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.
We're in a stretch of uncomfortable weather with the heat index well above a hundred early each day. So under the guise of being sensible, I'm being lazy and staying inside in the air conditioning. A local weather personality noted on air that what we're now getting is normal Indiana summer weather that we've really not had much of until now.
One of my indoor chores today was to finish up our cucumber seed saving. The quart jar of cucumber seeds and gel I'd started last Thursday was nicely fermented today. I actually scooped some fermentation and light seeds out of the jar yesterday, but gave the rest of it one more day to loosen any gel remaining around the seeds to ferment and float to the top.
Once our seed dried on the surface, it weighed in at a little over two ounces. It will dry down a good bit more in the weeks to come, but that gives me some idea of what we got from all the cucumbers cut for seed. When I checked around the web for the price of cucumber seed, I was surprised to find an ounce of various varieties running $10-15!
I started a germination test with ten of the cucumber seeds, as saved seed isn't worth much if it doesn't germinate well. And I separated out about seven ounces of seed for hot water treatment. When I get that done, another small sample will be germination tested.
Having survived the fermentation stink of the cucumbers, I started fermenting a container of Earlirouge tomato seed for saved seed. We have four Earlirouge plants in our East Garden this summer, and the plants are going nuts putting out lovely 3-3 1/2 inch fruit. The Earlirouge seed and gel went into a plastic container we use only for fermenting seed and gel for seed saving.
I give detailed instructions on saving tomato and other wet seeds in our feature story, Saving Tomato Seed.
Having not had a significant number of gloxinia blooms since our disaster with the INSV virus last year, I hadn't been able to begin trying out an innovative method of propagating gloxinias sent to me last spring by Kevin Maciunas until today.
The sun got on the fabulous gloxinia I'd featured in a posting earlier this month and wilted its blooms. So I cut bloom stems from the plant and from a few other lovely gloxinias growing in our basement under lights and started a glass of gloxinia stems.
Kevin had found that such bloom stem cuttings began to show signs of cloning a new plant in as little as two weeks. I'm excited to give this method a try, as it may be much, much quicker than taking leaf cuttings.
Growing Great Melons on Heavy Clay Soil
When there are significant gaps in postings here, it's often because I'm working on some project or article. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been trying to get down in a document how we grow good melons on really marginal soil. Over the last three or four days, I finally finished the piece.
It was important to me to get it right, as the posting is a part of new section of how-to pages for this site. When I started the project last year, I thought it would just be a matter of pulling together information and images from previous postings, but I've found each entry pushed me to do a lot of new photos, research, and writing, all of which I immensely enjoy.
The page released today was actually completed two days ago. Sadly, I had to spend a day and a morning proofreading and proofing again, as there were a myriad of errors in the story. Usually, when I publish something new and/or really important, I ask my wife to proofread it. But since she's on a business trip, I just spellchecked repeatedly and did my usual text-to-speech readback over and over and over, as I kept finding errors I'd missed.
But by noon today, Growing Great Melons on Heavy Clay Soil finally got uploaded to the new, how-to section of the server. The new endeavor is meant to help new gardeners and other gardeners trying new crops.
My special thanks go out to Don, a very special online friend, for his repeated encouragement for me to continue writing. Without his uplifting praise and Annie's support, this site would have gone dormant long ago.
I got back to digging potatoes this morning. Things seemed a bit wetter than the morning dew should have made them, so I checked our rain gauge. At some point overnight, we received another quarter inch of rainfall! That brings our monthly total to almost three and a half inches, pretty good for August.
I didn't last very long with the digging. With a heat index around 100° F by noon, I just dug a few feet of mostly red potatoes.
The damp soil actually helped with the digging. When I started digging our rows of potatoes over a week ago, the soil was hard and dry. Yesterday and today, I could drive my garden fork deep into the ground without too much effort to lift and loosen the potatoes. Of course, the mud does stick to the spuds, but it will crumble off of them on the curing table (making a real mess in the garage).
Even with the wet soil, I'm not seeing much rot in the potatoes I've dug. If I spread the job out over too many more days, that could quickly change.
We're finally experiencing some fairly typical August weather with daily highs in the low 90s and lots of humidity. That's tough on the air conditioning bill, but helps ripen melons, tomatoes, and peppers. I plugged a damaged melon I was taking to our compost pile yesterday and noted its flavor was much better than what we've had up to now. Unfortunately, one side of the melon was damaged, so it didn't get to make the trip this morning to the mission with our other surplus melons.
By the time I made the round trip to deliver a small load of melons (22 watermelon and 12 cantaloupe) to the Light House Mission in Terre Haute, it was really too hot to do much in the garden. I did dig a few really nice potatoes for supper and also picked a few Earlirouge tomatoes for seed saving. But that was about all of my outdoor work for the day!
I pretty well cleaned out our spring lettuce in early June. I was able to pick several good heads at that time, but almost all of the rest of our lettuce had turned bitter and/or was bolting. I pulled and composted all the remaining plants but one.
The exception was a Crispino plant that had been transplanted into the bed rather late (for spring lettuce), filling the open space of a harvested plant. It appeared to be in good shape, so I just left it in the bed, as I wasn't going to do anything there, other than add some border flowers, until much later in the season.
As I passed the lettuce plant in the weeks following, I often thought, "I'd better cut that head of lettuce before it bolts." Well, I didn't, and it did. But since I still didn't have immediate plans for that part of the garden, I just let the lettuce go, wondering if it might actually produce viable seed.
The flowering lettuce added a different look to our garden with its abundant yellow blooms, although the plant looked rather scruffy. But I left it alone until I finally needed the space for some parsley plants in August. I just pulled the lettuce plant and tossed it aside, concentrating on getting the parsley in the ground and mulched.
A few days later, I picked up the lettuce plant, fully intending to take it to the compost pile. But I decided to let it dry on the back porch for a day or two. It would have good company there, as a stuffed animal my grandson had washed was still drying and airing out on a glider chair.
