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Dear Methow Gardener
by Jane Gilbertsen

June 16, 2011                                                                                             

photo of purple looking tomato plant

Are your tomatoes purplish? Mine are.

They looked pretty normal, although leggy, coming out of the warm greenhouse but once they were out a couple days they began demonstrating the condition called "Pi Starvation". That means that the plant is blocking sunlight by an increase in anthocyanin. The plant needs phosphorus and can't draw it up from the soil. The causes could be that the roots are too small to make the mighty pull, there is too little in the soil (probably not the case) and/or the soil is too cold. I am pretty sure the first and third are true for most of us.

Once the soil warms up and the roots get a chance to grow, most local soil has enough phosphorus to keep the plant green. Tomatoes actually like a cooler soil at night, but not during the day, day after day after day, like we have had. A little water-soluble chemical non-contaminated fertilizer like Miracle Grow works well to help out the tomatoes in cool weather because it is absorbed by the of lupine and poppy flowers I expect we might have a big change in temperatures soon and everything will warm up and dry out and the little roots will need all the help they can get to not transpire out all their water through the leaves before they can get some from the roots. I plan to water more often to give my starts a break if have not had time to grow bigger roots in the cold soil before getting hit with a sudden change to heat.

I suspect many of the ornamentals in my garden are about three weeks late. I love the blue lupine and the big honkin' oriental poppies. I keep this variety of lupine wet because when it dries out it goes into stress, sends out some kind of message and the unique lupine aphid appears spontaneously. The lupine aphid is the world's largest.

Aphids are born pregnant. They are nature's own Russian doll (one inside another inside another and so on). I can keep a pretty healthy crop of spontaneously-appearing ladybugs and ladybug larvea going but I'd rather not because they cannot keep up. I cut down the lupine tops right away to tidy things up and it doesn't seem to slow them up at all. They re-leaf and sometimes re-bloom. The chickens don't eat them as they have a toxin. Claude Miller says the seeds are toxic to horses and the books agree. I have quite a few in my emergency horse pasture (well above floodplain!).

photo of two dogs playing tug of war with bonephoto of cougar scat with small deer hoof in it








My husband Steve gets out into the country almost every day. He is not into garden chores in front of or behind the deer fence. His contribution to the column, deer related only, is this photo. Sort of gross but rather amazing - this is cougar poop with a tiny deer hoof in it. Our labs found the other tiny leg and hoof a short ways away. They are demonstrating their find.

I have been home tending the garden, enjoying the lack of watering chores and bemoaning the lack of plant growth. The cool season stuff is finally moving along and the herb garden looks pretty of herb garden photo of small lettuce plants

The new raspberries have a ways to go but they look fine. The two-year-old raspberries are cranking. The bumblebees are all over them. Late planted lettuce is small but coming.

The chick business is what is really keeping me busy. We now have the final eggs hatching in the incubator and under a couple broody hens. The hens drive me crazy so I sometimes let them continue brooding and place some almost ready-to-hatch eggs under them. Some do an OK job, some are total failures and the chick dies of neglect. Sad we have bred out so much of the mothering instinct. Hope we never have to feed ourselves without mass commercial agriculture and electric incubators!

Here are a couple of my first-time mamas doing their thing. The Barnvelder hen has her first chick. She is stuck in the biggest dog plastic dog kennel for safety. The Rhode Island Red/Cochin mom is close to hatch. Both have chicks or eggs that enjoyed the safe incubator life. Their own offspring had rugged times as they both shoved and piled on each other in the same nest box for two weeks. Eggs shifted from one to the other and occasionally spent the night out in the open. The RIR/Cochin is sitting in luxury in a broody coop thanks to master carpenter Ben Gilmore. Thank you Ben!

Let's all hope for an easy transition to summer weather and some frost- free time in September for all those vegetables to come in. Maybe we will be so lucky!

Thanks for reading,
Jane G