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.
My plan for today was to be purposefully lazy. My back was a bit sore, although I hadn't done any serious work to make it so. I couldn't mow, because our mower is in the shop. The deck height adjustment went out last week, causing me to scalp the grass in the field next to us. So being lazy for a day sounded like a good idea.
Then I decided to do just a little light work. I first started germination tests on the pepper seed I harvested yesterday. Then I set up another test for some Moon & Stars watermelon seed. Our Moon & Stars melons were back to being the 30-40 pound monsters they had been years ago. That may be due to this being a good year for melons, but I also think growing them from saved seed that I let outcross two years ago may have contributed to the increased size.
I also collected some impatiens seed from a planter on the front porch. Next up was hand pollinating some of our gloxinia blooms. That reminded me that I had an email to answer.
I received several very nice emails last night from a Colombian gynecologist and obstetrician who now works in Ethiopia for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She's a big fan of growing gloxinias and African Violets. She learned how to grow gloxinias from seed from our gloxinia blog and was effusive in her thanks for the page. I thought, "I write a blog, give away some seed and a few vegetables, and you risk your life helping others in a distant land." I was humbled to receive the emails and thankful for folks like she and her family who are willing to sacrifice to serve others. Thanks, Natalia!
By that point, my back had loosened up a bit, so I went outside for a look at our main garden plot. Our carrot and spinach rows had a few seedling weeds showing. So I got on my hands and knees and weeded the areas, putting the hot sun directly on my back. When I got done, I felt like Superman and the carrot and spinach rows were weed free.
Feeling my oats, I headed for our melon patch to collect a few watermelon. I ended up picking four melons, three of which felt like they weighed over thirty pounds each. I picked a huge, round Moon & Stars and two long, heavy Ali Baba melons. The fourth melon was somewhat smaller, in the twenty to twenty-five pound range. Its light striped rind told me it was probably a seedless melon from either our Trillion or Farmers Wonderful varieties. Both varieties look a lot like the round, stiped Crimson Sweet variety, but whiten a bit when ripe.
I cut the melon, and sure enough, it was seedless. Possibly because of our recent hot weather, the melon had excellent flavor, even though it appears that I picked it a day or two too soon. We still have eight or nine big melons in the patch that may be ripe or overripe. But wonder of wonders, we also have several smaller melons maturing on vines that survived our late July and early August dry spell and my walking on vines when picking melons. The new watermelons appear to be Blacktail Mountains, further selling me on the new-to-us variety that was our first to produce a ripe watermelon this season. They're not the biggest melons we grow, and they have lots of seeds, but they're both early and late and have excellent flavor.
Despite being a "seedless watermelon," the half melon I cut into chunks had a few black, mature seeds in it, not all that unusual for seedless (triploid) melons. I dutifully saved the black seeds and started yet another germination test with a few of them. Heaven only knows what pollinated this melon's bloom, but it might be interesting to see what grows from the seed if it proves viable.
BTW: The pepper strips I blanched and froze yesterday yielded about two quarts of frozen pepper strips. While Earliest Red Sweet peppers are usually much smaller than the hybrids in vogue today, the sheer volume of peppers produced on each plant makes up for their smaller size.
I'm not sure what is going on with our Granny Smith apple tree. Most web postings suggest that Granny Smiths don't ripen until September or October. Our semi-dwarf tree always begins dropping its first ripe apples in late August! This year the tree is filled with lots of pretty good looking apples. One granddaughter keeps bringing in groundfall apples (or ones she's furtively picked) to eat. I've cut several apples and found some to have brown seeds, a good sign of ripeness.
Sadly, we again are experiencing sooty mold on the apples. A good soaking in soapy water, followed by scrubbing with a soft vegetable brush cleans off the sooty mold, but it's a lot of work to do. I'm more concerned that sooty mold was a precursor on our old Stayman Winesap tree to the fire blight that killed it and almost took the Granny Smith tree.
A severe pruning and treatment with streptomycin saved the Granny Smith tree years ago. It took several years to recover from that episode, and then had almost half of it ripped off by a funnel cloud that leveled a thirty foot wide by two hundred yard swath of the corn field across the road from us. So this year's apple crop could be the first good one we've had in years.
Even though it was threatening rain outside early this morning, I sprayed our apple trees with insecticidal soap. My choice of sprays was driven by two goals. I want the soap to kill any aphids or other bugs that are secreting the stuff that leads to sooty mold, and also hope the soap may wash some of the mold off the apples. A good rain today could function as a rinse cycle. And this close to harvest, I didn't want to use any strong insecticides or fungicides on the tree and fruit. Once we have picked most of the apples, I'll treat the tree with something stronger, as sooty mold can also grow on the tree bark.
Thinking positive, I picked up a container of caramel dip for the apples at the grocery this week.
The Earliest Red Sweet peppers I picked yesterday got processed this morning. A nice thing about peppers is that when you save seed from open pollinated varieties, you can still use the flesh. So after harvesting the seed from the best looking red (mature) peppers, I washed and sliced the flesh for freezing. In the past, we've just put the clean pepper strips on a cookie sheet to freeze. This time I added the extra step of blanching the pepper strips for two minutes before drying them and then freezing them on a cookie sheet.
Missing from the shot above left are any yellow peppers. Earliest Red Sweets are obviously either green or red. Our hybrid yellow peppers growing in an isolation plot are having a hard time of it. I put them in the ground, mulched them a couple of times, but have otherwise ignored them, other than blowing grass clippings all over the plants when I've mowed.
The good ERS peppers produced a good bit of seed. I still need to decide today whether to hot water treat all, some, or none of the seed. Hot water treatment can kill plant disease organisms living on the seed surface. But if you goof and get the water too hot, you can kill the seed (Been there, done that!). Since our pepper plants appear to be disease free this year, I'm leaning toward not treating the seed, or doing just half of it. The ERS variety is endangered, as were the only Seed Savers Exchange member offering the seed this year. While I gave away a lot of seed to other growers last winter, I need to be careful to make sure I have plenty of good seed in case other gardeners aren't successful at saving the seed.
