One of the Joys of Maturity
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.
I've been busy with lots of little odds and ends for several days that generally don't show up here on this page. Pulling the last of the radishes from the carrot rows and beginning to mulch that area, replacing a dead pepper plant, bringing more transplants outside to harden off, and mowing and raking have taken up a good bit of my time. Add to that a restrain of the pulled leg muscle I've been fighting for some time, a trip to the laser surgeon to remove several potential skin cancers, and a nasty chest infection, and there hasn't been much time to write.
Even a bit gimpy these days, a few jobs do get done each day. I cut our first head of green romaine lettuce today. I'd cut an immature red romaine last week to color some salad.
While working our lettuce, onion, and carrot areas in the raised bed recently, I noticed that something had eaten a couple of our celery plants to the ground. The plants have bounced back, putting on new growth, but I wonder what is doing the eating. No deer tracks were evident, so my guess is that a very brave (or foolish) rabbit has found our main garden plot. But our lettuce remained untouched!
At the urging of my wife, Annie, I grabbed a few shots of our sage plant that has burst into full bloom. When I began editing the photos, I realized that one of our dogs, Mac, had slipped into the edge of some of the pictures. He has his head buried in a bucket as he got a drink of water. We keep a more standard dog bowl of water out at all times, but for some reason, the dogs prefer water out of the bucket.
Having had his drink, Mac posed amongst the many trays of transplants on our porch and steps. I moved stuff out from the cold frame (which had remained open for days) to the steps when I mowed on Saturday.
After all sorts of delays, I'm finally getting our melons transplanted. I put in one row of six plants yesterday and another similar row today. The way I plant our melons takes a bit of time, but allows us to grow good cantaloupe and watermelon on heavy clay soil. I won't reproduce how I do it here, as I gave step-by-step directions last year. About the only difference this year is that I didn't have to add as much water to each planting hole as I did in last year's near desert conditions.
We lost a few of our melon transplants on the porch to natural causes and a couple more to shenanigans by puppies. With the in row spacing I've been using (5' between cantaloupes and 8' between watermelons), I'll actually have a bit more space than I have transplants remaining. I may do a little direct seeding to fill out the last row. Doing so may spread out our harvest a bit and even extend it into the fall.
Yesterday's transplanting was a miserable experience because of all the black flies present. I tried using some spray insect repellent, which only worked for about five minutes.
Before starting transplanting today, I grabbed an Off! Clip On Mosquito Repellent dispenser that I'd picked up but not used last year. It had just sat atop our microwave oven, along with all the other papers, rubber bands, nuts and bolts, and other stuff that lands there. While it was a different day with different weather conditions, the clip on thingie actually kept the black flies out of my face while working!
Perma-Nest Trays Now Available from Greenhouse Megastore
I received a welcome email this week from David George, CEO of the Greenhouse Megastore. I'd written the Megastore last winter to suggest they carry the heavy duty Perma-Nest type flats. Mr. George didn't promise anything more than looking into carrying the trays at that time, but sent an email Monday morning informing me they now carry the basic 11" x 22" Perma-Nest tray.
Perma-Nest trays are sturdy enough that one can completely fill them with moist soil mix without them twisting, bending, or breaking, making moving flats a much easier process. Because the trays have no holes, I sometimes add a slotted 1020 tray in them to provide a bit of drainage for whatever I have in them. Of course, that adds a little cost to the trays.
This and That
Our peppers that had gotten off to such a great start after transplanting have almost all died! One pepper fell prey to puppy damage. When I replaced that plant, I also pulled the cutworm collars from the other plants and added cages around them to support the plants' growth. But in the next few days, I noticed that all the peppers other than the one replacement died. I can tell that it wasn't cutworms, but don't know if I harmed the plants pulling the cutworm collars, or...if the dogs got into pee wars around the newly added cages, or if there's something else going on. With two new and one other relatively new dog this year, we're having problems with the dogs playing with potted transplants on the porch and digging in the garden. I even caught our oldest dog rolling in the mulch in our main raised bed this morning. Fortunately, he was rolling around in the aisle between the lettuce and dead peppers.
