Category Archives: Leeks

Watering in the Heat, and more… by Peter Heffelfinger

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted August 16, 2022

Watering in the Heat

The first half of August usually brings the hottest weather of summer, but the impact of climate change has brought more intense heat waves, with the daytime temperatures on Fidalgo Island consistently in the 80’s. We are fortunate, being close to the cooling effect of Puget Sound, which creates late afternoon onshore breezes that can take the edge off the heat. The nighttime temperatures, however, have been staying in the 50’s, even during the heat domes. The cool nights, a harbinger of the fall weather that will start to creep in later in the month, have also created the grey mold on the leaves of the big leaf maples as well as on the foliage of some winter squash.The vegetable gardens, however, still require a great deal of water to deal with the overall summer drought.

Watering the hoophouse paths

The basic garden watering mantras hold: water early in the day, to avoid loss of water to evaporation, and to give the plants time to absorb prior water prior to the daytime rise in temperature; use a protective mulch of some kind to protect the surface of the soil from drying out and to keep the soil moist around the root zone of the plants; and, water deeply on a regular basis, when the soil begins to feel dry to the touch at a depth of 2-3 inches, usually every 2-3 days. Watering too lightly and too often keeps the roots close to the surface of the soil, and the plants are easily dried out on hot days. For some crops that are producing heavily right now, such as pole and bush beans, I water more frequently in order to ensure a sustained crop of tender and sweet beans. Unless you’re raising dry beans or saving seed, remove any pods that get too large and tough in order to keep the plant producing more flowers.

Asparagus and Artichoke plants needing water in August

Fall and Winter Plantings

Mulching the leek beds

It can be difficult to think about fall and winter crops while it’s still high summer, but now is the final window to put in over-wintering leeks, cabbages, late cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli, and hardy leafy greens. I water the young transplants each morning to give their still-fragile root systems moisture to deal with the intense sun and extended day length of our northern latitude. The reward in late fall and through the winter is a sustained crop of fresh produce that can be harvested from the garden even on the coldest and wettest days.

winter brassica transplants, with grid to support temporary shade cover

Other semi-hardy winter vegetables to consider, which may need some protection from a row cover tunnel, include daikon and black Spanish radishes, non-bulbing leaf turnips, hardy mustard, broccoli Raab, and cold-resistant greens such as mache, arugula, and winter spinach. There is no need to shut down the garden in late fall. The key is to plant early enough in late summer to allow the plants to reach an adequate level of maturity before the cold and short days arrive. The plants then essentially coast through the winter, sprouting fresh shoots, leaves, and buds in response to the warmer days in between the storms. Winter is the fourth season of year-round gardening.

Other Watering

During August one should not forget to water existing perennial beds, such as asparagus and artichokes, which have already produced a main crop, but still need doses of water to keep their root structures growing until the cool fall rains arrive. For standard crops such as corn and squash, regular deep watering is needed to keep them on schedule. I do have some late planted large sweet onions that are still green since they are in half shade, which are still getting a bit more water. The main crop of storage onions, however, has reached maturity, and the half-brown tops have been bent flat to the ground to stop further growth and dry them out in the sun. It’s important as well to know when to turn the spigot off.

Onions drying in the sun

The Hoop House

The hoop house requires a more intense and sustained regimen to keep the tomatoes, peppers, cukes and tomatillos properly hydrated. To prepare for the hottest days I covered half the roof with two 40-foot bands of light green shade cloth, made from recycled soda bottles, as a way of cutting down on the sunlight. Not a drastic reduction, perhaps 10%, but a noticeable effect on the high temps up at the ridge pole, which can easily soar to 95F and above if left unchecked. The temperature down at ground level is usually 5-8 degrees cooler. Tomato plants will drop their flowers in response to the stress of extreme heat of temps above 90F. Being perennial vines, tomatoes will generate new blossoms fairly quickly but the final crop will naturally be reduced. Pepper plants, as bushes, may drop a few flowers even in normal growing conditions, and are slower to re-flower if impacted by high heat.

