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.
Our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines are wearing down. A month of heavy production, a brief insect infestation, and dry weather have left them just barely producing. I've been watering them, trying to coax the vines into ripening a few last cucumbers for a batch of bread and butter pickles. But last week I noticed new blooms and was able to hand pollinate a couple of female blooms on our strain of the JLPs from male blooms of the strain from Reimer Seeds we're crossing into ours to invigorate it.
Our harvest this morning included four long JLP cucumbers and several tomatoes from both our Mountain Fresh plant and our four Earlirouge plants. The cucumbers vary in appearance, as there are whitish cukes from our old strain, very green ones from the Reimer strain, and some in between that are from our plants that were crossed with the Reimer strain over the last few years.
The tomatoes we're picking are ones you could never sell at a farmers market. That's not a problem for us, since we don't sell any produce. We just cut out the cracks and bad spots on the late fruit for fresh use, cooking, and still share some with friends. Without any children living with us now, we already have enough tomatoes canned whole and as tomato sauce/purée to last us through the winter.
Funny, as I wrote the last sentence, granddaughter Katherine called upstairs asking if she could have a tomato. She used to love grape tomatoes, but has now moved on to consuming lots of fresh, full sized tomatoes. So this year I didn't plant any grape tomatoes, instead using our limited garden space for our Earlirouge open pollinated plants and a couple of hybrids at either end of our cucumber row.
Trouble in Lettuce Land
We have some kind of critter tearing up our lettuce patch and other areas in our main raised garden bed. It's not a rabbit, as they'd just eat the lettuce leaves. It could be a mole, although the characteristic paths moles leave aren't evident. Our dogs killed a woodchuck earlier this summer and left it by the back porch for us. We've never had woodchucks (groundhogs) in our garden plots before.
Whatever is there is digging or causing our dogs to dig going after it. One lettuce plant got destroyed overnight and had to be replaced this morning. Fortunately, I still have some very healthy lettuce transplants left on the back porch (with more on the way under plant lights in the basement). But if we don't clear up the critter problem, all the transplants in the world won't produce much of a crop.
Interestingly, if the dogs were going after a critter, the damage would be much more widespread. I'm pretty much at a loss as to what we're dealing with here.
If you have any experience with this kind of thing, I'd appreciate any advice you might share.
Pets on the Porch
Our cats have begun enjoying our back porch again. After an unfortunate incident last summer that led to the death of one of our favorite cats who lived in the barn for years, we've pretty much kept the cats inside. But our newest dogs have matured a bit and realize that the cats are off limits.
At left, littermates Callie Jo and Dolly enjoy resting on a glider. Both are over ten years old and are still quite healthy. Our much younger tuxedo cat, Tux, occasionally ventures outside, although he had a toothmark injury to his back last summer and has become much more respectful of the dogs.
Mac, our "Senior Dog," is a cross of half lab and quarters of rottweiler and chow. He's probably enjoying his last summer, as his health is failing. One back leg often slips out from under him on slick floors. We have to lift his rear end sometimes to get him back up.
Mac was raised around cats, so he's good with them. The cats will often rub up against him and occasionally curl up to sleep with him. He's become pretty much a full time indoor dog over the last two years.
With very little rain this month, our gardening has slowed to a crawl. I'm still picking a few tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers every few days, but there's really not much going on in our garden plots right now.
With fairly regular (every other or third day now) waterings, our spinach, lettuce, and carrots are doing well. The very healthy rows of green beans in the background of the images above aren't being watered, but are still doing pretty well.
Buckwheat Turned Under
I did rototill our narrow bed of buckwheat yesterday. I'd manually turned under about three feet of our 3' x 14' planting with a garden fork last week. That effort, however, seriously irritated the still weak muscles around my new hip joint. Before using our old senior tiller yesterday, I chopped some of the heaviest buckwheat trash on the soil surface with a very sharp corn knife to prevent the buckwheat from winding on the tiller's tine axle. While the tiller pushed some of the buckwheat stalks around a bit, I was able to get most of them turned under, but only after making five or six passes over the patch.
I plan to let the bed just sit for a week or so to allow the buckwheat to begin breaking down. Since the soil level in the bed has gone down two or three inches, I hope to add a couple of big bales of peat moss to it to raise the soil level while also further improving the tilth of the soil. When I till in the peat moss (and the remaining buckwheat trash), I'll also fertilize and lime the bed before covering it with grass clippings for the winter.
A Quick Overnight in Effingham and a Dangerous Situation
Annie had given me tickets to a concert at the Effingham Performance Center for my birthday. We made the trip to Effingham, Illinois, on Tuesday and saw a bunch of aging rock musicians, many of whom were struggling mightily to stay on pitch. While Annie pretty much enjoyed the concert (other than the terribly off key rendition of Cherish), I found it disappointing when compared to our previous trips there to see the Gin Blossoms, Foreigner, Air Supply, and REO Speedwagon.
Beyond my mild disappointment with the performance, I was uneasy all through the concert. A heavy curtain hung at the left rear of the theater, blocking access to the left aisle and hiding fire exits presumably behind it. The acoustic curtain actually covered the aisle seat next to my wife. An email to Rick Jorn, the executive director of the EPC produced an arrogant denial of the issue. I'm hoping that the complaint I sent to the Illinois State Fire Marshal will produce better results. Until I receive assurance from the fire marshal or Mr. Jorn that the dangerous situation has been corrected, we'll have to forego any events at the EPC. That's too bad, as the 1500+ seat theater is a great venue for concerts.