And whether I hot water treat the seed or not, I'll need to do a germination test on it before I freeze the seed after it dries.
I came in from gardening today at noon, just as the heat index topped 100° F. Besides dumping some compost, I picked peppers and cucumbers this morning. The Earliest Red Sweet peppers will get seeded for seed saving and the flesh frozen for future use. The Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers picked were all purposely yellow, overripe ones for seed saving. I also found three nice yellow squash to pick from our newly transplanted Slick Pik plant.
I'm glad our ERS peppers are doing well. Our planting of Paprika Supreme peppers from saved seed are producing only tiny, thin peppers. They're cute, but not much good for making paprika. Growing beside them in the same isolation plot are some nice, full sized Hungarian paprika peppers. I'd hoped to get full sized peppers from both varieties and also let them cross pollinate for seed saving. I doubt I'll save any seed unless I want to try to breed a variety of tiny, useless peppers.
With most of our cantaloupe vines done for the year, I'd been carefully watching two Sugar Cube melons at the east end of our melon patch. Both had been maturing nicely, but also were on the edge of the East Garden closest to the woods and its melon loving raccoons.
I had checked the two cantaloupes every day for four or five days, checking for ripeness. On Wednesday, one melon was showing a slight orange tint, a sign of ripening (or rot sometimes). But it hadn't gone to the half slip stage where a ring forms around the vine stem where it meets the melon. Yesterday, the same melon was at full slip, as it fell from the vine as I touched it. Cantaloupe usually first go to half slip, where they can be picked a little immature (especially for shipping melons), and to full slip in another one to three days. In our current hot and humid weather, the melons obviously finish maturing very quickly.
The ripe Sugar Cube was a little bit larger than usual, but its flavor was outstanding as always. One smaller Sugar Cube is still ripening. I also saw a few blooms and a tiny, new melon set on the vines, so maybe our cantaloupe harvest isn't quite over.
I was jarred out of a pleasant sleep this morning by an incessant beeping. I first assumed that my wife had forgotten to shut off an alarm clock. My slow rise from bed quickly went to an adrenalin fueled full speed search, as I smelled a hot electrical odor and realized the sound was from a smoke alarm.
We'd had the windows open again last night. It turned out that the odor that set off the alarm had blown in from either the nearby powerplant or a neighbor burning something.
Living in a 110 year old frame farmhouse that still has some of the plumbing for carbide lamps and some very old wiring makes one sensitive to the dangers of a house fire. When the kids were home, we wanted a smoke alarm in each of their upstairs bedrooms. Add a few more areas, and you end up with eight smoke alarms.
I'd replaced batteries in our smoke alarms last month. When I did, I was a bit distressed to find two units with the batteries pulled. The alarm in our dining room had been taken down when the room was painted and had apparently wandered off somewhere. And a unit in one of the bedrooms had flat out failed, as it barely peeped when tested with a new battery.
So I had to buy two new smoke alarms and replace the batteries in all the other units. The old batteries pulled were dated as installed in 2014. (I write the installation date on the batteries with a magic marker.) Some still tested good, but I used to replace the batteries once or twice a year when the kids were home. But 2014 was about when my old hip totally wore out and I stopping getting on ladders to do anything.
My last smoke alarm activity this morning was to reconnect the battery to the alarm that had gone off. Then I closed windows and turned on the air conditioning. The heat index this afternoon was again over a hundred!
New Potatoes and Peas
As I write this posting, a saucepan of new potatoes and peas is steaming on the stove. When I dug a few more red potatoes today in search of some new potatoes, I was surprised at the number of full sized potatoes I found. But there were enough small potatoes that could be cut in half to be used as new potatoes. The peas were frozen in June from our row of Eclipse and Encore peas.
While our Kennebec potatoes will probably benefit from another week or two in the ground, it now appears that our Red Pontiacs are ready to dig. We'll be eating lots of potatoes for the next few weeks as we use up the taters with nicks from the digging.
Bella Rosa Tomatoes
We've had a disappointing tomato harvest so far this year. Today, I picked some really nice hybrid Bella Rosa tomatoes. Bella Rosa tomatoes are a good bit larger than what our open pollinated determinate varieties produce, although not quite as large as beefsteak tomatoes. They're frequently noted in seed catalogs as being a heat tolerant variety which does well in humid areas.
We've really not had enough ripe tomatoes at any one time this season to justify canning them. But that's okay, as we had a fantastic crop last year. We still have lots of canned, whole tomatoes and puree left from that harvest. Fortunately, high acid stuff like canned tomatoes doesn't go bad very quickly. The USDA suggests one can safely "store high acid foods such as tomatoes and other fruit up to 18 months."
The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015, is available for free download (in sections) from the National Center for Home Food Preservation site. I found that the PDF sections frequently stalled during loading into a web page. I had to be careful the files were done before transferring them to a permanent folder for future use. Messing with the scroll bar seemed to encourage the brower and server to finish the loads.
It appears that we will continue to have good tomatoes for table use for some time to come. A couple of open pollinated Quinte tomato plants in a somewhat shaded isolation plot are now filled with large green tomatoes. I'm hoping we'll have fresh, homegrown tomatoes well into September.
Our weather cooled yesterday, and we were able to turn off the air conditioning and open windows in our house. It actually got down to 57° F overnight. More normal temperatures are expected to return by mid-week, but we're enjoying the fall-like weather while it lasts. I suspect that our fall brassicas, spinach, and lettuce are benefitting from the cooler temperatures as well.
While our potato rows aren't yet ready to dig, I was able to steal some potatoes from the ends of the rows today. I only got a few brown Kennebec potatoes, but two were large enough to bake for supper. Freshly dug baked potatoes are delicious. I also got a dozen or so Red Pontiac potatoes from digging two plants at the end of the row. Those potatoes went onto the drying table in our garage. Freshly dug potatoes have incredibly tender skins and have to cure for a few weeks before being bagged for storage.
