www.The Vegetable Patch.com Helping organic vegetable 
	gardeners online for 10 years 
Home

Getting started? Click here!



Regional advisors
Previous months in Southwest Missouri
With Dan Owen

2000

Dan OwenApril

Hi, my name is Dan Owen. I live in the Southwest corner of the State of Missouri in a town named Forsyth. The geology here can best be summed up as hills, rocks and more hills.

The climate is mild with low average Winter temperatures in the 0 degree Celsius (30F.) range and Summer temps in the 30-35 C. or 80-90 F. range.

I believe very strongly in healthy eating and organic gardening. My 'garden' actually consists of a series of small raised beds that produce everything from lettuce plants to tomatoes. I am a strong believer in the 'Square Foot Garden' techniques described in Mel Bartholomew's book of the same title.

This March I have all ready planted out lettuce starts that were started from seed inside a month ago. I have about 60 Little Caesar romaine lettuce plants from Burpee Seed Co. that look really healthy and should be ready for harvest in another 30 days or so. Also growing inside are three varieties of tomatoes that will get special treatment as part of an experiment I am conducting. The three varieties are; Better Boy, Early Girl and Brandywine. All three are well suited to our Zone 6b climate and have been grown successfully by me before.

This year I am going to employ an old technique called French pruning that helps produce fruit of exceptional quality. On the drawing board for this growing season will be corn (never have tried them), watermelons and cantaloupe (ditto). As for all my raised beds areas, the soil will be amended with compost and sand to improve the high clay (clayey?) loam common in this area. These beds will be built in early April and I can hardly wait!

May

Everything is coming along nicely here in Southwest Missouri. We are now well into our Spring and Mother Nature has been kind with moderate temperatures and enough rain to make most everyone happy.

I have been harvesting Prizeleaf lettuce and Bright Lights Chard (both of which were sown last fall) for a couple of weeks now. Lettuce and chard seedlings (Little Caesar and Bright Lights) I started indoors in January have also now either gone into the garden or will go in this weekend. Included is a Burpee mesclun mix that I actually started as individual seedlings and then transplanted outside. I also have radishes that are just emerging. I have been planting a variety called Champion which seems to do well here. I have learned from past experience only to plant 15 or so seeds every week so that I get a fairly constant low level supply.

In one small 4 by 4 square foot raised bed I have inter-planted bunching onions amongst the lettuce plants. I am not sure how compatible they will turn out to be but it sure looks neat. Here's how it was recently looking:

Over in another raised bed area, I have planted about 12 Oregon Sugar Pod II peas. The seeds were placed around the perimeter of a square metal fence that stands 4 feet high as is normally used for containing bush tomatoes. This early in the season it works great for peas too! Adjacent to the peas I have also sown cantaloupe seeds (Iroquois & Ambrosia Hybrid) next to another similar square fence. As the melons develop, I use plastic mesh to suspend the fruit off the ground. They will develop very nicely in this fashion and are not as likely to develop any form of fungal rot.

According to my trusty soil thermometer, the soil in my raised beds in now above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). This is the minimum temperature that many seeds need to be at in order to germinate. As the soil goes above this level of warmth, germination of most seeds, improves dramatically.

By the time you read this I hopefully have transplanted my 4 hand grown, indeterminate, tomato seedlings into the Tomato box I have especially constructed. The varieties will be one each of Brandywine, Early Girl, Better Boy and Big Boy. These tomatoes will be pruned to remove any and all side shoots until they are about 4 feet (121 Centimeters) tall. At that point I will stop pruning and let new side shoots develop fruit which can be the best tasting, most blemish free, fruit imaginable. This technique is called "French Pruning" and was routinely done centuries ago to produce "select vegetables" for the market growers. Another benefit from this technique is the absence of Early Blight. A fungal infestation that plagues gardeners over much the U.S. from time to time. I will let you all know how they turn out as the season progresses. That's all for now.

June

Summer has officially arrived in Southwest Missouri with temperatures now routinely in the high 80's and low 90's. Much of our part of the United States has been enduring drought conditions of varying degrees of intensity. Here in Forsyth, we have been fortunate to get occasional rain. I do have to water every now and then, the lettuce plants, especially, demand it.

I just planted some Kentucky Pole beans last weekend and they are already up! I'm a little late with these as I have neighbors who are even now harvesting fresh beans from plants that were started in April. This fact attests to the unusually warm weather we have been experiencing all Spring. Normally, crops like beans and tomatoes would not be ready for harvest until early July! Mind you I'm not complaining, I just have to wonder what July will be like. Will we bake and shrivel up?? I'll let you all know.

My tomato box experiment in which I was growing 4 select tomato plants has met with a mini-disaster. During an intense thunderstorm last week, winds leveled two of the plants. I am trying to save these guys, but it's looking more and more hopeless. The other two plants, I am happy to say, are doing very well. They have now reached a height of about three feet and I have stopped pruning off the side branches. I expect to get my first tomatoes sometime in late July. In the meantime, I have a hanging basket that was planted with cherry tomatoes and they are loaded with little green globes. In a few weeks I will have some to snack on.

Last month, I planted out Straight-8 cucumbers along with two varieties of cantaloupe. The plants are just now taking off as night-time temperatures are staying in the 60's. Combined with daily highs in the 80's and you have perfect weather for growing cukes and melons. I have just a few plants but am hoping for enough harvest to share with friends.

Summing up, the Spring months have been very kind. I have enjoyed a bountiful harvest of crops like lettuce and chard. I have even given some to my neighbors and the folks I work with. They have been very thankful as the iceberg lettuce selling at the local markets have been going for $1.39 a head. What's even more fun is bartering with other veggie patch gardeners who have all sorts of different produce to trade and swap. Since there are no universal rules dictating what rate of exchanges are it's a load of fun to see what a bag of lettuce will bring in trade. The action gets even more exciting later in the season when green peppers, potatoes, corn and the like are being actively harvested. If anyone knows of rules as to what each type of veggie is worth in trade, I would love to hear from you.