Given the still-cool nights, I lower the side walls and end flaps of the hoop house in the evening to keep the temperatures inside above 50 degrees to maintain fruit-setting. I open the house early in the day since the first rays of the sun can easily jack the thermometer to 80-90F. The key to cooling the semi-enclosed space is to keep the air flowing. When the weather is consistently hot I water the beds heavily every 2 days, making sure the mulch and the soil around each plant is properly saturated. On the extreme heat days, especially when there is no wind, I take the added precaution of flooding the paths, creating shallow pools between the raised beds to increase evaporation and to make sure the deep roots get water. Two 50-gallon drums on raised platforms with gravity-fed hoses supply the irrigation system for the hoop house. So far, I’ve managed to prevent any blossom drop due to water stress, relying on a well that feeds off the water table coming from the back side of Whistle Lake. This year there has been plenty of water, but in past Augusts the flow of the well has diminished. Hopefully the increased precipitation during recent winters due to climate change will be enough to continue to supply our gardens during the now extended Mediterranean dry summers.

Garlic scapes, Leeks, and Container Plantings — by Peter Heffelfinger

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted June 28, 2022

Garlic Scape Season

As my garlic crop begins to mature, the central seed head stalks, or scapes, emerge. There is considerable debate in the garlic world whether to remove the scapes as soon as they appear, in order to increase bulb size, or to let them stay on the plant until harvest as a way to extend storage life. I have evolved a compromise of sorts, perhaps acknowledging both sides of the issue.

garlic scapes

I always remove the scape stalks to focus the remaining plant energy on the bulbs. Since I grow all hard stem varieties, when I clean and dry the garlic for storage I leave 2-3 inches of dried stem on each bulb, thinking that the upright stalk will serve as a wick to remove any moisture from deep inside the bulb interior during the winter months. I also make sure, when cleaning the air-dried bulbs, to closely cut off the roots to remove any soil fungus, to rub off the loose sheaths around the bulbs, and finally to make sure there is an open space between the top of the remaining two tight sheaths around the bulbs and the exposed stem. The aim is to vent any trapped moisture that might develop mold or fungus. It seems to work well so far, since I am usually able to store garlic into March/April, depending on the variety.

The best part about scapes is that they are an edible allium crop in themselves. I process smaller ones into a paste, with oil, a bit of lemon juice and salt, for use as a simple garlic spread, or add canned white beans for a zesty bean dip. Adding tahini and garbanzo beans to ground scapes makes for a chunky green hummus. Scapes can also be stir-fried, steamed, or grilled, as well as added to a vegetable soup stock. I freeze some, especially the large ones, by chopping and blanching the solid stalks, omitting the soft buds and thin upper leaf-ends, then quickly chilling them in a cold water bath before placing in freezer bags. Very useful addition to winter soups.

Harvesting all the scapes can be a challenge since they appear over an extended period of time, depending on the variety. They can be hard to see amidst all the leaves, even after you have walked around the patch multiple times. There always seem to be a few that you miss unless you check once more. Plus they seem to pop up instantaneously behind you as soon as you have moved down the row. This year as an experiment, aiming to get a higher percentage of good-sized bulbs to improve my seed stock after last year’s drought, I am snipping off the seed-heads just as soon as they appear just above the leaves. Make sure you get the complete inch-long bud, so as to completely stop the seed formation process. It makes for shorter scape stalks, so there is less to cook. Longer, fully extended scapes, which quickly develop in a day or two, will give you more vegetable to work with. It’s a trade off, but in any case, use what size scapes you have while they are here.


Leek transplants about to be covered by pots before the heat of the day

Coinciding with scape harvest, I am planting leeks for fall and winter use as part of my alliums all year round plan. Since the summer heat has arrived, I protect the young transplant seedlings by placing them deeply in a throughly wet, ‘puddled in’ trench, having removed the top 2-3 inches of leaf stems to ease the initial demand on the roots. I also work fertilizer into the bottom of the trench beforehand. Make sure the roots extend straight down, not ‘j-rooted’, turned upward at the ends. I immediately cover the plants with half gallon pots to protect them from the sun for 4-5 days until they can stand up on their own. As the seedlings grow, the sides of the trench are gradually filled in around the stalks, leaving the roots well below the surface as a protection against summer drought and then frost in winter.