I have enough pepper plants left to replace the failed plants, but I won't have all of our favorite varieties. And I still need to figure out what killed the plants!
I have another job waiting to be done that won't hold much longer. I almost always overseed our carrots with radish seed. The early emerging radishes help break any crust in the soil that might impede germination of the tender carrots. The idea came from the late James Underwood Crockett and in theory, the radishes should ripen before they impede the carrots too much. In practice, I usually have to pull the radishes well before most of them are table ready, although this year many appear to be pretty well along.
Once I get the radishes out of the way, I can begin thinning and weeding the carrots before mulching them. Since it may rain yet today, I may have ideal conditions for pulling the radishes tomorrow without hurting the carrots. (Note that our carrot row is at the side of a raised bed that can be worked without stepping into the bed, a big plus in wet weather.)
Overplanting, thinning, and mulching always seem like a lot of trouble in the spring. But the carrots we grow, harvest, and often store well into the winter are usually of far better quality than what is available at our local grocery!
As I came in with the camera today, I had to stop and grab a shot of one of the blossoms on our Amish Snap peas.
We're pretty much at a dead stop on gardening due to wet soil conditions. Yesterday, it was about as wet as I've seen it in the nineteen years we've lived here. After some overnight showers that brought our May precipitation total to 3.55", the sun came out this afternoon and dried things out a bit. But as the afternoon wore on, showers returned.
Our rainfall totals are considerably more than some surrounding Weather Underground reporting stations. The two near Merom, Indiana, are showing just 1.93" and 2.54" of rainfall so far this month. That shows how spotty the showers can be at times, as we're around 3-6 miles from the stations. When rain forced me to stop mowing on Thursday, I observed very heavy rain for over a half hour out our front door (to the north), but when I checked our rain gauge later (in back and to the south), it showed little more rain than the morning dew would produce. Apparently, it poured on the front yard but just sprinkled on the back.
The row of nasturtiums I direct seeded 10 days ago are now coming up. There are some good sized breaks in the 80' row that I'll need to reseed, but with what is up so far, they should make a nice border row along the edge of our alfalfa cover crop.
I fall planted a couple of trees in December, 2010, that I got from the Arbor Day Foundation. I was a bit worried that the freebie red maple included with my order wasn't going to make it this spring. The top growth all showed severe winter damage, but the tree has put out a bunch of shoots just above its base. We had this happen with a pin oak we planted when we first moved here. It died to the ground, but came back up the next year and has become a gorgeous tree. So we're going to give the red maple another year or so and see what happens with it.
The paid tree in the Arbor Day order was a semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap. I was really sorta glad to see that it didn't bloom this spring, as I would have had to pick all the blooms off of it. It's still too small to support the weight of apples, and I'd rather it put it's energy into healthy growth. Note that our last "semi-dwarf" Stayman Winesap grew right through its dwarfing grafts into a very productive standard apple tree before we lost it to fire blight a few years ago.
We lost a grand old maple tree on the west side of our house several years ago to repeated lightning strikes. I first tried to replace it with an oak tree I picked up at Lowes. When that tree died, I transplanted an oak seedling that had emerged in our garden, but it didn't make it either. Last spring, I moved a native Silver Maple from our front flowerbed to the general area where the oaks had failed. It put on so much growth last year, it almost worried me. But the tree has leafed out well this spring and should provide good shade for the house and whomever lives here...in about twenty years.
As I was snapping pictures of trees this afternoon, I grabbed a shot of our sage plant. It grew in our narrow raised bed for the 2011 gardening season before being relocated that fall to an area around our shallow well that I hope will become a permanent herb garden. I have another sage plant to pair with the existing plant and a bunch of other herb starts to go along the sides of the well cover. I've been surprised at how hardy the existing sage plant has been. Our dogs have laid on it, peed on it, and even dug a bit, until I caught them, at its base. Having recently read an extension article that said sage helps deter deer, I wish I had a whole tray of sage to plant around our sweet corn patch!