When I got around to looking at the lettuce plant after a few days, some of its blooms had "a feathered appearance, similar to but much smaller than the feathery stage of dandelions going to seed." According to Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds, that indicates the plant is ready to shed seed.
I pinched off a mature bloom and rubbed it between my palms, and sure enough, I saw the familiar, long shape of lettuce seed. I grabbed a spare fourpack, filled it with starting medium (sterilized potting soil mostly), and lightly covered the seed with starting medium. But I let the dried plant sit just a few more days.
I finally got around to shaking twigs from the plant inside a bag, I was rewarded with, well, a mess of plant trash and lettuce seed. Fortunately, the seed cleans fairly easily after it dries a bit more by winnowing it in a light breeze, although I still have a ways to go on that one.
Saving Cucumber Seed
Cucumbers, like some squash, are plants that will keep producing for a long time if you keep them picked. But I wasn't interested in more cucumbers for the table or canning, as I'd had all the cucumbers in salads that I wanted, and I'd decided I wasn't going to make bread and butter pickles this year.
I wanted lots of cucumbers for seed saving. And to get the best seed you can, one needs to let the cucumbers get really ripe, almost to the rotting on the vine stage. So I let the cukes remain on the vine, and some of the vines, of course, began to wither.
Before things got to the really messy stage, I picked all the ripe (overripe for table use), yellow cucumbers a few days ago and just let them sit in our garden cart for two or three days. The Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook, a very handy online source of seed saving information, suggests that cucumbers should be "aged another 20 days in the cuke before the seeds are removed and cleaned." Since our cucumbers were very mature with a few of them beginning to rot in places, I went ahead and harvested seed just three or four days after picking.
Harvesting the seed is really pretty easy, but rather messy. I use a sharp butcher knife, a cutting board, a tablespoon, and this time, a glass wide mouth quart canning jar to hold the harvested seeds and goo. I usually do the job on the back steps where I can just hose down the area when I'm done.
I cut the cucumbers lengthwise, scraping mature seeds with the clear gel that surrounds them into the canning jar with a tablespoon. Glass or plastic containers are preferred, so corrosion of the container won't be a problem. Since Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers often are around two feet long and curved, I had to cut a few cucumbers in half before splitting them open. Some seeds towards the stem end of each cuke appeared immature and weren't harvested. Obviously, I had a lot of cucumbers with which to work.
The jar got a tight fitting Ball Jar Storage Cap. I'd picked up a box each of regular and wide mouth plastic storage lids on a closeout sale a few years ago. Most of them now serve under flower pots, although a few do get used for their intended purpose, temporarily sealing opened jars of canned products.
The fermentation process that occurs naturally helps remove the goo or gel that surrounds cucumber (and tomato) seeds , so it will wash off fairly easily after several days of fermentation. The gel surrounding the seed contains germination inhibitors which keep the seed from germinating prematurely. Fermentation also can help kill any organisms that might be living on the seed surface. Note that a tight fitting lid is recommended for this procedure, as the fermenting seed and goo does create a strong odor.
One needs to stir the mix a couple of times daily, and keep it in a somewhat warm area (65-75° F). At room temperature, fermentation takes 3-6 days for cucumbers. One does need to watch the seeds in the jar, as if the area is a bit warm, fermentation will occur more quickly and seeds could begin sprouting. Hastening the process with increased heat isn't recommended, as it takes several days for the fermented liquid to help sanitize the seed.
I was a little surprised today to see how many seeds had separated to the top of the jar. The fermenting process is well underway, as I shook the jar instead of stirring the contents, and it hissed with pressure buildup. The seeds at the top of the jar, called floaters, probably aren't good seed! But there's an awful lot of seed on the bottom of the jar that should be good when I can float off the bad seed and fermentation goop, and rinse and dry the good seed.
With this large a seed sample, I'll probably go ahead and split the good seed in two and hot water treat half of it. The process can kill harmful organisms on the seed coat and possibly inside the seed. But it also isn't really recommended for cucumber seed, as the heat involved, 122° F for 20 minutes, can also kill the seed. But I've successfully done it before and would like to be sure we knock out any seed borne pathogens that might be present in our seed.
I'm sort of pushing to get the lettuce and cucumber seed saved and germination tested, as I have lots more seed yet to save this year. We'll be saving seed from three varieties of tomatoes, one bell pepper variety, one paprika pepper variety (if they beat the first frost), two pea varieties, one variety of pole beans, the open pollinated yellow squash we tried this year, and any open pollinated flowers that strike my fancy.
I should add here that I save seed for several reasons. The most obvious is to have my own seed to plant in the future. I also share seed of some endangered varieties with other gardeners through the Seed Savers Exchange and the Grassroots Seed Network. Finally, seed saved from year to year begins to adapt to ones growing conditions. We pick the best fruit from our vegetables each year from the best looking plants, often doing some selecting for size or disease resistance. While not anywhere near what seed developers do, we do refine our seed a bit to fit our local growing conditions.
I haven't posted anything here since Sunday, but have been busy writing the lettuce and cucumber sections, along with a lot of other still unpublished stuff, for a while. In case I didn't get something credited and linked above, let me give you links to some very good pages I used while writing this stuff and processing my seed.
And hey, if you didn't laugh at the photo of the stuffed dog and lettuce plant, you need to begin an immediate search for your sense of humor!
We are finally getting the soaking rain our garden desperately needs. We had light showers off and on yesterday that produced 0.38 inches of precipitation. Then overnight, we received an additional 1.50 inches of rain, bringing our monthly total here to a respectable 2.93 inches.
Poor Watermelon Quality
With the showers (and some sore muscles), I didn't dig any more potatoes yesterday. The grandkids and I did go to the East Garden to thunk watermelons, hunting one to eat and another for them to take home with them. We found several watermelon that thunked ripe, had brown discoloration on the stem, and a light, almost white, belly.