July

July has started off hot and humid which is typical for this region. Daytime temperatures are in the 90's with the nights rarely going below 65 F. Because of this heat, all my lettuce crops have bolted, and I am forced to buy iceberg lettuce at the local produce market. This really bothers me as prices for a small head can be a dollar or more! Fortunately, other greens like my Swiss chard are going strong. Added to my purchased lettuce, it makes everything stretch out a bit.

Owen's tomatoesTomatoes finally! I have just begun harvesting tomatoes that were planted earlier in the season in containers. One pot contains a cherry tomato that is called Sweet Million. True to its name, it is producing fresh cherry tomatoes most every day. My other potted tomato plant, a Quick Pick variety, is putting out small round fruit about the size of a womens' fist. Not very large, but oh so wonderful to the tastebuds! My Tomato Box Experiment is going wonderfully. The leaves are very healthy, and take my word for it, the fruit look to have excellent potential. I expect to see some ripe ones in the next couple of weeks. So far, my expectations of avoiding problems with early blight have held true. This is no indication on any plant of the very common disease. Other gardeners, in my area, have all indicated problems with many of their tomato plants due to this fungus when plant leaves are allowed to touch the ground.

Three weeks ago, I planted some Kentucky Wonder pole beans next to a trellis and can hardly believe my eyes. All the beans germinated and I now have plants that are 6 feet up and higher! At this point, the are no flowers, so I do not expect much to harvest right away. But, from experience, I know that when this variety does start producing, it can really go crazy. Directly in front of this area, I have sown a variety called Pinto Bush beans. These beans are great shell beans and I will allow the bean pods to mature before harvesting. In general, I do not get that many beans due to my limited planting area, but what I do get is held back for special occasions like holiday dinners. At some point in my life, I plan to try a large planting of shell beans. I would like to produce enough to get me through an entire winter season.

Over in my side garden, next to a fence, I have had poor success with the antelope plants. They must be lacking some nutrient or maybe they don't like the soil they're in. However, in the same area, my Straight Eight cucumber plants and Spaghetti Squash plants are going great guns! It's a true statement to say that for every garden failure there is at least one unexpected success. I will have cucumbers and squash coming out of my ears soon! All in all, not a bad start to the season

I still have peppers to look forward to as-well-as Fall plantings of more lettuce and greens. I thank God for the rain that has fallen in recent weeks. The drought many had feared has not materialized for which most of us gardeners are very thankful. That's all for now, talk with you again next month.

August

Hot with plenty of rain. That pretty much summed up the month of July here in Southwest Missouri. Normally we have about 3 inches of rain, but this year saw over 9 inches! And, in typical Missouri fashion, after the rains come, the sun breaks out and its very hot and humid. The sweat just pours off your body. Nobody, but nobody really wants to work in the garden on days like that. Most, including myself are content to crank up the AC and watch our gardens cook through the windows of our homes. When we do venture out, it's usually in the early morning hours or late in the afternoon. Just long enough to weed and gather some veggies for the table.

I count myself very fortunate to have wonderful neighbors and co-workers with whom I can trade one vegetable for another. Many of us work at the same company and just leave bags full of produce in the cafeteria for others to take as they will. This makes for a kind of smorgasbord effect and is a lot of fun in the bargain. I have contributed spaghetti squash, straight eight cucumbers and loads of cherry tomatoes to the mix. I have gotten corn, cabbage and potatoes back! You never know who will show up with what.

During the last week of the month, I went ahead and cleared a 4 by 4 foot area and planted a mixture of spinach, loose-leaf lettuce and kohlrabi seed for Fall harvest. About every other week, I will make additional plantings of so-called cole crops to insure a good bounty come September and October. I have found through years of experience that when many locals think the season is over come July, the best is really yet to come as the weather transitions form hot to cool over the next two months. I have had my best successes with Fall plantings of lettuce, cabbage, radish and broccoli than I have ever had in the Spring. For those of you in temperate climates, go ahead and give it a try. With just a little protection, you can enjoy fresh veggies even into the middle of winter.

My experimental tomato box has finally started producing some fabulous fruit. I have scored this attempt with mixed results as I did not get any really 'perfect' fruit nor was there that much quanity-wise. However, I did beat the early blight problem. All my other tomato plants succumbed to this fungus, but my four brave tomato box guys are just cranking along making more and more fruit. Next season, I plan on expanding this effort so as to raise enough to give out to friends. Well, it's close to lunchtime the temperature outside is only 80F and August is upon us. See you all soon.

September

August, here in Southwest Missouri, was the complete opposite of July! Where we experienced record rainfall amounts in July, we had a record drought in August. The total for precipitation was 0.03. That folks is dry! The heat also got really turned up during the last week of the month with daily temperatures over 100 degrees. These two factors turned my bountiful harvest hopes quickly to ashes.

The lettuce seed I had sown in mid August for Fall harvest completely failed to germinate. Not one seedling emerged! Like wise, my cukes, which had been cranking right along, stopped producing as soon as the temperatures began staying in the nineties. It was as though everything came to a screeching halt all at once and either went dormant or quite all together. I did what any self-respecting veggie grower would do in similar circumstances. I grabbed my kayak, threw it on top of my car and headed out for the closest river.

On a positive note, however, the warm dry weather did wonders for my California Bell Peppers. They have been exceptional large with a thick flesh. Likewise my Cayenne and and Thai hot peppers have been very prolific. The spaghetti squash flourished in the heat and invaded everything around it. I had an embarrassment of fruit when it came to squash and peppers.

The weather, as of this writing, has just turned more moderate, and I am planning another attempt at planting the seeds for a Fall garden this coming first weekend in September. The main thing is getting some rain to fall on a regular basis. Not counting the trace of moisture we got in the month of August, we are now entering our 37th day without rain. If you think that is bad, much of Northern Texas has gone over 60 days without rain! I will let you all know how bad the Missouri Drought of 2000 gets in the next update. Hope you all have great veggies!

October

Forsyth, Missouri lies in the Central section of the United States. Solidly located in the temperate latitudes, we experience four distinct seasons each year. Right now we have just entered the Fall season where we can look forward to leaves falling while local squirrels forage for nuts to ward off hunger pains in the coming winter months. Like the squirrels, I too am foraging for the right kind of seeds to plant.

