Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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July 24, 2016

One of the joys of getting a bit older is having the time to putter around in the garden. Below is my garden blog. This site also contains sections of recipes and features about specific, and often obscure, gardening lore.


Sunday, July 24, 2016 - Starting Fall Lettuce Transplants

Lettuce seeds on potting mix
Light covering of vermiculite over seed

The heat index zoomed to 111° F early this afternoon. I was up at around six this morning and the humidity was at 97%. I went back to bed for a few hours, knowing this day was going to be a no-go for any outdoor work even in the morning. This heat wave is supposed to break this week with high temperatures getting down to the mid-80s by Thursday.

Wanting to do something worthwhile, I started some lettuce transplants today. I seeded Coastal Star, Crispino, Defender, Pandero, Skyphos, Sun Devil, and Winter Density lettuce into fourpack inserts. Each cell got two to four seeds, as some of our lettuce seed is getting pretty old.

Some lettuce varieties germinate better with a bit of light, so I very lightly covered the lettuce seed with vermiculite. The tray of lettuce got covered with a clear humidome and went under our plant lights in the basement. The lettuce should germinate better in the basement, as it runs a good bit cooler than the house.

Other

I took a cart of garden scraps and some kitchen scraps to the compost pile last evening. It was still quite hot out, but I wanted to free up the garden cart, as I had pulled onions in the garden and needed to move them to our drying table in the garage. While out in the East Garden, I sprayed our yellow squash plants for squash bugs, the first of which I saw yesterday.

The onions moved to the drying/curing table were all Milestone and Copras. We now have only a few Walla Wallas still in the ground. Some of them are fairly small, but others are growing to enormous size.

With most of the onions out of the way, I can now either till our main raised bed or just pull back mulch, hoe and plant. I want to put in rows of cowpeas and lima beans, crops we've not previously grown. Our fall carrots, spinach, and lettuce will go in later, once I get the last of the Walla Wallas out of the way.

With the return of some consistent soil moisture, our tomatoes are now ripening without severely cracked tops. Most of our large, first picking had cracked tops that spoiled quickly. We used the good bottom halves of some of them on sandwiches, but the lot began to spoil before we could use or can them all. None, of course, were good enough for seed saving, as we only use perfect fruit for that.

 

Saturday, July 23, 2016 - Planting Fall Kale

Fertilizer and lime added to rowKale seeded and watered inI got impatient last night, not always a good thing in gardening. I went out at sundown and used a garden rake to pull back the mulch from our previous row of short peas. I was checking the soil to see if I could get away with just a quick refresh of the soil and direct seed our kale without rototilling the area.

After hoeing part of the row, I was pleased to find it to be moist, loose, dark loam. With our recent rains, waiting to till seemed less important to me than having adequate soil moisture to germinate the seed. Kale seed can be hard to start in late July-early August dry soil.

This morning, I thoroughly hoed some fertilizer and lime into the soil. Kale, like most brassicas, is a heavy feeder, so I spread a lot of 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer in a foot wide band over the row. Brassicas also like neutral to slightly sweet soil. The lime should take care of that.

After stringing the row, I went back and hoed it again, working to break up any remaining soil clumps. Then I made a furrow about a quarter to a half inch deep down my string line. I seeded most of the row to our favorite kale variety, Vatesicon (also called Dwarf Blue Curled or Dwarf Blue Scotch). I also seeded a bit of Lacinatoicon and Red Ursaicon for variety.

I pinched soil from the sides of the furrow over the row, patting it with my hand to firm it a bit. Then I watered the row with a sprinkling can to help get the seed started. If we don't have rain, I'll continue watering the seeded row morning and evening until the kale emerges.

I also pulled mulch up close to the planted row to conserve soil moisture. Since I didn't have any fresh mulch available, I stole grass clippings from the rest of our main raised bed for the mulching.

Heat

I worked in the garden for a bit less than two hours this morning. When I got done around noon, the heat index was 100° F, and I was totally worn out and a bit dehydrated. Even though I would have liked to plant rows of cowpeas and lima beans, I decided to call it a day because of the heat.

If you're working outside in the heat, do be careful. It sorta snuck up on me today. I found that I was a bit woozy when I got back inside.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Our Senior Garden - July 22, 2016Flowers and herbs around shallow wellWe started our day with light rain. It was just enough precipitation to keep our lawn too wet to mow and the humidity high enough to drive up this afternoon's heat index.

When I took our almost daily garden shot out of the sunroom window this morning, the color in our new raised bed around our shallow well caught my eye.

In between and even during the light showers, I weeded the long row of zinnias I'd planted along the northern border of our East Garden. I'd previously scuffle hoed along the plants and had mulched up to one side of them in our melon patch. But there was lots of grass in and beside the row of now foot tall flowers.

Eighty foot row of zinnias weededFirst squash bug of the seasonI hand pulled the weeds today, only resorting to using my CobraHead Weeder a couple of times. Along the border of grass to garden, I used grass trimmers to knock back the grass and trim seed heads. The job took about an hour to complete. I still need to thin and mulch the zinnias. But the effort should be well worth it when the flowers begin to bloom.

When I went back outside this afternoon to grab a photo of the weeded zinnias, I spied a squash bug on our yellow squash plant. He didn't appear to have any "friends" with him, nor could I find any eggs on the leaves. I squished the bug, but I'll need to spray the squash and also check our pumpkin and butternut vines for squash bugs.

With the heat index at an even 100° F, I decided to call it a day a bit early and take a nap in the air conditioning.


Thursday, July 21, 2016 - Heat Advisories

Our Senior Garden - July 21, 2016If you haven't heard yet, there are lots of heat advisories out for the next few days. A heat dome has formed over the midwest and will move towards the east coast in the next few days. High temperatures near or above 100° F have been predicted, with a heat index well into the hundreds. That's great weather for ripening watermelons, but not so good for old folks working outside in the heat of the day.

