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July 24, 2014

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.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - Onions

Today was my day to get our onions out of the garden and onto a makeshift curing table in our garage. I actually started the day by clearing out the last of our green bean plants, but that was just to satisfy my compulsion to have a somewhat tidy garden. Then, I began moving our onions that had been pulled and curing in the sun to a dry, dark area in our garage to continue the curing process.

Onions drying

Onions curing in garageI really like to let onions sun cure on the ground for a day or two before moving them into a dark area for final curing. But with a fair possibly of rain tomorrow, I went ahead and uprooted the last of the onion varieties still in the ground this morning and moved them to the dark curing area this afternoon.

I've been evaluating nine new-to-us varieties of onions this year, comparing them with the four varieties we've grown for years. I've learned a bit about the characteristics of the new varieties, but mostly found today that I grew an awful lot of onions!

All of the onions, except a few Walla Wallas and some culls that will go to work with my wife tomorrow for distribution, went onto a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood sitting on some old furniture for their final curing. While I have a fan moving air in the garage, I'll need to spread the onions out a bit more tomorrow to facilitate their drying.

Encore peas ready to pickThe onions will remain on the curing "table" for about ten days. Sometime during that process, I'll trim the tops of the onions to 1-3" above the bulb. Once the onions are somewhat dried, I'll bag the best of them for storage and evaluation (about 10 onions of each variety). The rest will go to family, neighbors, and food banks.

Peas

I'm sorta blown away that we were able to shell out about three pints of very sweet peas this evening that I'd picked this afternoon. I'd planted some Encore peas along with some Eclipse peas late this spring, thinking I'd use them for a seed crop. But the Encore peas came in with a heavy, for peas, crop this week. So Annie and I shelled peas as we watched the evening news tonight. I ended up freezing three pints of peas, which is a nice return for what we'd seeded. Note that I view peas as a gourmet crop, something I grow for the taste and not for saving money over buying them at the grocery.

 

Friday, July 18, 2014 - Starting Kale

Red Ursa KaleKaleOne can grow kale pretty much anytime during the growing season. Because space in our garden is at a premium in the spring, I usually choose to start our kale as a succession crop mid-summer. Kale planted in July should be ready to pick in September and continue producing right past our first early frosts in October and into November. A light frost is said to improve the taste of kale a bit.

I also like to time our kale picking to come after we've harvested onions, garlic, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and this year for the first time, kidney beans, all important ingredients in our annual batches of Portuguese Kale Soup. While I'd enjoy an occasional pot of kale boiled with a bit of bacon drippings earlier in the season, kale takes a good bit of space as the plants get tall and wide as they mature. By mid-summer, lots of space has opened up in our main garden as other crops are harvested.

Having direct seeded our kale last year on July 21, I thought it high time today to get this season's kale seeded. Had I been able to, I would have seeded it a week or so ago.

I'd originally planned to put our kale in our main raised bed, but decided over the last two weeks to cheat a bit and seed the kale in our new, narrow raised bed. The "cheating" part comes from planting kale, part of the brassica family, immediately after cauliflower and broccoli, also brassicas, grew in the same bed. But the kale will run down the middle of the bed, where the cauliflower and broccoli were planted towards the sides of the bed.

The planting was pretty easy. I pulled back the grass clipping mulch that I'd spread over the bed after pulling the cauliflower and broccoli plants and worked in a healthy dose of 12-12-12 fertilizer and a touch of lime with my hoe. After raking the area smooth, I used a piece of one inch lumber to make a shallow furrow down the center of the bed.

Mulch pulled back Working in fertilizer and lime Making planting row with 1" board Mulch returned beside planted row

I seeded most of the row to (Scotch) Vates Blue Curled kale, leaving only a couple of feet of Lacinatoicon and Red Ursa at the far end of the row. The latter two varieties are new ones I tried last year for the first time. Even though I really hate thinning new seedings, I seeded the row fairly heavily, as all my seed was a year old and our weather may be moving into a dry spell. When I closed the row, I did so by simply pinching soil back over the seeded row and gently firming the soil surface with the pat of an open hand.

When done planting, I returned the mulch within an inch or so of the newly planted row. I also replaced a petunia on the near center of the bed that got uprooted while I worked. The petunia was gorgeous, but sorta clashed with the Maverick Red geraniums on either side of it. I replaced the old pink petunia with a blue flowering one I still had in a pot on the back porch.

Burpee Gardening

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - Garlic

Garlic bloomI'd planned to dig garlic this week, but had noticed that several of our elephant garlic were blooming. According to the Boundary Garlic Farm, garlic blooms actually produce bulbils which can be regrown to eventually produce full sized garlic bulbs in a couple years. Since our stock of elephant garlic has seemed to lose vigor over the years, and with purchased garlic bulbs going for around $30/lb., I decided to let the elephant garlic bloom this year.

Digging garlicOur garlic has been a disappointment this year. We got a poor stand for all the standard and elephant garlic we planted. Our dogs dug up a good bit of our German and elephant garlic before the plants ever emerged this spring. I also hadn't mulched the bed last fall, possibly contributing to winter kill. But whatever the reasons, only a little over half of our garlic came up this spring.

Once I realized we had a very poor stand of garlic, I went back and poked in a few more garlic cloves to fill in the bare spots in the raised bed. I also used one bare section for our celery, which I hilled again today. The mix of mature fall garlic interplanted with immature spring planted garlic made for some interesting digging. In the end, I dug all of our standard garlic, but transplanted a few tender spring shoots into some remaining bare spots in the elephant garlic row.

Digging garlic is just a matter of getting deep enough with a garden fork to lift the garlic and surrounding soil so one can easily remove the garlic without breaking the leaves off from the garlic bulb. I hose off our garlic to remove mud stuck to it and its roots before letting it dry in the sun for a few hours. The washing can invite rot, but I like to get our garlic clean before curing it. The garlic will go onto a makeshift table in our garage to cure for a couple of weeks. Then it goes into old potato mesh bags for storage in our basement.

Garlic harvestNote that I always keep a bit of fresh, uncured garlic in the refrigerator for as long as possible. Cooking with fresh garlic seems to improve the flavor of many dishes. I may again make garlic powder from a few shattered and/or damaged bulbs. I did so last year for the first time.

Having now grumped about all of our problems with our garlic, we actually harvested more than enough for us to use for the next year. We probably didn't get enough, though, for cooking use and planting this fall, so I may need to order garlic once again.

Carrots

Our carrot harvest yesterday produced sixteen pounds of cleaned carrots that I stored in our refrigerator. We'll need to share some of that bounty, as it's far more than we can use, and we may have a fall crop of carrots. Rather than cut out bad spots, slice, blanch, and freeze the cull carrots from yesterday, I just sent them to work with Annie for her coworkers. Annie related that one coworker was having fun "walking" the splits of the carrots across a table. The long Sugarsnax carrots produced "legs" or splits that were often 6-8" long. A split, or division of the carrot root into two or more parts, often occurs when the carrot root hits a rock or pebble in its downward growth.

Still Catching Up

The Senior Garden - July 16, 2014I mowed our lawn this afternoon, something I hadn't done for almost three weeks. I'd gotten behind on mowing, and then couldn't mow when my shoulder acted up last week. So it was slow going today, taking four hours just to mow. It usually takes about three hours to mow and rake our lawn (not including the field next to us that we also mow). Even though there were heavy piles of grass clippings on the lawn, I skipped the raking, as emptying the lawn sweeper is something that can easily set off my shoulder again. Once the heavy clippings dry in the sun a bit, I should be able to gather them with our lawn sweeper without hurting myself.

A Product That Works?

AmazonI finally found a deer repellent spray last year that actually worked on our sweet corn. But when I tried to reorder some Not Tonight Deer, I found that the manufacturer had gone out of business. After a bit of searching and reading reviews, I decided to try Bobbex deer repellent this year. I've applied it twice to our sweet corn so far.

