Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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July 1, 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.


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.

 

Thursday, June 30, 2016 - June Wrap-up

June, 2016, animated GIFWe began the month of June playing catch up, completing tasks usually done in May. Light, but regular rains had prevented us working our East Garden plot until late May. So I began this month planting potatoes and transplanting melons. Despite their late start, both crops now seem to be doing well.

As hot weather set in, our spring lettuce and spinach gave us their last harvests. Likewise, we cut a few broccoli sideshoots and some very nice heads of cauliflower before pulling and composting the plants. With our broccoli having buttoned, we didn't get any of it frozen. And while we had one of our best spring harvests of cauliflower, we didn't freeze any of it either. We ate it all fresh!

Fresh peas bound for the freezerWe froze and feasted on peas all month. We first enjoyed the last pickings of our Champion of England and Maxigolt peas, and later our Eclipse and Encore peas. I'd written early this month that I thought the Champion of England and Maxigolt early peas were just as sweet as the Eclipse and Encores. I was wrong. Having just finished our harvest of the latter varieties, I'm now reminded of why both are called supersweet peas.

A good bit of time this month was spent tilling for weed control, mowing, and mulching. It's always a race getting our melons mulched before their vines run onto unmulched ground.

First load of garlic headed for the drying tableOur garlic matured several weeks earlier than in past years. I got it dug without too much trouble. I may have dug it a week or so early, but we got a good harvest of garlics with good wrappers that should store well. I was late digging our garlic last year. While we had a great harvest of huge garlics, many had grown so much that they split the outer layer of leaves (the wrapper) that protects them. While we had all the garlic we could use this last year, one had to hunt through spoiled cloves to find the good ones.

With our early pea vines pulled and composted and our garlic dug, our two narrow raised beds received succession plantings. The trellised pea bed was planted to vining cucumbers, and the garlic bed got an intermediate planting of buckwheat. When our fall brassica transplants are ready, the buckwheat will get turned under to make way for them.

We picked and canned green beans three times this month. While late beans are said to be more tender and flavorful, we had to grow our beans early this year. The field next to our raised beds is planted to soybeans this year. The soybeans draw lots of Japanese Beetles that seem to like green beans even better than soybeans. So in the years we have pretty soybeans growing next to us, we grow our green beans early to avoid having a horde of hungry Japanese Beetles migrate into our garden. I didn't have to spray our green beans for insects, something I always have to do with late beans whether there's corn or beans growing next to us.

Precipitation (Inches)1
 
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
Ave.2
Jan.
0.63
1.29
2.51
6.33
3.20
0.84
2.48
Feb.
2.36
1.03
2.05
2.24
1.10
2.28
2.41
March
3.69
4.22
1.66
2.28
1.52
3.79
3.44
April
4.22
4.03
8.88
8.75
3.80
11.51
3.61
May
3.38
3.56
3.67
10.35
1.19
3.38
4.35
June
2.87
10.35
6.51
12.18
0.15
5.53
4.13
Totals3
17.15
24.48 25.28 42.13 11.16 27.33 20.42

1Data from Kinmerom3 weather station, or from our own rain gauge during non-freezing weather
2 Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN
3 to date for 2016

Rainfall remained scarce this month. That was good for tilling and cultivating, but not so good for plant growth. Our newly plumbed shallow well got a workout all month as I drew water for transplanting and general watering of our garden.

One pleasant surprise this month was digging a few baby carrots early on to steam with the very first of our green beans. Our carrots got off to a slow start, and I had to re-seed part of the rows. But it appears that we'll be digging an nice spring crop of them early in July.

Dill seedAnother nice surprise this month was how pleasant it is to have dill growing in ones garden. Whenever I was working near the dill plants I put at the ends of our brassica rows, I enjoyed the aroma. Yesterday, while doing our last picking of green beans, I thought to check the dill and found one plant readily shedding seed. Being a total rookie at growing dill, I didn't harvest dill weed (the leaves) before the plants began to bloom. I now know that dill plants die after blooming and setting seed! I have one dill plant in our herb garden that may provide some dill weed, though. And, we're going to be able to harvest a lot of dill seed.

Our tomato plants now have lots of tomatoes on them. I transplanted our Earlirouge and Moira tomatoes on April 18 and 19. By the varieties' days-to-maturity dates, we should have ripe tomatoes by now. But tomatoes transplanted into cold ground seem to just sit still until the ground warms, lengthening the time until we get that first ripe tomato.

Two of the four Earlirouge tomato plants I put out had to be culled. They had something wrong with them, exhibiting very slow growth and severely curled leaves. Since we save seed from the open pollinated Earlirouge variety, roguing out plants with undesirable traits or health issues is essential. We still have a total of eight tomato plants. Two Quinte open pollinated plants are doing well in an isolation plot despite receiving little to no care after I transplanted them. A couple of hybrid tomatoes occupy another isolation plot. Interestingly, our Moira tomato plants growing at the ends of our double trellised narrow raised bed are doing the best of all of our tomato plants.

So far, we haven't seen any blossom end rot on our tomatoes. I saved and ground egg shells all winter and added the powder to the transplanting holes of all of our tomatoes and peppers. The ground egg shells may provide enough calcium to hold off the disorder all too frequent on early fruit. Poor soil moisture and too much nitrogen are also said to encourage blossom end rot.

Indoors

Our new crop of gloxinias, started in June, 2014, have all pretty much cycled to bloom through the summer. I'd prefer that we have some bloom in winter, but that's gardening. To have a few gloxinias in bloom this winter, I started some open pollinated gloxinia seed this month. While the plants will bloom during the coming winter, they will be first year plants with just a few blooms each.

Our 2014 gloxinias are knocking our eyes out with incredible displays of blooms. Going into their third year of growth, the corms have the energy to put on ten to twenty buds at a time.

Purple gloxinia Lots of buds on gloxinia plant Pink, Double Brocade gloxinia

Just for Fun

Jimmy Buffett concertAnnie and I found time this month to make a trip to Indianapolis to see Jimmy Buffett one more time. Imagine 24,000 drunks all in one place singing Margaritaville! I only got one margarita, as I was the designated driver for the evening. But I enjoyed the music and watching all the parrotheads in attendance.

We missed the concert last year, as I was recovering from hip replacement surgery. Trips to Indy were limited to post-op visits to the orthopedic surgeon, with Annie doing most of the driving. This time, I drove the entire six hour round trip.

Walking long distances is still difficult for me, although Annie and I had quite a jaunt this week. Our dogs took off after a family of skunks traversing the bean field behind us. Two of the three canines totally ignored Annie and my calls for them to come. Only Jackson, our lab/great dane cross had the good sense to stay a distance from the skunks. We ended up walking to the back of the field to get the dogs to give up their chase. Our hound dogs, Petra and Daisy, still stink from the encounter, with both sulking around as if they know they messed up.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Zinnia-marigold rowNasturtium rowGardening is supposed to be fun, isn't it?

Every now and then I like to do something a little different in our garden plots. Today, that was planting rows of flowers down the long sides of our East Garden. We've alternated growing zinnias and nasturtiums in the past along one side of the plot, but never on both sides.

My plan was to run zinnias down the north edge of the East Garden and nasturtiums on the south side. Unfortunately, my bag of saved zinnia seed had some saved marigold seed mixed in it, so that edge may look a bit irregular if and when it comes up.

The south edge of the garden did get nasturtiums. I soaked the nasturtium seed for about an hour before planting. I also watered the planting trench for both the zinnias and nasties before seeding. Watering two, eighty foot rows took about twenty-five gallons of water, but should give the seed all the moisture it needs to germinate.

I'm about a month late doing this planting. If it takes, we should get some nice blooms before fall.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Rain gaugeLarge gloxinia with single and doubled bloomsI pretty much took yesterday off from gardening. The heat index was 102° F, and my shoulders still hurt from hilling potatoes on Saturday. I did, however, freeze two more pints of peas. While picking peas, I noticed quite a few very limp pea pods, probably due to lack of soil moisture. That got taken care of overnight, as some strong thunderstorms dropped 0.85 inches of rain on us.

Now I have to decide if I want to pick peas one more time, or let the remaining peas dry for seed. We still have some Eclipse and Encore seed in frozen storage, but I'm always afraid of losing our start of seed for the discontinued, patented varieties.

I brought an unusual gloxinia plant upstairs yesterday. I'd written on its plant label, "Double Brocade," but it pretty clearly is a cross with some other variety. The leaves are huge, much like the Empress or Cranberry Tiger varieties. Its blooms are doubled, but fully open up, something Double Brocades rarely do. I've already hand pollinated a couple of the blooms on the plant using pollen from an Empress gloxinia, so we may see more unusual gloxinias sometime in the future.

I had to add seeds to our tray of fall brassicas that I started on June 16. I'm not sure what went wrong, but only about 25% of the seed I'd started germinated. Starting seed now may not hurt our fall harvest of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi, as long as we don't have a hard, early frost.

