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One of the Joys of Maturity


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May 26, 2017

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.


Thursday, May 25, 2017 - First Broccoli

PeasFirst head of broccoli of the seasonI went to our main garden bed this afternoon to check on our early peas. There are lots of pods set on that are slowly ripening. Today, none were fat enough to merit sampling.

As I moved down the bed to our broccoli, I inspected several Premium Crop broccoli that were forming small heads. But as I moved down the row to some Goliath broccoli, I found several heads almost mature. I cut one head for supper tonight, and the others may be ready by tomorrow. Interestingly, the Goliath variety is supposed to mature a bit later than Premium Crop!

The head of broccoli I cut this afternoon wasn't giant, but was a nice 6" across. I'm thrilled to have spring broccoli this year, as our spring broccoli last year all buttoned, putting on only golf ball sized heads. It appears that we may have a normal spring harvest of broccoli this year.

Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapesGarlic "bloom"Almost all of our elephant garlic and even a few of our regular garlic plants have put on scapes this year. In the past, I've usually broken off the scapes, the tall stems with flowery heads, to induce bigger garlic bulbs. But I've read over the last few years that garlic scapes are edible and actually quite tasty. So I'm going to try cooking with them this year, rather than breaking them off and throwing them on our compost pile.

I let three scapes "bloom" several years ago. I tried saving the small bulbils they produce, but didn't have any luck getting them to grow. I did end up getting what turned out to be our best garden photo for 2014.

Rain

We had another inch of rain overnight. I checked our sweet corn patch this afternoon and was pleased to see that none of our seed had washed up. We've had a tough time getting our late peas going from all the rain. Of course, we're far better off than the poor guy who farms the field next to us. He came in this week and had to chisel plow and replant the entire 90 acres!

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

With several dry days in a row, our East Garden dried out enough for me to till it again yesterday. The tilling was necessary, at least for the sweet corn section, to turn in about thirty pounds of 12-12-12 fertilizer. I ended up tilling almost all of the plot we're using this year. In addition, I broadcast five pounds of buckwheat seed on the rotated out part of the East Garden and set the tiller to just stir the seed into the top inch of soil.

This morning, I was able to rather quickly seed seven, twenty-five foot rows to sweet corn. After stringing my rows, I used a garden hoe to make a furrow for the seed. I got my first furrows too deep, but compensated by not covering the seed with all that much soil. I wanted the sweet corn seed an inch or so deep.

Marking rows for sweet corn Furrows dug Seed spaced 8-12" in row

I planted Burpee's new sweet corn, Jaws, and Twilley's Summer Sweet 6800R in the first three rows. The other four rows went to the Twilley varieties Summer Sweet HiGlow SS3880MR and Summer Sweet Multisweet 502BC, a bicolor. All of the varieties planted are sh2 hybrids.

I still have more planting to do in the East Garden, but had to mow and rake mulch the rest of the day. Our grass had gotten high, and it's supposed to rain for the next two days. I did add about eighteen inches of mulch on either side of our melon row. The rest of the raked mulch will be used for tomatoes, peppers, and sweet potatoes in the East Garden. While I've had no luck mulching regular potatoes, grass clipping mulch has worked well for us holding back weeds and holding in soil moisture around sweet potato plants.

Burpee Seed Company

Saturday, May 20, 2017 - First Lettuce

Our Senior Garden - May 20, 2017Washed lettuce drying on dish drainerI had just collapsed into my easy chair this evening when my wife said something that reminded me I had lettuce to cut. So in dimming daylight, I hustled out to our lettuce planting in one of our narrow raised beds. One Crispino iceberg, a Barbados summer crisp (head), and a Skyphos were ready to cut. Two romaine plants could have been cut, but three heads of lettuce were enough for one evening. With a few cooler days in the forecast, I hope the romaines won't bolt.

It appears that all of our lettuce may ripen at once, something that comes from transplanting it all in one day. But successive plantings of lettuce just don't work in our climate zone, as day length and warm days make later planted lettuce bitter and inclined to bolt. Both lettuce and spinach seem to do better here in fall plantings.

We also have lots of flat pea pods on our Champion of England vines. We should have fresh peas to pick in about a week. The Maxigolt peas planted in the same row are a bit behind, but that may extend the harvest a bit.

Tomato Cages

Cutting cage from wire rollWinnie and kittenMy main gardening job for today was building tomato cages in the garage. We've had lots of rain here lately, and playing in the mud didn't sound like much fun. So I stayed in the garage cutting and putting together six more tomato cages to use in our East Garden.

I use welded wire concrete reinforcing mesh (remesh) to make our cages. A good pair of bolt cutters makes cutting the cages fairly easy. Bending the wire into a circle and binding it are a bit more work. I now paint our tomato cages with a coat of Rustoleum to make them last a few years longer. The base of each cage gets a coat of Rustoleum heavy rust primer before the whole cage gets a coat of green Rustoleum. I spray the top wire of the cages with white paint to make them more visible in dim light.

