Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By TOM ATWELL
This has been a weird garden season at what I consider the midpoint. It has been too rainy, followed by too hot. Some pests have been worse than in other years, while others appear to have been delayed.
The prediction of impatiens succumbing to downy mildew this year happily did not prove to be accurate.
We have been eating quite a bit of food out of our garden, and even though it was not as early a spring this year as it was last year, almost everything seems to have come early.
The biggest surprise to me is that impatiens have thrived. The professionals had been saying since early winter that Maine had been hit by impatiens downy mildew last year, and that the disease remains in the soil and can be spread through the air. Scientists at the Maine Department of Agriculture and University of Maine Extension advised everyone to avoid impatiens this year.
Nancy and I followed their advice. We substituted New Guinea Impatiens in places that have a bit of sun and begonias in places with the densest shade, and they have been gorgeous.
One woman we know has annually planted white impatiens in about a half-dozen containers under a Crimson King maple by her back door, and she was determined to do it again. State officials said the impatiens could survive until mid- to late June and then succumb.
It didn't happen. As of July 24, the impatiens were still filling their pots and looking gorgeous, with no sign of damage. The disease was also supposed to attack jewelweed, which is related to impatiens, but the jewelweed has also been thriving.
Most local garden centers did not produce many impatiens for sale this year, but it seems that a lot of people ignored the warning about impatiens downy mildew. The nurseries sold all of the impatiens they produced.
Our section of Cape Elizabeth got hit with winter moth this year, but not as hard as the section of Route 77 just south of town. The trees were stripped of leaves in late spring, but filled out as summer took hold.
Our blueberry blossoms disappeared, so I think the winter moth caterpillars might have gotten them. Parasites that are expected to attack winter moth have been released, but they will take some time to become effective.
Our new row of Sparkle strawberries is in its second year, and we had some strawberries for three weeks. They produced enough to go with our cereal every morning, but not enough for shortcake for company or jam.
The strawberries stopped producing in late June, and toward the end, the berries were small.
I gave them a boost of organic fertilizer and will continue to do so, hoping they will be larger next year.
Our raspberries started producing in mid-July, a couple of weeks earlier than usual, and started producing heavily on July 21. We haven't seen spotted wing drosophila -- the new fruit fly that attacks ripening fruit -- as yet.
James Dill, a pest management specialist with the UMaine Cooperative Extension in Orono, went on TV in mid-July to say the pest was coming, but did not say it was here. In past years, it has not caused significant damage until mid-August, and I hope our raspberries are done producing by then.
Our asparagus bed, which has been producing for 20 years or more, is really slowing down its production. We are planning to put in some more crowns next year.
The peas were tasty, although they went by way too quickly, sped along by temperatures in the 90s for two stretches in July. We bought some Iona Petit Pois from Fedco Seeds in Waterville, and they were absolutely the best-tasting peas we have ever grown. They produce heavily, the pods are full of smaller than usual peas, and the vines are less than 3 feet tall, which makes trellising them easy.
We had some success with our cold frame. We got lettuce in early June, but the carrots got eaten by a woodchuck shortly after I removed the cold frame. A neighbor got zucchini in June because he started it in a cold frame, so maybe I should try that next year.
We had produced six Jasper tomatoes by the third week of July. So far, they have been as advertised, with no disease or cracking of the cherry-sized fruit.
Other tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash all look healthy. The watermelon seeds I direct-planted did not come up, so we will have to go without watermelon this year. The pole beans that I planted on a copper trellis I built from pipes left from a construction project are looking good, and even have a few blossoms.
Flowers have been early and, for the most part, wonderful. Our echinacea and cimicifuga have been beautiful, and showed up in mid-July. Day lilies have been prolific and gorgeous, filling our yard with color throughout July. All types of hydrangeas started blooming early, and are still looking healthy and beautiful.
Although July got dry for a couple of weeks, because of all the rain early on, we have not had to water yet -- except for pots, and we had plenty in our rain barrels to take care of that.
The wet weather has resulted in a bountiful crop of weeds. Clover, chickweed, dock, witch grass and the previously mentioned jewel weed are thriving, and would take over the gardens if we let them. It is taking longer to weed than I can ever remember.
Despite all of that, I am looking forward to the next three months in our yard.
Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: