Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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The Old Guy's Garden Record

The idea for Senior Gardening came about from frequent postings I made about our garden on another web site I maintain. The idea was to create a place where folks could share garden lore via blogs and forums. While I'm still struggling a bit with the software that will eventually make that possible on senior-gardening.com, I thought I'd at least put up a record of our 2008 garden in part from those postings, loosely edited, from the other site.

June 13, 2008 - Been Busy in the Garden

peasWe finally have had a stretch of good weather. I quickly got busy outside catching up on mowing and gardening once things dried out.

I wrote last March about a trick I tried getting my peas in early on ground that really wasn't worked up as it should have been. I bought some cheap, bagged top soil and some very expensive sphagnum peat moss as a cover. I put landscape fabric over a bit of ground for a flowerbed, but put the pea seed right onto the ground and covered it with the topsoil and peat.

While our harvest wasn't anything like what we've had in some good years with properly prepared soil and better weather, the "trick" worked and we had a nice harvest of peas this week. We also had a hot spell (like a lot of folks) that pretty well shortened the pea harvest, so I pulled the plants for the last picking, pulled back the mulch, worked in a lot of 12-12-12 and lime, and replanted Sugar Snap Peas along the same temporary trellis.

One part of the trick that didn't work was planting two different varieties of peas in the same row. I was using some year and two year old seed (that had been frozen...a great way to preserve your garden seed). One variety was a dwarf, bush type. It was far more vigorous in germination than my favorite, Eclipse, a slightly taller variety. If I'd gone just with the taller variety, I think we might have gotten a better harvest.

BTW: While planting two varieties in the same row wasn't such a hot idea, canning is a different matter. Something I've noticed over the years is that canned green beans always seem to taste better when I put up several varieties together.

Peas Bed renovation
The hot weather spelled a short harvest for our early peas. Note the yellowing on the plants towards the rear of the patch. The last picking (of about four pickings) is shown in the foreground. Slim pickings, but ah, early peas grown at home are incredible!
Garden 2008
The view out my office window of the garden, well, it can make me a lot less productive! The partial view of the patch on the right reveals that there's a lot more space to be planted. Unfortunately, the ground is still way too wet. Like many others, we had torrential rains last weekend. We're fortunate to be on high ground. Lots of folks in the Wabash Valley (and elsewhere) have had their homes ruined by flooding.

We've already harvested some fantastic cauliflower (variety Amazing) and some good broccoli. Our lettuce that I interplanted with our garlic didn't fare well with the hail. It's recovering, but some of it looks as if it had been shot with a shotgun!

June 19, 2008 - Hummingbirds

Hummingbird

We've had a stretch of 70 degree weather this week, so I've spent a lot of time in the yard and garden. While sitting on the back porch today, I was watching a couple of hummingbirds fight over the feeder. One took the time to scold me a bit for sitting there too close to "its feeder."

The shot above is one I caught late last summer as a hummingbird darted around a begonia on the porch. The begonia has moved to the front porch, but we still have lots of hummingbirds visiting our feeders. Up until last summer, I'd always used the red, commercial hummingbird liquids sold in a lot of stores. While shopping at Rural King in Terre Haute last summer, a nice couple was telling me about their recipe for hummingbird nectar. The just mix water and sugar in a 4:1 ratio, which eliminates the red dyes used in the commercial stuff. It's also a lot cheaper.

One thing to remember, though, is to keep the mix fresh. This week when I took down one feeder for a refill, I realized the nectar had started to ferment! Our hummingbirds weren't flying around in a drunken haze, so I think it had just gone over, but I realized the commercial nectar probably has some kind of preservative in it to prevent fermentation.

June 25, 2008 - Nice Days

BroccoliBroccoli headWe're just winding up a really great stretch of rather cool, dry weather here in west central Indiana. We've had the air conditioning off and the windows open for about a week, and both Annie and I have really enjoyed it. Alas, today, it's already 80 degrees at noon and headed for the nineties, so the AC will have to come back on.

Our garden is a bit dry, but productive. We've had lots of great cauliflower, lettuce, and some broccoli. The main broccoli harvest is just coming on with soccer ball sized heads. We cut the main heads, fertilize the plants heavily with compost, when available, and 12-12-12 when the compost is short, and cut side shoots for several weeks before pulling the plants.

It appears the plants above are about ready to be sprayed again with Thuricide. It's a biological control for cabbage looper moths and worms on all brassicas (and helps with bag worms on evergreens as well). We use the Thuricide spray early in the season, but usually have to switch to Dipel wettable powder later on to control the pests, especially on our kale. Dipel has the same active biological as Thuricide. We just sprinkle the dry dust on the plants in the morning when the dew is still on the leaves. (And yes, sometimes we have to step back from our mostly organic approach to gardening and use something like Sevin to clean things up, although we usually try a rotenon-pyretherin combo first.)

Sunset

We've also had some beautiful sunsets with clouds from afternoon thunderstorms (that have missed us both north and south).

June 27, 2008 - A Bit About Intensive Gardening

Even when I had a "small" 40 acre farm, I used intensive gardening practices for some of our vegetables. I was introduced to the practice via the old WGBH/PBS TV series, Crockett's Victory Garden. The late James Underwood Crockett demonstrated how it was actually easier in some instances to grow vegetables in a tight planting regimen as opposed to the traditional long, single row.

Intensive plotCrockett recommended raised beds about three feet wide so that one could reach any area of the intensive plot without stepping into the bed. Our situation currently doesn't fit that model, but we use another Crockett recommendation, planting boards, to access the intensive bed in wet weather. I keep one or two treated boards handy to lay between the narrowly spaced vegetables to walk on when I access the bed from the non-raised side.

PeppersIn the photo at right (from right to left), we have double rows sweet white onions, baby carrots, beets, and then a single row of storage onions. We leave about 4-5 inches between the double rowed vegetables with 8-12 inches separating the rows.

We manage to keep our weeding down quite a bit in both the intensive plot(s) and the regular garden by using grass clippings from the yard to mulch in the crops. I generally let the clipping lie and dry a day before gathering them with the lawn sweeper and applying them around the veggies. (Tip to smokers: Don't smoke in the garden with dry grass clippings applied!)

And yes, it takes a lot of grass clippings to mulch a big garden. We own just over an acre, but mow around three acres, as we take care of the barn and pond lots next door for the owner. That makes for a lot of clippings. Do be aware that you can bring in all kinds of nasty weed seeds in your grass clippings. Also, if you use any herbicide lawn treatments on your yard to kill weeds, the clippings may contain some residue of the herbicides that could adversely affect your vegetables.

Even on our current property, we don't have to intensive garden, as we have lots of space available. I just find it easier to do so with things like carrots, beets, onions, and lettuce. Some crops, such as the potato trenches shown below, don't favor intensive culture.

Garden layout

Fallow fieldWe also received permission this year to use part of a field next door the farmer chose to leave fallow. By the time things dried out enough to work the ground, it was way too late to plant sweet corn, which was my original plan. So for now, there's just one lonely bunch of watermelon transplants in the area. I'll probably fill out the row with whatever vine crop transplants I can find at the garden store that might still mature before fall (cantaloupe, squash, ??).

You can easily find lots more information on intensive gardening online via a Google search. Some good ones include:

May, 2008

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