That Was Quick!
The heavy canopy of leaves that covered our ripening melons through July is now almost all gone. And for the most part, so are the melons. Day wilting early this month turned into total vine collapse as the bulk of the melons ripened. Other than our two hills of Sugar Cubes, the cantaloupe vines were hardest hit by dry weather, bugs, disease, getting stepped on as we harvested, and just plain old age.
Our Moon & Stars and Ali Baba watermelon vines are still ripening melons, as they're the longest season melons we grow and also two of the most dependable varieties. There are also a few good Blacktail Mountain watermelons on the vines. The new-to-us variety has the shortest days-to-maturity of any watermelon we grew this year, so I'm pleasantly surprised that they're still producing. We also have several round, striped melons that could be Crimson Sweets or the seedless Trillion or Farmers Wonderful. I can't tell them apart until I cut into them and either see seeds or not.
Viewing the melon patch from another angle below, you can see that we still have about twenty watermelons ripening. One of the watermelon vines and a Sugar Cube vine are even blooming again after the recent rains.
BTW: The light green to almost white melons in the photo below are Ali Babas nearing maturity. The rind of the venerable, open pollinated variety lightens up as the melon reaches maturity. The interiors are still quite red, although a bit seedy, and have excellent flavor.
In deference to full disclosure (and possibly a bit of humor), area raccoons are still enjoying some of our melons. After ravaging our honeydews early in the picking season and later, to a lesser extent, the cantaloupes, the critters were placated for a time to eat cull melons from our compost pile which is much closer to the woods than the melon patch.
But they're now after the watermelons, taking about one a night, eating right down to the rind. I think they only take one because the watermelons have far tougher rinds to open than cantaloupes.
So far, growing enough for both the raccoons and ourselves has worked out pretty well. But all too soon, melon season will be over. I'm thankful to have access to the land and once again the health to grow a lot of melons to enjoy and share with others.
I've begun moving our baby gloxinias to the pots they'll remain in through the rest of their growth period, blooming, and dormancy. I'd started the plants from saved seed on June 8. Gloxinias from seed usually bloom about four to six months after seeding, so the plants should produce winter blooms for us.
I started the plants in a small, communal pot, later moving them to fourpack inserts. As their leaves were just beginning to overlap in the inserts, they were ready to go into 4 and 4 1/2 inch pots. I prefer the larger pot size for gloxinias, but simply didn't have enough of that size for the twenty plants I moved.
For convenience more than anything else, I put the newly transplanted gloxinias in a south facing window in our sunroom. With our hours of daylight steadily decreasing, I'll need to move the plants downstairs under our plant lights where I can control how much light they receive. But for a few weeks, the sunroom will be a good growing environment for them...and the light there is free.
With twenty open pollinated gloxinias potted up, I'm not sure how many more, if any, I'll save. The plants have an Empress and Cranberry Tiger heritage. Both varieties can get quite large when mature and have to be spread out a good bit under our plant lights when they get big.
I may have waited a bit too long, but I twisted off the top leaves of our onions today. There were a lot of onions with soft tops, as I think the onion leaves had begun to absorb moisture out of the air. Despite having to pitch a lot of culls, we bagged twenty-five pounds of onions. Some will be stored in our basement, but about half of them will go to family and the food bank.
I transplanted six lettuce plants into our main raised garden bed yesterday. The transplants were quite small, but our current break in hot August weather plus recent rains should give the plants a fair chance at survival. I put in one each of Crispino and Sun Devil, both iceberg types, a red butterhead Skyphos, and Coastal Star, Defender, and Winter Density romaines.
To plant, I pulled back the grass clipping mulch, dug a shallow hole, watered it, popped in the lettuce, and firmed the soil around it. I had to be careful replacing the mulch not to bury the small plants. One change from our usual planting practice was that I sprayed around the base of each plant with Sevin insecticide. When I pulled back the mulch, I uncovered a lot of small Japanese Beetle larvae. Left unchecked, they'd feed on the lettuce roots.
When the rest of our transplants get a bit bigger, I'll move them into the garden, as I left a good bit of space for fall lettuce. With some really irregular germination of our lettuce transplants, we should have plants coming on well into September that we hopefully can harvest into November.
Odds 'n' Ends
Having been denied their preferred yellow squash and cucumber plants, the squash bugs and cucumber beetles moved on to our butternut squash plants. This is the first time we've had real insect trouble with our butternuts. Although the three huge vines have already matured more butternuts than we will use in a year, I went ahead and sprayed the plants today.
I got into our melon patch today, and yes, almost lost a shoe in the muck. But I also found far less rot than I expected after all the rain we've received. We should have good melons for several more weeks.
We're still seeing swarms of hummingbirds around our three feeders. I have to fill the feeders once or twice each day. That will soon end, though, as it is about time for the birds to head south for the winter.
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I titled a subsection of my August 7 post here, "A Normal August." At that point in time, we'd received less than two tenths of an inch of rainfall during the first week of the month. Parts of our lawn were beginning to brown out, and our garden soil was bone dry.
First with a cold front from the west, and then with the remains of the recent Gulf rains that have so devastated Louisiana, we're now having what could turn out to be record August precipitation. Half way through the month, we have over five and a half inches of rain, with some nearby weather stations reporting a couple of inches more for the month.
Our lawn has greened up again, and some of our previously bedraggled garden plants are looking rather robust after the rain. Of course, we have weeds sprouting wherever they can. When I finish writing this posting, I plan to weed our front and side flowerbeds. It should be an easy job pulling weeds from the wet soil.
Through the rainy days, I haven't ventured out into the melon patch in our East Garden. At the end of last week, we had lots more melons almost ready to pick. They've now sat on wet mulch for four days, and I fear that I'll have a lot of rotting melons to compost when I re-visit the area. Stepping into the East Garden right now with anything less than long boots is an invitation to lose a shoe in the heavy clay muck. And it's supposed to start raining again later this afternoon.