Note: this year instead of commercial pre-mixed garden fertilizer I am using a homemade mix of 4 parts soybean meal, 1 part kelp meal, 1 part alfalfa pellets, and 1 part lime. I omit the lime for potatoes, while adding a bit of bone meal for tomatoes and peppers. All the ingredients were bought in bulk in order to reduce costs.

Container Plantings

Blue potato plants coming up in tubs

Growing spuds in bags, large pots, cardboard boxes, or even plastic laundry baskets seems to be the latest thing in online gardening advice. I found some very well-sprouted blue seed potatoes, the last variety available this late in the season, and planted them in old recycling bins, having drilled extra drainage holes. I filled them 2/3 full with a mix of worm castings, commercial organic compost, and soil, with a bit of fertilizer mix stirred in. The tubs are lined up by the one sunny, south-facing wall in my continuing expansion of mini-gardening at a house mostly surrounded by tall trees. The first leaves quickly appeared above the soil mix and I can tell, as with any container planting, they will need regular watering during the hot weather. As the plants grow I will fill in the top 1/3 space with added compost around the stems as a way of hilling.

Nearby I have an assortment of plants in pots on the high stump of a newly cut down cedar, well-exposed now to the sun: trailing rosemary, cilantro, and Romaine lettuce.

Stump with rosemary pot

Romaine lettuce, cilantro, rosemary plants on cedar stump

I also need to find a spot for two new pots of bunching onion starts and some transplanted purple mustard seedlings that appeared as volunteers in the main garden. The kitchen garden keeps expanding, filling up old pots with new edibles. The snow peas are also producing, planted in early March in large nursery tubs down amongst the now waist high weeds from all the recent rain. The two deer who go through the yard twice a day have missed the peas so far, having so much other lush wild growth to nibble on. Let’s hope they don’t notice all the recently added plantings in containers.

Peas in the Valley of Weeds

Fall Starts, and Sauerkraut Time!

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted August 10, 2020


Fall Starts

Mid-August is the time to get long-standing hardy winter transplants into the ground. I have late cabbage and broccoli in, as well as collards, along with a last planting of leeks, plus a few clumps of green onions/scallions. The challenge has been keeping them all protected from the intense sun we’ve had the past few weeks. I cover the fragile starts with large black plastic pots for several days or more, and then gradually expose them to an hour or so of early morning sun each day. I also make sure to water them daily to help them maintain turgor, or internal water pressure, which keeps them upright. When they’re finally rooted a bit, I shield them with the pot placed on the southern side to provide shade, and give them a grid of sun and shade overhead using leftover plastic garden nursery trays that have perforated bottoms for drainage. If it gets really hot, I lay strips of cardboard on top of the trays, to provide complete shade, but with a little light still coming in from the sides to keep a minimum of photosynthesis going.

Sometimes it takes a week or more before the plants stop wilting on first exposure to the direct sun. These are cool weather transplants that are being stressed by having to establish root systems in hot weather; they need the sun protection. Once established, they’ll be fine, but regular watering will be needed until fall. With autumn rains coming later and later each year, make sure they don’t dry out. Drought conditions and warm spells in September may cause them to go to seed prematurely instead of waiting for next spring. You want them to be mature by the end of fall so they’ll hold on through the winter, growing slowly and supplying  fresh green produce through the dark months.

Brine and Sauerkraut Time

Midsummer is also pickling season. I’ve been doing short-term salt brine cucumber pickles for several weeks, sometimes with fresh grape leaves laid on top, to keep all the spices from floating up to the surface. Recently I had to remove most of an Early Girl tomato plant that was showing signs of stem disease, so I had an unexpected box of green tomatoes to deal with before I’d even harvested a fully ripe tomato.

I used a standard N.Y. Deli dill pickle recipe for the halved tomatoes, along with garlic, spices, chili peppers, and for a new, extra kick, added horseradish leaves. After sitting in a cool corner next to the freezer for a few days, and once they taste pickled enough, the jar will go into the cold storage fridge. Surprisingly, I got most of the box of green tomatoes packed into a one gallon jar. It will bring back memories of the large jars of green tomatoes on display in the front windows of classic New York delicatessens.

