Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

The Senior Garden - 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - Melons

I'd written last month about cantaloupe going to "half slip" at the stem as a sign of ripeness. As I noted then, it's better for home gardeners to wait a day or so after half slip and harvest the melon when it drops off the vine by itself.

Damaged melonI'd promised myself to get a good picture of a melon stem at half slip to share here, but ran into some problems along the way. Our East Garden is in a fallow field east of our house. Further east is a wooded area that is part of a nature reserve, and a bit further is a creek. Apparently, the raccoons like cantaloupe as well as we do. We've lost several melons just before they went to half slip, and even had a ten pound immature watermelon dragged into the field from our melon patch!

Melon at half slipBut I finally did get a good shot of half slip. The cantaloupe at left is a Roadside Hybrid, and you can easily see the crack around where the stem connects to the melon. That's half slip.

At this stage, the melon will easily separate from the vine with just a little tug on the stem. If you do pick at half slip (possibly to beat the critters to your fruit), it's a good idea to wait a day or so to cut the melon.

Bountiful Harvest

HarvestAugust is always a month of plenty, as our hard work pays dividends of abundant harvests from our garden patches.

We have more cantaloupe right now than we can eat. Our yellow squash have slowed production, but still put on a couple of squash every day or every other day.

Our caged tomatoes, despite being dumped over on their side by storms on two separate occasions, are beginning to produce some beautiful fruit. Our first tomatoes are always a bit iffy, but as a bit of time passes, it seems the fruit quality improves.

Renovation and Succession

I picked a few sideshoots from our broccoli over the weekend and reluctantly pulled the plants and composted them. Our fall broccoli transplants are just about ready to go into the ground, so it was time to clear the old plants out.

Renovated garden section

Our fall broccoli will go in the open area shown above. It previously contained garlic and our last row of spring broccoli. The area where the garlic grew had been renovated a week or so ago, and this week I added peat moss, lime, and a heavy dose of 12-12-12 fertilizer to the old broccoli row. I used a garden fork to roughly turn the soil to a depth of around 12" before rototilling the area and raking it smooth.

Waiting for renovationI finished up harvesting our first rows of onions, bagging the dried Red Zeppelin variety and pulling the last of our Walla Walla sweet onions. While the Red Zeppelins will go to the basement for storage, the Walla Wallas will be used quickly. Those that aren't quickly used will be chopped and frozen for use later, as the variety, like most sweet onions, doesn't store well.

When a bit more space opens up as I harvest from our other two double rows of onions and dig the last of our carrots, the area will be renovated and be filled with fall lettuce and spinach.

The double row of peppers, shown at the center of the large photo above, is the only area of our raised bed garden that will grow just one crop during the year. All of the other areas get renovated and replanted. Of course, some of our other garden plots contain single crop areas, such as our tomatoes and all of the melons, squash, potatoes, and sweet corn in our large East Garden.

Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing & Recipe MixGrilled VeggiesMy wife, Annie, has been making some incredible vegetable dishes from our garden harvest. Her latest effort was grilled vegetables using the Italian Good Seasons Salad Dressing & Recipe Mix.

Gloxinias

Plant rackMoving indoors, our gloxinias under our basement plant lights have been sorely neglected. Occasionally, I'd transplant a seedling or two, but last week got serious about moving a bunch of them into larger pots. I also did a good bit of trimming of old, spent leaves and blooms.

We still have tiny seedlings in their original seeding pots waiting for better surroundings. As time permits, I'll move them first into fourpacks and later into four inch square or six inch round pots.

The plants shown below are from a seeding about this time a year ago. The first of them began to come into bloom at around six months, with a steady succession of new bloomers as I transplanted more and more and even did another seeding last winter.

Gloxinias

I still need to take some leaf cuttings from the best of the plants to illustrate the technique for our Gloxinias feature. I'm also hand pollinating blooms for seed production, but often find the blooms not freely shedding pollen when I think about doing it. While reproducing plants via leaf cuttings insures one will get a known bloom type, I enjoy the pleasant surprises produced from a seed mix.

Happy Birthday, Senior Gardening

Happy BirthdaySenior Gardening is now a year old! I secured the web space and domain name for the site around July 1, 2008, but really didn't get any new content up until August, 2008. Our blog index sorta makes it appear that the site started earlier, but I backtracked a bit by using garden related postings I'd made on my other website, mathdittos2.com and Educators' News.

This site really hasn't turned out to be what I'd originally envisioned for it. We're seriously lacking in senior content, and I'd hoped to provide blog space and/or forums for readers. A number of issues got in the way of those plans, and I found that others were doing some of these things already for all gardeners, not just seniors, possibly better than I could do.

But we've paid the "rent" on our domain name and web space for another year, so with continued good health, Senior Gardening will continue.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tilled sectionI went out to our main garden yesterday intending to put in our fall broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. I had a pretty good bed worked up, as I'd tilled in peat moss, lime, and fertilizer into the area during the last week and had raked it smooth. I decided to do one last soil check with my pH tester before getting started and found that most of the area was testing right at 6.5, with one reading of 5.5 at the very edge of the plot!

pH meterBroccoli and other brassicas like a neutral soil pH, with 7.0 being ideal, and a range of 6.5-7.5 being acceptable. With most of my readings at 6.5 and one at 5.5, I decided to wait a day for the soil to dry out enough for tilling in some more lime before transplanting.

My soil pH meter has been around a long time and shows some wear and tear. It still gives reliable readings in damp soil when compared to chemical soil test kits and is certainly easier and cheaper to use. I was pleasantly surprised to see that about the same model is still available for around $20 from a number of garden outlets online.

Limed and tilled

Merom Station
Marathon Refinery

I put a pretty heavy layer of ground dolomitic limestone on the garden section today and tilled it in, but am going to wait until at least this evening to transplant. We have a heat advisory today, and I'd like to transplant the tender brassicas either in the cool of early evening or in the morning.

For some gardeners, my thing for liming probably seems pretty foreign. Jim Crockett wrote in Crockett's Victory Garden, "As a rule of thumb, land east of the Mississippi is acid and land west of the Mississippi is alkaline." Our situation is a bit unique, as we are definitely east of the Mississippi, but also have a couple of "neighbors" who probably contribute to our soil turning acid at a rate far higher than most gardeners would experience. So keeping our soil in a good pH range (6.5-7.0) requires regular liming.

Basil

Sweet BasilBasil bloomSince I wasn't transplanting brassicas, I had plenty of time to attend to our basil plants that line our row of caged tomatoes. I've only taken leaves from the plants one time (when I was cooking spaghetti sauce), so they have lots of leaves and blooms. Keeping the blooms pinched off is a continual task, but it also stops them from setting seed and dying.

If you're thinking of starting an herb garden or just a few herbs, I heartily recommend growing basil. It's very easy to grow, and other than keeping the blooms pinched back, doesn't take a lot of care after transplanting. I actually took the scissors to our plants yesterday, as the blooming was really getting out of hand. And being out among the basil, tomato, and marigold plants was a joy to the senses. The scent of the basil as I trimmed made the task an olfactory delight.

And to the question of relative strength of fresh and dried herbs, most web sites suggest using 1/3 as much fresh herb in recipes calling for a dried herb. A Pinch Of notes that "Essential oils are more concentrated in dried herbs so you use less. If you want to substitute dried herbs in a recipe that calls for fresh, the conversion is simple. Reduce tablespoons to teaspoons; two Tablespoons of fresh oregano equals two teaspoons dried." And of course, some recipes just require fresh herbs (pesto).

Peppers

Red Ace PepperOur sweet bell peppers are now coming on strong. Of course, it's August, and they ought to be producing by now.

MaxicropFor years, we couldn't grow peppers on our ground. They'd get a good start, set blooms and small fruit, and then die.

I'm not sure what has changed, other than maybe the soil is a bit better now with all the amendments we've poured into it. Maybe there was a trace element missing in the soil that we put in by dumb luck. In the past, I used to use a seaweed product to add trace elements to our soil. Maybe I should have tried that. But we now enjoy an excellent pepper crop each year.

When we get overrun with peppers, we pick, wash, core, and slice them into strips. Then we spread them on a greased (spray grease, usually olive oil) cookie sheet and freeze them. When they're thoroughly frozen, we put them in ziplock freezer bag for winter use.

Watermelon

Crimson SweetWe're finally enjoying our first watermelon of the season. I'd wasted several good melons by picking them before they were really ripe. As I've written before, my "thunking" skills aren't all that good for determining the ripeness of watermelon.

We lost almost all of my favorite watermelon variety, Kleckley Sweets, as the raccoons drag them off well before they ripen! But the Crimson Sweet shown at right, complete with scratch marks from the raccoons, was too tough and heavy for the critters to carry or roll off. We cut up about a quarter of it for our refrigerator, ate another quarter while watching our grandchildren swim, and sent the rest home with their mother.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fall broccoliI transplanted our fall broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower on Monday morning. I also put in a couple of ornamental kale plants just for the fun of it. I took a shot of them yesterday and thought at how tiny and fragile the plants looked. At this point in the gardening season, you get used to looking at mature plants and forget how small some of them were when you put them in the ground.

I spaced this planting considerably closer than our spring plantings of brassicas. I usually give our broccoli lots of room with rows 42" or so apart, as I allow the plants to continue to grow and produce sideshoots after harvesting the main heads. With fall broccoli, I really don't expect to harvest the broccoli much beyond the main heads. So the rows this time are just 24" apart with the plants spaced at around 24" in the row. At this spacing, I won't be able to till for weed control, so I'll be using grass clipping mulch (and a hoe, if necessary) for weed control.

I stayed with some of my favorite spring varieties for this planting using Premium Crop broccoli, Amazing cauliflower, and Alcosa (savoy) and Super Red 80 for the cabbage. With days to maturity of around 55-68, we should get a crop on both the broccoli and cabbage. The cauliflower always seems to take a bit longer than its posted days to maturity. If we have another late fall as we did last year, we'll be okay. And if not, well, that's gardening.

Paprika Peppers

Paprika peppersAs an experiment this year, I ordered a packet of Paprika Supreme seed. We use lots of paprika when cooking lemon-garlic chicken, so I hope to get enough to dry and grind the pepper for our use this winter.

We had a really tough time getting our paprika peppers started, as Johnny's had a seed failure, and I had to order from an alternate source. We only have one Paprika Supreme plant in our garden, and until yesterday, I'd seen no peppers on it.

I guess I wasn't looking carefully enough, as the plant is now filled with long, dark green peppers. Since I caged the plant with an old, short tomato cage, the peppers are up off the ground. I hope that will allow them to mature to red without them beginning to rot.

When it comes time to dry the peppers, I think I'll borrow a dehydrator from one of our daughters. I may also hang some to dry as described on a delightful page about paprika on Foodreference.com. They recommend drying and then freezing the paprika peppers, something I hadn't even considered.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery MildewIf you're an experienced gardener, you'll recognize the problem shown at left on our yellow squash leaves. It's powdery mildew. I've never had to deal with it before, but knew in an instant what it was when I saw it yesterday on the squash leaves.

When I read up on powdery mildew this morning, I found that I'd done everything but hang an invitation sign up for it to invade our vining crops. GardenGuides listed seven "good cultural practices" to adequately control powdery mildew, and I'd already violated the first four:

  • Select powdery mildew resistant varieties. (Never thought of it when I ordered the seed.)
  • Plant in full sunlight in a well-drained area. (Our butternut and yellow squash are at the shaded end of our garden plot. Drainage there is just so-so.)
  • Do not crowd plants. Air flow and ventilation will discourage mildew growth. (Well, we have multiple plants per hill, but there is good space around the hills, so maybe just three out of the first four.)
  • Powdery mildew thrives where high rates of nitrogen have been used. High nitrogen promotes tender leaf formation, causing dense stands that are more susceptible to infections. Adequately fertilize but avoid stimulating succulent growth. (Oh boy! Since we planted in an old, burnt out cornfield, I really hit the area hard with fertilizer, both broadcast and in the hole when transplanting. In addition, I recently fed the plants with liquid 10-15-10 fertilizer.)