President Obama's Tweet about the heatOur President even tweeted out a timely warning about the heat earlier this week.

Working early in the day is an option to get things done. That doesn't help much if you need to mow or work crops such as beans or melons that shouldn't be worked when wet with dew. Working late in the day can sometimes be an option, but I suspect temperatures won't drop significantly until well after sundown each day.

Since we received 1.55 inches of rain Tuesday night and yesterday morning, there will be plenty of humidity here to push up the heat index. I'm glad for the rain, but not so much for the intense heat.

Melons

Ripening Avatar melon
Blacktail Mountain watermelons

I try to find time to walk our melon rows each day, looking for ripening melons and any signs of serious insect damage or disease. Things still look good in our 40' x 55' melon patch, although I'm not seeing as many melons on the vines as I'd like. That's probably more a result of having to wait until early June to transplant the melon plants. Wet soil conditions prevented tilling our large East Garden plot until late May this year. While walking the now vine filled patch, I did find one huge cantaloupe, a bunch of ripe yellow squash, and a couple of nice Blacktail Mountain watermelons. From the cantaloupe's position in the row, I think it's an Avatar, although it gets hard to tell when the vines crisscross other varieties.

Avatars produce a melon slightly larger than the ever popular Athena melons with a similar flavor. I actually like Athenas a bit better. We've had Avatar plants produce our first ripe melons in past years, and that may well be the case again this year. The melon in question isn't at half or full slip, usually reliable indicators of maturity of cantaloupes. Sadly, both our Athena and Avatar melons have for some reason failed to go to half or full slip at maturity in past years, making me rely on the skin color of the melon and aroma to determine when to pick them.

Melon vines and East GardenOur favorite muskmelon variety is the icebox sized Sugar Cube. They have a shorter days-to-maturity rating than the Athena or Avatars, but often seem to take a bit longer to ripen. Since Sugar Cubes are small melons, they're hard to detect under the dense cover of leaves in our melon patch. While our Athenas and Avatars often produce several nice melons per vine before fading, Sugar Cube plants are able to continue producing for a much longer period.

I'm excited about the progress of our melon patch. With our East Garden rotations and especially with it all laying fallow last season, we're not yet seeing any serious insect invasions or disease problems. The break in cover and ground trash that insect eggs and diseases remain in appears to be working to our advantage.

Most of the varieties in our melon patch are ones we've grown in the past. New this year are the Blacktail Mountain and Congo watermelons and the one hill of Diplomat honeydew (which has set on melons).

East Garden, July 21, 2016
East Garden plan

Planting the melon hills just four feet apart in the row this year may make getting to ripe melons without stepping on vines a problem. The melon vines have filled most of the patch far more quickly than I had expected. We usually leave at least six feet between hills in the rows. And the center, fifteen foot aisle between the melon rows is now almost totally covered with vines.

Main Garden

Renovating and re-planting our main raised garden bed is still on hold as I wait for the last of our onions to fully mature and the ground to dry. Some Copras, Milestones, and Walla Wallas are still putting on some size, although I pull a few each day as their roots begin to loosen in the soil. I'm particularly pleased with the size of our Milestone hybrid onions this year. They're a good bit larger than in the past few years.

Onions still in ground and some curing on ground Main raised bed Large Milestone onions curing on ground

Trouble in Cucumberland

When getting ready to snap a shot of a baby cucumber this morning, I saw that our annual scourge of cucumber beetles has began. This time around, it's the striped cucumber beetle that has invaded the cucumbers on our double trellis. Besides the considerable feeding damage cucumber beetles do, they also can carry and transmit some nasty plant diseases.

Striped cucumber beetles on cucumber blossom

Baby cucumber with insect damaged leaves around itI'd sprayed our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines last week when I saw some early signs of insect damage. Evidently, our recent, heavy rains washed the protection off the plants. Because cucumber beetles can do so much damage very quickly, I didn't wait for nightfall to spray the vines again. Fortunately, no bees seemed to be visiting the cucumber blossoms this morning.

Buckwheat blooming, cucumber vines in backgroundUsually, once we get past the initial attack by the beetles, we don't have to use any of our heavy hitter insecticides as I did today to keep the plants clean. But having seen (and hopefully, dispatched) the cucumber beetles on our vines in the back yard, it probably won't be long until the survivors migrate to our melon vines in our East Garden.

While the leaves in the photo above look pretty healthy, the older leaf in the photo at left shows significant insect damage. I'm not sure if the beetles also caused the small cucumber shown to curl. I'll need to spray the cucumbers with a fungicide tomorrow in case the cucumber beetles were carrying any plant diseases.

Stepping back a bit from the narrow raised bed of tomato and cucumber plants, one can see that the buckwheat I seeded a month ago is beginning to bloom. I'll let it grow a little more before cutting and turning it under. Then I'll let the ground sit a week or two to let the buckwheat begin to decay. It sucks up a lot of nitrogen in the process of decomposition. Eventually, I'll transplant fall brassicas into the bed.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - We're Gonna Get Wet

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Wunderground radarI'm up late. It's actually very early Wednesday morning, and I began to hear thunder to the west about 20 minutes ago. When I checked the WunderMap radar, I saw a fairly active storm system coming in. Checking a Weather Underground reporting station a bit southwest of us, I found that they'd already received almost an inch of rain in about an hour's time.

As I'm writing now, it's raining cats and dogs outside. Hopefully, we won't have any more limbs down from the storm, something we've had way too many of this summer. But we also can use a good rain, especially at this point in July. It will help with cracked tomatoes that I wrote about yesterday and make direct seeding our fall crops a good bit easier.

Our current extended weather forecast doesn't offer much hope for rain in the next week, other than pop-up showers like the one we're getting tonight. So even though I won't be able to mow the field tomorrow due to standing water, I'm happy to get the rain.

We're still on hold on renovating our main raised bed and getting our fall plantings started. I'm waiting on some onions that are still adding some size to their bulbs before tilling and replanting the plot. I test a few onions daily to see if they are still firmly rooted. If they are, I leave them in the ground. Those that pull easily get to dry in the sun for a day before going to our drying/curing table. Fortunately, I took in all the onions drying on the ground today, as the rain certainly wouldn't help them dry down and cure for storage.

Most of the rain has now moved past us. (I write very slowly.) I can still see lightning to the south of us from my office window. Nearby weather stations are reporting about an inch of rain from the storm. I won't know for sure what we got until I empty our rain gauge in the morning. But I'm guessing that we got about what the weather stations received, which will greatly improve our monthly rainfall total, although not quite bringing it up to average precipitation levels for this month.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016 - Hot!

Our Senior Garden - July 19, 2016It's hot and humid out today, so I'm staying inside as much as possible and taking it easy. We have a lot of tomatoes just about ready to pick, and I continue to move a few onions from the garden to our drying/curing table each day.

Part of my apparent laziness today is to let some sore muscles rest for a day. When I mowed our lawn on Sunday, I bumped our mailbox post with the rear bumper of the lawn tractor. The post and a very heavy steel mailbox promptly fell over. The railroad tie that had always supported our mailbox had rotted out at ground level.

So yesterday, I dug a new hole with a post hole digger (a tool that makes me nostalgic for a tractor mounted post auger) and put the mailbox back up atop a leftover cedar 4x4. I have no illusions of the cedar post lasting as long as the railroad tie did, but I had the necessary materials on hand and the job is done (for now).

I also had to make a trip to Terre Haute today to pick up a couple of gage wheels for the mower. They're the wheels that go around the mower deck. Our front wheels had worn out after almost five seasons of use. After carrying inside all the supplies I bought while in town, I replaced the wheels, a fairly easy job. But I was also soaked with sweat and decided staying inside with a glass of iced tea was a better option for this afternoon than gardening.

Later

Annie and I picked tomatoes after supper this evening. It was our first major picking. While the size of the tomatoes was good, almost all of them were cracked on top. Cracking is often said to be caused by a dry spell followed by wet conditions that causes rapid growth that cracks the tomatoes.

Picked tomatoes Lots of cracked tomatoes Trimmed, the tomatoes will still taste good

Some of the cracked fruit had mold and/or spoilage and had to be thrown out. But most of the tomatoes can be trimmed and used...and will taste great.

The good news in all of this is that there will be more tomatoes, and they won't all be cracked.

Saturday, July 16, 2016 - Garlic & Onions

Elephant garlic on drying tableI cleared the garlic off the 4x8 sheet of plywood in the garage we'd been using as a drying/curing table today. I dug our garlic on June 19 and 20. It had been on our makeshift drying table with a fan blowing over it since.

After trimming the garlics' roots down to about a half inch, I used a soft brush to remove the garden soil trapped in them. The brush also loosened some dirty outer wrappers. I trimmed the tops of the garlic within two to four inches of the bulbs. Softneck garlics got their tops twisted off, while the hardnecks and elephant garlic had to be trimmed with a pair of heavy scissors.

I filled a ten pound potato bag with elephant garlic and another bag and a half with standard garlic. I left a few softneck garlics with their tops on to make one more garlic braid. The bagged garlic went to our basement plant room that runs cooler than any other area of our home.

We had far less cull garlics this year than in previous years. Still, there are a dozen or so elephant and standard garlics with split wrappers or other damage that makes them unsuitable for long-term storage. I'll peel those garlics and run them through the food processor to chop them. After drying the chopped pieces (and paste) in our food dehydrator, I'll grind the dried garlic in an old coffee grinder to make garlic powder.

Important Note: I now dry our garlic in the garage! I started drying it in the house several years ago and just about did Annie and I in with the strong garlic odor. Drying herbs in the food dehydrator leaves a pleasant aroma in the house, but garlic just about ran us out.

Clearing the drying table of garlic became a priority this week, as many of our onions are maturing. I already have a bag of the short day Red Creole onions cured, bagged, and stored in the basement. After sweeping up the garlic tops, roots, and dirt from the roots from the table, I carried in several loads of onions I'd pulled this week. I'd let them cure in the sun for a day or two, but they need a week or so on the drying table to dry down enough to trim the tops before bagging and storing them.

We still have some pulled onions drying on the ground in the garden and a few apparently actively growing. But our onion harvest is well on its way. The row of extra onions I put in the middle of our main raised bed have all been pulled, clearing the way for potential tilling and replanting.

Some early reflections on our onion crop are that the Clear Dawn open pollinated onion did just as well as the Copra hybrid from which it was developed. The star of our red onions was once again the Red Zeppelin hybrid. We also got some lovely, large Rossa di Milanos. The Milestone variety produced the largest of our yellow storage onions. Besides being a reasonably good storage onion, Milestones are fairly sweet.

If you're looking for good onion varieties to grow, let me suggest the varieties we grew this year. Of course, this recommendation is for onions grown in zone 6. Our hybrid yellows were Milestone and Copra. Our open pollinated yellows were Clear Dawn, Yellow of Parma, Stuttgarter, and Jaune Paille du Vertus. Red Zeppelins were our hybrid red with Rosa di Milano and Red Creoles also performing well. Our sweet onions, still not done growing, are Walla Wallas. It looks as if they'll produce some huge sweet onions for us this year.

Let me add another reminder here to order garlic if you need it this month. While you don't plant garlic in this area until October, you have to order your garlic by August 1 to avoid vendors having already sold out of the more popular varieties! With our excellent harvest of garlic this year, we won't be ordering any garlic for planting. Our best garlic ordered over the years has come from Territorial Seed Company, Burpee, Sow True Seed, and Botanical Interests (in that order, best to good).

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Friday, July 15, 2016 - Fall Gardens

Our Senior Garden - July 15, 2016There are about 90-some days left in the growing season here in central Indiana. We're finishing bringing in our spring planted crops while continuing to care for full season crops such as peppers, tomatoes, and melons. We still have enough growing days left this summer to grow a nice fall garden.

We've already harvested and canned all the green beans we'll need for the next year, but there's actually time to successfully grow a direct seeded fall crop of them. Fall beans are said to be more tender than those grown earlier in the season, although I'm not sure that's not just an old wives' tale.

We'll be direct seeding kale, carrots, and spinach later this month. Kale can often last far beyond the first mild frosts of fall. The flavor of kale may even be enhanced a bit with a touch of frost.

Fall brassicas startedOther fall brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc., are best started early and transplanted into the fall garden in late July or early August. Our brassica transplants are happily maturing in deep sixpack inserts in trays on our back porch.

Writing that, I realized that our fall brassicas needed a protective spray of Thuricide. And sure enough, shortly after I applied the spray, a couple of small white cabbage moths visited the plants. I also need to thin the plants to one plant per cell.

Also hardening off on our back porch are a couple of replacement yellow squash plants. Our favorite hybrid yellow squash variety, Slick Pik, wears out and dies after a month or more of production. To have yellow squash all season, I have to plant a succession of the plants. Of course, our Saffron, open pollinated yellow squash plants seem to last most of a growing season. Unfortunately, the one I put out in June was from saved seed. Apparently, the plant had crossed with our butternut squash and had to be rogued out. I do have a small, true Saffron transplant started as well, but they take a long time to mature.

Part of the trick to growing a good fall garden is being aware that the days and their life giving sunlight are getting shorter. One needs to add about fourteen days to standard days-to-maturity numbers for non-frost hardy vegetables to safely mature. Of course, one can employ frost protection such as cold frames or floating row covers to get past the first mild frost of fall.

Having harvested our short peas for seed today, I'm toying with the idea of another planting of peas. The short peas are about 65 day varieties. Adding on seven days for germination and another fourteen days to compensate for the shortening sunlight each day, the Eclipse and Encore peas might start producing in 86 days. That's cutting it pretty close, but I do love fresh peas.

Eclipse peas drying and some ready to shellAfter using our short peas for table use and freezing, we still got several ounces of what appears to be good seed today. The Encore peas had shattered a bit on the vine, reducing the quantity of seed I got there. The Eclipse peas were just about perfect for harvesting seed for future plantings. The pods were brown and brittle with the seed inside pretty dry. Interestingly, the Eclipse peas also had filled out green pods of peas that were just a few days past being at the stage for table use. I sorted out the green pods to dry separately from the dry, mature pods I shelled for seed.

The image at left shows the green pea pods and about a fourth of the pods ready for shelling.

Baby gloxiniasWe also have a new "crop" of gloxinias coming along in the basement under our plant lights. I seeded them on June 8 in a communal pot and transplanted a tray of them to fourpacks this week. The now tiny plants should begin blooming sometime in November or December. While we've had more gloxinias than we wanted to care for recently, sharing blooming plants has reduced that population to a more manageable number. I started the June plants so that we'd have gloxinias in bloom all winter. By fall, our current bloomers will be in or headed towards their required, annual period of dormancy.

Kidney Beans

I brought in our row of kidney beans yesterday. I could have let them dry down another week or so on the plants, but I might then begin to lose beans from pods shattering. And as it is, I really wanted the beans out as I work to get our main raised bed cleared for planting our fall garden.

I pulled the plants and picked the pods off of them. Later, I shelled the pods, being careful not to keep any molded or terribly irregular beans. Picking the fourteen foot row produced just over three pounds of good beans, although the beans will dry down to a lower weight in the next week or so.

Kidney beans dryingThis was my first really successful crop of kidney beans. Years ago, I miserably failed when I first tried growing them. In 2014, we had a long row of kidney beans that got overgrown with weeds. I put off picking them and ended up with a lot of beans on the ground from shattered pods. The good beans that year from a forty foot row produced only four pints of canned beans!

With dried kidney beans running a little over $2/pound at the grocery, I think this is another garden crop one grows for the quality of the harvest rather than any great savings on cost. I grew our kidney beans specifically to use in the Portuguese Kale Soup we'll make later this season. Other than the chicken, broth, and smoked sausage, everything in the soup comes from our garden.

I may yet can some of the kidney beans, as three pounds is way too much for our soup recipe.

BLTs

We had BLTs for supper this evening. Our first two tomatoes to ripen this season provided the "T" of the BLT. Both tomatoes were badly cracked on their tops, but once trimmed and chilled were quite flavorful. Among other things, we also had battered and fried yellow squash with our supper.

Both of our remaining Earlirouge tomato plants had to be sprayed with Serenade biofungicide today. They're showing signs of bacterial spot and possibly some kind of blight. Both are ripening tomatoes, but we certainly won't be able to save seed from the potentially infected fruit. Fortunately, we still have a good supply of Earlirouge tomato seed saved over the last two years.

These tomatoes are growing on "clean" ground and were started from hot water treated seed. I'm not sure where these diseases came in from, although I wonder about some leaf mulch I spread over the ground last fall.

Fortunately, our Moira, Quinte, and a couple of hybrid tomatoes all still look pretty good. The Moiras are also ripening a lot of tomatoes right now. The Quintes and a Bella Rosa and a Mountain Fresh went into the ground a bit later. They all have small tomatoes on them which hopefully will spread out our harvest until fall.

More Spraying

I applied another heavy spray of Bobbex to our direct seeded sweet corn this morning. I also spread a fresh layer of blood meal around the perimeter of the planting. The corn has now tasseled and is just getting ready to silk (the first stage of an ear of corn appearing). Once the ears of corn really set on, we'll see if we can keep the deer out of the patch.