Cucumber Bed Finished

Today's gardening was once again limited by heat. I did finish up our cucumber bed, though. I'd transplanted two healthy Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers and a bunch of snapdragons into the bed on June 19. I also direct seeded some JLP seed, as most of our first transplants picked up some kind of a disease while still in their trays on the back porch. The direct seeded cukes were up just enough today so that I could slip grass clipping mulch around them.

Cucumbers and snapdragons mulched

Snapdragon in bloomWith the cucumbers mulched in, I finally lowered the trellis I'd kept pulled up on one side. I then transplanted more snapdragons along that side of the trellis. The snaps will have to compete with the cucumbers for light and moisture, but usually outlast the cukes in the fall to give us a beautiful display of blooms. Several of the snapdragons are blooming now, as I didn't have the heart to pinch off their blooms when I transplanted them.

Even with our overnight rain, the soil in the raised bed wasn't all that moist. I ended up hauling about eight gallons of water to the bed to transplant ten snapdragons! Drawing water from our recently plumbed shallow well, I'm being a good bit more generous with watering so far this season than usual. This is about the time of year when our deep well begins to run dry for short periods of time, and we have to be very careful with our water usage. I'm going to continue watering from the shallow well as long as its water level holds out.

Apples

Granny Smith applesAs I walked out to check our East Garden plot, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of apples on our Granny Smith tree. It has been steadily self-pruning apples for several weeks, something apple trees do normally "to limit the number of fruits to what it can support."

It's been a few years since we've had a good apple crop. Our standard Stayman Winesap tree succumbed to fire blight years ago which also set back a then young Granny Smith tree by a couple of seasons. When the Granny Smith was again healthy, a wind storm tore off almost half of the tree. But it finally appears to be bearing a nice crop of apples.

Our replacement Stayman Winesap, a dwarf tree from the Arbor Day Foundation, is still not producing fruit in its sixth season! I'm debating applying a little Luke 3:9 to the tree. But the "freebie" red maple that came along with it is doing well.

In the years our apple trees weren't up to producing, we still had some apples. In the first few years we had the standard Stayman Winesap, we dumped cull apples just off our property on the edge of the field we now take care of. An apple tree eventually emerged in the area, producing small, red apples that have a red delicious flavor with a winesap attitude. I've tried taking cuttings from the tree to no avail.

Our Other Garden

Baby watermelonThe reason for visiting our East Garden was to check our melon vines. We're about at the time of year when we face our first invasion of cucumber beetles. The beetles' feeding damages the plants, but far worse, they sometimes carry diseases that decimate melon crops.

I didn't find any sign of insect activity amongst our melon vines. I did find one watermelon that had set on. I also had lots of vines running towards unmulched open ground that had to be trained back to stay on our grass clipping mulch. There probably were other melons set on besides the tiny Blacktail Mountain watermelon, but I wasn't looking for melons. I was looking to train vines and for signs of insects.

Slick Pik yellow squashAt the east end of our two melon rows, we have yellow squash plants growing. Both the Slick Pik and Saffron varieties are bush type plants, so they don't vine like melons or some squash. But the Slick Pik was filled with yellow squash. One was large enough to pick, and we enjoyed it sliced with garden peas with our dinner tonight.

The hybrid Slick Pik variety produces lots of rather refined, thin yellow squash. Unfortunately, the plants seem to quickly wear themselves out. For a full season of yellow squash several years ago, I planted three or four Slick Piks in succession to keep us in the delicious yellow vegetable all season.

The open pollinated Saffron variety produces fatter, but still tasty squash. It has the advantage of being a longer lasting plant, producing all season if one can protect it from squash bugs and powdery mildew.

Pumpkin hill with butternuts, isolation plot, and the barn in the backgroundWhile out around our East Garden, I snapped a shot of our freshly transplanted and mulched pumpkin plants. Our hill of butternut squash, our burn pile, an isolation plot, and the barn are in the background of the photo. I'll need to keep a close eye on the pumpkin hill for powdery mildew, as it is in the shade a good bit of the morning. Shady spots seem to encourage powdery mildew.

The browning out of the grass just outside the grass clipping mulch of the pumpkins and butternuts is the result of a spray of Roundup. I'm having trouble gathering enough grass clippings to mulch faster than the vines can grow. Spraying Roundup well beyond the center of the hill doesn't seem to adversely affect the plants. Spraying any closer to the plants risks herbicide carryover, as pumpkin, squash, and melon roots can run a long way underground. In this area just outside our East Garden, heavy, gray clay soil starts just an inch or so down, seriously limiting root growth beyond the mulched areas of the hills. It's actually a bit of a wonder to me that anything worthwhile grows on that soil.

Potato rows and sweet corn patchYou may have noticed that I've left out any mention of our sweet corn patch recently. Area deer have ravaged the emerging tassels of the plants despite my best efforts with scary lights, sweeper bag smelly stuff, and spraying some really awful smelling stuff on the plants. I'm not sure there will be enough tassels to pollinate our early corn, if I can keep the deer from eating the emerging ears. So far, the deer have mostly left alone our main crop of direct seeded sweet corn. But it isn't tasselling as yet.

Garlic dryingOn the way back to the house (to cool off), I stopped by our garage to check our garlic. It is drying on a 4x8 sheet of plywood.

I keep a fan blowing across the garlic and have the garage windows open. During the morning, I often open one or both of the overhead doors to allow for better air circulation. I need the garlic to dry down as quickly as possible, as I'll need the table later to dry and cure onions and potatoes.

As I finished up my gardening day, I paused to take a photo of our main garden from a little different perspective than I usually show here.

Main garden plots

We're blessed to live the life we live. I love living in the country. Our kids and grandkids are healthy and doing well. I have the most wonderful wife in the world. And I get to garden almost every day.

Thank you, Lord.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016 - Hilling Potatoes

Potato rows before hillingI've never been very good at hilling potatoes. Hilling is the practice of pushing extra soil around the stems of tomato plants. It's supposed to allow the plants to add more tubers close to the soil surface. I usually hill our potatoes just once a season if ground conditions permit. This season, our soil has remained pretty dry, allowing me to till our potato patch several times. That made the loose soil easy to shovel around the plants.

When I got around to hilling our potatoes this morning, some of them were already too tall to be effectively hilled. Most were in the eight to ten inch height range that is ideal for hilling, though. Rather than mess with a rake, I simply shoveled lot of loose, dry soil into and around the potato plants.

Our Red Pontiac potato plants are a good bit taller than our Kennebecs. That's pretty typical, as our reds usually outgrow and outproduce our brown potatoes for some reason.

Hilled potato plants

I added a good bit of gypsum to the soil before tilling yesterday. The area where our potatoes are growing is one spot in the East Garden that has some difficult soil. After growing sweet potatoes on the area several years ago, it has been less fertile and harder to work than other areas. I suspect that when I dug the sweet potatoes, I turned up a good bit of the heavy clay subsoil. Having found some relatively inexpensive bagged gypsum at our local Menard's store recently, I plan to keep adding gypsum to the area each time I till this season.

Mowing/Mulching

Besides being busy with other tasks, part of the reason I hadn't mowed until today was that our mower blades needed to be sharpened. That job involves either dropping out the mower deck or jacking up and blocking the mower deck so that I can reach the center blade of the three blades. Since I'd recently cleaned the deck and lubed the fittings, I just jacked up the mower today before sharpening the blades.

After mowing, I raked grass clippings with our lawn sweeper, using most of them around our newly transplanted pumpkins. Our hill of butternut squash also had its mulched area extended a couple of feet.

Dry

While picking peas this evening, I noticed an unusual amount of very limp pea pods. The lack of rain this year is beginning to get serious. Since we mulch most of our crops, they've held up and produced better than an unmulched planting would. But without some significant rainfall soon, we're going to be in trouble. The U.S. Drought Monitor already shows our county in the "Abnormally Dry" classification.

The good news is that I picked enough peas to freeze another pint or two.

Friday, June 24, 2016 - Watching the Pressure Canner

Our Senior Garden - June 24, 2016 (8:30 pm)Canned quarts of green beansI've been keeping a sharp eye on our pressure canner again this evening. Our second picking of green beans today canned out to seven quarts with a few left in the pot for a quick snack. Our first picking produced just a little over seven pints, but the flavor of the beans was excellent. It appears our bean plants are in good enough shape for a large third picking in a few days.

Canning multiple batches of green beans can be an all day affair. Picking, washing, and snapping the beans takes a good bit of time. Then the canning process seems to take forever. While pints and quarts of green beans take just 20 and 25 minutes, respectively, at 10 pounds of pressure in a pressure canner, the whole process takes nearly an hour per batch. The beans in jars have to be heated to boiling in the canner. Then you vent live steam from the canner for ten minutes before putting the pressure rocker on and wait for the pressure to reach ten pounds. When the pressure phase is done, one must let the canner cool down enough to de-pressurize the canner, about 20 minutes.

We try to can two or three pressure canner loads of green beans each year. That's 14-21 quarts in our pressure canner that maxes out at seven quarts or nine pints. When our house was filled with hungry children, with one daughter who would eat a whole can of green beans as a snack, we tried to can forty or fifty quarts each year, but usually fell a little short.