My guess is that I'll lose the yellow squash plants. The Waltham Butternut squash seems to be resisting the mildew, but has been slightly infected.

Most sites recommend sulfur sprays to control powdery mildew. The lime-sulfur spray that I have on hand for our apple trees doesn't list vining crops for its use, so I decided to try something else. GardenGuides again offered a possible solution. According to them, a baking soda solution can raise the pH level on the leaf surface beyond that which the mildew can tolerate. I sprayed the plants thoroughly with the solution, so we'll see if it works.

Putting Things By

We've been picking and processing the last several days. Our first row of green beans that has produced a number of nice, but small pickings yielded about four gallons of beans that canned to 6 quarts on Sunday. Yesterday, I brought in four cantaloupes (the raccoons got two more overnight), some nice tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and several dozen ears of sweet corn.

Getting any sweet corn at all from our poor stand this year is a plus. The ears I harvested yesterday were from the sparse area in the foreground of the photo below (taken at the end of July).

Sweet corn

Frozen sweet cornWith all of the planting, replanting, and plugging in of seed after replanting, our six rows of main season corn that I hand pollinated came in earlier than the early corn (shown in the background)! The corn actually produced two quarts for the freezer (after I had one ear of corn on the cob). And while the four rows of "early" corn look as if they'll produce a crop, I'm not counting on it. The raccoons may want some variety in their diet, and the deer have regularly been visiting the main season corn.

Maybe it's just all a matter of perspective. The corn viewed from the other side looks like a great crop!

Sweet Corn

Sugar snap peas frozenWe freeze our excess sugar snaps. I first wash and string the peas, blanch them for around 60-90 seconds in boiling water, quick cool them in cold water, and then freeze them on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Once frozen, they go into a freezer bag. I use a large (gallon) bag so that I can add to it as we pick more of the podded peas.

Basil

Bucket of BasilI've not put up basil before, but decided with the beautiful plants we have this year I should give it a try. A quick web search produced several helpful pages on freezing and drying basil.

Basil ready to dry
Basil dried

Crushed basilI chose to use the oven drying method, heating the basil leaves on a cookie sheet at 350o F for 5-10 minutes. It took four cookie sheetfulls to dry all the basil I'd picked. And each time I was surprised at how much the baking and drying reduced the basil in volume. I ended up with about a half to three-fourths of a cup of dried, crushed basil. The house had a pleasant, spicy aroma for hours afterward!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sweet Corn CoolingI'm not sure I'm ready for summer to be over yet, but our activity in the Senior Garden is certainly heading that way. I'm writing this posting as ears of sweet corn cool from blanching before being cut off the cob for freezing. Onions dryingOur onions are all pulled and drying both in the garden and on the back porch. The strong storms we've had toppled over their tops prematurely, limiting their growth. But we've definitely made a crop of onions.

There are sugar snap peas ready to be picked (and awaiting the arrival this afternoon of a four-year-old granddaughter who loves to pick and eat them) and a row of green beans ready for their final picking.

Dry

Our weather has turned dry as it is often prone to do here in August. I knocked down the "main season" corn with the lawn mower yesterday after a final picking. You can see how dry it is. The dust really flew when I mowed down the few corn stalks and the weeds in the rows.

BroccoliI mulched our newly transplanted brassicas with grass clippings yesterday, but am still watering them daily. The broccoli shown at right looks pretty healthy, but some of the broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and ornamental kale are clearly showing heat stress after just a few days in the ground.

Watering

One of the reasons we use so much mulch in our gardens is that we really can't do a lot of watering. Our deep well runs dry in the summer if we push it too hard. We also have a shallow well, but by the time we really need to water in August, it is very low. So we water a bit, but work far more on moisture conservation with mulch and such.