I'd filled the bed with broccoli and cauliflower transplants on August 5 during a hot, dry period of weather. I also added grass clipping mulch around the plants to hold back weeds and hold in soil moisture. Unfortunately, one of our dogs loves to lay on grass clippings, and in doing so, broke off a bunch of the plants. Combined with the hot, dry weather, we lost about half of the original planting.
There's no guarantee the dog won't lie on the new transplants. But we are enjoying some weather much more conducive to getting brassicas going. The rain plus relatively cool temperatures should give the plants a fair chance of survival. And fortunately, the dog really doesn't like laying on soaked grass clippings.
I also took a clump of kale plants out of the row today, split them up, and transplanted them into bare spots in the row. It's not unusual for us to have spotty germination of our Vates kale, as it doesn't come up well in hot weather, even with daily waterings. Although kale doesn't transplant as easily as other brassicas, our current weather should help us get a good stand.
Although you might not be able to see it in the image, our double row of carrots have germinated. (Click on image to open a larger view in a new tab or window.) The carrot row was watered morning and evening for ten days through some very dry weather as the seed germinated.
Our last hard to start fall crop is also coming up. There are still some gaps in our spinach planting, but enough is up that we should have fresh spinach through a good bit of the fall.
We have some lovely Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers on the vine right now. I'm struggling a bit with whether I want one or two more cucumbers for slicing, or if I'm going to let them all mature for seed saving. I've already let a few get a bit too ripe for table use or canning and turn yellow as they mature seed. Letting the cukes mature on the vine is essential to getting good seed from them, but it also seems to slow or stop the vines from setting new fruit.
Since I have lots of bread and butter pickles left over from last year's canning, I'll probably just let the cukes go for seed saving. I'll let them get really yellow, almost to the point of rot before picking them. Then I'll let the cucumbers sit for a couple of weeks before splitting them open and harvesting seed. While one can just wash off the goo that surrounds the seed, I prefer to treat the seed as wet seed, like tomato seed, and ferment the seed and goo for several days. Doing so may lessen the chance of bacteria surviving on the seed surface. We also hot water treat our saved cucumber seed, something not recommended by many experts. Just a few degrees too hot, and you kill your seed. But the hot water treatment is additional insurance against spreading seed borne diseases.
I'd hoped to begin transplanting the gloxinias I started in June into 4 1/2 inch pots today, but got tied up doing a couple of other jobs. A swarm of hummingbirds around the feeder outside our kitchen window let me know that the other two feeders were probably empty. They were, so I spent some time making nectar and filling all three feeders. It won't be long before our hummingbird numbers dramatically drop as the birds begin their migration south.
While working on and off with the feeders, I also spent over a half hour cleaning up the gloxinia plants on our dining room table. Some had completed their bloom cycle and were filled with spent blooms that needed to be trimmed from the plants. I'd somehow let all of the plants get a little too dry, resulting in some very limp leaves and bloom spikes. After the cleaning, the plants that were done blooming went downstairs under our plant lights. They'll remain there until they enter dormancy.
Folks in Louisiana suffering from an "unprecedented and historic flooding event" takes a bit of the shine off of the much needed rain we're currently getting. Our prayers go out to those in flooded areas.
The rain that began in earnest here around noon yesterday has dropped two to four inches of precipitation in central Indiana in just twenty-four hours. More heavy rain is predicted through Tuesday. With our ground having been bone dry before the rain, we don't as yet have standing water in or around our garden plots!
The improved soil moisture has revived the few fall broccoli and cauliflower plants we have left in a narrow raised bed. Dry soil conditions plus a very big dog laying on the plants took out over half of the planting. Once it quits raining, I'll commit our remaining transplants to the plot, hoping to get something out of it.
With a little time on my hands last night, I began roughing out a garden plan for our East Garden for next year. While picking melons last week, I realized that it was time, at my age, to cut back our planting a bit. I didn't give up growing melons, but I did cut down our current, very successful, 40' x 55' two row melon patch to a single row, 30' x 55' area for next season. I kept our sweet corn and potato plantings the same size as this season.
The new East Garden plan is mostly just a 90° rotation of this year's garden, with ten feet cut off the side of the melon patch. Other than the 17% cutback in melon ground, the plan follows our rotation plan for the East Garden plot.
Trimming the melon planting also keeps us from planting melons right over where melon vines are growing this year. That may help prevent insect and disease problems next season, although I did see some bacterial rind necrosis on a huge Moon & Stars watermelon I picked this weekend. The damage was to the rind only, as the melon was delicious. But such damage can spread and get to the meat of melons. For commercial growers, it can make melons unmarketable. Since we only give away melons, we're okay. The small truckload I showed in a photo in Friday's posting went to the mission yesterday. Along with some melons I dropped off last Sunday at a food bank here in Sullivan, Indiana, that makes about 65 melons donated in a week's time. We're obviously having a very good melon season this year.
With the blight problems we had with our Earlirouge tomatoes in our main raised bed this year, planning for our raised beds for next year will be a bit of a challenge. Some of the plantings I've done the last two years in the raised beds also make crop rotations difficult. I like to not plant the same crop in the same area, having two years in other plantings to allow pests and diseases to die out and soil nutrition not to be taxed in the same way year after year.
I did a pretty thorough picking of our melon patch today. As I picked, I moved the good melons to the side of the garden plot to pick up later and load into our truck. Cull melons, and there were many of them, got carried to our new compost pile. I was a little embarrassed at the number of ripe melons I'd missed in the last week that had begun to rot on the ground.
It appears that all of the cantaloupe varieties we planted have produced several good melons. I cut a Sarah's Choice, a Roadside Hybrid, and a Sugar Cube for an upcoming family reunion. I also cut part of a huge Moon & Stars watermelon and half of a seedless variety, either Farmers Wonderful or Trillion.