Plow & Hearth

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Part of corn plot tilledI realized that I was being a little foolish leaving the deer ravaged remains of our first sweet corn in the ground. The plants weren't going to re-grow, although a few had half bitten ears low on their stalks. So my first job today was to chop out the stalks with my corn knife, compost them, and till under the remaining corn trash.

We still have four rows of sweet corn that are relatively undamaged by the deer. I'm not sure if my last, heavy application of Bobbex or some blood meal I put down deterred the deer. It could also be that this corn is a good bit taller than the early variety transplants the deer devoured. There's also lots more on the menu for area deer, as most fields of corn and beans are well up now. We see lots of deer browsing the bean fields around us.

Whatever the cause, I'm a happy camper right now. I thought at one point that we'd not have any sweet corn this year. That could still happen, but things are looking up. Of course, the raccoons don't start their late night parties until the ears of sweet corn are nearly mature.

Long row of zinniasLong row of nasturtiumsI'd intended to till around our potato rows this morning, but realized that the corn patch cleanup needed to be done first. Dark clouds soon appeared on the horizon, followed by thunder and a few sprinkles. I tilled down and back along our row of emerging nasturtiums just as it began to pour. I was hot and sweaty enough that the cold rain felt pretty good, but I'm sure it wasn't doing our senior tiller any good. While I called it a day at that point, I got out this evening and spread a bit more blood meal around the corn to discourage the deer.

The long rows of zinnias and nasturtiums I planted late last month have come up pretty well. There are a few gaps in the rows, but enough seed germinated that I think we'll have a pretty display of flowers along the long dimensions of the East Garden sometime next month. I scuffle hoed beside the rows yesterday.

Zinnias and nasturtiums were two of my mother's favorite flowers. I guess I inherited her likes. Being fully retired, other than writing and maintaining this site, I now have the time to fool around with planting long rows of flowers, just for the fun of it.

Several years ago, we had a long row of zinnias along the front edge of the garden with a large area of buckwheat in bloom behind the zinnias. It was fun to see folks on the road slow down or stop to look at the gorgeous display of blooms. We may experience something somewhat similar this season, as when all of our corn comes out, that area will be planted to a cover/smother crop of buckwheat to improve the soil.

Carrots Dug!

Spring carrot harvest - 2016Carrots out, row mulchedI dug and processed our carrots yesterday. Our double, eight foot rows produced about two pounds of carrots good enough to store fresh in green bags in the refrigerator. I also froze about the same amount of cut carrots from the many splits that weren't fit for fresh storage.

Our spring planting of carrots is intended to get us through until our fall carrots mature. This year's crop was slowed by a bit of digging by our dogs that required some re-seeding. With the varied germination dates, we got a nice assortment of fully mature carrots, baby carrots, and a lot in between. I'm happy with that, as those "in betweens" are very sweet and tender. We had baby carrots and yellow squash steamed with garlic, onions, and dill weed with our supper this evening.

After I finished digging the carrots, I covered the dug area with grass clipping mulch. Even with some recent rains, our soil is still somewhat dry. The mulch will help hold in soil moisture for the adjacent bulbing onions.

I'll direct seed our fall carrots at the end of this month or in early August. Our how-to story, How We Grow Our Carrots, tells all about how we seed, grow, harvest, and store our carrots. Our way is not the only way, it's just what works well for us.

While digging the carrots which ran down a row bordered by rows of onions, it was hard to miss that our onions are just about mature. Many of them have fallen over, although most are still well rooted in the soil. I've already harvested, cured, and stored our short day Red Creole onions. Growing the variety gives us mature red onions to use early in the season without having to steal maturing onions of other varieties. And...I really like the flavor of Red Creoles.

Next to the onions, our row of kidney beans are just about mature. Leaves are yellowing and dropping off the plants while the pods are drying down nicely. I'm trying to decide whether to dry or can the beans. I'm leaning towards canning them again as we did in 2014, as I think we'll have more beans than we can use in our annual fall batches of Portuguese Kale Soup. Saving the seed for future plantings is definitely out, as the kidney beans bloomed at the same time as an adjacent row of green beans bloomed.

While working in our main garden, I noticed one Earlirouge tomato getting a little red, although it was cracked at the top. It shouldn't be long before we have fresh tomatoes.

I also harvested some Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed yesterday. As the plants dry down, I'm beginning to be able to tell the male from the female, seed baring plants.

More on Our East Garden

I mowed and raked the one acre field next to our property on Sunday. The collected grass clipping mulch almost finished covering the bare ground around our melon rows.

Mulched melon rows

Over the years, I've tried varied spacings of our melon hills in the rows. This year I transplanted our melons four feet apart in the rows. Even with fifteen feet between the rows of melons and a good bit of training of the vines, it appears the central aisle will be overgrown in the next week or so.

Two maturing cantaloupesAnotheer nice, early maturing cantaloupeWhile mulching, I noticed several nice sized cantaloupes maturing on the vines. One fairly large watermelon I saw yesterday was impossible to find today, apparently from new leaf growth covering it.

I'm sorta holding my breath on the melon plantings, as we haven't as yet experienced any insect problems in the melon patch. Having let the area lay fallow last year when I was recovering from hip replacement surgery seems to have given us a real break in insect and disease pressure on the melons.

I check the vines daily or every other day for signs of an insect invasion or disease problems. But so far, I haven't had to break out any of our heavy hitter, non-organic sprays to protect the patch.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Saturday, July 9, 2016 - I'm Becoming an Heirloom!

Gloxinias for family membersGarlic braidI was at the computer late last night. At 12:01 A.M., an email from the Tomatoville® Gardening Forums popped up with birthday wishes. It read in part, "Don't think of it as getting older - think of it as becoming an heirloom!"

We had a family birthday party today for a granddaughter turning seven. Part of our contribution to the gathering was a couple of blooming gloxinias and a braid of garlic I put together yesterday evening.