We've been fortunate this summer to have regular rain which has kept the lawn and garden green. We also are now "empty nesters, which means less showers and laundry which has keep our well from running out so far this summer. It usually recharges in 45 minutes to an hour, but once it's run dry in the summer, it seems more prone to do so over and over...usually when you're in the shower with a headful of shampoo!

BTW: The corn made three quarts for the freezer and a panful for supper tonight.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Our dry spell ended this week with some good showers and a welcome decrease in temperatures. Things had gotten so dry that I quit picking green beans one day because the beans were limp - not from being overripe, but from a lack of moisture! After a good rain, they firmed up and we got a nice picking from our two rows of "late" beans.

Fall lettuce transplantsLeekI started transplanting and mulching in our fall lettuce and seeding some spinach yesterday under cloudy skies. I'd let some grass clippings sit for a week, so they were not too hot to put right up around the tender lettuce transplants. Most of what went in was romaine and red lollo lettuce, although I threw in a couple of ornamental kale plants, a marigold, and a parsley plant I still had on hand.

Our leek plants that were planted at the end of an onion row now have room to really grow with the onions out of the way. I'd put in six plants just for an experiment and didn't put them in a trench. I also think I may have planted them a bit too close to each other. I hilled up the dirt around the leeks, giving them a nice shot of fertilizer from the solid 12-12-12 I'd put down when I turned the area last week.

For the spinach I planted a row each of America and Melody. Both are tried and true varieties, and with a bit of luck, we may get a nice fall crop.

Annie & Kat pick tomatoesGardenMy wife, Annie, and one of our granddaughters, Katherine, worked our still-bearing grape tomato plant this morning. The plant has been blown over and partially uprooted by several storms this year, but continues to produce a nice crop of fruit. And while the color is just about out of our sugar snap pea vines, the plants are still producing edible pods for our table, freezer, and of course, grandchildren who visit.

You can just see the tip of the remainder of one of two large, old maple trees we had cut this week. We're still waiting for the cutters to come back and haul off the massive trunks of the trees (grr...). One tree had suffered repeated lightening strikes and was just barely alive, while the other was hollow and had lost a limb that took our our power service line earlier this year.

I guess I'll be doing a feature story soon on fall or spring planting shade trees!

Main plot in August

Fall brassicasOur main, raised bed garden plot now looks a bit bare after major renovations on both ends. I think the peppers in the center of the plot and the leeks are the only full-season vegetables we've grown there. Our fall brassicas planted August 10 have really taken hold after being mulched and getting a good rain. They also received a thorough spraying with Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis) yesterday, as I noticed some small white cabbage worm moths and cabbage loopers fluttering around in their area.

JLP cucumberI still have one open area in the main garden plot that remains unplanted. It's sort of an unusual experience having available garden space and wondering what to put in it. I've started a couple of pots of bush yellow squash plants that may go in that area, but really haven't decided as yet. In this garden plot, it's usually a problem of trying to squeeze in everything I want to grow. And the squash will have to wait until I have fruit set on our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers that I'm growing out for seed. The squash could cross-pollinate with the cucumbers, ruining our seed crop.

A reader wrote this week with another source for the Japanese Long Pickling variety, but when I ran down the link, the company was out of stock for this year. If you're looking for seed for the variety, probably the best source is the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook. I'll be offering JLP seed (possibly along with Moira tomato and Earliest Red Sweet pepper) though the yearbook next year, but there already is one grower offering the JLP seed there now.

Sweet CornAfter a troubled start at getting a good stand of sweet corn this year, our main picking yesterday made it all worthwhile. The plants that I'd spaced about a foot apart in the row often carried two, large ears of corn. We had good fill clear to the tip of the ears and very little insect damage.

Garden cartI filled our old garden cart with what turned out to be five and a half dozen large ears of sweet corn. These came from four, thirty foot rows of corn that I'd planted and re-planted several times in May and June. The crop that took turned out to be a re-planting of main season corn seed I'd soaked in water before planting it.

The corn along with some peppers my wife had picked certainly added a lot of welcome color to our kitchen counter yesterday!