With proper protection, it is possible to grow quite a lot in my little plots of ground. Because I use raised beds, I am able to take advantage of the sun's ability to warm the soil through clear plastic row covers. I use a number of types and shapes of protective covers, most which I have built myself, to insure my small plantings of leaf lettuce, chard and other Cole crops are able to survive.

Where possible, I start the seedlings indoors. This year, mostly due to other responsibilities, I have just a few starts of leaf lettuce. I am currently raising a variety called Little Gem as I have found it to be very hardy. The seedling are raised under a high intensity sodium discharge lamp that puts out about 500 watts of light that is very similar to natural sunlight. Though relatively expensive to buy and operate, I have found there is no substitute when it comes to getting a quick healthy start to seedlings during the Winter months. Once the seedlings are approximately 2 inches high, usually about the middle of this month, I transplant them out to a protected area of the garden.

Over the course of October, temperatures normally work out to an average daytime high of 65 and a low of 45. This is perfect weather for cool weather crops like lettuce to flourish and grow fairly large. By the time November and December are here, I cover the lettuce with a self-venting cold frame. Even when temperatures dip below freezing, the lettuce does very nicely thank you. I will harvest from this and similar plantings over the difficult months of true winter. It is truly a pleasure to have fresh greens for the table when the weather outside is frightful..

November

October came and went so fast and here it is November in good old Southwest Missouri. The good news is the drought we were experiencing is apparently over, at least in this area. We had a little over 3 1/2 inches in October which is considered normal. November also looks to be somewhat wet and perhaps a little milder than normal. I am looking forward to getting out, at least on the weekends, and getting my raised beds put in shape for the coming Winter months.

First, on my agenda will be a comprehensive check of the soil this coming weekend. I have four raised bed areas that have been built at different times over the last three years. The crops grown in each have been different. My main raised bed is my favorite for raining lettuce crops. This four foot wide by sixteen foot long bed is the oldest. I built it when I first moved into the house some four years ago. The wooden sides I used for support were untreated lumber (I'm a true believer in all things organic) and are now beginning to rot through. I plan to replace them this coming Spring, but for now am focusing on the soil which is the most fertile of all my beds. Being the oldest, this bed has received much attention in the form of compost and amendments over the years and it shows it. The soil can be characterized as a sandy loam with such a loose texture that it can be tilled easily with bare hands.

My other three raised beds will eventually get to where this bed already is, but will take another year or so of careful additions of amendments. For now I will content myself by adding compost I have made myself along with a generous seeding of Winter Rye grass and Hairy Vetch. These cover crops, even when used in such limited spaces really perform miracles by loosening up the soil and, when turned over in the Spring, slowly decompose to feed the next generation of seedlings. Once this is done and the cover crops are growing well, I will sit back and begin to plan, in earnest, the crops I will plan to sow next Spring.

Some of these seeds like onions will be started indoors in December and January for early plantings in March. Due to our relatively mild climate, I have found I can often get away with very early plantings as long as they get some protection. That's all for now. Feel free to write me if you have any questions or just would like to share some gardening expertise.

December

Just a few thoughts for December.

Right now, as we approach Winter (our first true day of Winter is December 21), everything and everybody around my place is pretty much focused on the Holidays.

The few plants I decided last month to bring in are all clustered around a high intensity sodium discharge lamp that keeps them growing nicely. The raised beds in my back yard are in hibernation with soil temperatures now at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and holding. Everything that was not protected has been assaulted by Jack Frost and now lay dead. Everything, that is, with the exception of the chives and parsley which nothing seems to affect.

It is during this month that I wait in anticipation for the 20 or more seed catalogs that sneak their way into my mailbox. My favorites are Burpee and Park Seed because of their excellent illustrations. Some of my best memories from past winters involve sitting next to my fireplace will skipping from page to page of assorted catalogs while planning on the harvest to come.

I have come to realize that each Spring and Summer I live to see are unique into themselves. There will be successes and there will be disappointments. That, however, is part of the pleasure of gardening. You never know what is going to happen or when.

2001

January

Icy, Snowy start to the New Year. That pretty much sums up the weather here in Southwest Missouri.

Since early on in December, we have had a blanket of snow on the ground. To me snow is like gold mainly because in the Spring, it slowly melts into the earth and seems to works wonders for crops. At this latitude snow is relatively rare. In fact, nobody can remember having snow around for this long (three weeks and counting now). After the gardening disaster of last year, things are definitely looking up.

While watching all this snow, I was excited to see the arrival of my seed catalogs. This year I have decided to order from more than one catalog just to see if there is any difference. One catalaog, called Pinetree (www.superseeds.com) offers seeds in smaller amounts at great prices. I shall be ordering some of my very early crops that I intend ot start indoors from seeds (cabbage and broccoli). That's it for now. January is traditionally our hardest month weatherwise and I am content, for now to look through my catalogs.

February

It's February and our growing season is still a month or so away. I have (at last) placed some orders for seed from Burpee & Pinetree, mostly for broccoli and lettuce items of interest.

I have cleaned out the family room where I traditionally place my seed starter trays. I have acquired, over the last few years, an assortment of tray designs from the likes of Park Seed and Burpee Seed. Some trays have 16 cells while others contain over 60 cells. Most have small conical wells into which are put specially shaped growing 'sponges'. Once in place, you plant a seed in a small slit at the top, then throw on humidity dome (if one is available) and you're done. These growing devices all have water reservoirs to maintain moisture on an even basis. For the few trays that do not have a dome, I just place a pieces of cling wrap plastic loosely over the entire tray and that seems to work rather well.

This month I have seeded 2 trays early on: Little Caesar Lettuce 18 cells Green Ice Lettuce 18 cells For this latitude, this is still very early, even for cole and related crops. No mind, every once in a while I get lucky weather-wise and harvest an early crop. Most of my indoor starts of broccoli will begin toward the end of the month. Then, as we move into March, I go whole hog on large indoor seedlings of various types of lettuces. Included this year will be roamines like Little Caesar from Burpee and Red Sails leaf lettuce. Among the Cole crops I have ordered are Lasso Red Cabbage and a variety of red cabbage known as Bubbles from Pinetree Gardens (www.superseeds.com). The hard part is finding a place to put all these guys until they germinate. I usually opt for various spots around the kitchen so I can keep an eye on their progress. As soon as seedlings begin to emerge, I move the tray over to a brightly lit light area so they get plenty of light. That's all for now. Hope everyone is doing great!