The melon we picked for them to eat split open when I tried to plug it in the field. It was that ripe. But when cut up, it's taste was disappointing, something we've experienced with all of our watermelons this year. My wife and the kids didn't seem to notice, but I sure did. I've also observed a noticeable decrease in watermelon size and weight this year. We usually produce some 30-40 pound whoppers with our Moon & Stars and Crimson Sweet melons. We've had none of that this year.
I had attributed the lack of good watermelon flavor this year to our unusual weather patterns of late. We've not had a lot of rain, and it's been much cooler than normal. When I began looking around on the internet for confirmation of my theory, I found some good information from Joyce Gemmell of the Master Gardener Association of San Diego County. She wrote in a melon how-to that "Off-flavor in melons is due to plant stress, insect or disease damage, low fertility and uneven watering." But her words really didn't confirm or dispel my suspicion as to why we had such disappointing melon flavor.
I found what I think was the real cause of the poor flavor of our melons in a Purdue University publication. It suggested:
The cool and cloudy part of the posting may be the answer to our problem. We've also experienced some dying back of the leaf canopy of all of our melons during the dry spell. And even with cooler temperatures of late, we've had a lot of daytime leaf wilting, something moisture stressed plants do to conserve moisture. And of course, I could be missing some insect or disease problem, but I think I found my answer.
Just Walking Around Our Garden Plots - Alfalfa Cover Crop
Since it was too wet to do much gardening today, I ended up mostly just walking around the garden with my camera. After inspecting our productive, but sad looking melon patch, I noticed how well our alfalfa cover crop was recovering from being mowed pretty close to the ground. We had a lot of grass weeds in the patch. While some grass is coming back, the alfalfa, with its deep root system, is bouncing back quicker.
Growing alfalfa is part of our plan to improve the soil in our East Garden. We use buckwheat for short term smother/cover turndown crops, but alfalfa for longer term cover. The alfalfa's deep roots help break up soil compaction, while the lush top growth, when turned down, supplies a lot of organic matter to the soil.
I had planned to seed our now cleaned sweet corn patch to buckwheat this week. But with the rain we've had, it will be too late when the soil dries enough to till to make a crop of buckwheat before frost. So that area will go directly to alfalfa as soon as I can till and seed it. The area would have been seeded to alfalfa next spring anyway.
Alfalfa can be a lot of trouble to get started. We've had seedings of it fail several times. But I like growing it, probably because we used to grow some beautiful fields of alfalfa when I was farming.
Butternut Squash and Pumpkins
Just to the east (or behind) our East Garden plots are our plantings of Waltham Butternut Squash and Howden pumpkins. We long ago banished the squash and pumpkins from our main garden plots, as they tended to overgrow any nearby crops with their wonderfully vigorous vining. So we now grow them outside the East Garden on spots where we previously had compost piles.
The squash and pumpkin plantings don't have their soil tilled before planting, as there are few weeds that break through the remains of the old compost piles. I just dig deluxe holes for the transplants and pop them in the ground. We use wet grass clipping mulch to hold back the lawn as the plantings vine outward. When I mow, I circle the plantings from about fifteen feet beyond their growth, blowing grass clippings into the planting to form an ever expanding circle of mulch for the squash and pumpkins.
Despite growing in an area that is shaded by the woods until late morning, neither planting has yet suffered from powdery mildew. With the rain this weekend, that could change, although both varieties are fairly resistant to the disease. If it occurs, a quick application of Fungo-nil usually takes care of the problem.
Hybrid Tomatoes and Paprika Peppers
From our East Garden, I moved next to the back of our lot to look at one of our isolated plantings. I put hybrid Mountain Fresh and Mountain Merit tomatoes at the back of the lot so that they wouldn't cross pollinate with our open pollinated tomatoes from which we save seed. There's actually very little chance of crossing in tomatoes, though, as they have "perfect flowers" that can pollinate themselves. But I've worked really hard to refine and keep our strains of Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte tomatoes pure, so sending the hybrids to the hinterlands was just a bit of caution on my part. (Thanks Mike, for the Mountain Fresh seed.)
Neither of the hybrid plants have ripe tomatoes on them yet, but they're getting close. I didn't get them transplanted until June 4, so the 75-79 day varieties should come in with ripe fruit in a couple of weeks. By spreading out our transplantings of tomatoes this year, I'm hoping to avoid the total glut of tomatoes at one time we sometimes get when we start all of our tomatoes at the same time.
I also put some paprika pepper plants in the same isolation plot. Since I don't plan to save seed from the peppers this year, I have a mix of Alma, Feher Ozon, and Hungarian paprika peppers along with a Kevin's Early Orange bell pepper plant. And since I started way too many flower transplants this year, I lined one side of the planting with flowers. The Gloriosa Daisies were supposed to go along the side of the house, but I never got that flower bed worked up and planted. With the daisies languishing in pots on the porch, I put the perennials in the ground in the isolation plot. While they were in poor shape at transplanting, they're blooming gloriously now.
Our Paprika Supreme pepper plants are in another isolation plot in the field, but well away from our East Garden. I really need to save seed from them, as seed for the variety is almost impossible to find from seed houses and my supply is nearly exhausted.
Just a few feet away from the isolation plot of tomatoes and paprika peppers is Bonnie's Asparagus Patch. We named it after the owner of the land around us, as she graciously lets us use some of her land in exchange for some mowing and keeping an eye on her barn. She also lets us manage and pick her asparagus patch which was here when we bought our property over twenty years ago. With a little TLC, the patch has become quite productive again.
Turning 180o from Bonnie's Asparagus gave me a good angle on our raised bed of asparagus. It was planted in 2006 from transplants we'd grown from seed, but got set back considerably when I decided to enclose the patch with landscape timbers in 2009.