Update: After a second email from me that pointed out this posting and my complaint to the Illinois State Fire Marshal, Mr. Jorn apparently went into the theater to inspect the problem. He responded to the problem about the acoustic curtain, but avoided answering my question about a fire exit on the left center side of the theater.
After another round of emails, he wrote that no fire exit was designed into the middle of that side of the theater. He wasn't there when the original Rosebud Theater was built, so you've gotta give him a free pass on that one. He noted that the theater "has always passed inspection for both emergency egress and accessibility," but added that "one of my long term goal[s] is to add a new lobby to the back of [the] house providing better entrance and more exits."
In my opinion, the EPC still has a fire safety issue at this point. They need to bust a hole in the wall and make a new fire exit midway on the left side of the theater. A further problem they may have is with an executive director who blows off the initial accurate safety complaint from a theater guest.
On the Brighter Side
Possibly the highlight of the trip was dinner Tuesday afternoon at the Firefly Grill. We'd forgotten to allow for the time difference between Indiana and Illinois and got in pretty early. I moved up our dinner reservations into the afternoon, which allowed us time after dinner to stroll some of the garden plots behind the Firefly and a short nap before the concert.
The Firefly prides itself in using lots of local produce and beef, along with growing some of their own vegetables and herbs. While we were walking their garden plots, I saw someone rush out of the kitchen and pick what I think was some dill.
Do note that the Firefly provides "fine dining" and is priced accordingly. But the constantly changing menu of deliciously prepared foods by owner and chef Niall Campbell (well, co-owner along with his lovely wife, Kristie), are perfect for a special outing.
Note: The Firefly Grill is not a Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertiser.
Really Early Morning Edition of Senior Gardening
For the first time since my hip surgery in mid-May, I awoke Annie this morning with a cry of pain caused by my hip. Before the surgery, that was a nightly occurrence. Driving to and from Effingham and then tilling under our narrow bed of buckwheat had me up this morning at 4 A.M.! After downing a couple of pain killers, I decided sleep would be impossible until the bombers kicked in, so I started writing this posting.
The images of the Firefly Grill's garden plots were taken with my iPhone 6 in seriously fading light. I had to massage a few of the shots in Photoshop, mainly lightening them for use here. The improvement in the camera in my current iPhone over the iPhone 3G that I used for so long is impressive. I would, however, like to get back to the Firefly's garden plots in the height of the growing season sometime with my Canon XSi.
I wrote here on Monday about making our hummingbird nectar slightly more concentrated to provide a bit more energy for the birds just before their southern migration. I may have been a bit late with the adjustment, as traffic at our feeders has dropped in the last two days to less than half of what it previously was. I'm guessing that "our birds" are now somewhere in southern Indiana or Illinois on their long journey south.
We still have some hummingbirds at our feeders. The big difference is that I only have to fill the feeders once a day now, instead of three times a day.
Really Bad Freezer Bags
The folks at C. Johnson & Son, Inc. redesigned their pint Ziplock freezer bags with what they call "Easy Open Tabs." It appears what they've really done is add a pretty useless feature while making the bags much thinner and less able to protect the food inside them. I dropped a package of bacon on a pint bag of peas in our big freezer last night and the bag split open. I knew the bags were thinner to the touch, but I hadn't counted on them also becoming brittle in the freezer.
If you're going to be freezing produce in pint bags, I'd suggest avoiding the Ziplock brand (with the new "Easy Open Tabs"). I set aside the new type bags for junk use and rummaged through the shelf of our grocery for a couple of boxes of the heavier, old style bags. When they're gone, I'll need to find a new brand of pint freezer bags to use.
We're into a delightful period of cool weather that may last all week. Sadly, there's also little chance for rain the rest of this month. The shadows across our main raised garden bed persisting to midday are a reminder that the sun is dropping daily in the sky and our days are getting shorter. Counting forward to a possible first frost in mid-October, we have a little over seven weeks of growing time remaining for the season.
While messing around with our East Garden plan for next year, I wondered if I might yet till that area and grow a quick cover/smother crop of buckwheat on it. At this point, fourteen weeks after a total hip replacement, I'm not sure I'm physically able to drop the mower deck out and mount our pull-type tiller on our lawn tractor. But if I can, tilling our East Garden plot a few times, with a few days in between tillings for weeds and weed seed to dry up and die, could offer us a fairly weed free planting area next spring. It would also allow me to apply lime where needed and sulfur to our planned area for potatoes next season.
Home Flock Layer Alert
I should have gotten this information posted a week or two ago. While looking around the Weather Underground site and contemplating shortening days, I remembered that those with flocks of chickens should get a light on them immediately. Hens respond to day length and will taper off and eventually stop laying as day length drops below fourteen hours a day. We're already past that mark here in west central Indiana. When I was farming, we kept a light on over our hens 24/7 from August through spring.