The Moon & Stars melon came from seed from a plant that had probably cross pollinated with other varieties in 2014. I saved a bit of the mature seed as I cut the watermelon.
I could identify mature watermelons from some of the varieties we planted, although with the vines crossing and similar looking varieties, it was hard to tell at times. The Moon & Stars melons, of course, stood out with their distinctive yellow blotches on the rind. The always dependable Ali Baba variety also stood out, as they turn a very light green when ripe. I'd previously identified a good Blacktail Mountain by its position in the patch. But the Crimson Sweets, Farmers Wonderful, and Trillions look pretty much alike until you cut them open.
While I picked a couple of the new to us Congo watermelons, I already had too much cut melon, so they'll go to family or the food bank. If we get another good, ripe Congo, I'll eagerly cut it up, as I'd like to taste test the variety.
Our cantaloupe harvest is about to wind down for the year. The Athena and Avatar varieties produce several large cantaloupes before the vines die out. Our Sugar Cube vines may revive and bloom again, as they've produced across a whole summer in past years.
We'll be picking watermelons for several more weeks. There were lots of nearly mature melons on good vines today that will be ready soon. It's also supposed to rain tomorrow and Sunday, which may revive some of the vines, although they took a lot of punishment as I walked through the patch picking melons.
As I lugged around melons weighing up to 35 pounds in some intense heat today, I could hear Danny Glover's Roger Murtaugh character in the Lethal Weapon film series saying, "I'm too old for this sh*t." I found myself planning a much smaller East Garden for next year than we have this season. Instead of two, fifty-five foot rows of melons, I mentally diagrammed just one such row with sweet corn and potatoes completing the patch. There's lots of time before next season to change my mind, but I do have to respect that I am getting older.
I got a late start on picking melons today, as I was up late last night watching the Perseid meteor shower. I began going outside to check for meteors at around 10 P.M.. While I thought I saw a few faint streaks across the sky, it wasn't until after the moon set at 1:30 A.M. that I began to see some spectacular displays of the flaming remains of the trail of the comet, Swift-Tuttle. Twice I saw short, but brilliant double comet trails, something I'd not previously seen.
I didn't stay up until the peak that was predicted to occur around 3-4 A.M., but was glad that I stayed up watching as long as I did. If you missed the meteor shower, it actually is active between July 13-Aug. 26, as Comet Swift-Tuttle left a wide field of debris that our planet passes through, producing the showers as particles burn up entering our atmosphere.
It looks like a really nice day outside today. But when I came inside at one o'clock after doing a very little gardening, the heat index was 106° F. After almost doing myself in yesterday afternoon trying to till in the heat, I decided to just be lazy for the rest of the day.
I thought I spotted the beginnings of blight on a few of our potato plant leaves yesterday. So I thoroughly sprayed the two twenty-five foot rows of potatoes early this afternoon with Serenade biofungicide. As I examined the plants, it was really hard to tell if we had blight or insect damage. Either way, the Serenade certainly won't hurt the potatoes.
I also had to spray our cucumber vines again for cucumber beetles. Having backed off from using any lasting chemical insecticides, the nasty bugs keep reappearing. Neem oil with a touch of pyrethrin knock down the invasions, but have little lasting effect. Since we're to the point where I'm going to let the vines fully mature cucumbers for seed, I may return to using Sevin to protect the vines.
I bagged all of our good Walla Walla onions this morning. Even with having already used a number of the delicious sweet onions for cooking, our half double row (7') of them yielded just over six pounds that will need to be used in the next month or so. Walla Wallas, like most sweet onions, don't store very well.
With that in mind, I peeled and chopped some of the lesser onions and boiled them in chicken broth. I'll freeze the onion/broth mixture until we need it this fall to make Portuguese Kale Soup.
I also cut our first honeydew melon today. The new to us Diplomat variety produces lots of melons that resemble and taste like the old Passport variety. Our Diplomats were actually the first of our melons to ripen, but raccoons kept getting to them before I could. The critters would rip the melons open at the end, but then would eat little of them. I guess the pleasant aroma of the honeydews attracts the raccoons, only for them to be disappointed by the flavor.
I've been putting cull melons on our compost pile, and the raccoons do get into them there. But interestingly, having access to melons in the compost pile has seemed to keep the pests out of our melon patch of late!
While I was out feeding our compost pile, I couldn't resist taking a shot of our row of zinnias that have come into bloom this week.
The Perseid meteor showers are supposed to peak tonight. While moonlight will hinder seeing meteors for much of the early night, the moon will set around 1:30 A.M. (EDT) here and viewing should be much better then. Of course, we have cloudy skies at this writing, so we may not see much.
As I wrote last month, Feroze Dhanoa's article on patch.com, 2016 Perseid Meteor Shower: Peak Dates Approaching, tells the non-astronomers of us about everything you need to know about the Perseids, including where to look.
I began cleaning up our potato rows today. I'd let some tall grass get going in the rows and aisles that had been somewhat hidden until I chopped down the adjacent sweet corn stalks yesterday. I went down the rows hand pulling grass plants in or close to the potato plants. Some of the weeds were two feet tall. Then I mowed the grass down the center aisle so that I didn't have to pull the grass there. I wound up the effort by rototilling the area.
I tried tilling the area where the sweet corn had been, but the base and roots of the recently cut corn proved to be too tough for both me and my tiller. I also stayed out in the sun a bit too long and got seriously overheated. (Duh!) I'll need to hill the potatoes again and/or mulch the plants with grass clippings to slow weed growth.
I also saw what may be the beginnings of blight on some of the potato plants. I'll spray them with Serenade biofungicide tomorrow morning, but once blight gets started, it's hard to stop. The potato rows had been treated at planting with a Serenade drench, but apparently, that wasn't enough to prevent the disease.
We have lots of melons ready to pick. Between sessions of cutting corn stalks yesterday, I drove to Vincennes to pick up a new set of lawn mower blades. The drive is right through the heart of Indiana melon country, but the melon fields appeared to have been harvested already. It's later in the growing season than I realized.