Corn & peppers

Sweet corn figures in a lot of my pleasant childhood memories. One of my grandfathers used to grow a large patch of sweet corn each summer. When harvest time came, the whole family would gather to pick, shuck, silk, blanch, cut and freeze the corn. Grandma and Grandpa's big, old chest style freezer would almost be totally filled with sweet corn when we were done.

Grandpa would usually take time out to grab a couple of chickens for dinner. I guess it's no wonder I became an avid gardener and at one time, a general farmer with lots of chickens.

Moira tomatoesBesides our sweet corn, our large East Garden continues to ripen crops of tomatoes, melons, squash, and potatoes. The Moira tomatoes shown at left are being grown for a seed crop, but the six plants are also producing a lot of fruit for our table use, canning, and giving away as well. One of Annie's co-workers remarked about how red the Moiras were inside.

Because our East Garden is well away from our house and borders a nature preserve, we do have to fight the critters for our crops. Despite the best efforts of the raccoons in the area, we're on the verge of an overwhelming watermelon crop.

Our first Kleckley Sweets, my favorite variety of watermelon, were decimated by the raccoons, but have set on more fruit that the critters haven't bothered as yet. The Kleckleys have the unfortunate position of being closest to the woods.

Crimson Sweet watermelonsWe picked several very nice Crimson Sweet watermelons over the last month and still have a few to go (shown at right), but now are looking at a huge harvest from some Moon & Stars melons I started on a whim. The seed was some very old seed I'd had in the freezer for years, and when starting our vining crops, I started a pot of it just for the fun of it. My past experience with Moon & Stars had been that they produced a nice, but small icebox melon. These Moon & Stars are the black seeded variety and are producing thirty-pound melons!

Moon & Stars watermelons

Battery Life!

Canon EOS 450DWhen I went out this morning to grab a better shot of the fall lettuce I'd planted yesterday, I was surprised when the camera just stopped after taking several shots. When I looked at the LCD display, it had an advisory that I needed to charge my camera battery.

I received my new Canon Digital Rebel XSi on July 10 and had made myself put a full charge on the battery before taking my first shot. I'd also bought a backup battery and charged it as well.

Until this morning, the backup battery has sat unused in my camera bag. But after over a month of steady use and some 1200 photos, I finally fully drained the battery. I'm impressed with the battery life so far. Of course, rechargeable batteries can degrade rather quickly over time, but this is a good start.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - Watermelon

Watermelon patch

Cut watermelonTwo watermelon "thunked" ripe yesterday. The Moon & Stars melon (shown above on the left and cut at right) weighed 37.25 pounds, while the Crimson Sweet was almost 24 pounds. I cut the Moon & Stars melon and sectioned half of it to put in the refrigerator. The flavor was excellent.

Saving Seed

Growing Garden SeedsSince I was already saving some tomato seeds from our Moira plants, I decided to save some of the Moon & Stars seeds. While the tomato plants are generally self-pollinating, watermelons aren't, so I may get a surprise or two next year when I grow out the Moon & Stars seed. Our Moon & Stars are surrounded by other watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and squash varieties.

Let me add a note here that I've used Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing garden seeds: A manual for gardeners and small farmers for years as my seed saving manual. Published just after Rob started Johnny's Selected Seeds, it gives you the basics of saving open pollinated seeds in layman's terms.

Drying seedsFor some of the vegetables from which I'm saving seed (tomatoes and cucumbers), it's just a matter of removing the seed and surrounding pulp from the fruit, letting it ferment in a covered plastic container for a few days, and then rinsing off the waste and air drying the seeds. And of course, watermelon are easy, as you just spit the seeds in a bowl, wash them off and dry them.

Foil packs for saved seedThe old standard for packaging saved seed from the Seed Savers Exchange was to pack the seeds in foil. Many vendors and seed savers have now gone to small, plastic ziplock bags or plastic vials, but I find the homemade foil packs serve my purpose well.

I then repackage the foil packs in ziplock freezer bags before putting the seeds in the freezer. While the Moon & Stars seeds shown at left got their own freezer bag, the tomato seeds went into a larger freezer bag containing all of our other saved tomato seeds. During the summer, our seeds line the freezer door of our refrigerator freezer. They are moved in the fall to our chest type freezer, as it is not a self-defrosting freezer. The warming of the self-defrost cycle in a freezer is said not to do any good for saved seed.