H. Lee Schwanz's The Backyard Chicken Book: A Beginner's Guide has an excellent discussion about light requirements for laying flocks and some cautions about lighting baby chicks too much too soon. His previous volume on the subject, The Family Poultry Flock and some circulars from our county extension office proved to be excellent guides for us during our farming years. Having really enjoyed raising chickens for both meat and eggs, I'm excited to see and talk to folks now keeping four or five laying hens in urban situations.
We still have lots of hummingbirds visiting our feeders, and that may only intensify very soon. The tiny birds begin to "tank up" just before they begin their fall migration south. In our area, the birds begin to thin out at the feeders in late August and/or early September. After that, we see hummingbirds that are probably transients from the north on their way south, stopping off for a bite to eat (or drink, really).
I read somewhere that this is a good time to make our homemade nectar for the birds just a bit more concentrated to fortify them for their long trip. We usually mix water with granulated sugar in a 4:1 ratio for the nectar. I began this week adding just a bit more sugar to make the mix about an 8:3 ratio. The birds still seem to like the stronger nectar, but it's not so sweet as to draw lots of wasps or yellow jackets to the feeders.
Today has been one of those days when you wake up and everything hurts. I don't know what I did to deserve such pain, but I'm taking it easy today, despite having three full-day chores glaring at me from my to do list. While I probably should feel guilty about not working on such a glorious summer day, I'm post several painkillers and sips of scotch, so will have to put off feeling guilty until tomorrow. Maybe it's something like Champagne Thursday, made famous in the film Failure To Launch. Somehow, cheap scotch Saturday doesn't seem to work as well.
Shirking all of my daily responsibilities, I did stir my aching bones enough to grab my good camera and take a garden walk, shooting pictures as I went. My first shots were of our two patches of asparagus which often get ignored at this time of year. Our raised bed of asparagus looks quite healthy. It got several inches of compost applied this spring. Bonnie's Asparagus, however, hasn't had much care this year. I'd planned to use the rest of our finished compost on it, but after my hip replacement surgery, never got around to it. The finished compost pile is now growing weeds and volunteer tomato and yellow squash plants, along with a lot of grass weeds. I'll need to sprinkle some commercial fertilizer into the asparagus patch sometime soon.
Beside Bonnie's Asparagus in the photo at left is a pile of grass clippings. Since we have more grass clippings than we need for mulch right now, I piled them on one of our currently unused isolation patches. This particular patch of soil is the worst soil we garden, so the decaying clippings may help it a bit. I suspect our other two unused isolation patches could use some similar treatment.
One of those jobs deserving of my attention is turning under the buckwheat I cut this week. I turned under a couple feet of the fourteen foot planting yesterday, possibly the source of my soreness today. I was just testing how hard it would be to turn the bed with a garden fork.
The soil in the narrow raised bed is fertile, but has burned up much of the organic matter that was originally in it. Once the buckwheat is turned under and has had a couple of weeks to begin decomposing, I'll go back and till the bed, possibly adding a bale or two of peat moss, along with some ground limestone. This bed is slated to be planted to early peas with caged tomatoes on the ends of the row next spring. After all the fall soil preparation is done, the bed will be heavily mulched with grass clippings for winter. That will allow me next March to just pull back the mulch to plant our early peas.
I was working a few minutes this morning on a "part 2" for our 2012 feature story on Succession Planting. I quickly realized that I lacked some of the shots I wanted to use in the feature story update. That was one of the reasons I got going with the camera this morning.
Taking a photo of our main raised bed from the side shown above at this time of year would require cutting some of the farmer's corn in the adjacent field (or an extremely wide angle lens, which I lack), something I suspect he'd not appreciate. So I just split the shot in two.
We obviously are utilizing every square inch of our 16' x 24' main raised garden bed with lots of plantings that hopefully will mature before the first frost. All of the plantings seem to be doing well, despite our annual July/August mini-drought. I'm especially pleased that our green beans are up and getting close to blooming without much rain at all.
Fall green beans seem especially attractive to Japanese Beetles and Colorado Potato Bugs, along with a host of other bad bugs. When I sprayed our brassicas with BT and insecticidal soap this week, I also doused our bean plants, as they were showing just a bit of bug damage. While that spray was with totally organic materials, I'll go back and spray the beans with something a good bit stronger and certainly not organic just before they begin blooming. I don't even try growing late green beans when the field adjacent to our main garden is planted to soybeans. Bugs from the soybeans just migrate to our green beans, often seriously damaging the crop. With field corn next door to our main garden this year, we can probably get a good crop of beans with minimal spraying.
Our first batch of saved Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed turned out to be bad. I think I got the hot water treatment water too hot and also got in a hurry and harvested the seed too soon (before it was mature). We also lost one batch of Earlirouge tomato seed, but have two other batches of it that have germination tested at 80 and 100% germination.
I have a bunch of overripe JLP cucumbers sitting on the back porch that I hope will give us some good, fresh seed for the endangered variety. Fortunately, our JLP vines, which wilt a bit in the heat of the day, are still producing good cucumbers, albeit, a lot less than earlier in the season. Of course, one of these days, they may wilt in the sun and not revive!
Note that in the the top of the image at right is our sunroom. The middle window is the one I use to grab our almost daily splash shot of our garden that tops this page. The sunroom is cluttered with used computer equipment, a legacy from my days as a school teacher employing technology to improve education. I do keep a path to the sunroom window cleared, however.