March

The month of March in Southwest Missouri can put on quite a show for all who live here. Traditionally, we see some of our largest snowfalls while two days later the temperatures climb to 70°F or more! While this wacky weather is going on, all sorts of early Spring bulbs are shooting up everywhere. By months end, the trees are beginning to show the first flush of green.

This is the time of year all the gardeners in the area wait for. Everyone, it seems has the desire to plant something, whether it be veggies, shrubs or trees. This year, unlike the last, we have seen enough rainfall to really promise a good growing season.

I have very high expectations even though my first planting of seeds indoors has flopped out terribly. My lettuce seed, it turned out is a couple of years old and must have been subjected to high heat as none of them germinated. This is a great lesson to be learned time and again. Always start with fresh seed. The cost of a package of seeds is relatively cheap compared to all the time you spend hoeing, planting and watering. Not to be deterred, I have already ordered seed and will patiently wait for it to arrive. I did go to a local grocery and bought a broccoli variety called Waltham 27 and it is up and growing rapidly in an indoor seeding tray. I now have something to look at at any rate!

This month, as the temps begin to warm, in earnest, I plan to begin the ritual of preparing the raised bed areas in back of the house. Right now the soil is sodden and cold to the touch as we have been blessed with good rains lately. Along about the 15th, I plan to cover the beds with a plastic sheet, making sure that there is plenty of air circulation. This will have a drying effect which will allow me to work the soil sooner.

Yes, Spring is near and everyone here is chomping at the bit to get stuff planted.

April

Southwest Missouri, indeed much of the Southern United States has experienced below normal temperatures all winter long. March was no exception. We were generally 20 degrees below normal for most of the last half of the month. It was so cold that the little broccoli seedlings I transplanted on the 16th ended up frozen the following week. Fortunately, I did not (and still have not) put my lettuce transplants in the main raised bed in back of the house. I haven't done so because I still have not gotten around to replacing the wooden sides of the bed. The ones there now are all but rotted out and definitely will not last the summer. Each weekend in March, it has either been too cold or too rainy to do this project.

Now, with the temperatures rebounding into the 70's and 80's in early April, I've decided to take time off from work this coming Friday to catch up on all my veggie projects.

Due to a general lack of time, have never gotten around to starting plants from seeds the way I normally do. Instead, I've decided to visit a local greenhouse and start off with some robust transplants. Normally, I would be buying only cold weather crops at this time of year, but with the climate seeming to change so dramatically each year, it will be hard to know when to plant what. The day of this writing is Tuesday, April 3rd and at 4:30 PM it is 84F outside! Furthermore, the forecast for the next few days will be for temps to remain in the upper 70's. I don't know whether to plant lettuce or Summer Tomatoes!! I guess I'll just have to trust Mother Nature and throw a little bit of everything out there.

May

After much ado, the weather here in Southwest Missouri has become more lady-like especially after giving us gardeners the cold shoulder all winter long. Average high and low temperatures since the first of the year have been; January 43 & 24, February 49 & 31, Mar 55 and 32. Soil temperatures remained at 40¼F or lower through the end of March. This did not allow for much in the way seed germination of transplanting! April, however was relatively balmy with soil temperatures now in the acceptable 45-60 degree range. Armed with rake, seeds and transplants, I was ready to charge the garden.

My first intent was to strip the old (and not rotting) planks from the main 4x8 foot raised bed and install new lumber. This done, I also used surplus firing strips to make handy partitions to better segment growing areas. As I worked this bed, I noticed the lower layers of the soil were clogged with roots, possibly runners from a nearby tree. I went ahead and removed most of them while adding fresh compost to the soil mix. The soil in this bed has now been amended for 4 years with sand, vermiculite, compost, and ashes from my fireplace. It has a dark brown appearance and is very loose and friable. When I plant seedlings in it I now only use my hands. It's that soft!

Into this bed have gone the following; Packman broccoli (transplants from a local nursery), Buttercrunch lettuce (seed), Little Caesar romaine lettuce (transplants) and Early Scarlet Globe radishes that were mixed with a few California Wonder green pepper seeds. I also reserved one area for a mesclun greens seed mixture from Burpee Seed.

All this was accomplished in the first week of April. Through much of the month the temperatures have had daily highs in the seventies with lows in the forties. This is ideal weather for what I have planted and the results show.

Today, it is now April 30th and I have made additional sowings of lettuce seed to ensure steady production through early Summer. I have also seeded a nantes-style carrot next to the broccoli since they will be harvested soon anyway. The raised beds are looking truly wonderful. There are no weeds to speak of, just happy little plants poking out of the soil. A quick check of the pH shows the soil to be at about 6.8 - 6.9. This is an ideal pH range for the vegetables I am growing and they look it! To date, I have been fortunate to begin harvesting the spinach I planted in February in a large plastic pot. It has been extremely productive. Also, my one batch of chives that comes back every year has produced the most beautiful purple flowers, some of which have made it into my salads. This year has really started out with a bang and I am a very happy camper!

June

May proved to be a bountiful month with enough rainfall, for once, to avoid drought conditions we have experienced recently. We had 3.87 inches of rain here in Forsyth Missouri against a normal of 4.38 inches. So even though we were a bit behind it was enough to keep everything looking bright and spiffy. Temperatures averaged out at 77 degrees Fahrenheit in the day with nighttime temps at 54. This was great weather for my Little Caesar romaine lettuces which are still going strong in garden.

I did have to dispatch a few small green worms early in the month. They would have eaten all the lettuce down to the nubs in short order. Outlaying farms in the area were stricken with attacks from large numbers of army worms. One local said it was the worst infestation he has seen in 50 years. These worms attack cereal and grain crops by chewing each plant down to the ground. Fortunately, my little raised beds did not suffer the same fate! My Better Boy and Early Girl tomatoes are now about three feet high and have just begun to set fruit. I have been careful to mulch around the base of these plants to help prevent early blight. This fungal disease is very common in our neck of the woods and typically infects the lowest leaves, creating small brown spots that eventually enlarge until the entire leaf is dead. This progresses upward until all the leave of the plant are so compromised. If the disease starts late enough in the plants life, you can still harvest some fruit but overall production is greatly reduced. So far, my plants (there are eight of them) look to be disease free.