I noticed today that we have had some minor damage in our sweet corn, apparently from browsing deer. But the damage was confined to a few plants on the ends and outside rows of our sweet corn, and most of what had been damaged hadn't been eaten. Deer usually like the tassels and the ears of corn, but I found that what had been knocked over wasn't consumed. I guess our Bobbex treated corn left a bad taste in their mouths. Here's hoping!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - Carrots

Digging carrotsCarrots out, onions bulbingStill easing myself back into physical work after my shoulder episode, I really had to make myself quit at noon today. We have a wonderfully cool day with partly cloudy skies and a nice breeze, perfect for outdoor work.

I got out fairly early this morning and dug our carrots. While there were lots of other jobs that needed doing after a week or so of neglect, the carrots were shading our now mostly toppled over onions that need to dry down. Also, I was at least a week late, if not two, in digging the carrots, making them rather large and also inviting rot to set in.

Digging our normal varieties went fairly well, although I had to dig more with the garden fork than usual. When conditions are just right, all one has to do is loosen the soil with the fork beside the row before gently pulling the carrots. Because of the size of the carrots, I was having to actually dig deep to loosen the soil enough that the carrots wouldn't snap off when pulled.

When I worked my way towards the last third of the carrot rows, I realized that I was in for some real work. Since I'd run short of some of my favorite carrot seed, I'd finished the double row of carrots with a new, long variety, Sugarsnax. These carrots were extremely long. Growing in our best garden soil, most of them were a foot long, with one carrot going about 15" deep!

Sugarsnax carrots and ruler

Washing carrotsWith my leg and shoulder both letting me know they didn't appreciate my return to gardening, I somewhat foolishly took one of the painkillers the doctor prescribed for my shoulder separation. When my feet hit the ground again, I'll need to get with cleaning, sorting, and storing the carrots. I'm not really sure how well the Sugarsnax will store in Debbie Meyer Green Bags in our refrigerator, simply due to their length. They're too long for the bags and will have to sit diagonally to fit in the vegetable drawers of our refrigerator. But most of our long term storage carrots should come from our fall crop...if all goes well. Even with harvesting late, we got a great crop of carrots this time around.

Desktop Photos

After years of neglect, I used my recent downtime from gardening to redo our Desktop Photos page on mathdittos2.com. We'd had 200 x 150 pixel sample shots there for over ten years. With my eyes not getting any better as the years pass, I updated the sample images to 400 x 267 pixels. Of course, once you get into opening images, there are corrections and improvements to be made, and even a few new shots to add to what is now two pages of free desktops (or wallpapers), plus another page of castoffs. I even added a new image size to the download options, as 1366 x 768 pixels became the most popular desktop screen size a couple of years ago.

Hostmonster.com

Saturday, July 12, 2014 - Lots of Rain

The Senior Garden - July 12, 2014Starting lettuceWe awoke this morning to gentle thundershowers outside which produced six-tenths of an inch of precipitation by noon. We're into some unusual weather patterns for this time of year that may yield cool temperatures and a bit more rain next week. Since July through August is often the hottest and driest part of summer here, we're thankful for every bit of rain we can get right now.

With rain outside and a sore, but no longer stiff shoulder, I limited my morning gardening to getting some fall lettuce started. I seeded two fourpacks with a different lettuce variety in each cell. I seeded some head, soft head, and romaine varieties I like into sterile potting soil. The half flat went outside to germinate, as we previously had great success germinating our fall brassicas in a shady spot on our back porch.

The lettuce seed, which I'd walked to the garage in the rain to retrieve from our big freezer, went into our refrigerator's freezer for the time being. I'll need to seed more lettuce in a week or so, and possibly a bit after that to give us a continual fall harvest.

Transplanting gloxinias on back porchOnions tipped overBy noon, the rain had stopped, but we still had a heavy cloud cover. Since I had a bunch of seedling gloxinias in the sunroom that needed to be moved to larger pots, I worked off the back porch without bothering with any sun protective clothing. I transplanted the last of the open pollinated gloxinias we'd seeded in February into four and four and a half inch pots. I also moved some Cranberry Tiger seedlings started in May from their germination pot to fourpacks. One flat of potted gloxinias went under our plant lights in the basement. The other went back to the sunroom. I'm still not sure I got whatever zapped our gloxinias last year in our plant room, so I'm splitting off a few of our plants in the sunroom as insurance.