Both patches now provide us with more asparagus than we can use each spring. But both patches also need to be fed soon. While I could spread some (more) commercial fertilizer on them, I'd much rather give them a good covering of compost. Since our compost pile from last year still isn't ready to use, I may have to buy another truckload of compost. The purchased compost is great and doesn't cost too much. It just has a lot of trash in it, as the guy who composts it starts with leaves he gets from the city that have all manner of inorganic stuff in them.
Carrots Doing Well
Even with the dry weather we had, the carrots germinated well with a little watering and a couple of walking boards laid over them to hold in soil moisture. The boards got removed, of course, as soon as the carrots began to germinate. Now, all of an inch tall, the carrots have all the moisture they need for now. But I'll need to start weeding and thinning them soon.
Our row of kale seeded on July 18 had some spotty germination. At one end of the row, the Red Ursa kale came up pretty well. At the other end of the row, our Vates kale came up in places. In between, our planting of Lacinato totally failed.
Getting mid-summer succession plantings started is often a problem for us, as things turn pretty dry here after the Fourth of July. I'd reseeded the Red Ursa and Vates a bit, but was out of Lacinato seed. The attempts at reseeding were little better than the original seeding, so I've been trying to transplant some of the Vates kale plants to fill the open spots in the row.
It will be nice if the transplanting works, but we really have enough plants growing well to supply our needs. Besides transplanting today, I also thinned the kale a bit, as where it came up, it came up heavy.
Our late planting of kale is timed for when we make our annual fall batches of Portuguese Kale Soup. I grow our kale a bit late, even though I love kale boiled with garlic, onions, and a bit of bacon drippings, so it will mature when we've brought in most of the ingredients for the soup. This year, for the first time, we'll be using all home grown garden ingredients for the soup. We don't raise our own chickens for the broth, nor do we raise pigs for the smoked sausage. But with our meager harvest of kidney beans a few days ago, we finally have grown all of the garden ingredients that go into the soup.
Our tiny kale plants, along with our fall brassicas, have already been attacked by white cabbage moth and cabbage looper worms, even though I've sprayed the plantings regularly with Thuricide (BT). A thorough spraying with Sevin has stopped the damage, but it sure blows away any pretense of an organic crop of kale. While we're able to grow our spring brassicas pretty much without using pesticides, our fall crops almost always need at least one rescue spray of something stronger than the biologicals such as BT that we prefer.
Dumb, Dumb, Dumb
"Dumb" is a word I wouldn't permit to be spoken in my special education classroom when I was teaching. But it's about the best descriptor of what I did today.
When I got to our raised bed where we'd had our garlic, I decided to dig up all the remaining garlic, other than the three elephant garlics I've let go to seed to produce bulbils. I need the space for our fall lettuce and spinach. So I got a trowel and dug up the garlic.
It turned out that digging garlic with a hand trowel is considerably harder than lifting it with a garden fork. But this digging required more precision than the garden fork provides, as I was digging between the garlics I'd let bloom. So I used a garden trowel, digging with my right hand.
I've mentioned before, hopefully briefly, that I'm recovering from a shoulder injury that totally incapacitated my right arm for several weeks. The injury is a combination of rotor cuff problems, bursitis, and arthritis. And I've been gaining strength and mobility in the arm rather well since getting a cortisone shot in the shoulder two weeks ago.
But...my shoulder is burning this afternoon after I foolishly overused it digging the garlic. To make matters worse, I came inside and immediately did my rehab exercises that almost always irritate the shoulder, although they have seemed to really help in the long run.
About ten months ago, we began throwing out our collection of gloxinia plants. We'd somehow brought in the INSV virus, a disease gloxinias don't recover from. Other than a few corms I missed that were in a storage area for dormant plants, everything went. I couldn't even compost the dead plants, as the virus might be carried over in the compost. We buried the plants in a wash along the side of a field and covered it with used cat litter.
Gloxinias can last for years with proper care. We'd had another disaster a number of years ago, so the oldest of our plants were about seven years old. By that age, a gloxinia corm has usually gained enough strength to put out an incredible display of blooms.
So I cleared everything out and began disinfecting our plant room and all of our gardening supplies. I've bought a lot of bleach over the last ten months.
During the disinfecting process, I started new gloxinias from seed we'd saved over the years and from some commercial seed packets. I started and kept the new plantings in our sunroom. I kept our basement plant rack empty, dark, and reeking of bleach for several months. I finally began moving our new gloxinias under our plant lights last month a little at a time, in case the virus had survived my efforts at disinfecting the area.
All of the new gloxinias are now under our plant lights, where they'll grow a bit better than in the sunroom's diminishing natural light. I haven't seen any sign of the virus as yet, but I've also been ruthless at rogueing out any plants that looked the least bit unusual.
All of the plants currently in bloom under the plant lights come from seed saved when we hand pollinated our plants. The variety of bloom colors has been, well, thrilling. But then, I'm a gloxinia guy. We have some Empress and Cranberry Tiger plants about ready to bloom, so I hope we'll soon see even more variety in our blooms.
Oh yeah, about those corms I missed that were in isolation. Rather than throw out the plants just breaking their period of dormancy, I put them in a shaded area of our back porch where they received good light, but not direct sunlight (for very long each day, anyway). I kept the plants widely spaced, and ended up throwing out over half of them that showed signs of disease. But six plants appear to have survived without contracting the virus.
Above is a gorgeous Cranberry Tiger gloxinia in full bloom. It's a plant that has been through one or more blooming cycles, building a corm that puts out a lot of leaf growth and blooms. I even trimmed several leaves from the center of the plant to allow the blooms to not have to push through the leaves or get trapped under them. The plant is that strong that I could do that. (Thanks again, John, for the original seed.)
I've been rotating the older plants to our kitchen counter from the porch as they come into bloom. When their blooming cycle wanes, they still go back to the porch, rather than under our plant lights. In my experience, the INSV virus often manifests itself after a blooming cycle.