Ball Blue Book to PreservingI've always thought canned green beans taste better than fresh green beans. I guess fresh beans that have been allowed to simmer for several hours also pass my taste test. But the heat and pressure of canning softens the beans and also allows the onions we usually can with the beans to fully flavor them.

The easiest directions I've found for canning green beans are in the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving. It has an illustrated page of step-by-step directions. If I could, I'd include just a bit of bacon or ham as flavoring in canned beans, but that's adding meat to the canning process. While I've seen several web sites quote the same pressure canning time for green beans with bacon included as without, I'm not sure I trust such information. According to the Blue Book, adding meat significantly increases safe canning times. Since I want my beans canned as quickly as possible, and to preserve my perfect record of never having sent anyone to the hospital with food poisoning from eating our canned products, our bacon or ham flavoring of green beans has to come when the canned beans are opened and heated for table use.

For some good directions online, see LSU: Canning Green Beans.

Cucumbers Up

Cucumber seedlingsThe cucumbers I direct seeded on Sunday are up, along with hundreds of baby tomato seedlings. Obviously, the compost I added to the narrow bed hadn't heated up enough in the pile to kill the seeds. A few minutes of work with a soil scratcher did away with the tomato weeds, although I'm now wondering what I'm going to see when I look at our asparagus beds that also received some of the compost.

Pumpkins Transplanted

Pumpkins transplantedI got an early start this morning transplanting our one pot of three pumpkin plants onto the site of our old compost pile. I'd started the seed in an eight inch bulb pan earlier this month. I try to time the seeding and transplanting so that the Howden pumpkins will mature in early October for jack-o'-lanterns.

With more grandkids living close by this year than last, I'm going to have to give our hill of pumpkins a little more care than in previous years.

I transplant pumpkins the same way I do our melons, giving the transplants a deluxe hole to grow in. One difference in the planting is that the pumpkins have a layer of compost around the plants from the old compost pile. But the soil just outside our East Garden where we compost and grow pumpkins and butternuts goes to nasty gray clay a few inches down. Digging a deep deluxe hole for the planting helps compensate for the poor soil a little.

Since I haven't mowed yet this week, the pumpkin plants didn't get mulched today. I'll add a heavy layer of grass clippings to hold back weeds and conserve soil moisture when I mow again.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Old compost pile (foreground) and new compost pile (background)Cart of finished compostI had lots of kitchen scraps and weeds to put on our compost pile today. Even with a nasty heat index, it made sense to me to finish cleaning up the last of the compost from our old compost pile. Undigested compost from the old pile got layered in with the kitchen scraps and weeds on our new compost pile or spread over the site of the old pile. I also filled our garden cart with several cubic feet of dark, crumbly, finished compost.

Bonnie's Asparagus PatchThe finished compost went to our second asparagus patch. I missed getting compost last year on both of the asparagus patches we keep. We paid for that with a diminished harvest this year. To protect the health of the patches, we quit picking both a bit early this year.

Spreading the compost was pretty easy. I spent about five minutes shoveling the compost under the asparagus stalks and dumping it in over the top.

Butternut vines with compost piles in backgroundI will add some commercial fertilizer to the asparagus later this season. I did that last year, but I've found compost seems to do the asparagus more good than anything else I could add to its soil.

Stepping back just a bit from the compost piles reveals our very healthy hill of Waltham Butternut Squash. The squash vines are just about to overrun the area I have mulched for them. With no more mulch available until I mow again, I resorted to spraying a ring around the hill with Roundup. I used a sheet of plywood as I sprayed to catch any drift from the sprayer.

The old and new compost piles also got a knockdown treatment around their perimeter. The site of the old compost pile will be planted to pumpkins soon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - Garlic Harvested, Buckwheat Planted

Our Senior Garden - June 21, 2016I dug the rest of our garlic today. Together with what I'd dug on Sunday, it appears to be a pretty nice harvest. As soon as I have time, I'll take the garlics with bad wrappers or other issues and begin drying and grinding them for garlic powder.

With the garlic out of the way, I rototilled the narrow raised bed the garlic was in. After smoothing the bed with a garden rake, I broadcast buckwheat seed over the bed. I lightly drug the rake over the soil surface to try to bury some of the seed. Then I spread a little more seed on the soil surface. While buckwheat seems at times to germinate with almost no soil moisture at all, I watered the bed with a watering can, more to wash the seed into cracks in the soil than to wet the bed. We're supposed to have rain tonight or tomorrow that should get the buckwheat off to a good start.

Buckwheat grown in mid-summer matures in four to six weeks after seeding. Even if I have to turn it under a bit early to get the bed ready for our fall brassicas, the buckwheat will smother weeds in the bed for several weeks and also provide some good organic matter once it's turned under.

Previous garlic bed seeded to buckwheat

Peas

Our row of short peas are now producing. I picked a bowl of the Eclipse and Encore peas today. After our early peas have played out, picking short vine peas always seems like a bonus. When the short peas are done, their area will be seeded to kale, but that will be a while yet. I'll be letting the last of the peas dry down to use for future plantings.

Monday, June 20, 2016 - Summer Solstice

Our Senior Garden - late on June 20, 2016Length of day - June 20, 2016Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. With all those hours of daylight available, you might think I could get a lot done today. Sadly, temperatures in the 90s, humidity, and some very sore shoulders had me back inside today by mid-afternoon.

Alert for Home Flock Owners

If you have a new flock of laying hens, it's about time to plan to add a light to their quarters. Hens are light sensitive, and the laying response is triggered by daylight of fourteen hours or more. At some point in August, day length will drop below fourteen hours, and unlighted flocks could decrease or totally stop laying as the days shorten. A 75 watt bulb will do the trick. I kept a light on 24 hours a day with our hens with no ill effects.

Gardening

Corn and melon rowsI'd scuffle hoed our potatoes again yesterday, but the ground was still a bit too wet to till. By this morning, the ground was dry enough that I could rototill, rolling loose soil into the rows of potatoes as well as our sweet corn. I also tilled all the unmulched ground around our rows of melons. I used our old walk-behind, MTD tiller today, as it fits between the rows of corn and potatoes and can get to some tight spots that our pull-type tiller can't reach. Running the MTD for long periods also makes my shoulders sore.

With the East Garden tilled, I moved on to mowing and raking the one acre field the East Garden is in. I used the raked grass clippings to extend the mulched area around our melons. That's a good thing, as runners from the watermelon and cantaloupe plants were nearing the edge of the previously mulched areas. After training some of the vines to run down the row, we should have some time to finish mulching the melon area before the vines totally take it over.

AmazonI wound up my work day spreading lime over the field I'd just mowed and raked. I picked up a new, Agri Feb spreader at Rural King last week so that I could easily lime and fertilize the field. I didn't spread any fertilizer today, as I don't want the nitrogen in it vaporizing in the sunlight. I'll wait to spread it until we have rain on the way, which should wash at least some of the fertilizer into the soil.

While I've broadcast leftover lime and fertilizer at times in the field, I had not before today really limed the field. The areas closest to our East Garden, where I've pitched extra lime and fertilizer, are lush with grass and clover. I'm hoping a little boost may help restore the field to relative fertility.

What Didn't Get Done

If I'd had a bit more endurance today, I would have dug the rest of our garlic. We also have peas and green beans ready to pick. And after mowing the field, I need to sharpen the blades on our mower before tackling our yard.

I count having plenty to do as a blessing. I do wish I could last a bit longer in the hot sunlight.

East Garden tilled and partially mulched

At least our East Garden looks good.

Sunday, June 19, 2016 - Garlic Mature!

Lifting garlic
Garlic on drying table

Our Senior Garden - June 19, 2016I'd put digging a garlic or two on my to-do list last week to check to see how far along the garlic was. While making spaghetti sauce last evening, I decided to dig a fresh garlic to go along with the basil, parsley, and oregano I'd harvested from our new herb bed to go into the sauce. To my surprise, the garlic was fully mature.

I planted our garlic towards the end of October. With a mild winter and fairly good growing conditions this spring, it appears that our garlic has come in weeks earlier than usual.

I began digging the garlic today. Actually, lifting might be a better word for it than digging. I push a heavy garden fork into the soil beside the garlic to be dug, trying to get deeper than the garlic's roots. Then I push down on the fork's handle to lift the garlic from the soil.

One head of elephant garlic had begun to split its leaf wrapper, indicating that I may even be a little late in digging some types of the garlic. All of the other elephant and regular garlic I dug today, though, were average sized and had good leaf wrappers that are essential for storing garlic over the winter.

Garlic bed partially dugI harvested almost half of the bed of garlic. Deep digging is one of those things I have to do over days as I rebuild strength in muscles that atrophied when I had a bad hip.

Having disturbed the roots of the geraniums at the end of the bed, each got a good drink of water to help them recover.

Once dug, the garlic went to our makeshift drying table in the garage. Garlic cures best in a dark, well ventilated environment. Our garage is dark, but not all that well ventilated, but it's the best spot we have. It will take several weeks for the tops of the garlic to dry enough to trim them and the roots for storage.