I only got six new cages constructed and primed this afternoon before the heat and humidity got to me. While working on the cages, I heard a whine from the cat house inside our garage. When I looked, sure enough, Winston, who is now renamed Winnie, had given birth to four healthy kittens. Winnie showed up in our garage a few months ago. She wasn't feral and loved to be petted. Then she disappeared for about three weeks, only to return with a bulging stomach that indicated either worms or pregnancy.

REI

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Sugar Snap pea rowPotato rowsWe had several firsts today. I saw our first blooms on our tomato plants. We also had our first spinach plant bolt and go to seed. Fortunately, only one plant in the row did so. And while picking the spinach, I found our first squash bug of the year. I don't remember ever finding squash bugs on spinach in the past.

Having found one squash bug, I quickly made my way out to our East Garden plot to check our yellow and butternut squash plants. None were evident, nor was there any feeding damage visible.

I decided to scuffle hoe our rows of Sugar Snap peas and potatoes while out in the East Garden. The Sugar Snaps had germinated poorly, so I added a bit of seed here and there in the row.

Our two rows of potatoes couldn't have been more different. The Red Pontiacs were mostly up and looking good. But there wasn't a sign of our Kennebec potatoes sprouting. The Kennebecs may just emerge later than the red potatoes, but I'm a bit worried about them.

With scattered showers predicted over the next four or five days, I decided to rototill the unplanted sections of the East Garden again today. I was actually able to till fairly close to the peas, potatoes, and the mulch around our melons.

East Garden tilled again - May 17, 2017

I still have sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers to transplant into the East Garden. I'll also direct seed sweet corn and kidney beans into it.

Raised Beds

Friday, May 12, 2017 - Dianthus

I'd put a couple of dianthus in open spots in our herb garden last year. Only one of them overwintered, but it's putting on quite a display of blooms.

Dianthus

Dianthus in bloomDianthus along side of houseDianthus are a biennial relative of carnations. The Carpet Snowfire variety we grow bloom the first year from transplants started in mid-February, but come into full bloom in their second year. We occasionally have a plant survive into a third season. We use the compact, tidy plants mainly in our front and side flowerbeds.

Our Carpet Snowfire dianthus seed originally came from Twilley Seeds. Even though the variety is listed as a hybrid, we've successfully saved seed from it for years. The plants from saved seed tend to produce solid color blooms, where the purchased seed often yields bicolor blooms. I still buy some seed every few years so that we have some of each bloom type, but saving seed allows me to be a bit extravagant in planting them wherever a spot opens up.

Catching Up

With all the rain we've had this month, I'm playing catch up on gardening on the few nice days we've had. I finally filled the last open row we had in our main raised bed with basil and parsley transplants. The row got mulched immediately after planting, as I had lots of grass clippings on hand. That's a good thing, as the recent rains have brought up lots of seedling weeds in unmulched areas.

The now mostly leaf mulch on our garlic rows had begun to break down enough that weeds, mostly dill, were beginning to peek through the weeds. The garlic got a heavy cover of fresh grass clipping mulch.

Soil scratcher with seedling weeds in backgroundMulched bed of lettuce, onions, and carrotsI hadn't mulched our narrow bed of lettuce, onions, and carrots until this week, as the carrots and onions were too small to be mulched around. But with lots of seedling weeds coming up, I took one of my favorite garden tools to them, my soil scratcher. The scratcher broke up the crusted soil surface while also messing up the weeds' root systems. It was the ideal tool for working the four inch wide double rows of onions and carrots.

The carrots were still too small to run mulch between their rows. They'll also require some careful hand weeding and thinning soon, but are off to a good start.

Monday, May 8, 2017 - Transplanting Butternut Squash

Mulched butternut site
Mulch pulled back
About an inch of compost, then gray clay soil
Butternuts transplanted and mulched

We grow our butternut squash and pumpkins outside our East Garden proper. Because both tend to overgrow anything around them, we plant them on the previous sites of compost piles in the field and mulch outward as they grow. While our pumpkins are now germinating over a heat mat in the basement, our butternut plants were ready to go into the ground today.

The area for our butternuts had been covered with grass clipping mulch for several weeks to hold back weeds. To plant today, I pulled back the mulch, revealing what looks to be rich, black, composty soil. Digging down about a foot revealed what the soil in the field is really like, gray to orange clay.

While the compost will help the butternuts, I prepare a deluxe hole for them by mixing some lime, fertilizer, and peat moss into the soil. Then I water with a starter solution of Quick Start, Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed Powder, and Serenade biofungicide.