With our warm, moist weather of late, the black fly have returned, making outdoor work a good deal less pleasurable. I seem to remember that we didn't have black fly here when we first moved in, but around ten years ago they began to become a problem. But we've sure got'um now.
Other than rooting a few sweet potato slips and picking asparagus for supper, I didn't do any gardening today. As soon as the morning dew dried, I was out mowing grass under threatening skies.
I managed to get our front and back yards mowed and raked, but got rained out from doing any more. It rained for an hour and then the sun came out and dried things out a bit, but certainly not enough to resume mowing.
I did a quick posting at around 6:30 P.M using the photo at top left as our banner as it began to rain once again. This time around, it was a gullywasher! When it let up a bit at round 8:30 P.M., there was just enough light for me to catch a photo of all the standing water in and around our garden. While the water will drain fairly quickly from our raised beds, it will take some time for the yard to dry out. I was still mowing through a bit of standing water here and there earlier today. With this rain and more predicted for tomorrow, it's not going to be much fun mowing the remaining yard and field. And of course, any serious gardening other than working from the edges of the raised beds will have to wait until the ground dries out a bit.
A Sad Part of Country Living
At right is a photo of Jackson, a stray who started hanging around earlier this year. He's a big, thin dog, but really still a bit of a playful puppy. He's good with kids and people and generally gets along well with our other dogs, even our two somewhat grumpy senior citizen dogs. He doesn't do well with cats, or we just might keep him. Unfortunately, he already has been implicated in the death of one of our cats. There were witnesses to the slaying, but they were all canine and aren't talking.
Jackson appears to have been neutered already, so he probably has had his shots, too. We've treated him with Frontline for ticks and fleas and also gave him a dose of heartworm medicine. He's in good health, although quite thin.
Annie and I have tried without success to find Jackson's owner. We finally decided this evening that she would post a photo of Jackson on her electronic bulletin board at work to see if anyone wants him. If not, he will have to go to an area shelter. We simply can't keep him, as we had just adopted another stray, Daisy, before Jackson showed up. Training one puppy at a time is about the best we can do.
If you live in the general area (Terre Haute, IN is the nearest big city.) and are interested in a big, lovable puppy, .
I transplanted six sweet bell pepper plants into our main raised garden bed today. Even though it had rained last night and this morning, the center of the raised bed was dry enough to access by a little after noon. Planting just six plants along a fifteen foot row seems to work well for us in having healthy, productive plants that when caged receive plenty of sunlight and aren't crowded.
Since the area to be planted hadn't been worked for a while, I had to scuffle hoe a bit to remove seedling weeds before getting started. And of course, I also noticed and took care of a few weeds with the hoe in our lettuce rows and in the aisles around our brassicas while I had the hoe out.
The soil in the center of our main raised garden bed is a fairly heavy loam from the addition of lots of compost, composted manure, peat moss, and whatever else I could find to help break up the heavy clay. The garden bed was originally a sloping and somewhat erosion prone area that we terraced on two sides a number of years ago to stop the erosion. Later, I went ahead and enclosed the other two sides of the 16' x 24' bed, making a rather large raised bed that may not have been one of my best decisions. But it does allow one to build up quality soil over the years.
I dug holes about eight inches deep with a standard garden trowel for the plants, adding and working in a bit of lime and 12-12-12 fertilizer around the outside of the hole and deep into the hole. While I watered the holes with our usual dilute starter fertilizer, it also had a bit of soluble seaweed powder added in. Our pepper plants used to bloom and then die each year until we began adding a bit of soluble seaweed around them. There must be some trace element in Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed that our soil was lacking. Now, it's just become part of our planting routine.
Since cutworms seem to love our peppers as much as we do, I employed cut off used paper coffee cups as cutworm collars. The pepper plants are really pretty well hardened off and possibly could go without the collars, but we really had a bad experience one year when I didn't use them. The collars will come off in a week or so, and I'll add cages around the peppers at that time.