All of the pots and trays I'm now using for our gloxinias have been through a bleach rinse at least once. I keep a five gallon bucket of bleach water beside the back porch for that purpose, always covered with a lid so the dogs don't drink from it.

The potting mix I used was Baccto Lite cut with peat moss, a touch of ground limestone, and a liberal sprinkling of systemic insecticide.

After the rain, I noticed that about half of our onion plants had tipped over. A heavy rain can push them over prematurely, but these onions were ready to tip over anyway, as they're nearly mature. I'll let them bulb for several more days, up to a week or so, before pulling and beginning to cure them for storage.

Our Red Creole onions were another matter. They're a much shorter season onion (85 day) than the rest (104-125 day) and had been tipped over for nearly two weeks. It was time this evening to get them out of the ground or possibly face them beginning to rot or mold.

Red Creole onions drying on back porch

Red Creole onionsRed Creole onion interiorAlthough the plant description for the variety said they were a large, flattened onion, ours were small and pretty round. It made me double check my row listings to make sure I hadn't gotten varieties mixed up. But even with the relatively small size, the onions have a good flavor, as I'd stolen a few from the row already for cooking.

Our small Red Creole planting is part of a larger test of mostly open pollinated onion varieties to possibly replace some of the hybrids we currently depend on. Our two favorite storage onion varieties, Pulsar and Milestone, are now down to a single source on one and just two sources on the other. Both are hybrids and are likely to be replaced at some point with something "new and improved." Likewise, our favorite red onion, Red Zeppelin, is also a hybrid and could disappear from seed catalogs at any time. So we're planning ahead this year and testing nine new-to-us onion varieties, seven of which are open pollinated.

If the Red Creoles store well, they could become part of our regular onion planting, despite the small size of the onions we got this year. They grew well and have good flavor. Of course, all of our onions have done well this year, making it a bit difficult at this point to pick one variety over another. But it's nice to get a good return on our efforts.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Morning shade on East GardenSweet corn patchAfter feeding the cats, dogs, and hummingbirds this morning and watering all the plants on our back porch, I began to get a little stir crazy. While I'm supposed to be nursing a fairly nasty shoulder problem, I thought, "I can at least cut some broccoli."

I'd noticed some rather large broccoli sideshoots in our row of brassicas in the East Garden yesterday. So I grabbed a sharp knife, a bowl, and even took our garden cart to the East Garden to check the late broccoli for sweetness and cut it if good.

When I got to the East Garden, the brassica row was still in the morning shade produced by the woods to the east of the plot. I spent a few minutes surveying our sweet corn, checking it as best I could from outside the patch for corn smut. Not seeing any smut, I moved on to the broccoli which was by then in the sun. (The sweet corn was too wet from dew to walk the rows.)

Broccoli pickedCleaned broccoliMy trip to the garden was rewarded with lots of fairly large broccoli sideshoots and even one slightly overripe main head on a plant I thought the rabbits and deer had killed. This isn't the quality of broccoli one might freeze, but having been off of fresh broccoli for a week or so, it will go well steamed or even fresh. (I did sample one tiny floret and found it not bitter or hot.)

When washing and trimming this cutting of broccoli, I did remove five or six green cabbage worms. That's not unusual for broccoli picked this late in the season. Despite regular applications of Thuricide (BT), I've noticed lots of small white cabbage moths fluttering around our garden plots. The moths and cabbage loopers seem to build up through the middle of the summer unless one resorts to stronger, chemical based controls. I'd rather just pick off a few worms.

While I was out picking this morning, I was working with my old point-and-shoot Nikon, as my Canon digital SLR is still to heavy for me to easily lift to eye level. The Nikon tends to produce darker and more heavily saturated images.