One disappointment in our garden this year has been our snapdragons. We plant them along our trellises, but most of them haven't made it this year. They usually bide their time under whatever is growing on the trellis and emerge toward the end of the season, once the main crop has been harvested. We do have a few snaps that were at the ends of our short pea trellis (now removed).
If I have enough years left, I may someday just put up a trellis to support them and plant a whole row of snapdragons without any other crop. They often produce some of the most spectacular displays of blooms we see in our garden plots.
There are a few surviving snapdragon plants currently growing under our planting of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. They may yet surprise us with a display of beautiful fall blooms.
We're still enjoying a few days of cooler weather than what one would expect in central Indiana in mid-August. We'll top out today at around 82-83° F, cool enough to keep the windows open and our air conditioner turned off. Such weather is great for our fall planted crops, although a little rain would be nice.
The cool temperature plus some morning shade made thinning our row of kale pleasant work. Not having to wear my usual sun protective clothing seemed to make the thinning go fast. I pulled some of the extra kale plants and used a good pair of kitchen shears to trim others. I was trying to thin the plants to a one inch spacing. I'll need to go back and thin again to about six to eight inches between plants, but for now, an inch spacing is good until I know the plants are well established.
While the thinned plants today weren't big enough to save for table use, the next thinning might produce enough leaf for us to make a batch of kale chips, a favorite of one of our granddaughters. After that, most of our kale gets used for our annual batches of Portuguese Kale Soup.
A threat to the kale (and our broccoli and cauliflower) quickly became apparent. I found a number of small moth worms on the ground under the kale plants and signs of their feeding. I mixed some Thuricide (BT) with a bit of insecticidal soap and gave all the brassicas a good spraying. Cabbage loopers, small white cabbage worm moths, and the like seem to become somewhat resistant to BT towards the end of a growing season, so the organic insect killing soap was a bit of insurance. I may still have to go back and spray with something a good bit stronger, such as liquid Sevin.
The flowers I edge our garden with each year have matured now and are making quite a pleasant display. While many of our vegetable crops come and go with succession plantings, most of our flowers are there for the season. I try to stay up with snapping spent bloom spikes off the geraniums we use at the corners of our raised beds. That seems to stimulate them to produce more flower spikes. The marigolds above are about to crowd out a geranium and a vinca (which I rescued by pinching back the marigolds a few weeks ago). The vincas at the right in the photo above went in late after I'd harvested our garlic which was planted right up to the edges of the raised bed.
I used an electric hedge trimmer to cut our buckwheat yesterday afternoon. I made several passes over the buckwheat with the trimmer, first trimming the tops and then working my way down. I wanted to chop the rather tall buckwheat stalks as much as possible to make tilling them under a bit easier.
The height of the buckwheat was a result of my letting it stand a few extra days for bee forage and also, probably, because it was growing in good soil. Normally, our plantings of buckwheat are on poor soil, and the buckwheat doesn't get as tall as it did this time around.
I'm going to let the buckwheat "trash" sit and dry for a few days before turning it under.
A Few More Transplants
I started a few more lettuce transplants to fill in spots where we take baby lettuce, hopefully, in just a few weeks. While seeding, I also started some sage plants. The ones I had marking some of the corners of our East Garden all got mowed down this summer. As late in the season as it is, I may end up not using any of the new transplants, but it only took a couple of minutes and a bit of sterile potting soil to get them started.
We received a quarter inch of rain this afternoon. Again, that's not really what we need, but any rain at this time of year is welcome. Today's rain brings our August total to 1.75 inches.
We had a thundershower pass through yesterday afternoon that dropped 0.38 inches of very welcome rain. Over the last few days, we've seen lightning and heard thunder both north and south of us, but didn't get more than a few drops of rain. While just over a third of an inch of rain won't do all that much good, it's a start. We have a good chance for more rain tomorrow.
Encouraged by the rain, I got out after supper and transplanted lettuce until just after sundown. I put in many of our favorites, including two Defender and three Winter Density romaines, two Crispino icebergs, and two Skyphos butterheads. We'd tried the Coastal Star heat resistant romaine last year without much success, but I put in two of them, as they were the strongest transplants of the bunch. I also put in one Pandero purple romaine.
Since I'd already mulched the area for the lettuce, I just pulled back the mulch, dug a hole and watered it before squeezing soil around the transplant and returning the mulch. I was pleasantly surprised to find pretty good soil moisture under the mulch. The third plus inch of rain we received yesterday wouldn't have wet the soil much more than an inch down, so I assume the watering I'd been doing had done some good. (The lettuce area has been getting some water each day when I water our spinach and carrots.)
I finished the planting by sprinkling some Shot-Gun Repels-All Animal Repellent granules around the new transplants. We haven't had any rabbit damage so far this year, and I'd like to keep it that way.
Even though we're getting towards the end of our growing season, I'll be starting a little more lettuce later today. We may employ floating row covers and/or cold frames to extend our growing season a bit for the lettuce.
