Garden Journal: Week of 7/18

Well, it’s been a hot time in the old town this week!  With temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s and the heat index hitting 105-115, it’s been a prime week for getting early morning starts in the garden!

Despite the heat, we got a good amount of work done this week.  Lily, Hannah and I started off the week with a harvest!  The onions let us know that it was time to be pulled as their foliage began to droop significantly and die back.  We pulled the entire bed and got a lovely crop!


The onions are now curing at various locations: apartments, covered porches, etc.  The whole process will take about three weeks. For more information about harvesting and curing onions, check out this site!  The bed won’t be vacant for long – we’ve resown it with buckwheat to both revitalize the soil and to continue to attract helpful insects and pollinators.  The existing buckwheat bed is simply buzzing with insect activity and we’ve been amazed to see the significant increase in the number of pollinators in the garden as a whole since the current buckwheat bed flowered!

Papilio glaucus Linnaeus, the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Virginia's state insect) loves our buckwheat!

On Thursday, Joseph and I defied the heat and installed the long-awaited, much- anticipated sumac shrubs along the eastern perimeter of the garden.  We put in a total of 12 plants and they are doing very well, in spite of the heat and tough conditions (granted – they are a very hardy species).  I have to say that it is so exciting to finally see the entire garden planted!!!

One wonder of the week has been the incredible flowering of the cotton plants around the perimeter of the garden.  We’ve been marveling at the variation in color that we’ve been seeing in the blossoms.  After doing a bit of research, I found that cotton flowers go through a remarkable transformation over their relatively short bloom time.

“Within three days, the flower will pollinate (the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of the same or another flower) itself, change from a creamy white or yellow color to a pinkish red, and then wither and fall, exposing a small, green, immature cotton boll (a segmented pod containing 32 immature seeds from which the cotton fibers will grow),” (source: http://www.cottonsjourney.com/Storyofcotton/page3.asp).  Apparently, there’s even a common (albeit rather morbid) children’s song about the cycle of the cotton flower: “First day white, next day red, third day from my birth – I’m dead,” (source: http://www.curlbros.com/cottinfo.htm).

As our cotton plants are now in a stage to produce their bolls, they will require additional energy and nutrients.  We’ll have to apply additional fertilizer (fish emulsion and compost) over the course of the next week.  If you’re interested in learning more about the full life cycle and nutrient requirements of cotton, check out this great page!

Speaking of nutrient addition, the incredibly valuable advice of Monticello’s wise and experienced Vegetable Gardener, Pat Brodowski, has really turned our peanut crop around!  We described the problem that we were having with yellowing and dying leaves to her on our field trip, and she recommended that we fertilize them more frequently, as the plants are relatively heavy “feeders.”  We have since applied two rounds of fish emulsion (one per week) plus additional compost and the plants have markedly improved!

left: three weeks ago | right:three days ago Yellowing has decreased significantly, the new growth is much healthier, and additional blossoms have appeared!

As we head into another week of gardening wonders, I’ll sign off with one final image, simply because I can’t get over how strangely beautiful, delicate, and complex Asclepias flowers are – they are a personal favorite of mine:

left: Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa) | right: Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

-Erica

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