Other success stories have to include a great crop of radishes, loots of leaf lettuce and mesclun mix and green onions to beat the band. Just beginning to come of age are my pepper plants. I have large green California Wonder sweet peppers this year along with a few chayanne pepper plants to add a little spice to some of my hot dishes. Also, just now coming up are some Green Crop bush beans. I usually plant a few everything I develop an open spot in the garden due to harvest. This form of inter-planting keeps the entire area productive but it does look a bit random what with all the bean plants scattered about. I do the same with radish seed and even lettuce as the summer progresses. It's a lot of fun to come out and see what there is to harvest for the dinner salad. Sometimes I will just have a few bean pods along with some lettuce leaves, one radish and a carrot. I will cut them all up in a bowel, throw some salad dressing at them and have at it! As of this writing (Sunday, June 3rd), there is a light rain still falling after a night of heavy rainfall and storms. In just the first couple of days this month we have already had 2.09 inches of rain! Forecasts for the immediate future call for cooler than normal temperatures with lots of rain. I am jumping for joy!

July

For the first time in a long while Southwest Missouri is going into July with an abundance of rainfall! Normally, us gardeners have always looked to July with a doubtful gaze. Drought has been the order of business over the last three years, with July and August coming in as the driest of months. Not so in 2001.... This year everything is lush and green. Rainfall for June was over six inches. More than an inch above normal.

I am surprised to be still harvesting leaf lettuce this late in the season. It's got to be the extra water. Normally it bolts by mid June. I have had more than enough lettuce to supply my needs at the dinner table all Spring. Head or iceberg lettuce as it is known, which has little if any nutrient value sells at the market for over $1.00 per head. I love salads and have them for almost every meal, so I have saved considerably by growing my own this year.

My Early Girl and Better Boy tomato vine have a total of 30 fruits spread among six vines. Each tomato appear to be very healthy and I expect to pick the first vine ripened red ones in a few more weeks. In past years (probably due to dry conditions and high heat) I have had to suffer along with tomato plants that would already be showing sings of early blight on their leaves. Blight is a disease that first affects the lower leaves with small brown spots. Over time the spots grow larger eventually killing the leaf while, at the same time, spreading up the plant. This is a fungal problem caused by spores splashing up from the soil during a rain event. I have tried to prevent it by using a wood mulch around the stems and making sure to prune off any low lying leaf branches. This year it has paid off. There is no evidence of any problems at all. Happy days are here again! Can hardly wait for that first BLT sandwich.

Over in my main raised bed, there is a lot going on. I still have the aforementioned lettuce growing vigorously while, in adjacent squares, I have bush beans and peppers really beginning to take hold. Both these plants like hot weather and we have been pretty consistently in the mid to upper 80's for the last few weeks. As July goes along our temperatures begin to edge into the mid to upper 90's. This goes on through August and then moderates somewhat in September. I am hoping for bumper crops of peppers (hot and mild) with enough green beans to allow me to freeze some and put aside for Winter.

The real test of how good the growing season is going, however, has got to be cuke production. I have had nothing but problems over the last few years with getting any cucumbers to grow at all. Either a cold snap would kill the seedlings or drought would cause the few fruits to be misshapen or absent altogether. This year my two little Straight Eight plants have lush, large green leaves that are sporting vines with the most beautiful cukes you have ever seen. My first was cut up into a salad last week and was the best I have ever tasted. OK, maybe I'm a little possessive. See you all next month.

 

August

July is typically one of the hottest and driest months of the year here in Southwest Missouri. Over the last thirty years the average rainfall has been 2.92 inches. This year was an exception as we had 5.90 inches. Temperatures, for the month averaged exactly out at normal with daytime highs in the low 90's and evenings at about 70F. At a time of year, when we are normally combating brush fires due to little or no rainfall, we enjoyed a lush, almost tropical climate. Everything that could sprout, did. Every weed that could invade a garden, was there. Every insect that could hatch, was out in force. In short, July was a celebration of life, growing and even stinging things.

Tomatoes, do I have tomatoes! All six of my plants (3 each of Early Girl and Better Boy) went into high hormone gear starting about the 2nd of July. At one point, I counted over 30 fruit. Off in a side area, I even have volunteer tomatoes, from the season before, coming up in force. One of them has even turned out to be a dreaded cherry tomato plant. You know, the kind that like to take over the entire garden while pumping out more bit sized fruit than you can ever eat. This particular plant should be called 'Sweet Billion' or something like that, it's so productive. Let's not forget, however, the saving grace of all tomatoes is their taste. I like especially to take a still warm tomato, slice it, and then liberally sprinkle salt and pepper all around. To this I add a scoop of cold cottage cheese and dig in. Truly one of Mother Nature's best delights.

Cukes, beans, parsley, chives and spaghetti squash. All have been very productive to say the least. Especially the squash. I have neighbors that now cower behind closed doors when they see me approach with a bag of squash! I think the town mayor is considering a law that would make carrying concealed squash a crime, but so far that is only a rumor. In order to get rid of this over productive fruit, I taken to placing a stamp on extras and addressing them to people I don't know. Of course I forget the return address!

True Story. On July 14th while performing my weekly grass cutting ritual, I was passing a downspout in the back of the house when I felt a sudden burning sensation on the back of my right calf. It felt just like someone had taken a lit cigarette right to my leg! Ouch. I figured I must have angered a bee or something and soon forgot about the incident. By the following Monday a reddish spot about 4 inches appeared in that same area on my leg. I want to tell you the itching was really bad. Having forgotten about the sting, I figured I had a touch of poison ivy.

It was no surprise that, by the following weekend, I had all but forgotten about the sting. Sure enough, I took the same path with the same result. Only this time I was stung twice on the same leg! This time I took the time to check carefully for a nest and, low and behold, found a wasp nest right inside the lower downspout. Wasps, in our area, are considered dangerous to some because of the possibility of having an acute allergic reaction due to their sting. While normally unobtrusive, wasps are very protective of those areas immediately around their nest. I must have become sensitive because soon, the itching, swelling and pain were so bad, I wasn't able get much sleep over the next few nights. By the fourth day, thank goodness, everything got back to normal.

Needless to say, as soon as I was able, I did manage to get rid of the nest. It was not a pretty sight either, mind you. Mid week, toward evening as the little beasties were snug in their nest and getting ready for the night. I snuck up ever so carefully with a mad gleam in my eye. In my hand was a string of firecrackers hooked to a crudely made timed fuse. Carefully, I placed this explosive package up the downspout right next to the nest. Then, I retreated some distance with beer in hand to watch the fun. In my mind, I pictured the cute little darlings swarming over the 'crackers' wondering what in the heck was going on while, all the while, the fuse slowly burned down. When, a few minutes later, the firecrackers finally let go, there was a lot of loud pops with puffs of smoke and what looked like parts of wasps being ejected rudely from the bottom of the spout. I danced a madmans jig as this was going on, spilling beer in all directions and yelling at the top of my lungs. I'm sure my neighbors got a real eyeful and are still discussing my mental state in darkened rooms late at night. After the celebration, I approached the still smoldering nest and dispatched the remaining dazed hornets with a squirt of insect spray. Who said revenge is not sweet?

I think that's enough for now. August is here at last and I can hardly wait to see what wonderful veggie surprises this month will bring. Best gardening wishes.

DanO.

September

What a beautiful month August was down here in the Ozarks! Everything that could bloom has. I am still harvesting tomatoes off the vine even though it is now early September. It's kind of sad as I bite into yet another luscious tomato treat to realize that in the not too distant future, as we get into our winter weather, I will be forced to purchase tomatoes at the grocery. These so-called 'tomatoes' are actually grown inside greenhouses and taste very much like cardboard. I'm not sure if it is the variety or the growing conditions that make them the way they are, but I can tell you they are a long way off from those I am tasting right now.

Earlier in the month (along about the 15th) I spread some lettuce and radish seed out in two cleared areas of my main raised bed. I took three packages of different varieties of leaf lettuce and mixed them all together to form a hogpodge. This will insure some interesting results come harvest time. At the same time I also threw in some radish seeds. Fall is perfect growing weather for veggies like lettuce and radishes. I am looking forward to some late Fall salads.

The rest of my raised beds are still being productive with isolated plantings of green peppers, carrots and basil. I plan on pulling these guys by mid September and then replacing them with cover crops to help insure a healthy soil come next Spring. This year I plant to go with a mix of hairy vetch and red clover. The vetch will add nitrogen will the clover will help break up the soil somewhat.

That's all for now. Hope all you gardeners are having as much fun as I am playing in the dirt.

October

In spite of all the sadness here in the States over the September 11th disaster in New York City, gardening in Southwest Missouri continues to flourish. I have to admit my heart has not been completely into it lately but somehow my neglected plants have made it through. A couple of weeks went by with no water from me. Mother Nature had to keep my recent sowing of leaf lettuce away from death through drought. They have made it through and are now just at the right stage to take advantage of the cooler nights we get this time of year.

Dan's bell peppers

It's hard to believe that I am still getting a few late season tomatoes off the vine, but I am. Likewise my temperature sensitive pepper plants are still producing. Some of the local gardeners even go as far as to dig up a couple of pepper plants to take inside and over-winter. Come spring, they replant them outside for an extra early harvest. I've never tried this myself but am convinced it can work. I think I'll give my guys a couple of more weeks before giving them the old heave-ho to the compost pile.

All in all it has been a very productive year with my raised beds producing just enough to make sure there is always something to eat while not getting to the point where I was throwing good produce away. At this time of year as we are approaching the fall months, I like to make preparations for the coming season. My first project, tentatively scheduled for the middle of October, will be to pull up all the leftover plants and then sow cover or green manure crops. I usually like to plant Hairy Vetch and Winter Rye together. They often will survive through the winter months if it is mild enough. When spring comes, the soil will be ready to go.

That's all I have time for right now. I hope everyone all across this great big world will someday drop their guns and take up gardening. One can only pray.

November

Well, November is here on Southwest Missouri and for the first week our temperatures have regularly hit the 70 degree mark! With such balmy weather it is all I can do to keep from sowing seeds even though the time of year would not suggest it. True, we have had a few nights where the temps did fall below freezing and this took its toll on the few producing pepper plants I had going. I was able to get a few decent green peppers and a few hot peppers off the vines before I pulled and discarded them over the last weekend.

Everything is now bare except the few square feet of space that I sowed last month with leaf lettuce of different varieties. These are now bravely up an may yet yield a small harvest before old man winter comes to stay. I did also get to sow another section of the raised bed garden with red clover that has germinated and will probably not survive a hard frost. It is intended as a manure crop anyway and whatever I get will be turned under come spring.

Even now with winter coming, I am making plans for the following year. I really need to refresh some areas of the yard with new soil, so I have ordered a truckload to be dropped off over the next weekend. I will use this soil to fill in areas of the yard that have developed depressions and to help recondition soil in my raised beds that might need a pick me up. I have even designated a spot in the yard where this soil is to be dumped. It is in sore need of another couple of inches so when I am done with the fill in projects, I plan to just spread out the remaining amount and sow fresh grass seed on top of it.

I feel the need to do all of this as I have a neighbor that shares my property line who is relentless. When it come to landscaping that is. Her name is Regina and she loves to be outside making growing things better and happier. Having just moved in a year or so ago,she has devoted ceaseless energy to completely renovating what was a drab backyard. Since she is also retired, she has a lot more time than poor working stiffs like myself. That's OK though. It's nice to have neighbors who lots are a pleasure to look at.

Hope all of you in the southern hemisphere have a great growing season.

DanO

December

November came and went in fine fashion in Southwest Missouri. The weather has been a few degrees above average which has allowed me some time to get out on the weekends and prepare the soil in my raised beds for next spring. I have a small powered tiller which really helps out. I use it principally on my one bed that runs the length of a fence on one side of my property. I don't need it for my raised beds as the soil can easily be tilled by hand. Right now about one half of the available space is still producing crops. I have leaf lettuce, brussel sprouts and carrots which shrug off cold temperatures. The other half did have a manure crops that has been killed by an early frost. I will be able to till it under using my bare hands come spring.