After removing the plants from the bulb pan they germinated in, I pop them into the muddy goo, making sure there is soil contact all around the transplanted soil plug. Pulling mulch around the plants completes the planting.

Because the area where the butternuts are is shaded in the early morning, I'll need to keep an eye out for powdery mildew, although Waltham Butternut Squashicon are fairly resistant to that disease. Of more concern is the annual scourge of squash bugs, which can decimate a hill of squash in a day or so. Of less danger are cucumber beetles. But striped and spotted cucumber beetles can do a lot of damage from feeding and diseases carried. Fortunately, they don't seem to much like butternuts.

Butternuts at the food bankIf we successfully control pests and diseases, the squash will grow to a circle of about thirty feet in diameter. We harvested over a hundred butternut squash last year from such a planting. (Most of the butternuts went to our local food bank.)

Yellow Squash and Melons

After transplanting the butternuts, I found that the soil in our East Garden wasn't as wet as I thought. I had to be careful where I stepped not to lose a shoe in a wet spot, but I could mostly walk across the soil, just leaving footprints (and compacting the soil a bit). So I reloaded our pickup truck with buckets of starter solution, yellow squash, and melon transplants.

Our yellow squash and melons get the same deluxe hole planting technique I described above and in more detail in Growing Great Melons on Heavy Clay Soil. This year, I only planted a single row of melons, as opposed to the two or three rows we've done in the past. Doing so freed up space for a long row of caged tomato and pepper plants yet to go into the ground. We've gotten low on our stored, canned tomato products.

Melon row planted and mulchedI'd tilled a five to six foot wide area where the melons were to go a few weeks ago with our old walking tiller. Previously, I'd made two passes over the area with our pull-type tiller that doesn't till quite as deep as our old tiller. So today, after stringing the row, it was just a matter of digging a deluxe hole, watering it, and squishing in the transplants. Fortunately, I had lots of cured grass clippings to use as mulch to hold back weeds, and at some point, hold in soil moisture.

I put a yellow squash at either end of the fifty-five foot melon row. Both the open pollinated Saffronicon and the hybrid Slick Pik varieties are supposed to be bush squash, but they still can spread to about six feet in diameter, as there are several plants in each hill. Saffrons produce a little fatter squash than the Slick Piks, but the plants tend to last the entire growing season if you can keep the squash bugs off of them. I need to start another pot of Slick Piks, as they tend to produce heavily and then languish, requiring successive plantings for a full season's enjoyment. The flavor of both varieties is excellent.

Between the squash, I planted two hills of Sugar Cube, our favorite canteloupe. Then came an Athena melon and a Roadside Hybrid. In the middle of the row, I put a Diplomat honeydew melon, an excellent replacement for the old Passport variety. We only got to sample our Diplomats last year, as their aroma attracted the raccoons, who would break them open, but then didn't seem to like their flavor!

Next came open pollinated Blacktail Mountain and Crimson Sweet watermelons, with a Farmers Wonderful triploid (seedless) between them. The two open pollinated varieties are necessary for pollination of the seedless variety, although both produce delicious watermelons. At that point, I ran out of space, having room for one more hill, but with two different transplants on hand. I guess I miscalculated my planting. I went ahead and stuck a Mama's Girl Hybrid in the same planting hole with our most reliable watermelon variety, Ali Baba.

Due to our downsizing of this planting, we left out some very good melon varieties we like to grow (and eat). I described them and the ones we planted more fully in a March posting.

There's still a lot of planting left to do in our East Garden. Most of it is on hold due to wet soil conditions. We have sweet corn and kidney beans to direct seed and tomatoes, sweet potato slips, and peppers to transplant. All of those will have to wait until the ground dries enough for tilling again.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Friday, May 5, 2017

Sixpack inserts and bulb pan seeded to cucumbers and pumpkins
Under humidome and on soil heating mat

Mountain Valley SeedsAnnie and I left Indianapolis this morning in a cold, blowing rain. We traveled there to take in a show Thursday night. The show was okay, but supper at the Bru Burger Bar was excellent. Even better were our overnight accommodations at the Nestle Inn (B&B). As we drove home, the weather cleared, giving me some hope of gardening again soon. Of course, there is rain predicted for tomorrow.

We were pretty worn out from traveling when we got home, but I revived a bit by the afternoon. I got in a little gardening by starting a bulb pan of pumpkins and several deep sixpack inserts of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. The Howden and Jack O' Lanternicon pumpkins will eventually go in at the site of an old compost pile. That seems to give pumpkins (and butternut squash) a real boost. Putting several seeds in a bulb pan of sterile potting mix works pretty well for us, as we only want one hill of pumpkins with two to four plants in it.

The Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers will go into our main raised bed once we get our early peas harvested and their vines pulled off the trellis. We have a lot of saved JLP seed on hand, so we'll probably focus more on pickle production this year than seed saving.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Sad looking sweet potato slips
Better looking slips after twenty-four hours

Elevated Raised BedsI emptied another inch and a half of rain from our rain gauge this morning. It's supposed to rain the rest of the day with about another inch coming. The rain is predicted to stop by Sunday.

Our sweet potato slips from George's Plant Farm arrived in the mail yesterday. I was taken aback at how bad the slips looked, as most had lost their leaves or had shriveled leaves. Previous orders from George's have arrived in much better condition.

With our current wet weather, I knew there was no way I could transplant the slips into our East Garden anytime soon. And I was sure the slips would die if I just wet them down. So I popped the slips into deep sixpacks and a few round pots to see if I could save them. By this morning, most of the slips had responded to being in moist potting soil overnight and were looking a good bit better.

Shipping live, bare root plants has got to be a tough business. Plants simply don't like that treatment. If you check the Dave's Garden Watchdog ratings for some reliable seed vendors who also sell plants, bushes, and trees, you'll often find that the companies' ratings take a real beating from their live plant sales.

Sadly, plants like onions and sweet potato slips sold by garden centers often aren't in very good condition either. We got around the quality problem for several years by growing our own slips from a sweet potato in a jar of water on our kitchen windowsill. I'd cut shoots off the plant and root them in soil with rooting compound. But we ran into disease carryover problems that way and decided several years ago to just go with whatever certified disease free plants we could mail order.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Our Senior Garden - May 3, 2017Composite Raised BedsIt appears that doing any gardening here is on hold for at least the rest of the week. After working with very dry soil conditions most of last month, eight to ten inches of rain in the last week has the ground saturated with standing water almost everywhere.

Fortunately, our raised beds don't have standing water in them, as they drain fairly well (almost too well in dry periods). Our East Garden is a mess, though. I wonder if the potatoes we planted and snap peas we seeded there last week will make it.

Conditions cleared enough yesterday that I tried to mow a bit. I was able to mow through wet grass around our East Garden, but then found the field was mostly standing water.

I've had our cold frame partially closed for several days to protect the plants under it from too much water. With rain predicted for the rest of the week, some of our transplants are going to be pretty big and old by the time we get them into the ground.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Raised beds - May 1, 2017
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East Garden - May 1, 2017
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

May is the month when we hustle to get all of our spring planting done. Our raised beds are almost complete, although there's a lot of weeding and mulching to be done. One row of basil and parsley still needs to be transplanted.

Beyond caring for our raised beds, our attention focuses this month on planting our large East Garden. Sitting in an old cornfield we're allowed to use, we already have potatoes and snap peas planted in the 80' x 80' plot. Half of that area will be devoted to cover/turndown crops to improve the heavy clay soil.

As soon as the soil dries enough to be worked, I'll probably rototill the twenty-five foot square area again planned for our sweet corn. While I'd like to plant as soon as possible, I need to turn in fertilizer for the crop.

I may be able to "mud in" our melon transplants without further tilling, as I tilled a path down the center of their area when things were dry. We're just planting one fifty-five foot row of melons this year, down from two to three rows in seasons past. Some of the room freed up by the reduced melon crop will go to a long row of tomatoes and peppers. Our main seed saving tomatoes (and peppers) are planted a hundred yards from our East Garden for isolation. But along the melon area, I'll cage lots of varieties of tomatoes and peppers for fresh use and canning.

I also have a very small area reserved for a dozen sweet potato plants I ordered from George's Plant Farm. For some reason, I gave George & Company a May 1 last frost date for shipping, so I expect the sweet potato slips to arrive any day now. No matter how muddy the soil conditions are when the slips arrive, they'll go into the ground immediately. Our sweet potatoes often suffer from our late summer dry spell and then split when rains return and the sweet potatoes begin to grow quickly. Planting them now may avoid that problem.

Not everything this month is plant care and planting. We already have had asparagus and spinach from our garden this season. Those two delicious harvests will continue a bit. When most of the new asparagus shoots begin to thin, we'll know that it's time to stop picking and let the plants begin building their strength for another year's harvest.

We have some lettuce ready for early picking. The iceberg and romaine heads will take a bit longer. Towards the end of the month, we may have broccoli and peas mature. I'll probably begin stealing a few immature garlic this month as well.

One last pleasant chore I complete in May is planting lots of flowers. We already have vincas in bloom at the corners of our raised beds. But I'll also be putting in petunias, marigolds, geraniums, and more vincas along the edges of our raised beds. I'll also be seeding an eighty foot row of zinnias along one edge of our East Garden.

When our pull-type tiller is repaired, I'll use it to work up the rotated out portion of our East Garden to be seeded to a cover/smother crop of buckwheat.

For now, I'm waiting for things to dry out a bit. After about four inches of rain recently, even our yard is squishy.

Burpee Mother's Day

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