But things look a lot more promising for our gloxinias than they did ten months ago.
I found a lot more good potatoes today than yesterday. The area I was digging in today seemed to have a little more organic matter in the soil, making the digging easier and faster. And the plants simply had more, lots more potatoes on them than what I dug yesterday. I'm just guessing that I got into some better soil than the edge of the garden plot where I started digging yesterday.
Besides finding many huge Red Pontiacs and several good sized Kennebecs, I was surprised to find several knobby Red Pontiacs. Kennebecs are well known for producing unusual shapes at times, but this is the first time I've seen knobs on a Red Pontiac. Our kids used to enjoy playing with the knobby potatoes!
An Iowa State University Extension bulletin relates that "fluctuations in soil moisture levels during tuber development may cause knobby potatoes." They suggest "regular irrigation during dry periods" to help prevent the problem. (Ah, if we had a better well...) And of course, some varieties such as Kennebecs are just prone to knobbiness. At any rate, the knobs are edible, if a pain to peel.
We'll cure our potatoes in the garage for several weeks. Again according to the Iowa State bulletin, "Curing promotes healing
All in all, we got a lot of nice potatoes today.
With the last of our sweet corn stalks cut, chopped, and composted yesterday, our East Garden looks a bit bare. I mowed the cleared area, also taking down the weeds that had overtaken our planting of kidney beans. I did salvage enough kidney beans for our annual fall batch of Portuguese Kale Soup, but not much more.
I also mowed over our potato rows, getting them ready for digging. I dug the first six feet of potatoes in each of our forty foot potato rows this morning before the sun had topped the trees bordering the East Garden. Based on the sample dug today, it appears that we're going to have a good, but not spectacular harvest of potatoes.
Our Red Pontiacs, whose vines seemed healthier all season, had a lot more good tubers than our Kennebecs. There were also lots and lots of small, red potatoes, but those will be used quickly as new potatoes. The Kennebecs had more of a tendency to produce tubers at the soil surface that had turned green from sunlight reaching them, making them unusable. (The green in such potatoes is mildly toxic.) Several huge Kennebecs that initially looked like great baking potatoes had a bit of rot at one end, making them just pretty culls.
While Red Pontiacs are considered a cooking potato, they can also make a tasty baked potato. We had several very large Red Pontiacs. something really not all that unusual. We also had one, huge Kennebec covered with knobs, something not unusual for that variety. The bulk of the potatoes were medium to small sized.
Most of the potatoes dug today went onto the makeshift drying table in the garage that we previous used for curing onions. I covered one open window near the table with an old burlap bag to cut down on light entering the garage. I pitched about two gallons of cull potatoes today, many of them green, and I don't need extraneous light spoiling our harvest.
Just a few of the small, red potatoes went into a pot for new potatoes and peas for dinner. (Both the buttered potatoes and peas were delicious.)
All of our vining crops have been showing stress from lack of soil moisture for some time. We lost one of our Crimson Sweet vines already, and most of our other melon vines have looked pretty sick in the heat of the day.
Since I was working early today in the East Garden before the sun topped the trees east of the patch, I got a good look at our vines at a less stressful time. They actually looked pretty good, although later in the day looked somewhat wilted again as the plants tried to conserve moisture.
Annie and I loaded a mix of cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon into her car this evening for her to share with a retirement center tomorrow. I held out a small Ali Baba watermelon and a Tam Dew honeydew for us. Interestingly, the Ali Babas were a direct seeded replacement for a hill of honeydews that didn't make it, but they still caught up with the other transplanted varieties in producing mature melons.
Ali Babas produce a pale green melon at maturity. They have good flavor, but are awfully seedy.
After an early fog began to lift, I got out this morning and picked a bunch of melons I'd been keeping an eye on. I'd already picked a cantaloupe and a watermelon from the patch, but had seen that a lot of the cantaloupe were going to be ready at about the same time. While I'd prefer an extended harvest, ones takes what is there. Most of the cantaloupe were Avatar melons, along with a couple of Sugar Cubes and an Athena melon or two.
Judging the readiness of cantaloupe for picking is fairly easy, as most varieties go to half slip, where a crack or ring forms where the stem attaches to the melon. Half slip is a sign the melon will be fully ripe in a few days, but are quite edible, just not as good as they will be in a few days. About two to four days after the melons go to half slip, they start dropping off the vine at the slightest touch or all by themselves. That's full slip, the point at which the melons are fully ripe. Most cantaloupe also have an orange tint on their skin as they ripen.
Note that we've had some varieties of cantaloupe, mainly Athena melons, sometimes not display half slip or full slip, having to be cut from the vine when ripe.
I also picked our second Crimson Sweet watermelon of the year. It may not be very flavorful, as its vine is dying. I'll leave the issue of judging when watermelon are ripe for picking for another day.
I also picked one Tam Dew honeydew melon. I left one almost as ripe in the field that I'll probably pick, cut, and eat tomorrow. Our Tam Dews change color from light green to a almost white as they ripen. We also had a hill of Passport honeydew melons planted, but I think they got crowded out by the watermelon vines.
Since my wife, Annie, had seen that "the mission" was well stocked with melons today, the whole lot of melons (well, less one Sugar Cube) will go to work with her tomorrow for her co-workers.
After bringing in the melons and a tomato or two for an evening dinner of BLTs, the sun had come out, and I went out to cut corn stalks. While one can leave sweet corn stalks in the field to dry and till under, I prefer to cut and compost them to allow me to work up the ground a bit sooner. Still nursing a healing shoulder, I only cut a bit more than the first row of early corn stalks. While cutting, I found we did have some corn smut, which I carefully put in a bucket with a lid to go into our bagged trash. We've had little smut this year, and I don't want the spores spreading.
As I finished piling the last of the stalks from the first row of corn onto our compost pile, it began to rain a little. That, plus my shoulder letting me know that a half hour of rehab exercises plus an hour or so of slashing corn stalks with a corn knife, was probably all I should do in one day. Truly getting into this senior stuff, I find it increasingly easy to put off non-critical jobs.