Red peppers planted included Ace, two of them, and Red Knight, both excellent producers for us in the past. For yellow/gold peppers, I planted Mecate and Sunray. I also put in one Sweet Chocolate pepper, something we've not tried until now. Of course, all of the varieties can be harvested and used green for green bell peppers.
We're not done planting peppers as yet, as I have our old favorite, Earliest Red Sweet, to transplant into the East Garden and some Alma and Feher Ozone paprika peppers that will go in various remote spots around the property for isolation and seed production.
Once I finished transplanting the peppers, I mulched the peppers, the rest of our brassicas which had only partially been mulched, and our lettuce rows. When mulching the peppers, I had to leave a bit of open space around each cutworm collar, as the mulch against the paper cups could actually provide an avenue for cutworms right up to one of their favorite treats.
We're just about done with our initial plantings in our main raised garden bed. One big job remains. I still need to spread out the onions I'd heeled in several weeks ago and also transplant our remaining flat of onions into the bed. Once that is done, and the companion planting of radishes are pulled from the carrot rows, I'll weed and mulch the carrot and onion rows and the remaining aisles in the bed.
While working in our main garden bed today, I couldn't help but notice that we're very close to picking our first home grown lettuce of the year with some baby spinach not far behind.
One other timely item I should mention is that we've started spraying our brassicas (and evergreens) with Thuricide. Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis) is an effective biological control for cabbage loopers and small white cabbage worms on cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and especially for kale. I also use BT to help control bagworms on our blue spruce trees.
It appears we may get a significant break in our rainy weather towards the end of the week and well into next week. If the forecast is accurate, things might just dry out enough for us to till and plant sweet corn next week! If not, we should still be able to transplant melons and squash, and also get our potatoes planted.
We're into another rainy period. I've collected and dumped and inch and a half of rain from our weather gauge so far this month with nearby weather stations reporting about the same amount. It appears that off and on showers will continue today and tomorrow before we get a couple of clear days on Tuesday and Wednesday. After that, there's more rain in the forecast.
The broccoli and cauliflower I transplanted into our East Garden plot on Friday appear to be doing well in the wet weather, but it's a little tough to tell. One can only observe from the edge of the plot, as the ground is so wet it would swallow up ones shoe or boot if stepped on. The grass clipping mulch around the brassicas seems to be helping to hold the gently sloping soil in place.
The shot above may give some idea of just how wet things are here now. The brownish cast over the East Garden is from the burndown sprays of Roundup I applied, hoping to be able to get into the patch and transplant melons without another round of rototilling. Other than getting the row of brassicas in, that strategy may have backfired, as seedling weeds will cover the plot when it begins to dry out.
A positive of all the rain (and I'm really not complaining about too much rain...yet) is that the half of the plot seeded to alfalfa is doing great. There are some small low spots where the alfalfa appears to have drowned out, but on the whole, we're going to get a good stand.
Our plan for the future is to rotate the area used for vegetables in the East Garden counterclockwise each year. The new ground opened up each year will have been in ground cover for two years, and the part retired each year will have been in production for only two years before being rested.
I grumble in print here about the soil quality of the East Garden, but it has shown some minor improvement over the last few years. Turndown crops of buckwheat and cover crops of alfalfa, later turned under, along with grass clipping mulch residue turned in have improved the organic matter content of the soil and lessened the plow pan under the soil somewhat. It just takes time.
I was a bit late this year in seeding our snapdragons. When I did start them, I used plenty of seed to avoid germination problems and having to possibly reseed them. As it turned out, I used way too much seed and found myself with hundreds of tiny, leggy snapdragon plants in pots needing to be moved to larger quarters.
We like to use snapdragons along our trellises in the Senior Garden. The snaps benefit from the support of the trellis with the high winds we often have here. They seem to coexist fairly well with peas and even better with vining cucumbers. And as light fall frosts kill off other crops and flowers, the snapdragons continue to bloom right up until we get a really hard frost or freeze, giving us some welcome color right up to the end of the growing season.