We should have enough melons to justify a trip to the mission to share our harvest. While I drop off our produce donations at The Light House Mission in Terre Haute, they often share any excess with the Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank.
I conceded today that our sweet corn crop this year was a total failure. I'd been hoping to pick a second ear or two from the stalks, but there were none. Deer initially ravaged the tassels of our transplanted early corn that was stunted from staying too long in sixpack inserts in plant trays while I waited for the soil in our East Garden to dry enough to permit tilling. The deer proceeded to eat most of the short stalks as well.
When our direct seeded corn came on, we made a valiant effort to defend it with blood meal and bad tasting sprays. But the deer and raccoons took all but one full ear of corn and one second ear. My wife, Annie, and granddaughter, Katherine, split the full ear while I ate the small second ear last weekend. The one bright spot in the experience was that the little bit we got of a new variety of sweet corn from Twilley Seed was delicious.
Annie probably nailed it when she said, "We don't have Shep anymore." Shep was our sheepdog that preferred sleeping outdoors to the doghouse in the garage or even in our house on cold nights. He was my constant companion when gardening and probably was the reason we were able to grow corn without too much deer and raccoon damage for years. He seemed to be on duty protecting our home and garden plots 24/7.
I cut and chopped one row of the corn onto our compost pile this morning before the heat got to me. After sundown, I went back and took out the remaining three, twenty-five foot rows of corn stalks and started a new compost pile on the previous site of our pumpkin vines. We lost the pumpkins to an onslaught of squash bugs and possibly a vine borer or two. I simply reacted too slowly (by about a day) to the insect invasion.
Losing a crop from time to time is just part of gardening. Losing three crops in a month's time (We previously lost our Earlirouge tomato plants to blight.) is, well, a bit extreme.
On a positive note, I shared several dozen melons yesterday with a local food bank. After picking a bunch more, but not enough to make a run to the food bank or mission, I just put the melons by the side of the road with a sign reading "Free." I purposely grow way too many melons for our own use, knowing where I can share the extras.
I'll need to clean up the sweet corn area tomorrow, but that's sort of a good thing. Weeds are encroaching on our potato rows next to the corn patch, and I don't want to lose another crop. So I'll be pulling weeds and rototilling in the morning hours...after I do my morning watering.
I'm just beginning to see some fall carrot and spinach plants emerging in our main raised bed. They're getting most of my attention on my morning watering rounds. I'm still watering our row of kale a bit and will need to try transplanting some of it to fill in a couple of bare spots in the row. Some of our recently transplanted broccoli and cauliflower is looking good, although one or more of our remaining dogs laid on some of the plants, breaking them off at the soil surface. Fortunately, I have enough transplants left to replace the killed plants.
My morning watering chores took a bit longer than usual today. As we picked melons yesterday, it was obvious that some of our melon vines were day wilting early in the afternoon. Plant leaves droop during the heat of the day when they transpire more water into the air than the plant's root system can replenish, only to recover their normal shape and appearance in the cooler overnight hours. The answer for day wilting is, of course, watering the plants, hopefully before the day wilting becomes an irreversible total collapse of the vines.
So this morning, I loaded ten buckets filled with water from our shallow well into our truck and began watering our melons. I concentrated the watering on our cantaloupes, as they've been more affected by our current dry soil conditions. I didn't water our hills of watermelons. I was getting tired and hot, but it's also said that watermelons are a bit sweeter if not watered a day or two before picking. The watermelons are also growing on somewhat better soil than the cantaloupes and honeydews.
One positive outcome from the day wilting yesterday was that it made it far easier to find ripe melons than when they were covered with a full canopy of leaves. Beyond day wilting, our cantaloupe vines have suffered a bit from being stepped on. Getting to the melons without stepping on some vines is almost impossible.
It's August 7, and we've received a whopping 0.17 inches of rain so far this month. Our extended forecast doesn't offer much hope either. We have a slight chance (30%) of some rain beginning on Wednesday. The only bright spot in the forecast is that daily high temperatures should remain in the 80s. That's good so I won't sweat so much while pumping water for our garden from our shallow well.
August is historically one of our driest months of the year. That leads to everything needing watering at the same time. Up until this point, it was just one or two crops we had to water, or newly started, direct seeded crops. While we'll continue to water our spinach and carrot rows once or twice a day until the plants emerge, our recently transplanted brassicas all need watering, too. With our fall kale barely emerged, that row has to be watered each day as well. Even though I put over a gallon of water in each broccoli and cauliflower planting hole, we lost two plants the next day. This morning, it appeared that we were losing two or three more. So they'll need water every day until established or when we get a good rain.
I resolved when I plumbed our shallow well earlier this summer not to stress our deep well with any garden watering this year. So far, the shallow well has held out, delivering cool, fresh water each day. But I also remember an August when we pulled the well cover to fish out some stuff kids had dumped in the well and found the well only had a foot of water in it!
Granddaughter Katherine and I went in search for a ripe watermelon this morning. We've had enough cantaloupes ripen to whet our appetites for some delicious red melon. As I wrote in Growing Great Melons on Heavy Clay Soil:
The watermelon varieties we planted this year range from the 71 days-to-maturity Blacktail Mountain to the 100 days Ali Baba. Five other varieties planted fall somewhere in between. Having started our melon transplants on April 6 and 7, but not getting them into the ground until early June, days-to-maturity figures aren't all that helpful. But we've been picking ripe 70+ days-to-maturity cantaloupes for a week now, so it was definitely time to start checking the watermelon.
While we picked more ripe cantaloupes that we could fit in our garden cart, we only picked two watermelons. I plugged the first one in the field, and it was only partially ripe. The second melon was fully ripe, and Katherine is working to eat the whole thing in a single afternoon.