Getting our garlic harvested early presents an interesting possibility. I'd planned to let the bed sit fallow under grass clipping mulch until we transplanted broccoli and cauliflower into it in late July or early August. With the garlic coming in several weeks early, there may be enough time to grow a turndown crop of buckwheat in the bed. But first, I have to get the rest of the garlic dug.

If you've not grown garlic before, it's a pretty trouble free crop. I tell how in our feature story, Growing Garlic. Also, remember that seed houses typically begin to sell out of the most popular varieties of garlic for fall planting in July!

Cucumbers

Compost added to raised bedSince pulling our tall pea vines last Wednesday, I've been renovating the soil in the raised bed. I first tightened the top strands of plastic covered wire clothesline that supports the double trellis netting in the bed. Warm temperatures had allowed the wires to stretch and sag. I undid the bottom wire on one side of our double trellis to make working the narrow band of soil between the trellises a bit easier.

A quick soil test revealed that one end of the ground had dropped to a pH of 6.2, so I hoed in a bit of ground limestone before doing anything else. Then I brought in some finished compost from our old compost pile and mixed it with a good bit of peat moss and more lime. That got hoed in to raise the soil level a bit, as the middle of the bed was down an inch or two from the rest of the bed. I think some of the sinking is due to taking out a good bit of material in the form of peas and vines. Of course, I also repeatedly added grass clipping mulch to the sides of the bed to hold back weeds. That could have raised the soil level there a bit.

Snapdragons transplanted and woven into trellisSphagnum peat moss is a wonderful soil amendment, but it doesn't readily absorb water. I drew lots of water from our shallow well over the last few days, letting it sit in the sun to warm before using a sprinkler can to repeatedly apply the water to the compost and peat moss. Peat moss does absorb warm water.

Before dealing with cucumbers today, I transplanted snapdragons along the south trellis netting. The snaps will get overgrown somewhat by cucumber vines, but will revive once the cukes are done to give us a nice fall display of color.

We lost the cucumber transplants I started on June 1 to disease. I had immediately started more, but they're just barely coming up. So I decided today to direct seed cucumber seed down the center of the bed instead of waiting on the transplants.

I put two seeds together in a planting covered with sterile starting mix and spaced the plantings twelve inches apart. I marked the plantings with plastic plant labels, as the compost I put down could have some cucumber-like plants emerge from it. If both seeds germinate, I'll pull one, as I want my cucumber plants spaced about twelve inches apart from each other.

Cucumbers seeded

Our preferred variety of cucumbers, Japanese Long Pickling, are variously listed as a 60 to 75 days-to-maturity variety. The short number is probably from transplants. With approximately 110 days left in our growing season, we should have enough time remaining in the season to produce a good crop of cukes for pickling, table use, and seed saving.

Green Beans

Our first picking of green beans produced just seven canned pints and some for the table. I picked pretty early, possibly a bit too soon for one variety that is several days longer to maturity than the other two kinds I had planted. Boiled with some bacon, the beans were delicious.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

New compost pile
Old compost pile and $1 wheelbarrow

Trellis clearedOur tall, early pea vines are now part of our new compost pile. I pulled the vines from our double trellis yesterday. The cleared bed and trellises will soon be growing Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers once I renovate the soil a bit and tighten the wires holding up the trellises.

The early pea vines were layered into the compost pile with partially digested compost from our old pile. The old material should have enough decomposers in it to get the decaying process going. Also added to the pile were our leftover spring lettuce plants, our cucumber transplants that had something wrong with them, and some odds and ends of transplants that had died while on the back porch.

Pea vines break down pretty quickly in a compost pile, as opposed to stuff like melon vines or corn stalks that take a good bit of time to decompose. The new compost pile got a dusting of lime to help it break down and to hold down unpleasant odors. I also sprinkled just a bit of 12-12-12 fertilizer on the pile to help it get started heating up.

If I regularly turn the pile with a garden fork, the compost may be ready to use by fall. If not, it will be ready to use by next summer. Turning a compost pile allows air into the pile which promotes aerobic decomposition, which is a good bit less smelly than the anaerobic decomposition that occurs when a pile isn't turned. According to Aerobic versus Anaerobic Composting - For Dummies, "aerobic decomposers work faster and more efficiently than their anaerobic counterparts." Aerobic decomposition has the added advantage of sometimes producing enough heat in the decomposition process to kill harmful organisms and seeds.

One of our front flowerbeds weededI did some light weeding in our front flowerbed yesterday before adding more dianthus, some alyssum and impatiens to the bed. The dianthus added will bloom a bit this season, but should really come into their own next summer. We occasionally have dianthus do well in a third season, but that's about it for the plants that are variously described as biennials or perennials.

Dianthus in bloomOur solid colored dianthus blooms come from seed saved over the past few years. The bicolored blooms are from purchased Carpet Snowfire seed. While seed saved from the hybrid Carpet Snowfire is viable, it seems to revert to single, solid colored blooms.

Our green beans began blooming a week or so ago and today produced a very light picking of long, slender beans for steaming. I managed to even find a few baby carrots to cook with the beans. I'll probably do a thorough first picking of beans tomorrow or Saturday.

Green beans ready to pick
Rows of kidney and green beans

I've not had to spray the beans as yet, as insect damage to the plants has been fairly limited, an advantage to growing green beans early in the season. To get three full pickings from the plants, I'll probably need to spray the plants at least once to knock down the rising insect population.

With lots of canned green beans still in the basement from last year, I only put out one row of green beans this year. The row to the left of the green beans is kidney beans, destined to star in our annual batches of Portuguese Kale Soup.

We've been blessed this season to have one harvest after another, enjoying fresh produce in its own time. Asparagus started our feasting, followed by broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, and peas with some overlap in the harvests. As we work through picking and canning beans, we may have a second harvest of peas from our short pea vines. And when both are done, we may have our first tomatoes of the year.

Powdery mildew on squash plantI walk our rows of melons and squash almost daily, weeding where necessary, training vines, and looking for anything amiss. As I walked the rows yesterday, I saw that one of our two yellow squash plants had the beginnings of powdery mildew, a disease that will limit production and eventually take the plant if not treated.

Since it was beginning to rain yesterday, I waiting until today to spray the affected Saffron plant with Serenade, an organic biofungicide that has worked well for us in the past. If the Serenade proves ineffective, I'll spray with the not-so-organic Fungonil fungicide. And if that doesn't work, I'll pull the diseased plant and replace it.

Our hybrid Slick Pik yellow squash plant is not as yet showing any signs of powdery mildew. The variety is supposed to have some resistance bred into it. But Slick Pik plants don't last a whole season like Saffrons do, which is why we grow both kinds.

I started our fall brassicas today. When I got done seeding broccoli and cauliflower, I found I still had unused space in the plant tray, so I seeded some cabbage and kohlrabi, too.

I also transplanted several more gloxinias that had broken dormancy recently. None of the plants had especially large corms, so they went back into the same size, 4 1/2 inch pots they'd been in last year. I did, however, remove a lot of the old soil around them, rubbing off soil until I got to the rootball surrounding the corm. Then they got a fresh pot of soil along with some systemic insecticide.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Seedling weeds around potato sproutsPotato row after cultivationWe've had some very welcome thunderstorms moving through our area today. A little over a half inch of rain fell in a two to three hour period.

Before the rain began, I scuffle hoed our two rows of potatoes. Seedling weeds had begun germinating all around and in the potato rows. Scuffling down the sides of each row cleared the weeds and helped bury weeds emerging in the row without harming the larger potato sprouts. I would have rototilled the area outside where I'd scuffled, but it began to rain just as I got done.

With light rain falling, I walked our rows of melons, looking for any signs of disease or insect damage. None was evident.

With off and on thunderstorms throughout the afternoon, I worked on washing used flower pots, inserts, and trays and transplanting some gloxinias that had recently resumed active growth after their required period of dormancy. Unfortunately, while doing those jobs, I noticed some yellow spots on our newly germinated Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plants. Most of the spots resembled the yellow blotches characteristic of the coloring of Moon & Stars watermelon. But cukes aren't supposed to have those yellow spots.

Spots on cucumber leavesA bit of online research didn't confirm any one disease, but made me aware that such spots on cucumber leaves are indicative that something is very wrong with the plants. With lots of clean inserts at hand, I started two more deep sixpack inserts of JLP plants, this time setting them under our plants lights to germinate. The infected plants were germinated outside. They'll soon go on our compost pile.

Gloxinias breaking dormancyI'd ignored our dormant gloxinia plants sitting in a dark corner of our basement for several weeks. When I got around to checking them for signs of growth, I was surprised to find sixteen plants had put up tiny green shoots from their corms.

These plants were all seeded in 2014 after we'd had to dispose of all of our previous gloxinias in 2013 because they were infected with the INSV virus. Entering their third year of growth, the plant corms are capable of supporting lots of blooms at once.

When gloxinias break dormancy is the time to transplant them. While many of the plants went into only slightly larger pots, all got a good bit of new potting mix. For established plants such as these, I use Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix, as it is a loose mix with plenty of fertilizer included.