While waiting for things to warm up outside, I have decided to try my hand at indoor hydroponic growing. Hydroponics is the art of growing things without soil. The roots are suspended in a nutrient rich solution that is aerated and constantly circulated throughout the system. I obtained a book, recently, that details how to set everything up in a spare area. It's available from Amazon.com and is titled "How to Hydroponics". To get started, you need a reservoir, a pump, some pvc pipes and a high intensity lamp. You also need to spend a fair amount of time learning about nutrient levels, timers, pumps and such. The results as promised in the book will be yet another way to produce very healthy veggies without soil and in the dead of winter. I will let you all know how this experiment turns out. Bye for now. DanO.

2002

July

Spring has come and gone here in Southwest Missouri. June 21st marked the first day of Summer which also corresponds to the longest day of the year for this latitude. If I were to sum up the first part of the growing season, I would define it as wet. Very wet. The period March thru May saw over 21 inches of rainfall against a 'average' of 13 inches. This rain came in steady amounts, about once every few days. A perfect scenario, so nothing in the garden has really needed any water from the hose. This was a mixed blessing for us gardeners. On the positive side, cole crops like lettuces and cabbages have done marvelously whereas, green pepper plants and tomatoes have lagged behind and appear stunted. You really see the difference when you look at the same veggie that was both potted up and placed in the garden at the same time. I have potted cucumbers that are even now full sized and producing fruit, whereas the plants out in the damp soil of the garden are only a few inches high.

Of all the early spring plantings I attempted, the Giant Caesar romaine lettuce (Burpee Seed) did the best of all. I had more than I could consume from just a for by eight foot area of raised bed. there were maybe 18 plants total that achieved such growth that I was able to almost completely avoid buying head lettuce at the local market. This was a blessing since iceberg lettuce was as much as $2.50 per head (honest) in the early Spring. Don't ask me why. I only remember there were little signs by the lettuce section that proclaimed crop losses in California were to blame. (As of this writing in late June, head lettuce is now a more affordable $0.50 per head. Good news as all my leaf lettuce has begun to bolt!)

Other successes include my Kentucky Pole beans planted close to a trellis with additional plants of Dandy Bush beans in front of them. I began to harvest beans by mid June and now have a steady supply that looks good to go for the rest of the Summer. My garlic that a kind neighbor gave me a few starts of last year and that languished for that entire season have decided they suddenly like living here in the Ozarks and have taken off like gangbusters. They look like bunching onions that have gone crazy. You know they're not onions however, as the whole area smells like garlic.

Failures? Yes, I've had a few as Frank Sinatra once sang. My radish crop was a dismal failure. Not one decent orb (sp?) from over 100 seeds. Could be that I had a bad variety, but I am more inclined to suspect mother Nature on this deal. AS I mentioned earlier, the peppers, tomatoes and cuke are nothing to write home about. However, I still have the meat of the season to work through with them and will withhold my final verdict for now.

See you all next month

Dan Owen

August


Dan's tomato and pepper
Dan's banana pepper and one and only tomato

Southwest Missouri Summers are typically hot and dry. This past July, 2002 was normal in most respects as from the period April thru July we average a high of 79 and a low of 59 degrees Fahrenheit. This is very close to the average temperatures we historically see. The rainfall, however, was another story as we have had over 25 inches versus a 'normal year' of 18 inches. Perhaps this extra rainfall explains the poor results I have had for some vegetables. The worst showing, this year was tomatoes and cucumbers. I prepared the soil in a normal manner and planted a variety of tomato called Brandywine and a cucumber variety known as 'Straight Eight'. Both of these plants are very established heirloom species that had traditionally done very well in the Missouri climate. This year, however, I had very little in the way of good leaf production which, of course, reduced the fruit bearing capacity of the plants. How bad was it? Well, to date, I have only harvested one cucumber from two cuke plants and one tomato from 5 tomato plants! Other poor performers have been; lemon basil, cantaloupe and watermelon. The plants that came up were spindly and unhealthy and were not worth a darn. Even my hardy Italian parsley completely died out.

On the positive side of the coin, I have had very good success with my planting of Kentucky Pole beans and all pepper plants in general. The bean crop just won't quit and every variety of pepper, banana yellow, serrrano and green, have come up very nicely. Some of the pepper plants even had to be staked as they were over-loaded with fruit! I guess we must all be thankful for whatever Mother Nature decides to supply us with.

Sometime during the next few days, I plan on visiting a local growers cooperative that a friend told me about. They meet in the center of town every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning to sell produce from their gardens. I should be able to get an earful as to what is happening this growing season. It has been all too apparent that something is wrong as there are usually vegetable stands on practically every corner this time of year. As I drive around town, however, I have not spotted even one!

Fall is approaching and I have already begun my plans to sow lettuce seeds. I plant single seeds in individual little seed starting trays inside for two reasons. One, I am able to control the temperature so as to insure good germination and two, I have found I get much healthier plants later in the garden. I am also looking at some Fall plantings of spinach and radish, but will keep my focus on leaf lettuce to end the season.

Hope everyone is having great success with their gardens. See you next month.

September

The days are getting shorter and shorter in a noticeable way now here. The sun arcs a little bit lower in the southern sky with each passing day. To me August is a month of harvest while September is a month for cleaning up and preparing the ground for next season. In reflecting back, I would have to give this growing season rather low marks. I'm not sure if was so much the fault of Mother Nature as it was the fault of the gardener. True, there were some success stories. My Kentucky Wonder Pole beans performed superbly. My assorted sweet and hot peppers were not too shabby either. On the negative side of things, the Brandywind tomatoes were a total bust. Not even one fruit made it to maturity without developing some type of problem. I had insect infestation and early blight to beat the band. I did get a couple of tomatoes from my Better Boy plant, but they were the exception to the rule. In a similar fashion, my lemon basil herb plants did rather poorly. This marks the first time I have had a bad showing with these guys and they just underscored what I feel was poor growing weather in general. I do have a nice tray of lettuce seedlings ready to plant out for Fall. They are Burpee's Giant Caesar romaine lettuce and I am hoping they will do well.