Not surprisingly, the ripe melon was a Blacktail Mountain. It had good flavor and wasn't too seedy. I think it's a variety we'll continue to grow in the future. Not far behind the Blacktail Mountain, some Moon & Stars melons thunked as almost ripe. Fortunately, the excellent Ali Baba variety has lots of melons on the vine, but not nearly ripe. That should spread out of harvest a bit. As it is now, I'll need to take cantaloupe to the food bank on Monday.
I started my gardening day with my usual watering chores. I think I saw a few carrot and spinach plants beginning to emerge. Then I checked our cucumber vines for bugs, as we've really had to fight the cucumber beetles on them this year. Fortunately, I didn't find any cucumber beetles.
Since I'd not picked after spraying the vines recently, there were a lot of ripe cucumbers. Even when I use organic sprays, I prefer to wait a day or two after spraying before picking. I took a Perma-nest tray to the garden to hold the cukes, but they were almost too heavy for the plastic tray.
I transplanted our fall broccoli and cauliflower into one of our narrow raised beds this morning. The first step in the job was to rototill the bed. While the tiller didn't turn under all the previous buckwheat cover crop, it incorporated most of it into the rather dry soil.
After stringing my row, I dug holes spaced about eighteen inches apart down the row. Since I chose to leave the geraniums at the corners of the bed, I could only get in nine plants in each row.
I worked in lime, 12-12-12 fertilizer, and ground egg shell into each hole before watering them with starter fertilizer. The lime and egg shell are important in preventing club root, a disease or condition that can affect brassica plants starved for calcium.
Since I'd just thoroughly tilled the bed and the brassica transplants had pretty tough stems, I didn't use cutworm collars for this planting. While our usual paper cup cutworm collars protect tender stems from cutworms, they also don't allow much room for lateral root growth. With our remaining growing days getting short, I decided to take a chance that the tilling and tough stems might be enough to keep the cutworms away.
I used about twenty gallons of water to do the transplanting. The soil was that dry! Fortunately, our shallow well that I use for garden watering is still holding out. It's taking a bit more effort each day to prime the pump as ground water levels drop, but we're still getting good water from the well.
After getting the plants into the ground, I surrounded each plant with some well cured grass clippings to hold in soil moisture and hold back weeds. The mulch also nicely covered up the buckwheat still remaining on the soil surface.
While I considered the job done, I still have a couple of more things to do. I'll need to spray the brassicas with Thuricide to protect them from cabbage loopers and small white cabbage moths. I'd previously had to spray the transplants with various insecticides while they were hardening off on our back porch. Since we'd had a return of spotted cucumber beetles on our cucumbers this morning, the brassicas got sprayed before transplanting today with the neem oil and pyrethrin mix I covered our cucumber vines with. A bit of blood meal spread around the bed could discourage rabbits.
For more information, see our how-to article, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower. I should add here that our spring crop of broccoli this year was pretty much a failure. The plants buttoned, putting on small heads instead of their usual soccer ball sized heads. We enjoyed eating lots of broccoli sideshoots, but didn't get the huge heads of broccoli to freeze for the winter that we usually do.
On a more positive note, our kale that I direct seeded, re-seeded, and re-seeded again is finally up. Getting kale to germinate in hot weather is always a challenge. I found that soaking the seeds before putting them in the ground helped a good bit.
With our fall brassicas transplanted, our fall garden is in other than our fall lettuce. The lettuce transplants are still under plant lights in our basement, as they're still quite small. They'll go on the back porch sometime next week to harden off for a few weeks before going into the ground. I fully expect to have to protect the fall lettuce from frost with either floating row covers or cold frames.
With our fall garden almost completely in, it's time to begin planning our garden plots for next year. While we nurture our fall plantings, harvest, and enjoy the produce, we'll begin to shift our focus to planning for our 2017 garden. That is, of course, assuming the good Lord grants these aging bones another year to garden.
Today was a slow day in our senior garden. Other than watering our newly direct seeded crops, I chose to work in the "cool" shade this afternoon weeding the flowerbeds around our house. Some grass seedlings and lots of small clover plants had sprung up since my last weeding of the beds.
Neither the front nor side flowerbeds get a lot of rain, so the soil was fairly dry and crumbly, making for easy weeding by hand and with my soil scratcher. The drawback of using the soil scratcher is that some of the weeds will survive and I'll have to make a second pass over the beds in a day or two.
Regular weeding of the beds is necessary, as I haven't mulched them this year. In the past, I've used commercial wood mulch and grass clippings to hold back weeds. Neither was satisfactory, so I decided to try to keep up weeding this summer to keep the beds clear of weeds.
Several of the Carpet Snowfire dianthus plants in the front beds were in bloom, making the work a bit more enjoyable. The ones in bloom now are first year plants I put in this spring. Earlier this summer, second year plants bloomed in mostly solid colors. I trimmed them back and saved seed after their first blooming period. They're getting ready to bloom again. We generally get bicolor blooms from commercial seed, while our saved dianthus seed produces the solid colors.
Our one rose bush on the east side of the house recovered from its spring pruning and is in bloom again. I'd let the bush get too tall and the branches began to fall over and break. I had to prune the plant pretty severely, so I'm glad to see that it has bounced back.
I transplanted the last of our Envoy trailing impatiens into a hanging basket yesterday. I say "last," as we've run out of seed for the variety, and it's no longer available. We've had lovely hanging baskets of Envoys for years (1, 2), but I'll need to find a new trailing variety for next season.
Our Envoys grew very slowly this year. I put one plant in a planter a few weeks ago, but found yesterday that two more plants still on the back porch were ready for transplanting. Even at this late date, the plants will make a nice hanging basket of trailing vines and blooms by September.
Traffic at the three hummingbird feeders on our back porch is still heavy. After the second group of babies left the nests, things were crazy for a week or so before some of the birds moved on.
Activity at the feeders will subside towards the end of this month as some of the birds begin their annual migration south. I've begun slightly sweetening their nectar mix to give them a little extra energy for the trip. We usually mix the nectar in a 4:1 ratio of water to sugar. Finally washing our kitchen windows made getting a shot of the birds at the feeder a bit easier.
