cucumbers will go in much earlier so they're fruiting well before the serious humidity arrives. Apart from that it's just a matter of accepting that when trying out new varieties, or trying to sqeeze in a filler crop a bit later or earlier than normal, some things are going to fail. It's all part of the fun and a good lesson in why diversification is a good thing.

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