Pumpkin hillButternut hillI did take a couple of minutes to snap shots of our hill of pumpkins (left) and our hill of butternut squash (right). Since they were both fully in the shade, it didn't matter much which camera I had to record them, as it was just a matter of proper metering.

The butternuts have outgrown their ring of mulch, as I should and would have mowed last Sunday or Monday, if possible. The squash vines can compete a bit with grass growing under them, but it's not the best growing environment for them. When I can mow and rake again, I'll try lifting vines and throwing mulch under them. I may even resort to ringing the planting with Roundup.

It was really nice to get back into the garden this morning, even if only in a small way. When my wife called later, she exclaimed, "You cut the broccoli left handed, didn't you?" I rather jauntily told her I'd done it with my bad arm, but also paid for the deed in pain later in the day. But the good news is that I'm totally off the heavy duty pain killers now, relying on aspirin and ibuprofen, which has to be a good sign that my shoulder is healing.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Senior Garden - July 10, 2014We have another beautiful July day today. Blue skies, minimal winds, and moderate temperatures should produce some excellent gardening weather.

Sadly, I'm on the sidelines of gardening for a while. I'm not sure what I did to cause it, but my right shoulder simply quit working on Sunday. A trip to the doctor on Monday produced some really scary initial possibilities that might have me out of action six months or more. A later reading of the x-rays now suggests calcific bursitis and a separated shoulder. Either of those will also take some time to heal, but are a much brighter prognosis than the original suggestions of a torn rotor cuff and/or frozen shoulder. When I see the orthopedic specialist, I should know more.

Today is the first day since Sunday that I can sit at the computer and type without a lot of pain. (I'm still mousing and brushing my teeth left handed, as I can't raise my arm above my chest.) But I've seen improvement each day. The novelty of being a bit buzzed on painkillers wore off after just a day!

My wife, Annie, is doing what she can to help keep up in the garden, but for the most part, stuff will just have to wait.

New hummingbird feederI hung a new hummingbird feeder last evening with my good arm. It was a gift from one of our daughters and is a good bit more attractive than our other feeders. The hummingbirds seem to like it. It has the advantages of holding a bit more nectar and being easier to clean than our other feeders.

Dilbert mousepadIn other non-gardening news, since there is no gardening news here today, I made my gracefully aging 2010 Mac Mini computer a good bit more responsive last week. And I did it without any hardware or software upgrades.

I'd been using the same mousepad for years, simply because I liked it. The mousepad was on my desk at school and later at a college I worked at, and carried a funny and often all-too-true message. But it was also absolutely black from coffee spills and such.

Finding a replacement Dilbert mousepad took a bit of work, as they're apparently no longer in production. I found a new one on eBay, so Dilbert once again is visible on my computer desk with his funny message about the Pointy Haired Boss's (original comic strip) computer literacy.

Instead of throwing the old, nasty mousepad away, I soaked it in Dawn detergent for a couple of days. Most of the mess washed out, so it moved to my computer workshop area of our sunroom.

The switch to a clean mousepad made my computer seem much more responsive. Apparently, the old, dirty mousepad was preventing my optical mouse from functioning very efficiently.

I'll be back when I have some useful gardening info to share.

Friday, July 4, 2014 - Independence Day (U.S.)

The Senior Garden - July 4, 2014Gloxinia bloomWe had some fabulous weather today to begin the holiday weekend. The temperature topped out at around 79o F, with the rest of the weekend supposed to be only slightly warmer.

A nice surprise this morning was that one of our new gloxinia plants seeded in late February put up a single bloom with white petals and a purple throat. We lost almost all of our mature gloxinias last year to an apparent INSV virus infection. I had to destroy all of our plants under our plant lights, only allowing a few dormant plants that were stored away from the infected plants to resume growth (outside and segregated from our new gloxinias).

A second picking of our green beans produced about a gallon of frozen beans. When it appears that we have less than four quarts or so of beans, I hate to get the canner out. Freezing small batches is a lot easier. It involves cleaning, snapping, blanching and quick cooling the beans before letting them dry on clean kitchen hand towels. Then the beans get spread on cookie sheets to go into the freezer. When the beans have frozen hard enough to snap easily, they go into a ziplock freezer bag. The process is possibly easier to do than describing it.