Weeds had pretty well taken over the two small flowerbeds on either side of our front steps while I was rehabbing from total hip replacement surgery. I'd heavily mulched the beds early this spring, but hadn't anticipated a mole moving through one of our front flowerbeds, closely followed by two of our dogs, furiously trying to dig up the mole. That pretty well took care of our dianthus plants on one side of our front steps. Dogs digging and laying in the flowerbed on the other side of the steps did in one hosta and several of the dianthus in that bed.
On Saturday morning, I ventured into the beds armed with my CobraHead Weeder. It made quick work of the weeds in both beds and even revealed a few small dianthus plants that had managed to survive my neglect of them. A tiny, new hosta replaced the old one. It was the better of the last two hostas left at our local discount store. Who knows? It just might make it.
I also put in more dianthus to replace the ones killed in the spring. Transplanting them now may let them get established and ready to bloom early next spring. While my start of dianthus came from a seed packet labeled as a hybrid, seed saved from the original plants seems to reproduce fairly true to variety (Carpet).
Dianthus can be biennials or true perennials. Our strain seem to be biennial in nature, although some of our plants do well into a third year before fading out. Even though we've saved seed repeatedly over the years, we still get some bi-colored blooms along with a lot of lovely red, pink, and white blooms from the plants.
After mulching the beds, I put down a layer of animal repellent. This time the repellent was to discourage our dogs from laying on the soft mulch.
I saw only one meteor early Thursday morning, but it was a bright, slow moving one. I messed up a pinched nerve in my neck/back this week, and it woke me up in the early hours Thursday, just in time to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower near its peak. Unfortunately, a rather severe stiff neck made looking up rather difficult. But I was glad to at least see one Perseid this year.
We're still caught in our annual July-August dry spell which requires watering newly direct seeded crops each morning. Fortunately, we're also experiencing some cooler mornings which make working in the garden then quite enjoyable.
I'd sorta let our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers get away from me in the last week or so. I picked them back yesterday, bringing in lots of overripe cucumbers for seed saving and many ripe JLPs that should be good for fresh use or canning as pickles. (The nice cukes are going to my wife's co-workers, as I'm not quite ready to do a batch of pickles yet.)
I heavily watered the cucumber row to get them blooming and setting fruit again. I'd like to make a big batch of bread and butter pickles from them later this month, and didn't really want to use what I picked yesterday for pickles. I also had to spray the cucumber vines again yesterday, as we're still experiencing some leaf damage from insects. Our vines appear to still be strong, so I hope to harvest a good many more cucumbers both for pickling and seed saving.
Our small planting of buckwheat is ready to be turned under as green manure. Most sources recommend turning under buckwheat grown as a green manure crop as soon as it starts blooming. But I really enjoy seeing the buckwheat in bloom and the many bees that visit the blooms. So I'm going to let the buckwheat stand for a few more days. When I went out to water our freshly emerged carrots and spinach this morning, I also enjoyed the hum of hundreds of bees visiting the buckwheat blooms.
While it's really nice to look at our bed of buckwheat in full bloom, I'm wondering what to do with this raised bed for the rest of the season. The buckwheat matured far more quickly than I'd anticipated. The bed is scheduled for early peas next year in our garden plan, so I can't use it for any crop that would extend far into the fall. I may just turn under the buckwheat and reseed the area with more buckwheat to improve the already good soil structure of the bed.
Cooking Garlic Scapes
A reader wrote to me this week about cooking garlic scapes. I'd never heard of it, but when I searched online, I found that scapes are considered to be quite a treat. Christina Chaey's aptly titled article on Bon Appétit, 10 Things to Do With Garlic Scapes, the Best Veg You're Not Cooking Yet, tells the tale.
With what appears to be our last big picking of tomatoes of the season, I decided to can tomato purée today instead of putting the tomatoes up whole. I hadn't put up purée for a couple of years, and we still had five pints of it left from that canning that had to be dumped. Of course, I got too much salt in the old purée, so that may account for it not getting used up.
We should have plenty of tomatoes for table use the rest of the summer. But our four Earlirouge tomato plants appear to have matured their last concentrated fruit set of the season.
I used our old and somewhat leaky Squeezo Strainer to separate pulp and juice from tomato skins and seeds. I heated the tomatoes before running them through the Squeezo, as that seems to produce more juice and pulp for canning. I also saved seed from five more perfect Earlirouge tomatoes, so we should have plenty of that seed to share with other gardeners.
As I write today, I'm thickening the tomato juice, hoping to get it boiled down to purée without burning it.
On Starting a New Garden
Other than watering and a few other chores, I pretty well took the weekend off from gardening. We had a wonderful family gathering on Saturday in Bloomington, Indiana, with two of our daughters, Samantha and Jennifer. We were celebrating Jen's thirty-sixth birthday.
Sam and family just moved back to Indiana from California. She is the daughter who inspired our feature story, Some Thoughts on Where to Put a Vegetable Garden. She found a spot on their heavily wooded property that receives the necessary minimum of six hours of direct sunlight a day. And she's already researched setting up a gated area for her prospective raised beds! With all the deer and rabbits around her house, a fenced and gated area for her garden should save a lot of problems with critter damage to her future crops.
