A Challenging Summer Season

September 11, 2017 Posted by: Jan Elder and Ellen Jones
The weather at the fort this summer has been very challenging for growing a garden. After the warm early spring, we experienced very cool and wet weather that caused problems with corn germination. Later the summer heat and dry weather was too much for our small winter squash plants. In August—when our tomatoes were producing well—there were a few cool nights. The cool weather was refreshing for humans but not for the tomatoes—since then we have only been picking a few small tomatoes.

The weather in Kansas this summer has generally been challenging for growing a garden. Different areas of the state have been experiencing different challenges. Two weeks ago, Jan received close to 10 inches of rain one night which flooded her garden; at the same time Ellen was having to water the garden at the fort. Earlier in the summer we had a full garden and no place to plant the winter squash. Jan decided to start the squash in pots and plant them in the garden when there was space. By the time we could plant the squash, the weather was hot—Ellen watered them regularly, but after struggling for a while, the small plants died. The extra plants went into Jan's garden in eastern Kansas and today they are growing and producing squash. There is a big difference between growing conditions in eastern Kansas and in central Kansas.

Growing conditions vary within an individual garden.  The corn growing by the fence is about 7 feet high (yes, we do HAVE corn now!). It is almost 2 feet taller than the corn on the other side of the garden. Both were planted on the same day; the difference in growth was due to the area by the fence being shaded and the soil retaining moisture. A bad thing as we found out during the very cool and wet conditions this spring; a good thing during the dry weather of summer! (As of Labor Day weekend the raccoon had not picked any of the almost ripe corn.)
 
Image of corn in the post garden.

It is hard to believe summer is almost over. The cucumbers are producing less—they too were affected by those cool nights in August—but there are still cucumbers to give away to visitors. Cucumbers were used in a dish Jan prepared at the fort during Labor Day weekend; chicken and cucumber served with gravy. Fort volunteers who sampled this 19th century recipe called it "good". When we demonstrate cooking in one of the fort kitchens, we try to use vegetables grown in our historic garden.

A few of the radishes we planted in August germinated, but not enough for us to plant radishes for a Fall garden next year. Radishes are easy to grow from seed and germinate readily in the cool moist weather of spring. Summer growing conditions are less than ideal for radish seed to germinate.

The challenging weather this summer has given us some failures, some extra space to try a Fall garden experiment, and taught us that a late planting of squash when the weather is hot is not practical.

The garden has a "Fall" look now. The tomato plants are not actively growing and the leaves in the center of the plants are already brown. The cool nights have made the garden look more "late September" than "early September". Weather conditions affecting garden produce is not new. Surgeon Cowdrey reported only a few small tomatoes were obtained from the garden in August 1873, and we can report picking only a few small tomatoes in late August 2017!

Image of late fall garden.
 

historic gardening, Fort Larned garden, 19th century gardening




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Last updated: September 11, 2017

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