Green beans drying before freezing

Katherine, carrots, and yellow squashKat and carrotsWhile I've purposely been taking it easy for several days, granddaughter Katherine felt sure we needed to pick squash today. As it turned out, she was right!

After bringing in quite a few, almost too large yellow squash, she wanted to pull carrots. I suggested we use a garden fork to first loosen the soil in the middle of the row where I've been digging a few carrots already. Then the pulling went easy. We didn't take all that many carrots, just enough to satisfy her desire to pull carrots. The rest will come out next week when I have time to dig, clean, and sort them all for storage, a job that can take a day or two.

Katherine spent a good bit of the afternoon munching on fresh carrots. You sure can't complain about a kid's eating habits when they tend towards healthy stuff.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Senior Garden - July 1, 2014July is always an exciting month in the Senior Garden. With any luck, we'll be picking green beans, digging garlic and carrots, and pulling lots of onions. July is also a time of anticipation, as our full season tomatoes and bell peppers won't begin to ripen fruit until late in the month. Our sweet corn and melons won't be ready until August. But our grape tomatoes should begin ripening in a week or so, giving us a hint of summer tomatoes in the near future.

We'll also continue to prepare for our fall garden. Harvested areas of the garden will need to be renovated with a healthy dose of peat moss and/or compost. Our fall broccoli and cauliflower have already germinated in flats on the back porch. We'll start seeding lettuce about mid-month in fourpacks at two week intervals and continue into August, as we plan to use our new cold frames over the lettuce to extend the growing season as long as possible. We'll also be seeding a fall crop of Sugar Snap peas, something I didn't get started this spring. Even though it appears we'll be harvesting a good crop of spring seeded carrots, I'll be direct seeding carrots late this month. After last year's disaster with spring carrots (flooding and puppy damage), I grew our first crop of fall carrots last year...and had fabulous results. One can never have too many carrots, even if you have to send the surplus to the food bank.

Amazon - Debbie Meyer Large Green BagsBTW: I should mention here that while I'm already stealing fresh carrots from the ends of our carrot rows, we still have a few good, albeit a bit hairy, carrots stored in the refrigerator from last fall's harvest. They'll probably end up in the compost pile.

While Debbie Meyer Green Bags get some justifiably tough reviews for their over-the-top claims of superior storage, we've found that they really do work for storing carrots for up to about ten months in the refrigerator. I got lucky when a big city grocery bought out our local grocery and closed out the green bags for 50ยข a box. I cleared the shelf of them!

Crockett's Victory GardenAs is my customary practice, I re-read the July entry in Crockett's Victory Garden to refresh my memory of what needs doing this month and to possibly pick up a new trick or two. Crockett emphasized the importance of feeding asparagus this month, suggested cutting gangly petunias back to about two to three inches tall (and fertilizing them), and reminded me of the glories of growing dill. Sadly, our dill plants are still in pots on the back porch!

Like me, Crockett liked to start his kale in July, allowing it to become even more flavorful when frosted a bit in October and November. But direct seeding crops into our garden in July is always an iffy proposition due to dry soil conditions and our deep well running dry (briefly, thank goodness) when pushed too hard.

One of his suggestions that I can't follow is to plant a late crop of green beans in July, noting that "bush beans seem to be at their most tender late in the season." We grow our green beans late every other year, this year being an early bean crop year. The reason we don't grow late beans in alternate years is that we have soybeans planted in the fields around our garden plots every other year. Bugs from the soybeans quickly migrate to tender, young bean plants late in the season, requiring all manner of deadly sprays to control. While our beans aren't organic, as we used some treated seed and commercial fertilizer, we haven't had to spray our green beans as yet for insect control. When I picked beans on Saturday, I did see some squash bugs and spotted cucumber beetles in the beans. If I have to spray, I think we can get by using insecticidal soap and/or pyrethrin to fight off the bad guys for now.

Previously on Senior Gardening

 
 

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