Buckwheat and Bees
As our buckwheat came into bloom in one of our narrow raised beds, I'd been watching it for bee activity. I hadn't seen much until this morning, when there were quite a few honeybees visiting the blooms. Often when things are in bloom here, it's mostly bumblebees that are hunting nectar and pollen. So I was pleased to see the honeybees in volume, as bee populations are still down across the country. Interestingly, by afternoon, no bees of any kind were visible on the buckwheat.
Thinning Lettuce Transplants
One chore I'd forgotten to get done sorta came due on Sunday. I was thinking about transplanting lettuce, but realized that I had neglected to thin the fourpacks of lettuce I'd started to just one plant per cell. So instead of transplanting, I thinned the lettuce, moving some of the plants to other fourpacks. That will set back moving most of the lettuce into the garden for about another week or so, but we were early with these starts anyway. In this area, lettuce bolts pretty quickly in our normal hot, dry, August conditions.
Carrots and Spinach Up
I took the walking boards off our short carrot rows this morning and was pleased to see that the carrots were beginning to germinate. Likewise, our spinach is also coming up. As dry as things have been of late, I'm quite pleased we've been able to get each of our direct seeded fall plantings going. I've watered more than I usually do, but I also think soaking the planting furrows before seeding has helped with seed germination. I also soaked our Sugar Snap pea seed and one row of our green bean seed before planting. A second row of green beans didn't get the seed soaked, and it took several days more to germinate, but it still came up pretty well.
We did get a little, a very little rain yesterday. I was standing at the front door when it began to really pour. I walked to the back door to look out from the porch, and the rain stopped.
If you haven't read about it on the news, the Perseid Meteor Shower should peak Wednesday night and Thursday morning. It's one of the better meteor showers of the year and has the big advantage of occurring during warm weather. Looking straight up or to the northeast a bit should allow you to see some shooting stars.
Slate's Phil Plait has a good article on How to Watch This Week’s Perseid Meteor Shower.
With the return of sunny weather today, I found myself without a lot that needed doing in our garden. I watered our peas, kale, brassicas, green beans, and the rows of freshly seeded carrots and spinach. After watering, I applied Bobbex mixed with Thuricide to the peas, kale, cauliflower and broccoli. Even this late in the season, we still see the occasional small white cabbage moth that can wreak havoc on cole crops if not controlled with Thuricide (BT). The Bobbex is to discourage foraging deer and rabbits, something it does with only so-so success.
With our kitchen compost buckets almost ready to empty, I decided to finish filling them with cucumber cuttings by harvesting the seed from six Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. While one can simply dig the seed out of the cukes, rinse off the slime and let them dry before storage, we prefer to let the seed ferment in its juices to help reduce the threat of seed borne diseases. So while scraping the seed out of the cucumbers, I also get as much of the gel around the seeds as possible, as it is what ferments well.
We experienced an outbreak of bacterial rind necrosis in our melons and cucumbers several years ago. Treating the vines with fungicides helped, but we also began hot water treating our cucumber (and some melon) seed to help ward off the disease. Whether it was the fungicides, hot water treatment of the seed, or just plain dumb luck, we've not had another outbreak of the disease in the last several years. Note that hot water treatment of larger seeds such as cucumbers and melons can seriously downgrade the germination rate of the seed.
And while there wasn't a lot to do in the garden today, I did have to fill our two hummingbird feeders four times. At this writing after the tiny birds have gone to bed, the feeders are empty again and will need to be refilled with homemade nectar before morning.
Other than the lettuce transplants that are hardening off on our back porch, our main raised bed is planted and mulched for the fall season.
We have, from left to right, Sugar Snap peas, kale, a mixed row of broccoli and cauliflower, and our all season row of tomato and pepper plants. Beyond them, we have two rows of green beans, two very short rows of carrots with room for the lettuce transplants, and a long row of spinach.
At this time a year ago, we were hustling to harvest and freeze sweet corn, dig potatoes, and bring in what melons we had. While I miss having those crops, I definitely don't miss the effort in growing and bringing them in.
I am today at the twelve week mark since having total hip replacement surgery. I still walk with a cane, although I inadvertently wander off from it at times, possibly a good sign. A checkup with my orthopaedic surgeon on Tuesday confirmed that I'm doing well in my recovery and rehabilitation, although he noted that I was definitely pushing the envelope with some of my gardening activities. Bending, such as when I mulch crops, seems to be one of the most difficult things for me to do at this point.
Today wasn't one of my better days, as I had to rely on painkillers and go easy on activity. I finally realized that I'd done a lot of walking without the cane yesterday, employing some muscles that weren't used to such exertion. And the day before, I'd seeded and mulched a lot.
On balance, I think I'd rather be hurting just a bit from gardening than from working out in a gym. Gardening is a whole lot more fun than formal workouts.
I get to take at least today off from my daily watering chores, as we received a little over an inch of rainfall overnight. It was our first significant rain since July 10, so things were getting pretty dry. Everything in the garden seems to look a bit brighter and healthier after the rain.
The traffic at our hummingbird feeders and the rate of nectar consumption increased again today. It would seem that more baby birds are leaving their nests and heading straight for our feeders.
With wet conditions outside, I took time this morning to hot water treat another batch of Earlirouge tomato seed and our first batch of Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed. The Earlirouge seed had been fermenting in a plastic container for four days. The pepper seed had to be removed from a couple of ripe peppers.