Sunday, June 12, 2016 - A Few Words About Days-to-Maturity

Eclipse peas
Encore peas

Early pea vines browning outWhen I took the splash shot of our raised beds today, the browning out of our early pea vines was really apparent. It made me a little sad that our pea picking time had come and gone so quickly. Later, when I was photographing some sick looking tomato plants, I noticed pods on our nearby short pea plants! I seeded our Eclipse and Encore peas on April 19. With days-to-maturity ratings of 67 and 64 days, respectively, one wouldn't normally expect to see pea pods at just 54 days after planting.

I'm not unhappy that our short pea varieties will mature early, but I am a bit surprised. Days-to-maturity ratings are guides, based on the seed developer's experience with the variety on their ground under their growing conditions. We've been saving seed and adapting these two pea varieties to our growing conditions for several years, so we may have pushed our strain to be a bit earlier than the originals. It's also possible that some of our weird weather this year matured the peas a bit earlier than expected.

Seed for the patented Eclipse and Encore varieties is no longer commercially available. And sadly, the PVP restrictions prevent me from sharing any seed saved from the varieties. Well, that is, I can't share seed until Monsanto/Seminis's patents expire...in 2020! But I can legally save seed for our own use, and we most certainly can happily consume these very sweet peas.

About Those Sick Tomato Plants

After two fantastic years with our Earlirouge tomato plants, we're having problems with them this year. Of the four plants I put out, only one is really doing well, with another being just so-so. The other two plants are exhibiting severe leaf curl and seem to be somewhat stunted in growth. The soil pH around the plants is a little sweet for tomatoes, about 7.0. They've also suffered from our irregular weather throughout much of May and appear to not be getting enough water. But when I uncurl the leaves, they show none of the signs of tomato diseases we've experienced in the past.

Earlirouge tomato plants

Sick Earlirouge tomato plantHealthy Moira tomato plant with Earlirouge plants in backgroundTwo plants of the related Moira variety are growing just a few feet away from the Earlirouges in another raised bed. They exhibited some of the same symptoms early on, but have recovered, grown, and are now putting on blooms and small tomatoes. Of course, the soil in their raised bed may be totally different from that in our main raised bed.

In case soil moisture has been the problem, I've begun heavily watering the affected tomato plants which has slightly improved their appearance. The worst looking plant got a bit of balanced liquid fertilizer and some Serenade biofungicide in its three gallons of water. But I also dumped some brand-x potting mix in the corner of the raised bed last fall where that worst looking plant is growing.

I'm a bit flummoxed at this point. Stuff like this is what drives gardeners nuts. (Or as my once father-in-law would say, "It's not a long drive, just a short putt.") Hopefully, the Earlirouge plants will snap out of their doldrums and begin growing normally. With the hot days we're now having, we may also get some welcome pop-up thundershowers.

Watering

Porch plants 1
More porch plants

Shallow well pump and herb gardenOur new shallow well pump is getting a workout these days. The warm and windy weather we've had is quickly drying out our hanging basket plants. The petunias in hanging baskets now have to be bottom watered every three or four days. Even the raised bed herb garden is requiring watering as the recently transplanted herb plants and flowers take hold.

I occasionally feel as if I've become a slave to watering all the plants we have outdoors and indoors. Drawing water outdoors with the hand pump is good exercise, though. I'm really hoping the water level in the shallow well will hold out through our usual dry months of July and August. Being able to water without taxing our puny deep well would be a big plus for our gardening.

Advertising Note

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Our Senior Garden - June 11, 2016Early pea vines growing on and between trellisesThe temperature topped out at 93° F yesterday, and it is predicted to do about the same for the next five days. Combined with some pretty sparse rainfall, that will likely end our wonderful harvest of spring, cool weather crops.

Annie and I shelled and froze early peas again last night, and there are only a few peas left maturing on the vines. The double trellises we put up seemed to keep the vines from blowing off the trellis a bit better this year. Picking peas that are between the trellises is a bit of a challenge, but fortunately, most of the peas grow right on the vines on the trellises.

Male (?) spinach bloomOur Abundant Bloomsdale spinach from which we hope to save seed has been putting up blooms for a week. Fortunately, we still have a large, green bag of good spinach remaining in the fridge. But once it's gone, that will be it for homegrown spinach until fall.

I cut two small, but very nice heads of cauliflower this morning. That was the last of the cauliflower, totally clearing that row. I went ahead and cleared the companion row of broccoli, as the hot weather makes its sideshoots flower quickly and taste bitter. The stems and leaves from the brassicas went onto our new compost pile, while the woody base of each plant got dumped in a wash we're filling with tough plant material and used cat litter.

Taking stuff to the new compost pile required layering in some partially digested compost from our old pile. I also filled our garden cart with finished compost and spread it on our raised asparagus bed. The entire bed now has an inch or two of compost around the plants.

We still have a good bit of finished compost left in the old pile. Some of it will get spread over our second asparagus patch. The rest will be a bonus for whatever area or crop looks to need a boost.

Sun Devil PVP application withdrawnSun Devil lettuceNot yet affected by the heat (and day length), I cut a very heavy, crisp head of Crispino iceberg lettuce yesterday. I cleared a good many lettuce plants from a patch today that had bolted. Perversely, a large head of Sun Devil lettuce, which I plan to save seed from, has refused to bloom and go to seed as yet. Sun Devil is a hot weather iceberg whose plant patent (PVP) application was withdrawn, allowing gardeners to not only save seed from the variety, but also to share the seed with others.

After successfully saving lettuce seed for the first time in 2014 from a Crispino plant, I'm exciting to try saving seed from another excellent iceberg type this year. Our Sun Devil lettuce seed is getting pretty old.

The lettuce and brassica areas cleared got a fresh covering of grass clipping mulch today. The spots where the stem and roots were pulled would sprout weeds if not covered. I'll soon begin the process of renovating the soil and the planting of a number of succession crops. The Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers I seeded on June 1 have germinated and are looking good. Once the early peas play out, the JLP cukes will take the place of the peas between our double trellises. As a colorful bonus, I have a bunch of snapdragon transplants ready to go into the ground around the cukes.

Potato plants emergingThe garlic in our other narrow raised bed should be ready to dig at the end of this month or in early July. It will be replaced by our fall broccoli and cauliflower. I've already brought in the brassica seed from our garage freezer to start transplants for the fall crop.

Our main raised bed is still a bit of a question mark. Once our green beans and short peas are done, I have some interesting choices to make in succession plantings. Our current garden plan calls for kale, crowder peas, and lima beans. The last two are crops I've not grown before, so that may add some interest for me in our succession crops.

I'd begun to worry just a bit about our potato crop, as I'd not seen any sign of them coming up until today. I was gratified to see some plants up and leafed out pretty well along with a lot of other spots in the rows where shoots not yet visible were causing the soil surface to crack.

Potatoes are another crop, like peas, that are an awful lot of trouble to grow. Potatoes have to be weeded and hilled when growing. They often require rescue sprays of an insecticide and/or fungicide. Digging mature potatoes is really hard work, especially for an "old guy." But the taste of a freshly dug baked potato is something really special.

And while I took out both rows of our brassicas, I certainly didn't take out the dill plants growing at either end of the rows. Even if we don't collect any dill seed or dill weed from the plants, their appearance and aroma have made the effort of growing them well worth it.

At some point, I'll probably get tired of sharing photos of dill in bloom, but not today.

Dill in bloom

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Transplanted sweet corn cultivatedDirect seeded corn cultivatedI had my gardening done for the day today by 11 A.M.! I got an early start, not because I'm a morning person, but because I wanted to work in our East Garden while it was still in the shade. Doing so allowed me to work in a T-shirt instead of my usual sun protective clothing.

I started by cultivating our sweet corn, which would come into the sun first. I scuffle hoed on both sides of each row, pulling a bit of loose soil around the plants. Then I ran our walk behind rototiller up and down each row. I have the shield removed (actually broken off) from one side of our tiller, so I ran that side of it very close to our transplanted sweet corn (shown at left), throwing more soil into the row and around the plants. With our much shorter direct seeded sweet corn (shown at right), I ran the shielded side of the tiller closest to the small plants, as I didn't want to bury them.

Just about the time the sun began to shine on the patch, I transplanted several leftover corn plants into the rows to replace plants that failed. One plant had been stepped on by a dog or a deer, and another broke off when I accidentally dropped the scuffle hoe on it.

At the far end of the direct seeded sweet corn at right, there is a bit of taller corn I transplanted. It's our small stand of the new, open pollinated Who Gets Kissed variety.

Getting in an early cultivation of our sweet corn should really help in keeping the patch as weed free as possible. Many years the ground is too wet at this point to cultivate with either a scuffle hoe or a rototiller.

Compost

Attempting to screen compostShade line getting to compost pilesMoving closer to the woods that abut the east side of our East Garden, I worked our compost piles a bit. I tried screening some finished compost from our old pile, but it turned out to be too wet and clumpy to be screened. I ended up just pulling out any large, undigested chunks I saw as I shoveled compost into our garden cart. Our raised bed of asparagus received the compost.

I'd assumed the side of the old compost pile where I'd most recently dumped fresh kitchen scraps and garden refuse would be a nasty mess. I was surprised to find that most of the recently dumped material had already broken down.