I was a little surprised at how much soil the garlic roots were holding. I'm going to have to brush the soil off and out of the garlics drying in our garage for them to finish curing properly. Eventually, the roots and tops will be trimmed before storage in our basement in old, nylon potato bags.

I haven't shared a photo of our new herb garden yet this month, so I'll do it here. We're really enjoying being able to snip a little fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley, etc. as we cook. The herb garden around our shallow well cover is just a few steps from the back door.

Herb garden around shallow well

Weekly Deals from Ritz Camera

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Freshly dug carrotsOnions and carrotsI lifted a few carrots from the end of our carrot rows today for a pork roast I was fixing for dinner. I also pulled an onion, snipped a bit of thyme, and used fresh garlic for the roast. It's a very cool time of year when you pick right from the garden for your next meal.

Most of our carrots are ready to dig any time now. The far end of the row from where I dug today is running a little behind, as I had to re-seed that area this spring. But even it will produce some nice baby carrots while the rest of the row yields mature carrots.

The onions growing tightly around the carrots in our usual intensive planting are beginning to topple over. It won't be long until most of them need to come out of the ground. I purposely planted our Walla Walla onions (not shown below) at the end of the bed to possibly give them a bit more time to bulb than the other onion varieties. I've had to cut the sweet onion variety short the last two years when the other onions came out, as I needed to turn the ground. If the Walla Wallas need an extra week or two this year to reach full size, I can allow them to remain in the ground a bit longer without holding up renovating and re-planting the rest of the bed.

Onions and carrots ready to harvest

And yes, the tiny red spot in the middle of the image above is a petunia "weed." Apparently, some of our petunias went to seed last year.

Our spring crops in our main raised bed are almost all mature. Our brassicas and green beans have long since been pulled. Once the onions and carrots come out, we'll only have a row of kidney beans and a row of peas to come out. I'm letting both dry their seed as much as possible before pulling the plants. The kidney beans will be canned for future use. The peas will be saved for future plantings.

Spring crops about done in main raised bed

Oh yeah, the two dill plants are about done for the year and will have to come out. I'll miss their beauty and aroma.

Isolation plot by barnBeyond digging a few carrots and taking pictures of the garden, I didn't do any real gardening today. After clearing our second isolation plot yesterday and having my second straight night of sore shoulders preventing good sleep, I decided to just goof off today and heal a bit.

Between letting the plot get overgrown by weeds and damage by browsing deer, we lost a few plants in the plot. But our Bella Rosa and Mountain Fresh tomato plants are doing well there. They were exiled to this somewhat remote area so they couldn't cross pollinate with the open pollinated tomatoes we hope to save seed from. Likewise, the Ace, Mecate, and Red Knight pepper plants in the plot are there to prevent cross pollination with our peppers planted elsewhere.

Deer damage in sweet cornHaving mentioned browsing deer, they've destroyed almost all of our early, transplanted sweet corn. I had to leave the sweet corn transplants in their sixpacks as I waited for our East Garden plot to dry enough to till. Apparently, the plants stunted and tasselled very short, at about an ideal height for deer to feast upon.

Our direct seeded sweet corn is a good bit taller, although the deer have taken a few bites out of it as well. I sprayed the corn with bad smelling/tasting stuff again this evening and also spread blood meal around the patch.

If this predation keeps up, I'll have to buy a solar powered fence charger next year and put up a hot wire around the sweet corn area. I've considered doing so in the past, but always was put off by the cost and hassle of dealing with an electric fence. When we farmed, we used electric fences to confine our hogs and cattle to their pastures.

Geraniums and buckwheat in narrow raised bedGetting back to happier stuff, our narrow raised bed that I seeded to buckwheat is beginning to fill in. I've had to re-seed some bare spots in it, as my seed is a year old. Our geraniums in the bed, Maverick Reds and Orbits, are going nuts blooming right now.

Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plantsOur other narrow raised bed, now planted to Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, is also doing well. I had two JLPs that weren't diseased that I transplanted into the bed. Those plants are already climbing the double trellis. The direct seeded JLPs are also doing well, so we may have a good crop of slicing and pickling cucumbers this year after losing most of our transplants to disease.

Immature Moira tomatoesAt the ends of the trellised cucumbers are our Moira tomato plants. Both of them are currently outperforming our Earlirouge tomato plants that are in our main raised bed. Years ago, I decided to primarily save seed from the Moira variety over the related Earlirouge and Quinte varieties. Over the last two years, our Earlirouge tomatoes have completely outproduced the Moiras and Quintes, making me wonder why I chose to concentrate on saving seed from the Moiras. This year's performance by the Moira variety may illustrate why.

Slick Pik yellow squashOur Slick Pik yellow squash plant is maturing lots of fruit. Sadly, our Saffron yellow squash plant from saved seed is producing fruit that looks suspiciously like butternut squash. I'd hoped our Saffron plant had crossed with the Slick Pik, but apparently, the bees moved from the butternuts to the Saffrons.

I'll have to rogue the sudo-Saffron plant tomorrow and also start replacement plants. Slick Piks don't last a whole season, and I'd like to get some true Saffrons as well this year.

Butternut squashAs of today, our butternut squash vines have outrun my efforts to keep them on mulch or, at least, bare ground treated with Roundup. If I can mow and mulch in the next few days, I may avert having a weedy butternut patch. But with rain predicted, it doesn't look good.

Waltham Butternut VinesOur butternut vines are now setting squash. Waltham Butternut squash are fairly resistant to diseases like powdery mildew, and squash bugs don't seem to like the plants as much as they do yellow squash and other varieties. Since butternuts store extremely well, all of these factors make butternuts a good choice for folks looking for vegetables that produce lots to feed a family. The only drawback to butternuts is that they require a lot of space to grow. That's why we grow them in the field just outside our East Garden plot where they can vine as much as they want.