So having seeded four pots of snapdragons in mid-April, I began teasing apart the leaves, stems, and roots today, moving them to small fourpacks. It's a tedious job I'd been avoiding, made harder by my letting it go so long. The snaps were leggy and had to be moved carefully into the fourpacks and firmed in.
When I finished moving the first pot of Madame Butterfly snapdragons, I felt pretty good about the job, as I'd used up all the snapdragons for the fourpacks I'd planned for them. But when I went on to a pot of First Ladies and another of Burpee Tall, I found that I'd badly overdone the seeding and had hundreds of plants left. I didn't even get to a pot of open pollinated snaps I'd grown from saved seed.
But on a cool, rainy day, moving the snaps turned out to be a pretty good and somewhat enjoyable activity. I ended up filling 72 cells with snapdragons, far more than we'll need in the garden unless I figure out a good place for a flowerbed exclusively devoted to snapdragons.
A wide band of slow moving rain that dropped a good bit of precipitation on Missouri and Illinois has finally gotten to us this morning. I'd sorta been racing the last few days to get things done before the showers, originally predicted to arrive on Wednesday, got here. At the top of my "didn't get done" list are beginning to transplant melons into the East Garden, transplanting peppers into our main raised garden bed, mulching several areas of that bed, transplanting our Moira tomatoes into the East Garden... In other words, there still remains lots to get done once things dry out again.
I wrote last month about getting some sweet potato slips started for the garden. Fourteen of the sixteen slips I cut off a sweet potato growing in a drinking glass have now rooted and today came out from under the humidome that was holding in moisture for them while they rooted. In the meantime, I've still been snipping slips off the sweet potato, but this time dropped the slips into a glass of water for them to begin rooting until I could move them into a soil mix. I've often heard such roots referred to as water roots that really won't sustain a plant if transplanted directly into the garden.
When I take or cut such a slip, I trim off all but the very top growth of leaves. This allows the slip to put its energy into creating new roots while not having to maintain a bunch of leaves along its stem.
This morning, I took our jar of slips with water roots and dipped each one in powdered rooting compound before placing them in sterilized planting medium to begin putting on regular soil roots. The fourpacks of slips, of course, went under a humidome to hold in moisture while the sips form new roots.
I'll continue cutting slips as our sweet potato plant produces them until I'm sure I have enough to fill a row in our East Garden with healthy, new sweet potato plants. I'd rather have too many than not enough.
I transplanted a long row of brassicas into our East Garden plot this morning. The East Garden is still pretty wet in places, but was dry enough to support my weight. I used a shovel instead of a trowel for the transplanting, as I mixed in peat moss, lime, and 12-12-12 fertilizer in each transplant hole. Our first planting of brassicas went into our main raised garden bed in early April. If we're fortunate, this second planting will give us an extended harvest of broccoli and cauliflower.
I had quite a variety of brassicas ready for transplanting, but went mainly with broccoli and cauliflower today. On paper, I had room for twenty plants, but ended up only getting in a total of eighteen plants. Premium Crop, Goliath, and Belstar broccoli, Amazing and Fremont cauliflower, and a couple of Churchill brussels sprouts plants filled the 30' row. I did squeeze in a geranium as a row marker at the end of the row, but geraniums really haven't done well for us in the East Garden.
A bit later in the day I put in a few vincas and petunias along the edge of our narrow raised bed before mulching in the flowers, tomato plants and peas with grass clipping mulch.
At this time of year, there are always more jobs to be done than I have time or energy to complete. But it certainly is nice to see stuff growing in the garden once again.
I started our May gardening early this morning with a bit of garden maintenance. One of our Fremont cauliflower plants didn't take and needed to be replaced. When I checked my flat of leftovers, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very healthy fourpack of Fremonts. We'd also lost one geranium plant to the late frost in April which was easy to replace.
We're starting the month of May with the ground still too wet for tilling, but possibly dry enough to walk over for transplanting. Having written yesterday that my gardening would "probably be limited to picking (and eating) asparagus and possibly mowing and raking grass clippings," I later realized I had a few chores that could be done from the edges of our garden beds and plots.