I didn't make a lot of progress using up our old compost pile, as the shade quickly moved towards the piles as the sun rose over the woods. But I made a good start. I'd guess I have at least two weeks to finish using or moving the old compost pile before our pumpkin transplants are ready to go into the ground on that spot.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - Mulching Madness

Melons mulchedToday was raking and mulching day. I'd let our mowing go for awhile and hadn't raked grass clippings the last time I mowed. So when I mowed this week, there were lots of grass clippings that needed to be raked. Using our lawn sweeper to collect the clippings from our yard was no big deal. They raked up easily and were dumped by our raised beds and will be used to refresh the mulch where it has thinned in our raised beds.

Raking the field our East Garden is in took far longer, as I wasn't able to windrow the clippings because they were so thick. Instead, I let the clippings dry in the field for a day before collecting them with our lawn sweeper.

I was able to spread a fairly deep and wide layer of grass clippings around our melon rows. The fresh clippings will suppress weed growth and also help retain soil moisture. I'll continue to add grass clipping mulch to the open areas of the melon patch until it's completely mulched.

In case you hadn't guessed, grass clipping mulch is essential to our success in gardening. I put out far more garden than I could normally keep weeded, but using grass clippings holds down the weeds as long as I somewhat regularly refresh the clippings. The only crops we don't mulch are our sweet corn and potatoes. We've tried mulching both, with less than wonderful results. (Yes, even Senior Gardeners sometimes end up with a weedy mess!)

See Mulching with Grass Clippings for more information on how we mulch our garden plots.

Starting Pumpkins and Gloxinias

Pumpkin seeds in bulb panBulb pan and small gloxinia potI started our pumpkin transplants today. I put five Howden pumpkin seeds in a single, deep bulb pan. I've had pretty good luck getting soil balls with transplants in them to dump out of the pans intact at transplanting.

Howden pumpkins are a 110-115 day variety. By starting our transplants now, we should have mature pumpkins for the grandkids in early to mid-October.

I also began preparing the site for the pumpkins yesterday. I started a new compost pile. I'll transfer what undigested compost is in our current pile to the new site. The finished compost will go around our asparagus. And the pumpkins will get transplanted onto the old compost site.

I also started a small pot of gloxinias today. We currently have lots of gloxinias coming into bloom, but the plants have all cycled so that they'll bloom this summer and fall. To have gloxinias in bloom next winter, I needed to start a few more plants, even when we're giving away gloxinia plants that are now in bloom. Starting seed now should produce plants in bloom in five to six months.

Since we seem a bit heavy on Double Brocade gloxinias now, I only started open pollinated seed saved over the last few years for today's planting. The future plants' parentage is of the Empress and Cranberry Tiger varieties.

The pan/pot of pumpkins went into a tray on the back porch to germinate. Gloxinias prefer a little cooler conditions to germinate, so they went to the basement under our plant lights. The pumpkins should be up in a week. The gloxinias may start germinating in a couple of weeks, but some of the seed can take a month or more to come up.

Gloxinias in sunroom

I've kept our gloxinias spread out on the shelves along the south wall of our sunroom, but pulled the bloomers together for the shot above.

REI Outlet

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - A Correction

Our Senior Garden - June 7, 2016Twilley correctionI wrote on Saturday that Twilley Seeds hadn't been very clear on what kind of sweet corn their new SuperSeedWare's were. That was my goof, as the page the varieties are listed on, including the Summer SWeet HiGlow SS3880MR we planted, are clearly identified as sh2 varieties.

I could have saved myself a lot of work trying to isolate the new variety from our other sh2 varieties if I'd read more carefully. But as things have turned out, the staggered planting of our sweet corn may give us a nice, extended harvest this year, instead of getting most of it in a ten day period.

Sorry about the error.

Weedy flowerbed
Gutters to clean

We have an absolutely gorgeous morning today, with only moderate humidity and a predicted high temperature of 73° F. I have lots of jobs to fill my time, beginning with our front flowerbeds that have gotten very weedy. Our overwintered dianthus are now in full bloom, with the first year plants I put in a few weeks ago beginning to put up blooms as well.

I also have some guttering to clean, as we could almost start a tree nursery from all the maple seedlings in the gutters.

Transplants still on back porchI'll need to finish up my mowing chores this afternoon, mowing and raking the one acre field our East Garden sits in. Grass clippings from the field and from the rotated out portion of the East Garden will all go to begin mulching the open areas between and around our melons.

We still have a lot of transplants waiting on our back porch. Some are flowers for our flowerbed and around our garden plots. There are a few parsley and basil plants to replace the ones the deer ate in one of our isolation plots. And sadly, there are a good many extras that will end up on our compost pile.

A gardening friend wrote this morning that he would be glad when he retired and could work around the house and in his extensive garden plot full time. I begin each of my days thanking the Lord for yet another day, as well as for my wonderful wife, Annie, and the kids and grandkids. I'm quite blessed to be in relatively good health once again and have the time and resources to play in the garden and write this blog each day.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Blanched peas coolingWe shelled peas this evening. I'd saved our first pickings over the last few days in a Green Bag in the refrigerator. Together with a big picking at sundown today, we ended up with 3 cups of shelled peas. Since we have a lot more peas to pick yet, these peas went to the freezer. We'll probably have freshly picked and shelled peas with our supper tomorrow night. I can hardly wait.

Over the years, we've found that our early planted Champion of England and Maxigolt peas are just as sweet as our later, short vine supersweet pea varieties. Growing both kinds gives us the volume of peas we want to last us over the winter. We just finished our last bag of frozen peas from last season over the weekend.

While peas are truly a pain to shell, they're one of the easier vegetables to freeze. Once shelled, one blanches the peas for two minutes. After draining the peas and cooling them for about an hour in the fridge, they bag easily in pint freezer bags.

CauliflowerI cut four heads of cauliflower yesterday afternoon. Only three of the heads were good, as one was rather small and had yellowed a good bit. Out of the ten cauliflower plants we put out this spring, five have produced good heads, two were nasty, and the remaining three haven't yet put on heads of any size. Variety comparisons aren't really valid here, as all three of the varieties planted have produced at least one good head.

I started our cauliflower transplants about two weeks before I started our broccoli. While we usually get good spring broccoli, our cauliflower has suffered in the past with its longer days-to-maturity extending into some really hot weather. It appears that starting the cauliflower early has paid off, at least for this year.

Territorial Seeds Fall & Winter Catalog - 2016We received a seed catalog in today's mail. Today's catalog from Territorial Seeds distinguishes itself from the multiple mailings of other seed houses by being a catalog dedicated to fall garden varieties. While I'm not a fan of Territorial's $7.95 minimum shipping charge, they supplied the best garlic bulbs I've ever gotten a couple of years ago. It might seem a bit early to order garlic for fall planting, but the more popular varieties usually begin to sell out during July!

We probably won't be ordering any garlic this year. It appears that we have a fantastic crop of garlic almost ready to dig. As long as we get a good harvest, we'll have plenty of garlic to plant this fall.

Other than picking peas and some light weeding, today wasn't a gardening day for me. I'd let our lawn go while I worked to get our East Garden planted. So today was mostly filled with mowing and sweeping up grass clippings to use as mulch. The mowing took a lot longer than usual, as I'd let the grass get pretty high. On a positive note, I was able to install and new mower deck belt without too much trouble before mowing. When I'd switched out our tiller attachment for the mower deck last week, I noticed two "bites" out of the mower deck belt, indicating its imminent failure. I got five season's use out of the original belt, so I'm not displeased by the old belt's wear.

Besides our yard, I mowed the part of our East Garden that is resting this season. It was supposedly seeded to alfalfa, but it came up mostly in white clover. At first I thought it was white Dutch clover, but this stuff was almost a foot tall. I tried raking the clippings from that section, but they were way too thick and wet for our lawn sweeper to handle. After drying a day or two, I'll give it another try. Even if I have to hand rake the 40' x 80' rotated out section of our East Garden, it will supply some great mulch for our melon patch.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Our Senior Garden - June 5, 2016The Garden Tower 2Finishing planting melons in our East Garden yesterday marked the end of our main spring planting. There are still flowers to go into our various garden plots and flowerbeds, but our vegetables are pretty well in. I still have some replanting to do in a couple of isolation plots we use, but even there, the main crops of tomatoes and peppers are in and doing well.

My gardening attention will now shift back to our raised garden beds that were planted in April. Our lettuce plants, other than one I'm going to let go to seed, need to come out. Our planting of carrots needs thinning. And most of our raised beds need a fresh cover of grass clipping mulch to hold back weeds.

I recently ran across a couple of web pages that stated that lettuce bolting is more related to day length than to heat. I found that pretty interesting, although for us, our lettuce will need to come out whether from day length or heat.

Dwarf basil trying to bloom
Rows of kidney beans (L) and green beans (R) beginning to bloom

Early pea vines filled with ripening podsWe'll continue cutting broccoli sideshoots for a while this month and hope to get a few more heads of cauliflower before the warmth of summer turns both bitter. Our early peas are now producing and require picking daily or every other day. I've already had to pinch blooms off the basil plants I put at either end of a row of kidney beans. The dwarf basil plant shown at right may be pretty enough that I'll just let it bloom. And the kidney beans, along with the row of green beans beside them, are beginning to bloom. We should be picking and canning green beans towards the end of this month.