Pumpkin plantsOur recently transplanted pumpkins won't outrun their mulch any time soon. I continue to closely monitor the planting for the sure-to-come invasion of squash bugs. Working to our advantage, this ground sat idle last year, denying squash bugs and cucumber beetles the plants and trash they need to overwinter in. Even so, we'll eventually have to spray our yellow squash and/or pumpkins for squash bugs. The cucumber beetles will eventually come as well. I use liquid Sevin for the squash bugs (There goes our organics!) and Neem Oilicon for the cucumber beetles.

My Apologies

For those looking for how-to information on gardening, my apologies for today's posting. I usually try to show how to do stuff on this site. But today was basically a day off. Weather conditions produced a day known and loved by photographers as "cloudy bright," which makes photography really easy. So I took and posted photos today without really doing much gardening.

We had a few sprinkles of rain today. They weren't enough to even go out and empty the rain gauge for, although I had to turn my windshield wipers on a couple of times as I drove to town. Tomorrow may also be rainy. I suspect that I won't be doing any serious gardening until early next week.

Hostmonster.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 - More Rain

Garden from back porchIt appears we're going to have another rainy day today. We had received a half inch of rain by 10 A.M., with the weather forecast and radar suggesting we'll be getting more as the day progresses.

It was actually rather dark outside this morning. During a lull in the thunderstorms, I grabbed a couple of shots of our garden. With the glories of in-camera, purposeful underexposure and some massaging in Photoshop, I got the images light enough to use here! It was that dark!

Rainy days aren't always a total loss for gardeners. If the rain lets up, I'll get out and do some light weeding in the flowerbeds on the north and east sides of our house. Since cleaning them up over the last few weeks, seedling weeds have begun to spring up in them. The moist soil conditions make pulling grass seedlings, roots and all, pretty easy.

Recovering an Overgrown Plot

Overgrown isolation plot
Recovered isolation plot

If you garden long enough, sooner or later you'll have a garden plot get away from you and overgrow with weeds. It's a common outcome for new gardeners who may, with high expectations, plant too much ground, only to find they don't have the time to keep up with it all. For a veteran gardener, it's a bit of an embarrassment.

AmazonI started two isolation plots in late April. I filled them with tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, and some geraniums...and then got busy with other stuff. Not surprisingly, both plots became overgrown with weeds, and I really wasn't sure I could save them.

I took on cleaning up one of the plots yesterday. The weeding took a while, but the recent rains we've had allowed me to hand pull most of the weeds. Areas directly under the tomato and pepper plants were less weedy, as I'd heavily mulched the plants when I transplanted them. Almost all of the grass clipping mulch had decayed, but it had done its job holding back weeds. Several areas along the sides of the bed required the use of my trusty CobraHead Weeder, an ideal tool for removing well-rooted weeds.

The two open pollinated Quinte tomato plants growing in the bed had stayed ahead of the weeds and have tomatoes set on their vines. The paprika pepper plants hadn't fared so well. One of the plants had died, and another had misshapen peppers growing on it. Both of them were replaced. A couple of basil plants I'd put in beside the tomato cages seemed to be doing pretty well, other than being in full bloom (something not good if you're going to harvest and dry the basil leaves).

I'd also put in a couple of geraniums in April. One was totally gone and had to be replaced. The other had several bloom spikes on it that had been nipped off. I'm guessing that our area deer population may have sampled the blooms.

Another view of an isolation plot

I dropped the deck on our lawn mower as low as it would go and made a few passes around the isolation plot to slow down the grass around it. Then I applied a heavy layer of grass clipping mulch under and around the plants.

While we'll use some of the tomatoes from this plot for fresh use and canning, the Quintes are mainly there for seed production. It's been a couple of years since I've refreshed our saved Quinte seed supply. The Hungarian and Paprika Supreme paprika peppers will be used to make ground paprika, although we may save some seed as well. I'd really like the two paprika varieties to cross a bit and see what we get from it.

I have one more isolation plot to clean up, although it appears to be in worse shape than the plot I cleaned up yesterday. But it has a couple of our favorite hybrid tomato varieties and several hybrid pepper plants in it, so it will be worth a try once the rain stops. The plot had some early deer damage that took out the parsley plants I'd put in it. But the tomatoes and some of the peppers, along with one durable geranium plant, have survived my neglect so far.

Monday, July 4, 2016 - Fourth of July

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Our Senior Garden - July 4, 2016We started the day today with heavy fog followed by rain. That's not exactly ideal weather for folks' outdoor Fourth of July festivities. Since we're gardeners with no special plans for the holiday, we welcomed the much needed rain. We've had over two inches fall in the last day or so with more rain predicted for this evening. Daily high temperatures over the weekend ran around 70° F! We've enjoyed having the air conditioning turned off and our windows open for several days.

During a break in the rain yesterday, I got out and transplanted some more flowers around the edge of our main raised garden bed. I was surprised to find bone dry soil in a couple of areas where I put petunias and marigolds. Evidently, our grass clipping mulch had adsorbed all the rain that had fallen to that point, keeping the soil in a few spots hard and dry.

Oops!

I had to laugh when I saw the online front page of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star today. The first sentence of an enterprising young writer's article, Market for organic produce continues to expand, read, "Hal Hackleman knelt in the garden at The Pickery Tuesday afternoon, sifting his hands through the dirt to snap a carrot off the vine."

Writer Nick Hedrick redeemed himself with an interesting story about a U-pick farm that is now taking online orders. He wrote, "Along with carrots, other products currently available online include kale, red beets, green cabbage, small red cabbage, celery, collard greens and various herbs." Nick also was very polite in responding to my brief email informing him that carrots don't grow on vines.

Gloxinias

Our gloxinias continue to dazzle us with their varied blooms. I brought two plants in bloom down from the sunroom today and two more up from the basement to sit briefly on our dining room table.

Gloxinias on dining room table

I say briefly, as I suggested to my wife, Annie, that it would be great if she shared some of our overabundance of gloxinia plants with some of her co-workers. When she took the first one into work last week, her friends there began to ask what kind of plants they were and where they could get one.

