Tomatoes and potatoes and cucumbers..oh my!

As you can see from the tattered remains of my vegetable garden, summer is coming to an end. However, we’re still harvesting baskets of produce, and the flowering plants in and around our 100_2309veggie gardens provide a valuable food source for migrating hummingbirds, pollinating insects and seed-eating songbirds. The presence of insect-gobbling birds near the veggie patch helps to control pests on the plants that continue to yield their bounty.

My vegetable garden might look a little wild and uncultivated, but in fact the effect is entirely deliberate. The Nasturtium attracts aphids away from other plants. Allowing the Cilantro to flower and go to seed provides nectar for tiny pollinators, who in turn become a protein source for birds who eat crop pests. Flowering nectar plants such as Black-eyed Susan, Agastache (Lavender Giant-Hyssop) and Goldenrod attract pollinators who help improve crop yields, and later produce lots of free birdseed for songsters such as American Goldfinches, Chickadees and Sparrows.

Because (or in spite) of all the rain we had this summer, we also had our best tomato harvest ever. The cherry tomatoes above have next to no foliage left but they are still groaning under the weight of the fruits. Our secret to organic tomato growing is to grow plants in soil enriched with our very best compost, and apply a 2-3″ mulch after the soil has warmed (usually July here) to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture. We also trim all browning leaves from the plant as they develop through the summer.

tomatoes

Marigolds (Tagetes) planted with cherry tomatoes. The strong scent of the Marigold foliage helps plants helps repel pests from the veggie patch in an example of  companion planting, in which certain plants help each other to control pest damage and enhance growing conditions. Companion planting helps your garden become a balanced ecosystem, in which nature keeps itself in balance.

The Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) in the background grows like crazy in late summer, but we leave it standing until later in September because its flowers are a magnet for migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, who appreciate a meal and rest stop on their way to the tropics. The annual Jewelweed is easy to pull out later, and makes a good addition to our compost pile.100_2255

We’re harvesting our Yukon Gold potatoes fast and furious now (right). I think it’s fun. Rooting around in the soil for ‘taters is like an Easter Egg hunt…keep hunting around and you keep finding more!

Last year I lost most of my potato crop to a tunneling mammal who dined on my potatoes from underground without my noticing. This year I kept a closer eye on the plants and occasionally poked around for tunnels in the raised beds. I also planted a lot more potatoes this year so that a few nibbles wouldn’t affect my yields too much.

This was also the first year that I saw next to no Colorado Potato Beetles on my potatoes. Thank you to all our bats, birds and beneficial insects for providing free pest control!

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