Over this past Labor Day weekend (we get Monday off from the work grind), I placed an offer to purchase a house next to mine. It just went up on the market and looks to be a good place to move my 81 year old father. If this all works out I should be able to expand my raised bed area considerably.

Hope everyone is have a great growing season. DanO

October

It is officially Fall in Southwest Missouri and the days are becoming noticeably shorter. I have spent the last couple of weekends cleaning out my four raised bed areas. The pole bean plants were cut down and went to my burn pile along with my tomato vines. (I feel it is a good idea not to place them in the compost pile due to the diseases they tend to have pick up toward seasons end). I did leave some bean pods to dry out in the sun and now have plenty of seeds to start fresh come next spring. Of all the bean plants I have tried, over the years, I still favor the Kentucky Pole bean plant for being able to generate copious amount of bean pods throughout the growing season.

On my list of things to do will be to replace the 1x5 lumber that form the sides of my raised bed areas. The old wooden sides tend to rot after only a few seasons, but it is no big deal to get the saw out and make a new batch up. I also plan to double dig the soil in these areas to kill the roots from the surrounding trees that always threaten to overtake the beds. At that time, I will do a soil test and add whatever nutrients might be called for. I use my compost pile to help replace the soil in these areas and so do not often need to add much in the way of nitrogen, potassium or phosphorous. I do like to purchase a bag or two of sand and vermiculite which really helps to loosen the soil up. I have now reached the point where my garden soil can be worked solely with my hands if I choose. It is alive with all types of micro organisms that help soil fertility. There are also many worms to be found. This alone has always indicated a healthy soil to me.

The only vegetable I have cultivated for the Fall season is about 60 Giant Caesar lettuce plants. They really like the warm days and cool nights we get this time of year. Right now the plants are about six inches high and I expect my first harvest before mid October. If cold weather threatens, I have found you can cover them up with old blankets and they will do just fine until it warms up again. These guys love cool weather and will stand up nicely to even a light frost, so I can expect to have fresh greens until about mid December when the really cold days kick in.

Hope all you growers out there are having great seasons.


Dan Owen


February

Hi to everyone from Southwest Missouri. How times passes. Here it is February 2003 and we are now smack in the middle of old man Winter. Temperatures have been below freezing most nights with daytime highs in the middle 40's and 50's Fahrenheit. Outside, my small patch of romaine lettuce have been struggling under an old army blanket but, is holding its own so far. I am constantly amazed how cold hardy this category of plant is! We have had temperatures as low as -2 and with just a little protection, the lettuce leaves remain alive.

Over the next few weeks, I will be starting new lettuce plants indoors in small individual celled trays. I know most people like to simply broadcast the seeds when the weather warms. I, on the other hand, get much satisfaction from having orderly little rows that I have hand planted from starts. I have observed that by starting these trays in mid Febraury, I will have strong, healthy seedlings to put out at the end of March. Even though the soil is still quite cool at that time, I have observed extremely fast growth the minute the weather warms up. This method assures me of the earliest harvest possible. In a more traditional manner, I then go ahead an sow seed directly when the soil has warmed up to 50 degrees or so. As you might have guessed, I believe in intensive gardening. This means indulging in such techniques as intensive, companion and succession garden techniques.

Also, during this cold month, I like to begin ordering my main season seeds from the likes of Brucia and Park seed. I know they charge more than other seed houses, but I have always had such good luck with them over the years that's it hard to change. I also appreciate the ability to have an existing account on the internet set up so I can place a quick order with a couple of clicks of the mouse.

I am planning on sticking with stuff I have had success with in the past. This includes well know varieties as Kentucky Wonder Pole beans, Early Girl tomatoes and Straight Eight cucumbers. It is always a challenge to not order something of everything. I have learned, however, that by keeping things simple, that is, by keeping the numbers and types of veggies limited, I can stay on top of such issues as bugs and weeds. With any excess produce I have, I can barter with neighbors for items unique to them and thereby double my enjoyment. It's also a lot of fun to visit neighboring gardens just to see what's going on.

That's all from me, for now. Starting in March things will begin to heat up in more ways than one as I plan to really get cranking in the garden. Hope you gardeners, wherever you may be, have the best and most healthy produce.

April

April is the month of great changes here in southwestern Missouri. Everywhere around you are weekend gardeners, like myself, who take advantage of every nice day to get out and prepared their planting beds. It is not unusual to see temperatures in the 70's one day followed by snow the next! Just this last weekend we had a freeze warning for Saturday morning and I was forced to cover my young plantings of Giant Caesar lettuce. By Monday, we had hit 70 again so it is a real roller coaster ride.

This season, I have decided to plant only about sixty four square feet of raised bed. I have these beds in two 4x4 and one 4x8 sizes that allow for easy access. As of this date I have only planted out my first run of lettuce along with some onion sets purchased at the local market. Interspersed between many of these I have sown Cherry Belle radish seed. Everything is looking great as I have done my homework with soil amendments the previous Fall. My soil in these beds is now five years in the building. They get homemade compost out of my bin in the back yard. I also make it a habit to test the soil on a regular basis to make sure everything is in balance. The latest pH readings averaged out to 6.8 so I should be OK at least for my acid loving plantings.

Unlike previous seasons, where I have grown all my veggies from seedlings, I am going to try a different strategy this year. I intend to purchase most of my starts from local nurseries. Sure I will pay more, but I get a huge savings in labor and will have a larger selection of varieties than would normally be the case. As offering are made later this month I will begin to lay out, what I hope, is going to be a bountiful harvest. I plant on having a large selection of both sweet and hot peppers, cucumbers, lots of tomatoes and some interesting varieties of herbs.

That's all I have for now. Hope everyone sows and enjoys the best of harvests.

 

 

We take no responsibility for the content of information and advice provided by regional advisors, see our disclaimer for full details.
Last Updated 12 May, 2003

Using this site is conditional on you reading and agreeing with our Disclaimer and Copyright statements 1998-2008.


Search
Google
Web This site

More vegetable gardening tips

Discover our new website for Italians holidaying in Sicily: Vacanze in Sicilia