We're not giving away all of our gloxinias. I just got carried away with the seeding two years ago when I re-started our collection. A few less plants to care for is a blessing, especially since I started a few more from seed last month to ensure we'd have gloxinias in bloom to enjoy this winter.

Sam's Club July ISB

Sunday, July 3, 2016 - Rain

Our Senior Garden - July 3, 2016
Our East Garden - July 3, 2016

Water CharityWe're getting a good, solid rain today...at last! For those with cookouts, family gatherings, parades, and fireworks planned in this area, it looks to be a very wet long weekend with the rain extending through much of tomorrow.

Rain on or around the Fourth of July isn't all that unusual for our part of the country. We often have thunderstorms during the first third of July. We get in real trouble with rainfall and soil moisture after that, with it staying dry the rest of July and all of August many years. Such conditions make getting our fall garden started difficult.

Getting well over an inch of rain so far today should leave our garden plots in pretty good shape for the next week or so. The rain on the new mulch recently laid in our East Garden should heat up the mulch a bit, helping it suppress weed growth underneath it.

Rainfall elsewhere in the United States is still pretty spotty this summer. Gardening friends in some areas of the south report bone dry ground. The far west is still experiencing dry conditions as well.

During the drought of 2012, I discovered that our government provides some descriptive web pages and graphics about drought conditions and predictions for the country. Until last week's report, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed our county in the "Abnormally Dry" classification, the mildest of their drought ratings.

While knowing about drought conditions won't make it rain, the forecasts provided may help you in garden planning. And since our tax dollars pay for this stuff, it's free for me to share with you here.

Drought Information
U.S. Drought Monitor
United States Weekly Drought Monitor
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook
United States Monthly Drought Outlook
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
United States Seasonal Drought Outlook
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Weekly Drought Monitor

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader

Saturday, July 2, 2016 - Daisy Day

Our Senior Garden - July 2, 2016
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Daisy mess
Hosta, lavender, petunias, vinca, and rose bush
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

I dug out the daisies along the east side of our house today. I'd foolishly put in a tall variety of Shasta Daisies, Alaskaicon, last year. The variety totally outgrew its space and toppled over onto the sidewalk.

I replaced the daisies with a lavender plant and two hostas I'd been given. Hopefully, they won't outgrow the space. I also put in a few petunias and vincas along the edge of the bed. The one blooming petunia shown is actually a volunteer plant I discovered when I weeded the bed.

I've been trying to grow daisies of various varieties for several years. Some didn't last due to harsh winters, while others went in the wrong spot.

Having seen how nice Shasta Daisies could be if given the space, I started my work day today by transplanting two dozen of them onto what was once an isolation plot at the back of our yard. When our senior dog, Mac, passed away in May, I buried him in the old isolation plot. There's a bit of a joke there about what he'll be doing.

New daisy plantingThe old isolation plot had the worst soil of any we garden, so remembering a beloved pet with daisies should be a far better use for the ground. The plot is beside Bonnie's Asparagus Patch, a second asparagus patch we care for just off our property, but still part of the property we help keep up.

Not to be without daisies along the side of our house, I ordered some shorter daisy varieties last week from Burpee. The Silver Princessicon variety are supposed to grow about a foot tall, while the Painted Daisiesicon grow two feet tall. I need to get the seed started now if I'm going to get them into the ground yet this season. An area on the other side of the air conditioner doesn't have anything growing in it right now. It had daffodils in it before, but I think the dogs digging and laying in that area pretty well did them in.

Closeup of new daisy plantingWhen I transplanted the daisies this morning, I made sure to leave a foot between each plant. I'd crowded the previous planting by the house, somewhat causing some of the plants' floppiness. Since this area had been heavily mulched since late last summer, I didn't have to do any special soil preparation. I just pulled back the mulch, dug and watered a hole, and plopped in the flowers. So we'd have some blooms this season, I popped in a few petunias on the ends of the planting.

Daisies often don't come into bloom until their second year in the ground. We had some Gloriosa Daisiesicon bloom their first year, but then they died over the winter. I'd really like this new planting to last a few years.

Callie Jo and Red Creole onionsAs I came in from finishing up the flowerbed along the east side of our house, I thought to check the Red Creoleicon onions I'd pulled this week and have curing on the back porch. Our senior cat, Callie Jo, must like the smell of onions, as she was sleeping by them. Callie is twelve years old, but is thoroughly enjoying the outdoors in her old age. I know that feeling.

Red Creoles are a short day onion and are usually the first we pull. The rest of our onions are now bulbing, but will need a few more weeks before they're ready to harvest.

It's still very dry here. This week I mowed the grass and even washed the truck, but still, we got no rain. A few minutes ago, I employed my last rainmaking trick. I lit the charcoal grill.

Sure enough, it's started sprinkling outside.

Burpee Gardening

Friday, July 1, 2016

July is a month of transition for us in our Senior Garden. Other than our season long tomato and pepper crops, we'll finish harvesting the rest of our raised beds and begin planting for the fall. Onions, carrots, and tomatoes should soon be ready. We might be able to dig a few new potatoes, and we have lots of herbs to dry in our food dehydrator.

Since our large East Garden plot went in late this year, we'll be tending it, but our melons, sweet corn, and potatoes probably won't be mature until next month. Besides continuing our mostly losing battle with deer eating sweet corn tassels, we'll be on the lookout for cucumber beetles and squash bugs this month.

I'll rototill our main raised bed once it is cleared of everything but the tomatoes, peppers, and flowers. Lime, if needed, a balanced fertilizer (probably 12-12-12), and possibly some peat moss will be worked into the soil to renovate it a bit.

Towards the end of the month, we'll direct seed kale, spinach, and carrots. Lettuce transplants will go in a little later, as will broccoli and cauliflower transplants.

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