We have another cloudy, misty day here today. We're not getting much accumulation of rain, but it's better than our usual arid August weather.
Since I had lots of sweet corn to process and freeze today, I didn't do any outdoor gardening. I'd stayed up late last night, shucking, washing, and trimming the last of the thirteen dozen ears of sweet corn I'd picked yesterday.
It took about four hours to process all the sweet corn. We ended up with thirteen and a half quarts of yellow corn bagged for the freezer, with another two pints of white/bicolor corn. The total put up was considerably reduced by a couple of grandkids who wanted sweet corn for supper and breakfast!
We've pretty well picked all the first ears from our seven, forty foot rows of sweet corn. We'll still have a good many second ears, the second ear produced on one stalk, for fresh use in the next few days. But with this picking, we have more than enough sweet corn to last us until next summer.
In freezing sweet corn, we pretty much follow the directions provided in the Ball Blue Book. We blanch the corn for five or six minutes. When it cools a bit, but is still warm, we cut it off the cob, being sure to scrape the cob to pick up the sweet base of the kernels. We then bag and chill the corn before moving it to our main freezer.
I've already begun mapping our East Garden for next year. I'll be cutting our sweet corn planting by about 20%, as we actually have too much sweet corn for our own use this year. I still garden and cook as if we had a house full of hungry kids. But with the rigors of advancing age and an empty nest, it's time to cut back just a bit.
The carrots we seeded on August 1 are up. When I went out to check the carrot row this morning, it was raining lightly. I intended to fold back the walking boards covering the carrot rows to let them catch some moisture. As it turned out, the carrots had begun to pop up overnight, and the boards are no longer necessary.
Sweet Corn Harvest
While it rained a good bit today, there were periods where it stopped or dropped back to just a drizzle. During one such period, I was able to pick our full season sweet corn. I also picked some second ears of our early corn. In all, we ended up with just over thirteen dozen ears of corn.
Since our favorite full season corn variety had been discontinued, we tried two new varieties this year. The Summer Sweet 7930R from Twilley Seeds was every bit as good as the variety it replaced. It produced thick ears with deep kernels and had good ear tip wrap, something essential for keeping bugs out of the ear.
The other new full season corn, Mirai 002, was a disappointment. We had a lot of trouble getting it to germinate, replacing a good bit of it with transplants I'd grown, just in case. The ears we got were thin with shallow kernels, making it a poor option for corn for the freezer.
Of course, the true test of any sweet corn is flavor. I sorted out some of the husky Summer Sweet 7930R ears for supper. Two of our grandkids are with us this weekend. They came back for second ears of corn, and later finished up a couple of extra half ears without any butter or margarine.
I got about eight dozen ears husked, washed, and trimmed this evening before tiring of the task. One of the joys of growing sh2 varieties of sweet corn is that you don't have to rush processing as you do with standard hybrids that begin turning their sugar into starch the second you pick the ear. Super sweet sh2 varieties are said to hold their sweetness for up to ten days. We don't push it that hard, but letting our corn sit overnight won't significantly hurt its quality.
Despite the good wrappers on the corn, we had a lot more bug damage than from our heavy picking of early corn a week ago. I had considered spraying the corn silks with mineral oil early in the week, a trick we used when we roadsided sweet corn we grew on the farm. Now, I wish I'd done so, as I had to trim a lot of ear tips. Fortunately, almost all the damage was to the tips and not the main part of the ears.
While out in our East Garden, I picked some Earlirouge tomatoes to go along with some my wife had picked yesterday. The Earlirouge plants seem to be dropping a lot of their fruit early. I picked as many good tomatoes off the ground as I did off the plants. The tomatoes are also a little smaller than last year's crop, the first year I'd grown Earlirouge since 1988. It's early still, and only two of our four Earlirouge plants have ripe tomatoes on them, so we may see some bigger fruit later on. And we've had BLTs twice in the last week or so, and the flavor of the variety is still excellent.
Our Moira and Quinte tomato plants, both related to Earlirouge, went into the ground a good bit later than the Earlirouges. We also have some hybrid Mountain Merit and Mountain Fresh tomatoes that haven't as yet ripened any fruit.
I've been checking our June 24 planting of pumpkins fairly regularly in hopes of finding a pumpkin set on the vines. I found one today. I try to time our planting, actually transplanting, so that we'll have ripe pumpkins for Halloween. I missed last year, and the grandkids had orange/green pumpkins. The Howdens we are growing are a 110-115 day variety. A little quick math suggests we should have pumpkins ready by mid-October. But I was a little nervous until I saw our first pumpkin had set on the vine.
We grow our pumpkins outside of any of our regular garden plots. Pumpkins, as well as butternut squash, tend to take over mixed plantings with melons. So our pumpkins and butternuts get transplanted onto the sites of previous compost piles around the perimeter of our East Garden.
And while wandering around the East Garden in the rain, I had to snap a shot of one of the snapdragons that is growing along the trellis that holds some late peas and pole beans. We also have snapdragons growing amidst our trellised cucumbers, but they're pretty well overgrown right now.
I certainly wasn't disappointed this morning when it began to sprinkle just as I was going out to work in the garden. In fact, the very light rain made for pretty good conditions for transplanting some flowers and parsley that had been in pots on our back porch far too long. So I went ahead and transplanted for an hour or so as the sprinkles turned off and on. The light rain continued into the afternoon, but didn't produce much accumulation.
Since I still had some geranium, vinca, and marigold transplants left, and I had open space on the sides of our newly planted kale, the flowers went there. I also had an open area where our spring lettuce grew. While border flowers are taking up a good bit of room in the area, I had enough room to put in five parsley plants. We're almost out of dried parsley, and I'd failed to get any into the ground until today. With any luck, we'll be drying parsley in September or October.