With both of our asparagus beds filling out their foliage, I'll need to screen and spread the last of our compost around the base of the plants. We'll continue to feed the asparagus regularly through the summer with commercial fertilizer once the compost is all used.

Abundant Bloomsdale spinach going to seed
Spinach bloom and seed head

I pulled all of our America and Melody spinach plants yesterday, as they were about ready to go to seed. I left a short section of Abundant Bloomsdale spinach plants in place. Some of them are already blooming and getting ready to set seed (I hope!).

As I researched saving seed from spinach, I found a brief reference in Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds about spinach plants being male, female, or both! Looking around the web a bit, I found the information below on Maria Slavik's colorful Sweet Domesticity site:

In general, spinach plants are either male or female, but occasionally you will see bolting spinach with both male and female flowers on the same plant.  The female plants produce clusters of flowers attached to the immature seed at each node along the plant stem.  The male plants produce longer stems of flowers that grow and extend like fingers from each node.

Getting back to our East Garden a bit, I'll be mulching the open areas of our melon planting each time I mow the field our East Garden is located in. Our sweet corn and potatoes don't get mulched, so I'll be out first with my scuffle hoe and later with the walking rototiller to keep weeds under control.

I'll also need to be vigilant in inspecting melons and squash plants for insect invasions. Striped and spotted cucumber beetles can bring in some nasty plant diseases besides the feeding damage they do on melon vines. Our yellow squash face the annual invasion of squash bugs. The melons have already had a preventative spray of Sevin, but from here on in, our spraying will be more organic and reactive than preventative.

Bottom watering hanging basket plantOne of my regular, all summer chores is to keep our bounty of hanging basket plants that line our back porch watered. Frequently, the buzzing of hummingbirds at the petunia blooms and at the feeders draws my attention to the plants. I use the deep lid of an old steam canner to bottom water the plants, now treating them to water drawn from our newly plumbed shallow well.

I'll also be filling our hummingbird feeders pretty regularly. Until this morning, that job was one of keeping the nectar solution fresh for the birds. Today, it appears that the first clutch of hummingbird babies have left their nests, as we have about four times as many hummingbirds at our feeders than we've had so far this season.

Dill blowing in the wind Dill in bloom

Something new to our garden plots are a couple of dill plants I put at either end of our rows of brassicas. Both plants are now in bloom, adding a little color and some very pleasant aromas to our main raised garden bed. I have a single dill plant in our new raised herb garden, but it's still pretty small. I started Bouquet, Dukat, and Long Island Mammoth dill, but didn't record what varieties I put where in our main garden bed. At some point, I'm going to need to think about gathering dill seed and/or dill weed from the plants. But for now, I'm just enjoying how they look (and smell).

In a day where I'm obviously goofing off taking pictures and not actively gardening, let me add one more shot you may like. As our gloxinias come into bloom after their required period of dormancy, it's always a treat to see the different bloom types and colors we get.

I'd rearranged several gloxinia plants in our sunroom yesterday to give each one the best light it could get. One plant on the corner of them all started opening an absolutely gorgeous bloom today.

Gloxinia bloom

Gloxinia plants are almost impossible to find in florist shops anymore. Corms (their bulbs) for sale are also rare, but one can find lots of gloxinia seed. The plants are easy to grow (about like African Violets), last for years if properly cared for, and come into bloom from seed in about five to six months. If you're looking for a lovely houseplant to grow, I highly recommend gloxinias.

Over the years, I've written a good bit about gloxinias here, but also have several feature stories on them that may prove helpful to new growers:

  • Gloxinias - This is a continuing column on how to grow this gorgeous plant. I've started from seed and update the page occasionally.
  • Saving Gloxinia Seed - This feature is really a sort of "part 2" of the gloxinia feature. I document the pollination and seed saving process for gloxinias.
  • Gloxinia Photos - I pulled together some nice gloxinia shots taken over the last few years.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016 - Melon Transplanting Done

Deluxe holes for the transplantsRows of yellow squash, cantaloupe, and waltermelonI was able to finish transplanting and mulching our melons this morning before the rain came in. It began to sprinkle on me as I laid the last of the mulch and then put my gardening tools away in the garage.

Even though I was hurrying to get done before the rain started, each transplant still got a deluxe planting hole. Running short of peat moss to cut the heavy clay soil, I resorted to using bags of various potting mixes that I had on hand. There simply wasn't time to drive to town for more peat moss.

Not knowing how much rain we'd actually get, each transplanting hole got a bit over three gallons of water to get the melons off to a good start. At this writing just an hour after I finished planting, our rain gauge is showing almost three-fourths of an inch of rain!

The plants that went in today were two hills each of Farmers Wonderful, Ali Baba, and Moon & Stars. Only one hill of Crimson Sweet went in, as one of our Crimson Sweet transplants didn't make it.

Sweet Corn

Sweet corn
Yellow squash blooms

Direct seeded sweet corn upAs I was transplanting the last of the melons, I glanced at our sweet corn patch. To my surprise, the sweet corn I'd direct seeded last Sunday was up! Not only had it germinated, it had germinated quite well with hardly a gap in the rows. Since we've not had rain and the ground seemed pretty dry when I planted the corn, I'm amazed there was enough moisture in the soil for the corn seed to germinate.

The direct seeded sweet corn was Summer SWeet HiGlow SS3880MR from Twilley Seeds. Twilley hasn't clearly described just what their new corn varieties are, advising one isolate the variety from all other sweet corn varieties. The seed certainly is shrunken like most sh2 varieties. Shrunken seeds often don't germinate as well as regular sweet corn seeds, but this stuff came up great.

Hopefully, our staggered starting of sweet corn transplants and direct seeding will provide the isolation the various varieties need.

When I was mulching the spaces between our hills of melons, I saw honeybees already working the blooms on our cantaloupe plants. Most of those blooms were male, so the bees work today will help them, but probably will not put on any melons. The bees, interestingly to me, appeared to be midnight honeybees, a gentle hybrid variety we kept when we had hives on our farm.

Standing out from the tiny cantaloupe blooms were a couple of large yellow squash blooms on our open pollinated Saffron plant.

I'm not quite done planting our East Garden. If I have enough seed, I want to plant a long row of zinnias down one side of the plot and another long row of nasturtiums on the other long dimension. Zinnias are pretty, while the nasturtiums are said to discourage some harmful bugs in the garden. We've lined the forty foot side of our East Garden plot with zinnias or nasturtiums several times, but have never done the long, eighty foot dimension, nor had both flowers in the same year. If I can scrounge enough seed, it should be pretty.

Mountain Valley Seeds

Friday, June 3, 2016

Gloxinias in bloomMulched row of watermelon and cantaloupeI'm still working on getting our melons planted. I took some time this morning, though, to trim back our Wandering Jew plant so that I could add a couple more gloxinias in bloom under it on our kitchen counter. Also before starting transplanting, I pulled our America and Melody spinach plants, as I want to save seed from the remaining Abundant Bloomsdale spinach plants. I might experiment with letting the variety cross with the excellent, open pollinated America variety sometime in the future, but this is my first try at saving spinach seed. Keeping the saved seed true to variety but better adapted to our growing conditions is a higher goal than possibly creating a slightly different spinach from crossing the two.

BTW: The two gloxinias in back are both Double Brocades. the one in front is an open pollinated descendant of the Empress variety, although it may have crossed with something else.

I got seven hills transplanted today before I ran out of water, was running low on peat moss, and out of energy. I also ran into a problem. I'd left too much space between the cantaloupes I'd transplanted yesterday and am now having to squeeze in our hills of watermelon. But I was pleased with how the transplants from both yesterday and today looked when mulched.

Today's planting included two Avatar and one Sarah's Choice cantaloupe, a Diplomat honeydew, and Congo, Blacktail Mountain, and Trillion watermelon. I would have put in a Tam Dew honeydew as well, but the transplant died in its pot.

Melon planting in East Garden

The open areas, or aisles, between our melon rows will be gradually covered with grass clipping mulch. Spreading the mulch along the rows still allows me to till the unmulched ground for weed control until I get it covered. Amazon - scuffle hoeEventually, the entire 40' x 55' melon patch should be mulched. And while I'd love to say that it's 100% effective at suppressing weeds, it isn't. I'll have to re-mulch areas where the grass clippings thin from decay. At some point each year, it becomes impossible to walk into the patch to pull a weed or lay down more mulch without stepping on vines.

Of course, once the vines begin to bear fruit, we find our way in and out of the patch, even if we step on a vine or two. Due to my hip surgery, we didn't plant melons or our East Garden last season. And 2014 was a disappointing year for us for melons, So I'm really looking forward to having lots of good melons to eat and give away this year.