Since we're going to be growing a lot of open pollinated tomatoes isolated around the property for seed production (along with canning and table use), I only allotted room for two tomato plants in our main garden area. I transplanted a Red Candy grape tomato and a Bella Rosa at the ends of our pea trellis in our narrow raised garden bed. The grape tomato plant went on the end of the row closest to the house and most accessible to the little hands of grandchildren who have free rein to pick and eat them right off the vine.
One possible advantage of putting tomato cages at either end of the trellis is that I was able to wire them to the T-posts supporting the trellis. We've had lots of trouble over the years with the high winds we frequently experience blowing over top heavy tomato cages.
The transplanting was pretty straightforward. I dug a hole with my trowel, added just a touch of lime to help fend off blossom end rot and also a bit of 12-12-12 fertilizer and worked them into the hole as deeply as possible. I watered the hole with very dilute starter fertilizer, popped in the tomato transplants a bit lower in the soil than they were growing in the fourpacks, and firmed up the soil. The tomato cages went in the ground last, wired to the T-posts with the same coated clothesline wire we use to support our trellis.
After transplanting the tomatoes, I headed out to our large East Garden patch to do something I've wanted to do for a long time. I hoed down the entire eighty foot east edge of the plot, where we have a gorgeous stand of alfalfa coming up, and direct seeded nasturtiums down the entire row. I've always thought a long nasturtium border would look cool. This year I should find out. I'm also hoping the raccoons and deer find the nasturtiums a bit of a barrier. (Yeah, right!)
Planting that long a row of nasturtiums is a fairly expensive proposition. I'd been building up my supply of nasturtium seed for a couple of years with this kind of planting in mind. I used an off-the-rack packet of Alaska, Empress of India and Milkmaid from Annie's Heirloom Seeds, some Jewel from David's Seeds, and a couple of packets of Whirlybird from Twilley Seed. When I do this kind of planting, I often plant varieties by name in alphabetical order to help me keep track of what went where. So I started with Alaska and ended with Whirlybird.
I ended the task by running our mower down the row (with the blades off). You can see the tread tracks in the photo at left. I was trying to firm the soil around the seeds for better seed/soil contact and germination.
By the time I got done with the nasties, I was pooped. Any plans for mowing were put off a day. I was thrilled this morning to be able to lift my arms without pain after all the hoeing yesterday!
BTW: I didn't add any fertilizer to the row of nasturtiums. Years ago, I made the mistake of planting nasturtiums among our melons and rows of green beans. The plot of ground was fairly good soil, but I also sprinkled a little fertilizer in the row. The nasties totally took over the area, leaving us only a few melons and beans. As the late Jim Crockett used to say, "Treat nasties nasty."
I did recover enough by late afternoon to go out and pick asparagus. It was a good thing I did, as I ended up with a little over three pounds of fresh asparagus spears from the picking. "Our patch" is beginning to fill in and come on strong. The second patch we pick, Bonnie's Asparagus, is still producing lots of thick spears as well.
I had wondered earlier this season about how well our thick asparagus spears would cook up. I checked a couple of Garden Web postings (1, 2) on the subject and also ran across one funny, but almost off color forum thread of guys talking about their thick spears.
The consistent answer, borne out by our experience with tender, tasty, thick asparagus spears, is to count your blessings if your asparagus comes up thick. It's a healthy sign for the roots, and makes for very good eating.
As I wearily drug myself inside from my gardening fun and games yesterday, I had to stop and spend a few minutes admiring and photographing our Granny Smith apple tree. This is a tree that survived a fire blight infection that killed our standard Stayman Winesap apple tree a few years ago. It's in glorious full bloom now. While our replacement, semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap isn't old enough to bloom yet, a nearby volunteer apple tree should provide sufficient cross pollination for both trees. The Granny Smith produces great, full-sized apples, while the volunteer puts on small red apples that taste like Red Delicious, but with a bit of spice to them.
at Senior Gardening