It's a bit late to do so in our climate zone (6a), but I direct seeded our fall carrots today. I say late, as the carrot varieties I put in range from 54 to 75 days-to-maturity. Of course, some can be taken as baby carrots in about 40 days. But with an August 2 planting, 75 days runs us to October 15 without even allowing for the shorter day lengths we'll have (which can add 7-14 days to days-to-maturity figures).
I used the same carrot varieties I planted in the spring: Luguna; Mokum; Nelson; and Scarlet Nantes; adding the Bolero storage variety. Since there weren't flowers in the way at the ends of the rows, I was able to plant a full fifteen foot double row spaced at our usual four inches apart.
I thoroughly watered the row with warm water so that the peat moss in the soil would absorb the moisture. I'll need to water the carrot row morning and evening until the carrots begin to emerge. I also covered the row with some of our walking boards to hold in soil moisture and discourage weeds from germinating. With the walking boards in place marking the double row, I mulched with grass clippings up to about two inches from the edges of the rows.
See How We Grow Our Carrots for more information.
I seeded a broken row of spinach along the south edge of our main raised bed. The row has lovely geraniums at either end of it and two pretty volunteer petunias in the middle that I left alone. I again stayed with the spinach varieties we did so well with this spring, Abundant Bloomsdale, America, and Melody.
I messed up on the planting, forgetting to start soaking the spinach seed early this morning. So I transplanted a pot of two Slick Pik yellow squash plants into the bed while I let the spinach seed soak a bit. Our current Slick Pik plant in our East Garden is about done producing. We do have a Saffron yellow squash in that plot, but I transplanted it only a week or two ago. But both should begin producing squash in about three weeks.
I also took out our diseased Earlirouge tomato plants today. Instead of composting the plants, fruit, and mulch, I bagged it for the trash service. Adding blight infested material to our compost pile just didn't seem wise.
After drenching the soil with Serenade biofungicide, I filled the small area with cabbage and kohlrabi plants. I then remulched around the cabbage.
Our entire main raised bed is now mulched again. It's completely planted other than a mulched area I left for fall lettuce. When our transplants are ready to go into the ground, I'll pull back the mulch to plant.
Senior Garden 6: Raccoons 2
When I was putting away the tomato cages I'd pulled today, I noticed a cantaloupe laying outside our melon patch. Walking to the patch, I quickly spotted a second melon outside the patch. Both had been cracked open, but not much of them was eaten. I'm not sure if the raccoons didn't like the melons or got interrupted by our dogs.
While out in the East Garden, I found six ripe, undamaged cantaloupes. I guess that made last night's score, Us 6, Raccoons 2.
I hope your August is off to as good a start as ours is.
We're beginning the new month with what promises to be a full day of light rain. Our current weekly weather forecast has a fair (30-50%) chance of rain every day, something a bit unusual for Augusts around here. Daily high temperatures are predicted to stay in the upper 80s to low 90s. With the rain, that will keep the heat index high, making gardening in the cooler early mornings a better choice than the hot, humid afternoons.
August is often a very pretty month around our garden beds. While rain is often sparse, the flowers at the corners and edges of our raised beds continue to bloom. Some newcomers put out their first blooms. Our long row of zinnias along one side of our East Garden are just coming into bloom.
We look forward to harvesting lots of melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers this month. Our 40' x 55' melon patch is filled with ripening cantaloupe, watermelon, and a few honeydews. We may even bring in some potatoes this month, although we got ours planted pretty late this spring. As the late Jim Crockett wrote in Crockett's Victory Garden, "August is the cornucopia month of the year."
We'll continue nurturing the fall crops we started last month while direct seeding or transplanting carrots, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and spinach. Our newly plumbed shallow well is holding up on water level so far which makes watering the newly direct seeded crops possible.
I got a little impatient yesterday afternoon and cut the Avatar melon I accidentally knocked off the vine the day before. While not as tasty as a fully vine ripened melon, it was good. I didn't think to put the monster on a scale, but did lay a ruler across the cut melon halves.
I also found a Sugar Cube icebox sized cantaloupe that was at full slip. It went into the fridge. Sugar Cubes are one of our favorite melons for their outstanding flavor.
I'm just about ready to bag and freeze the Eclipse and Encore pea seed we saved last month. The seed has been sitting on a bookshelf, hopefully drying in our air conditioned environment. I started germination tests on the seed last week. At this point, the Eclipse peas are at 63% and the Encores are at 80%. I'll do a final reading of the germination tests on Wednesday and record the rate of germination on the freezer bags that will hold the seed and on our seed inventory. Like the rest of our seed, the peas will go into our manual defrost freezer in the garage.
I grinned a bit at a couple of the photos I used today. The shot of the geraniums at the ends of our narrow raised bed (with some cut buckwheat in between) and our row of zinnias are both good examples of lens compression. When using a long or zoom lens, distances often get compressed, not recording a real life view. The narrow bed of buckwheat and geraniums is sixteen feet long. The zinnia row is eighty feet long. The image compression makes both look considerable shorter.
Off and Running
With some nice showers, we're off and running on getting our fall garden started. Well, at my age, we're actually off and walking, but we definitely have some good weather for getting our fall crops started. When the rain clears, my next goals in the garden will be to direct seed our fall carrots and spinach. With about sixty to eighty days left in our growing season, it's going to be a little close on the carrots. But if they get zapped by an early frost, we'll have lots of baby carrots! Carrots harvested small are often a good bit sweeter and more tender than ones left to reach their full length.
Our fall lettuce is growing in fourpacks under our plant lights in the basement. The plants are a little over an inch tall right now, so they have a bit of growing to do before we move them to the back porch to harden off. Then, they'll go into the ground. Fortunately, we're set up to protect the lettuce from frost with floating row covers or cold frames to extend the season as far into the fall as we can.
at Senior Gardening