We have a pretty good chance for rain tonight and tomorrow. That could delay completing planting our melons, but it will be good for our direct seeded sweet corn and the potatoes I planted this week. The first rain after planting (or transplanting) sweet corn also necessitates a quick pass with a scuffle hoe to suppress weeds around the corn plants and hill soil up around them. Our sweet corn is planted in rows wide enough apart that I can also rototill the rows, as long as the soil is dry enough. But there's nothing quite like a scuffle hoe for killing small weeds in the row between corn plants.

Burpee Gardening

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Having spent most of the month of May hoping our soil would dry out enough to be worked, I found myself wishing for rain yesterday. The ground I worked planting our potatoes was pretty dry. I almost got my wish this morning, as a small line of showers passed south of us, giving us only 0.03 inches of rain.

Peas and broccoliI picked a few peas and some broccoli sideshoots this morning. I planted our early peas on March 9 this year, about as early as we ever get seed in the ground. We really could use a good rain to help the pea vines plump up the pods.

Our broccoli continues to put on lots of sideshoots which are good for fresh use, but don't supply enough volume for freezing. Many of our garlic plants had put on bloom spikes (scapes) which I snapped off this morning. The garlic looks as if it needs a bit more nitrogen again.

East Gardeen ready for melonsThe main work of the day was to begin transplanting yellow squash, cantaloupe, and watermelon into our East Garden plot. Having pretty thoroughly tilled the plot and with almost no rain, the fifty-five foot long section I'd reserved for melons was pretty much weed free.

Growing melons on heavy clay soil could be pretty difficult. Even though our East Garden is clay soil, we don't grow our melons in pure clay, as we provide our melons a deluxe hole or hill to grow in with lots of compost and peat moss worked into the soil. Doing so has allowed us to grow great melons for years, but the preparation of the holes for transplanting takes a good bit of time and effort.

I won't go through the whole soil prep and planting process here. If you're interested in how we do it, see our how-to story, Growing Great Melons on Heavy Clay Soil.

I only got eight hills transplanted today. I say hills because the added soil amendments hill the soil slightly around each group of melons. Our 4 1/2 inch pots of transplants also have one, two, and occasionally three plants growing in them. I put in two yellow squash. One was our favorite hybrid, Slick Pik, and the other was an excellent open pollinated squash, Saffron. The rest of the transplants today were all cantaloupes. I put in two each of Sugar Cube, a delightful icebox melon with incredible flavor, Roadside Hybrid, one of which was from saved seed (!!), and Athena, an excellent large cantaloupe with great flavor.

I did the transplanting in two sessions, one in the early afternoon and another in the evening. Unfortunately, I did most of the photography in the fading light of evening.

Eight hills planted Another view of the eight hills End of the day

Since the soil was pretty dry, each hill got around three to four gallons of transplanting solution. I hand pumped the water from our shallow well, adding a bit of Quick Start fertilizer and Serenade biofungicide to each bucket I filled. Since we don't have a water source close to the East Garden, hauling water in buckets is the best way I've found to supply the water necessary for the transplants to survive.

I also mulched around each hill with some well cured grass clippings. I'm always amazed in the fall when I clear our melon vines to find incredibly long shallow roots that have spread out under the mulch we use to suppress weeds and hold in soil moisture.

We have a good chance of rain for Saturday, so I shouldn't have to water the new transplants any time soon. If we get missed by that predicted rain, I'll be filling lots of buckets with water until we get a soaking rain. Along with watering, we now begin our race to mulch the entire planting with grass clippings to hold back weeds. When I finish transplanting, I'll be mowing the field the East Garden is in and raking the grass clippings for mulch.

While all of this sounds like a lot of work, I really missed growing sweet corn and melons last year as I rehabbed from hip surgery. My hands and back ache from the digging, but it's a good hurt. I pause several times each day to thank the Lord that I'm once again able to fully garden this year.

I'll sleep good tonight.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Our Senior Garden - June 1, 2016
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Starting cucumbers
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

It may seem strange, but I started our June gardening by starting some more seed this morning. With our early peas almost ready to pick, it's time, almost past time, to start our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber transplants that will take over the trellised raised bed once the pea vines are spent and pulled.

Our cool weather crops will play out fairly soon with the lettuce and spinach bolting and getting bitter. We'll get to enjoy those crops again in the fall, though. Even the bolting could be interesting, as I hope to save seed from our Sun Devil lettuce and Abundant Bloomsdale spinach.

Our broccoli that buttoned early on continues to produce some nice sideshoots. And if the increasing heat doesn't spoil it, we should get a few more heads of cauliflower in the next week or so. Both the broccoli and cauliflower suffered from the irregular weather we had in late April and all through May.

We probably won't be picking any tomatoes or peppers this month. Even our Earliest Red Sweet peppers and our Earlirouge tomatoes require a few more days of summer sun to begin producing. We might begin picking, though, as early as the Fourth of July. Besides picking our early peas, our row of short peas could come in by the end of the month. Likewise, our single row of green beans should produce towards the end of this month.

While we try to get our East Garden plot planted in May each season, we'll still be working on it this month. Wet soil conditions prevented doing a final till of the plot until late May. It took two passes in April and two more in May with our pull-type rototiller to suppress the grass and weeds that had grown up in the plot as it lay idle last year. We have Pontiac and Kennebec potato sets to plant and lots of melon transplants to put out.

Gloxinias bloomingPetunias in hanging basketsOur gloxinias after their period of dormancy are coming into bloom. Another Double Brocade (purple blooms) and an open pollinated (pink blooms) gloxinia are showing their stuff on the shelf in our sunroom. If I want gloxinias in bloom this winter, I'll need to direct seed some more this month, as all of our plants seem to be cycling to bloom through the summer. Gloxinias grown from seed take about five to six months to begin blooming.

Not to be outdone, our petunias in hanging baskets along our back porch are putting on quite a show. Sadly, by late August or early September, these plants seem to just wear out, despite being pinched back, fertilized, and regularly watered.

When I take some stuff out to our freezer in the garage later today, I'll need to not only bring in gloxinia seed, but also broccoli and cauliflower seed. I'll need to start our fall brassicas in a week or two.

Later - Planting Potatoes

I had a choice of planting potatoes, transplanting melons, or installing a new mower deck belt and mowing this afternoon. With a rumbling to the south of us (could have been them dumping coal at the powerplant or thunder), I chose planting potatoes. I didn't want to have to dig heavy, wet soil to plant them if one of the pop-up thundershowers (revealed later by weather radar) passing all around us should suddenly favor us.

I'm sorta particular about how I plant my potatoes...most of the time. I think I make the job harder than it could be, but my efforts sometimes pay off in easier digging when the potatoes are mature.

I first till up and down the potato row line with my rear-tyne rototiller. Although the soil had previously been thoroughly tilled with our pull-type tiller, the walk behind tiller goes a bit deeper than the pull-type. Next, I dig down and back the row, shoveling out three or four inches of the loosened soil. Then I spread a little Muriate of Potash (0-0-60), a half coffee can of 12-12-12, about 10 pounds of gypsum (only because I had it left over from building our raised herb bed), and a whole lot of peat moss in the dug out row.

I run the tiller down and back the row again, working in the soil amendments. Note that I'd prefer to put down something like 6-24-24 or 10-20-20, but no one around here sells the stuff.

Then I go down the row again with a shovel making a shallow trench for the potato sets that I'd cut two days ago. Note that I treat the cut sides of the potato sets with Captan fungicide to prevent rot.

Digging out a shallow trench Fertilizer, gypsum, and peat moss added to trench Soil amendments tilled in Trench dug again, potato sets in place

I place the sets (and some whole seed potatoes that didn't get cut) about ten inches apart in the trench. I use a garden rake to gently pull just enough soil over the sets to cover them an inch or so deep. The extra soil I'd dug out of the trench remains on the sides of the rows for when I start hilling the potatoes when they've emerged and put on eight or ten inches of stem.

I don't water in the planting. I do, however, drench the rows with Serenade biofungicide. It helps prevent blight and a host of other plant diseases. (See the label.) While sold to farmers as a drench, the bottled concentrate is the same exact stuff and does the same job.

What I've described so far is how I like to plant potatoes...and how I did the first row. At that point, I was beat, but still wanted our second row planted today. So, instead of all the initial trenching, I dumped the fertilizer, gypsum, and peat moss on top of the soil, tilled it in, and dug a trench before putting the seed potatoes in the trench. Doing so will undoubtedly make digging the potatoes a bit harder, as the soil wasn't loosened as deeply as the first row. But I got it all done.

I planted Kennebecs in the first row and Red Pontiacs in the second row. We've planted other varieties in previous years, but have found that the two very common varieties planted are really well adapted for our growing conditions.

Let me add that whatever variety one plants, the seed potatoes should be certified disease free potatoes. We've only had one serious blight infection, and it was self inflicted. Several years ago when we had two short rows of potatoes planted in our main raised garden bed, not all the seed potatoes germinated. I noticed some potatoes growing in our compost pile and decided to transplant them into our planting.

Everything looked great for about two to three weeks. Then the telltale look of burnt black leaves on the potato plants began to spread like wildfire down the rows. We ended up losing almost all of our potato crop despite several rescue sprays. And of course, having introduced blight into our main raised bed, crop rotations of tomatoes, also highly susceptible to blights, became rather more complicated.

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