After each hot water treatment was done, I started a germination test with a very small seed sample of the tomatoes and peppers. Just ten seeds of each will tell me if I have bad seed or if I got things too hot during the hot water treatment and killed the seed. If done right, hot water treatment should not significantly affect the germination rate of seed. Sadly, I got the temperature a bit high and low at times today, as I was trying to do several things at once (hot water treat seed, collect trash around the house, process pictures, etc.).
My go to articles on hot water treating seed are still the two I list in our feature story, Saving Tomato Seed:
I'm enthused with our fall garden so far. We have peas, kale, and one row of green beans up along with our transplanted broccoli and cauliflower. I seeded our fall spinach and carrots this morning. We still have a bit of open space in our main raised garden bed that is reserved for lettuce transplants, which are hardening off on the back porch.
I again used damp peat moss to cover the tiny seed I sowed this morning. The carrot rows also got covered with walking boards to help hold in moisture until the slow germinating carrots come up. As I seeded, watered, and mulched this morning, I also popped in a few flower transplants in bare spots to brighten up the border of our main raised garden bed.
For our carrots, I seeded Bolero, Laguna, Nelson, and Scarlet Nantes. I used the same bed as we'd used for our spring carrots, just flip-flopping it end to end to allow for crop rotation. The double carrot rows are only six feet long, as we've grown way too many carrots the last couple of years. For the row of spinach that is just six inches inside the northern timber of the raised bed, I seeded Melody, Regal, and America.
Some of the buckwheat seeded into a narrow raised bed on July 14 is beginning to bloom! While buckwheat is a quick cover crop, three weeks to bloom is pretty amazing. Of course, the bulk of the buckwheat won't come into bloom for another week or so. At about five to six weeks, I'll use a garden fork to turn the buckwheat under, adding lots of organic matter and nutrition to the bed.
I began bringing in Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers today that I'd purposely let get overripe for seed saving. The cukes are about double the diameter of what one would want for table use or pickling and are very yellow and soft.
The seed saving process will take several days to a week, depending on how long I let the ripe/overripe cukes sit before processing them for seed. I described that process in some detail last year in a posting. We do it much the same way as we do when saving tomato seed, including the hot water treatment, something not generally recommended for cucumber seed.
By harvesting our overripe cucumbers today, I hope to be able to harvest a nice crop of thinner, green cucumbers to make a nice batch of bread and butter pickles later this month. Leaving the overripe fruit on the vines any longer might discourage the vines from blooming and setting new cucumbers, so it was time to harvest the cucumbers for seed. Also, with rain possibly on the way tonight and/or tomorrow, that should invigorate the cucumber vines some.
I did a double take when I looked at one of our hummingbird feeders today. It had nine or ten hummingbirds around it. And...it was almost empty, and I'd just filled it a couple of hours earlier. When I checked the other feeder, it too was empty.
I wondered for just a moment about what was going on. Then I realized that the increased action and number of birds around the feeders must mean that the hummingbirds' second clutch of babies must have left the nest.
We'll be going through a lot of granulated sugar over the next few weeks feeding the hummingbirds. But sometime towards the end of the month or early next month, most of them will just disappear as they begin their fall migration. Until then, they'll be a lot of fun to watch.
I moved aside the walking boards that had been covering our kale row this morning. They'd done their job of holding in soil moisture while the kale seed germinated. Covering a dampened seeded row in dry weather with a board to hold in moisture is an old Jim Crockett trick he used when germinating carrots. I'll be employing the technique again later this week when I seed our fall carrots and spinach.
The kale in the row is a bit spotty right now, as I got way too much seed in some areas and had other areas where the seed hasn't yet germinated. But since one wants kale plants space about eight inches apart, we should be okay if the sun doesn't burn up the newly emerged kale plants.
We're still without any rain since mid-July. We got missed again last night, and the next predicted rainy period may come later this week. The leaves on our cucumber vines and our stand of buckwheat wilt some during the heat of the day each day. I'm hoping both can survive until the next rainfall, as watering our newly planted crops is about all the watering our well will support at this time of year.
Hot Water Treatment of Tomato Seed
I hot water treated a couple of batches of saved tomato seed today. Since we've had problems with anthracnose on our property in the past, we hot water treat our seed to make sure we're not spreading the disease on the seed surface. Sadly, anthracnose can blow onto ones property and can also survive from year to year in the soil.
Hot water treating tomato seed involves keeping the seed in 122° F water for 25 minutes. The only special equipment required for the process is a thermometer that is accurate in the 120-125° F range. I use an old darkroom thermometer that I've had for years.
I fully describe the process of hot water treatment of seeds and have lots of links on the subject in our feature story, Saving Tomato Seed.
I was surprised this morning to find our newly transplanted cauliflower and broccoli a bit wilted. I'd heavily watered the holes before transplanting and immediately mulched the plants. But they were still dry this morning and required a good watering. There aren't all that many plants in the row (7), as I'd planned on putting in a double row, but the space just didn't work out.
While the brassicas soaked up the needed water, I started mulching our rows of green beans that I seeded on Saturday. I had to re-string the rows so I could effectively bring the grass clipping mulch right up to the edge of each planted row. After applying the mulch, I thought I watered the bean rows pretty heavily. But when I scratched the soil a bit with my finger, the soil was wet only a half to an inch down! So I watered some more.