With the parsley in the ground, our main raised bed is full once again. We've put in (transplanted and/or direct seeded) succession crops of parsley, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Note that I peek every day under the walking boards shown above to see if our fall carrots have begun to germinate. They haven't.
I actually had to go back out in the rain to photograph what I'd done in the garden today. Rather than risk damage to my Canon DSLR, I used my Nikon point-and-shoot camera that only works in the fully automatic mode. If it gets wet or I drop it in a puddle, I'll shed no tears. But I did get a nice shot of a garlic "bloom." I let three of our elephant garlic bloom, hoping they'd cross pollinate and produce some bulbils that I might be able to grow into full sized elephant garlic in a couple of years.
Later, I got out the good camera to record hummingbirds at a feeder (under the porch). We usually hang two hummingbird feeders each summer, but had to hang a third a week or so ago due to the high hummingbird population in our area.
We still need a good rain, but the forecast looks promising.
Still taking it easy in the garden, I stayed up late last night and finished up a companion story to our Onions We Grew in 2014 feature story. How We Grow Our Onions is a step-by-step, how-to article about growing onions in intensive plantings, including information on curing and storage. It could be the first in a series of crop specific how-to's, something I've wanted to do for a long time. But it also could end up being a one time deal, depending on my time and interest. We'll see.
When you write such a how-to story, one immediately becomes aware of others who do what you've written about in a completely different way. I drive past a large garden "around the corner" (country term - about a mile away) from us who grows large, absolutely gorgeous onions each year in traditional wide rows. He uses a wide (about four feet) pull-type tiller to keep the aisles between his crops weed free and hoes in the rows. He spaces his onion plants a foot apart and is rewarded with huge globes each year, clearly demonstrating that there is no one "right way" to grow onions (or most other things). You do what works for you.
I didn't get around to taking our usual garden shot out the sunroom window until almost nine in the evening. When I did, I noticed a pretty view just to the left of the garden scene. For some reason, it exposed a good deal darker than the garden shot, taken just minutes earlier, but I liked it anyway.
I had gotten up into the sunroom originally to fetch the last of the gloxinias I had segregated there. It appears that our plant room is now free of the INSV virus which pretty well destroyed our previous gloxinia collection. A few corms that were in a storage area while dormant appear to have not contracted the disease, but they're still growing on the back porch. I recently had to pitch two other such plants from that group that showed signs of some disease.
Other than the few plants still in a shady area of the back porch, all of our gloxinias are now under our plant lights in the basement. It's a lot easier to keep them all watered properly there, and I think the artificial light is now better than the light in our sunroom.
I transplanted about a dozen Empress gloxinias from fourpacks to four and six inch pots today. I also noticed that one of our plants grown from saved seed appears to be getting ready to bloom purple, something we've not had yet from the new plants. It always exciting when growing gloxinias from mixed seed to see what colors you get.
Frozen Peppers on my Shoulder
I had my appointment with the orthopedic surgeon yesterday. I wasn't terribly impressed with the quality of care given, but did come away with cortisone shot and some rehab exercises. I really didn't understand their emphasis on icing my shoulder, as my injury occurred a month ago. But when I got home and the injection site anesthetic wore off, I understood.
I considered bringing in a bag of ice from our big freezer, but decided to try something else because ice bags can be so messy when they melt. There was a bag of sliced, frozen bell peppers in the freezer from last summer. They were certainly due to be pitched, especially since we're picking a few nice, green and red peppers from our garden.
The frozen peppers became the ice pack for my shoulder. Having relieved the immediate pain last night, I threw the bag of peppers back in the freezer, thinking I really wouldn't need them again. When I got up this morning, I felt better than I had in a month, as either the shot or the other painkillers I am taking were doing their job.
Then I did my sets of rehab exercises, and was back in the La-Z-Boy with the bag of frozen peppers on my shoulder again. I'm encouraged that I'm getting some relief from the shoulder problem, now described as a rotator cuff problem, along with some bursitis and arthritis. But it makes it tough to get a lot of gardening done.
I was a little late checking our garden this morning, as I'd been up very late putting up the early sweet corn I'd picked on Friday. After sharing some of the corn with family and then pitching some really nasty ears, I ended up cutting and freezing seven dozen ears of corn. Many of those ears were really half ears, as some were short second ears off plants and others had bad spots trimmed off of them. We ended up with ten quarts of sweet corn for the freezer, nearly enough to last us over the winter, with our main season sweet corn yet to mature.
Beyond hauling corn cobs to the compost pile and watering our newly seeded kale and carrots, I didn't do much gardening today.
We had a thundershower last evening with enough lightning and loud thunder that three of our five dogs felt certain they had to be inside to avoid being swept away. When I checked our rain gauge this morning, I found that we'd received 0.25 inches of precipitation overnight. I think the dogs got one over on Annie and I last night, but at least I didn't have to water our carrot and kale plantings this morning.
The onions we harvested on July 22 were ready to be sorted, weighed and bagged today. We've had them curing on a sheet of plywood in our garage...with the windows open and a fan blowing over them to help them dry down. Even with our careful sorting when we moved the onions to the drying table, I still sorted out another 10-12 pounds of cull onions today that had soft spots, moist necks, or were doubles that would prevent them from storing well.
We store our onions in old onion and potato mesh bags, and I was lucky enough to find enough bags to store the thirteen different varieties of onions we grew this year. We assiduously save such bags when we have to buy potatoes, as they're somewhat expensive to purchase by themselves. Our potatoes get stored in old fashioned burlap bags now marketed mainly for three-legged races.
Note: I did find some smaller, cheaper, nylon mesh bags that might be okay for garlic, onions, and even small amounts of potatoes.