With a crop of early green cabbage heading up, it’s also sauerkraut time. Not having made kraut in recent years, I started off with a plain version, just using sea salt, for the first gallon. The second gallon included the Middle Eastern herb sumac and a Jordanian green za’atar spice mix, for a Mediterranean take on kraut. With the third gallon, I’m trying Curtido, a South American salted cabbage recipe that includes sliced carrots, shredded garlic, chili peppers, and oregano. Lots of massaging of all that chopped cabbage to generate enough brine. Once the kraut is ready, it will join the pickles in the fridge set up for extended storage.

With all those cucumbers, tomatoes and cabbages bubbling away in their brine, the pantry feels like an indoor garden growing in the dark.

Plan now for a Fall-Winter garden

by Peter Heffelfinger

Posted July 5, 2020


Pivot Point

Having just passed the summer solstice, the garden is at its seasonal pivot point. Even as summer begins, hopefully with some good sunny weather to end the extended rains, the days are getting slightly shorter. It’s time to start planning for fall and winter crops. Summer harvests will start to pile up, the weather will assuredly turn dry and hot, and watering will become the daily issue. But amidst all the garden rush, it pays to start planning now where the following season’s plantings will go.

The first winter crop I think of is leeks. Since this year’s onions have been hindered by the rains, developing mold on the bulbs, or generally not thriving, I turn to leeks, the reliable allium. Being an extended stem rather than a terminal bulb, they resist rot in the ground, and hold up all winter long against the cold and the wet. I already have an early, summer/fall leek crop going, but I need to put in a second wave of leeks that will mature in the fall and continue to be harvested through the winter months. No need for drying and storage. The leeks are always in the ground, ready for use, whatever the weather.

The outer leek sheaths will get eventually soft and mushy by mid-winter, but with a simple stripping, the clean white inner core is ready for the pot. The key is the hardy root system that keeps growing slowly all winter. When you dig up a hefty leek in February, a large bolus of soil comes out as well, held onto by the extensive white roots. To form that solid foundation get them in the ground now so they can slowly develop all summer and into the fall. The reward will come in the short days of winter.


Other Fall Plantings

The nursery starts for fall plantings began showing up a few weeks ago, so seek them out before they disappear in this year of increased demand for garden supplies. Look for late varieties of cabbage, such as January King, as well as hardy collards. Seek out fall and winter varieties of broccoli and cauliflower, as well as any of the hardy kales. There is also the hardy Tatsoi mustard, the standard Winter Bloomsdale spinach, plus Daikon and Black Spanish winter radishes. Lots to choose from if you look. Not to forget the perennial garlic chives, which will stay green if you keep it protected during cold spells.

Last winter I had fresh turnip greens lasting all the way into spring from a fall-sown Tokyo Cross type designed to produce leafy tops, rather than roots. The large woody root, eventually rising above ground like a small dome, kept sending up fresh sprouts deep into spring, trying to go to seed. As long as I kept snacking on the shoots and buds, it kept sending up new growth. At the end, the dome was a hollow shell that came easily out of the soil, but it had completed its mission, like some long-lived interplanetary voyager with little leafy antennas.


Summer Duties

At this point in the season, things have settled into a regular pattern:

watering, weeding, and harvesting. In the hoop house, the cherry tomato plants have grown to the ceiling and will need to be trimmed; the regular tomatoes have filled out their cages and should start setting more fruit in the warm weather. Now is the time to start thinning out the suckers and removing central foliage to allow better air circulation.

The peppers are starting to form and ripen, along with the first cucumbers and eggplants. Each day I help the curlicued tendrils of the cucumber vines grab onto the trellis to help support the coming weight of the mature cukes. Outside, the pole beans are climbing their trellis, and there again I make sure the emerging vines at the ground level latch onto the nearest vertical support. Vegetable kindergarten, helping little hands grab onto things.


Bee Swarm Update

With the loss of the queen and some of the bees, I thought the hive had failed, since I hadn’t seen any bees in flight for days on end during the recent cold and wet weather. After a follow-up inspection, our keeper said all was ok. The newly installed queen had been busy making new brood to fill out combs, with the workers staying at home, relying on bottled sugar water. On the first sunny day two weeks later the restored bees were out again, finding the waiting winter squash and zucchini blossoms. Now that the first 6-inch zucchinis have appeared, it’s truly summer.