We really need a good rain. And, we have a 58% chance of it tonight, the best we've seen for some time.
While I was watering the bean rows, I was entertained by what I later identified as a zebra swallowtail butterfly that seed determined to get watered as well. It's just barely visible in the image below, although I got a slightly better shot of just it later on.
Too Much Red?
As I've looked out at our garden this summer, I keep wondering how I got so many red flowers planted. It's almost too much red for my liking. Of course, almost all the reds are from our geraniums that I liberally edge our raised beds with. When I seeded them in January, I started 15 Maverick Red seeds and a packet of 10 Orbit mixed seeds. The Orbits usually supply some nice pastels and whites, but this year turned out to be mostly reds! And since I usually transplant the geraniums before they've bloomed, I had no idea what colors the Orbits were going to produce. There is one pastel magenta Orbit, but it's hidden behind a tomato cage on the far side of our main raised bed where we can't see it from the house. I still have some petunias and marigold transplants on the porch that I could use to correct the color imbalance, but like all our crops, they'll need lots of water to get started at this time of year.
I'm not really complaining, just evaluating.
One red in our garden I certainly won't complain about is the abundance of deep red Earlirouge tomatoes we're enjoying.
We started growing the Earlirouge tomato variety a couple of years ago. We'd previously grown and liked the related Moira and Quinte tomato varieties developed by Jack Metcalf in the 1970s. Earlirouge was the most commercially successful variety of the series of the canning/slicing tomatoes with deep red interiors. I hunted high and low for Earlirouge seed for almost a year before discovering I had some we'd saved during our last year on the farm. The vintage 1988 seed had remained viable through 25 years of frozen storage!
We now share Earlirouge tomato seed via the Seed Savers Exchange. When I first listed the variety in the fall of 2013, I was pleased to see that the Seed Savers Exchange also had the variety in their storage vault. While it might sound cool to be the only one growing, saving, and offering seed for a vegetable variety, that also puts a lot of pressure on one to make sure nothing goes wrong.
August is often a busy month in our Senior Garden. I think we're going to get off easy this year, as we don't have crops such as sweet corn, potatoes, and melons to harvest. Without our large East Garden plot this year, seeded to a cover crop because of my hip surgery in May, we'll only be harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers for the next few weeks.
Our fall garden is pretty well planted now. One of my most important jobs will be watering new plantings of brassicas and beans until they're well established. A good rain would certainly help, but that's not something we often see during our usual late July through August dry spell. But we'll make the best of it. We have thirteen quarts of whole tomatoes canned, far below what we did when we had kids home, but certainly enough for just Annie and I through the winter. We froze lots of peas, broccoli, and cauliflower in June, so we're covered there. And our onion and garlic crops are now safely stored in our basement.
I still need to get our fall spinach and carrots seeded. Spinach is always a short term crop for us, easier to grow in the fall than in the spring. We love fresh spinach salad and spinach in various alfredo-type dishes, so it's worth the effort. Since our spring carrot crop wasn't all that great, it would be nice to put a few more carrots into storage for the winter. Our fall lettuce starts are still under the plant lights in the basement and need to go to our back porch soon to harden off before going into the garden.
When planting our kale yesterday, I used up the last of our Red Ursa kale seed. That reminded me that I needed to get started listing items on our garden orders spreadsheet that we've run out of or just want for next season. With a much smaller garden this year, we didn't exhaust much of our seed, but did finish off a packet here and there.
I also started recording some ideas that had been buzzing around in my head about crop placement or rotations for next season. With our large, main raised garden bed and two narrow raised beds, it's not too awfully difficult to make sure I don't grow the same or a similar crop in the same space two years in a row. While I keep our garden records on computer, my desk in the office is littered with scraps of paper with ideas and drawings that later end up being recorded on our garden maps and plans.
The garden maps above show how we're finishing up the 2015 growing season. I'll soon save the files to a new folder for 2016 and begin moving things around. Our experience with a smaller garden this year has me leaning towards continuing cutting back some of our plantings from what we'd done in the past. We've ended up with way too many carrots, peppers, and other stuff several years in a row before this year.
Our East Garden plan for next year should be pretty easy, as I can just use the plan for this year that we didn't get to use. I'm wondering now if I should, and if I physically can, fall till the East Garden plot or just wait until next spring to turn the alfalfa and grass mix under. Turning it soon will make for easier planting next spring, but it also will leave the soil bare and subject to wind erosion over the winter. Of course, if I turn it early enough, we're certain to get a bunch of grass and weeds germinating in it that will supply some winter cover.
The various outlying plots that we've used to isolate crops for seed production were all allowed to return to grass (and weeds) this season. Two of the three isolation plots have really lousy soil and possibly should be left to grass. But it is nice to have places to isolate seed crops well away from anything that could cross pollinate with them. I'm still trying to get a good crop of Paprika Supreme peppers for seed, but haven't had much success with that project. While we've been able to grow good peppers for drying and grinding, saved seed from them is invariably sterile or almost so. And we use a lot of ground paprika browning and seasoning chicken.
at Senior Gardening