We store our onions (potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, and butternut squash) over the winter in our basement plant room, but today I hung the bags of onions from the garage rafters. Giving them another week or so of dark, warm curing with good airflow may help us avoid too much rot over the winter. Note that checking ones stored onions, potatoes, etc., about once a month is essential. I just pour the onions out into a plant tray and put them back into the bag one at a time, feeling each onion for possible soft spots and/or rot. One rotting onion or potato in a sack will quickly spread throughout the contents of a bag.
When the onions are ready to come inside, I'll dump out each bag and sort through them once again. While I was pretty tough today about sorting out any onions that might spoil, there will still be a few that got by me and will need to be culled before the onions go into long term storage in our basement.
While I weighed each bag of onions ready to be stored, comparisons based on weight would be deceiving, as we planted different amounts of some varieties. In all, we bagged 81 pound of onions today. When I sort the onions before taking them to the basement, I'll need to cut down the poundage by a half, sending the excess to family, neighbors, and food banks.
When I was working full time, August was a month when we began winding up our gardening for the summer. Responsibilities in my classroom pretty well precluded doing much gardening in those days beyond struggling to get the last of our garden crops harvested and put up (dried, canned, frozen...). And every year, it seemed that I was wasting nearly half of a gardening season.
Now in full retirement, I try to make the best use of what is the hottest and driest part of our growing season that also has steadily shortening days. Even with the challenges of fall gardening, we now garden well into October and occasionally into November with the assistance of floating row covers and cold frames.
Of course, August is also a month of wonderful harvests. A relatively cool July and limited rainfall have pushed maturity of some of our full season crops into August. We've picked a few tomatoes and peppers, but our real harvest of them is still at least a week or two away. Our early sweet corn is ready to pick, with our full season corn, the stuff we like to freeze for winter use, still a week out. Our melons, seriously set back by an assault by cucumber beetles early in the season, should begin ripening any time now. And for the first time in several years, we should be able to dig enough potatoes to last us all winter.
We have fall broccoli, cauliflower, and kale already in the ground to be harvested in September and October. I still need to get our fall carrots seeded, and I'm running out of time on that one. And I still have a bunch of transplants on the back porch I need to pitch or get into the ground somewhere. I have a whole flat of parsley plants I've uppotted twice that I have to transplant, as our dried parsley jar is almost empty from the last time we grew and dried it.
One of my chores this morning was to haul a couple of buckets of kitchen scraps, mostly sweet corn husks and ears, to the compost pile. Being a bit lazy, I used the garden cart to tote the buckets to the field where our compost pile and our East Garden lie. On my way back to the house, I noticed some very ripe looking ears of early sweet corn. Since I already had the cart with me, I picked a dozen or so. As I walked into the rows, it became apparent that two of our three early varieties, Summer Sweet 6800R and Early Xtra-Sweet, needed to be picked today. So...I ended up picking nine dozen ears of early sweet corn. That's not bad for picking just two-thirds of three forty foot rows.
The last variety in the three rows of early corn is Amaize, a white corn that we had trouble getting to germinate, so it's running a bit behind the other early corns. But it's sorta nice to have our harvest spread out a bit. Our main season corn definitely isn't ready to pick as yet, what there is left of it. It's been hard hit by sweet corn eating dogs and deer despite all the nasty smelling and tasting stuff I've sprayed on it.
Fall Carrots Finally Seeded
Maybe it's because we had a bumper crop of spring carrots, or possibly because I'm none to familiar with growing fall carrots, but I somehow left the task of seeding our fall carrots until today. We're a full ten days later than last year when we seeded our very first crop of fall carrots, but may have just enough time left in the growing season to sneak in this planting. With our carrot varieties running from 54 to 65 days to maturity, and adding a week for germination and another week or so for shorter day length in the fall, we may be able to begin digging carrots again around mid-October. And if we have an early, heavy frost, we'll just have lots of baby carrots...providing the seed I put in the ground today comes up!
Our area for the carrots was in a portion of our main, raised garden bed that I'd tilled a week ago. I had heavily fertilized and limed the area when I tilled, so that part of the soil preparation was already done. I also had raked the area a bit when I transplanted our fall brassicas in adjacent rows, but today raked all the remaining old mulch and large clumps of soil out of the rows for the carrots. I made two shallow (1/2" deep) furrows for the tiny carrot seed using a scrap of 1" lumber. The double rows were spaced about four inches apart, as we grow our carrots in double rows. I seeded Scarlet Nantes, Mokum, Nelson, Laguna, and Bolero down the rows, pinching the soil over the seed as I went.
One of our problems with starting fall carrots and almost any other crop direct seeded mid-summer is that the soil is fairly dry. To get around the dry soil issue without having to water a couple of times a day, I first firmed the carrot rows by tamping the soil with the head of my good garden hoe. Then I gently watered the rows with the hose head set on sprinkle (or spray). Since I was also giving our newly transplanted broccoli and cauliflower a drink, I could alternate between the carrots and brassicas, giving the water time to soak in a bit. I really took my time with this watering, as I didn't want to wash the carrot seed up and out of the row.
Then I pulled my planting stakes and strings and laid walking boards, the boards I usually use to walk on to prevent soil compaction in our raised beds, over the carrot rows. The 6" x 8' boards, trimmed to fit in our 15' wide raised bed, perfectly cover the double rows of planted carrots, helping hold in soil moisture. Then I laid grass clipping mulch up to within a few inches of the planted rows before once again watering the area. Watering with the walking boards down allows the water to drip off the boards just outside the planted rows (if I got the boards laid right). And if we get lucky and get a good rain, the mulch will also help hold in soil moisture, although it's primary function is to smother weeds.
One drawback to using boards to hold moisture into a planting such as this one is that you have to check under the boards daily for germination of the seed. If the seed comes up and you don't get the boards off of it promptly, the seed will die. Also, since I planted several varieties of carrots, they may germinate at different times, forcing me to pull the boards when the whole row hasn't yet germinated. But on the whole, using the walking boards to hold in soil moisture at this time of year usually works well for us.
at Senior Gardening