Seed saved in a freezer can last a long time. It varies by the type and condition of the seed saved. I rarely try to save leftover onion seed, as it just doesn't store well for me. Other types of seed such as tomato and gloxinia have proved viable for me after ten years in frozen storage. When we were growing sweet corn commercially, we often had a 10# bag or two of the precious sweet corn seed in our freezer.

Oregon State University has a good page on Collecting and Storing Seeds from Your Garden that includes some good tips on drying seed to be saved and frozen.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tomatoes ready for canningAs August winds down, we got one more of our "critical crops" canned this week. We try each year to can or freeze enough green beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli, and peas to last us through the winter. This year we may also have a good winter supply of potatoes from the garden.

I spent most of the day Thursday cleaning, coring and peeling, and then canning some tomatoes. I had about a bushel of tomatoes picked and they made ten quarts of canned, whole tomatoes with another quart of leftover tomato juice. We'll probably can at least one more round of tomatoes for our winter use.

Sweet corn used to be one of the crops we froze enough of to last through the winter. We got into a really nasty cycle of corn smut in our main garden plots and had to give up growing corn until the soil-borne spores cleared up. As it turned out, the farmer renting the ground around us let us use a small, fallow field to grow sweet corn, so we got around the smut issue on our ground that way.

We did have a couple of corn stalks show corn smut infection this year. I caught both of them before the smut burst (spreads spores everywhere). I pulled out the infected plants and put them in the trash. Burying or burning smut can spread the spores, so our problem went in a trash bag to the county dump.

Cornfield cleanedAnother viewI made a final picking yesterday of about two dozen "second ears" from our sweet corn and cut and composted the remaining stalks and weeds today. I also found a few more second ears that I'd missed yesterday. I didn't take out our mixed row of marigolds and nasturtiums at the end of the garden plot, nor did I remove the zinnias and petunias that had marked the ends of the rows.

PotatoesOne of our two rows of potatoes are just about ready to dig. I've taken some of the Red Pontiacs already for our table use. The row on the left are the reds and the vines are dying back. The row on the right, the Kennebecs, are still actively growing and probably won't be ready to dig for another month or so.

WatermelonsWe've finally gotten to the point where we have more watermelon than we can eat. Even the raccoons, who have displayed quite a taste for our cantaloupe and watermelon, can't keep up. While our cantaloupe vines are almost played out for the year, the watermelon keep putting out blooms and setting more fruit. We did stagger our planting of watermelon, planting one row almost a full month after we planted our first row.

Main garden

In our main garden, our peppers are now in full production. We'd been waiting on our gold pepper plants to begin producing mature fruit. We're now picking green, red, and yellow sweet peppers. I also noticed a bit of red on one of our paprika peppers yesterday, so we'll soon begin the adventure of drying and grinding our own paprika.

Our fall lettuce is getting off to a good start, and I saw that our fall spinach had begun to germinate yesterday. Beyond the pepper plants shown above, our fall brassicas (shown below) are also doing well.

Fall brassicas

Almost the entire raised bed garden is now covered with grass clipping mulch for weed control, and more importantly at this time, moisture retention. Having limed and tilled the ground deeply before replanting and mulching may double as our fall soil preparation in most of this bed. When we harvest this area, we'll just leave the mulch in place for the winter.

Sugar Snap peasOne of our most surprising crops has been our Sugar Snap peas. We grow the older, tall variety of sugar snaps and didn't plant them until after we'd harvested our spring peas from our trellised area. While peas don't like hot, dry weather, our sugar snaps have continued to produce a nice crop of the tasty peas and pods. The peas are beginning to be crowded just a bit by the Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers I planted along the trellis. For the JLPs to produce straight fruit, they need to grow up a trellis...and still produce some curled cucumbers.

AsparaqgusOne crop I haven't mentioned much since last spring is our patch of asparagus. When I was writing the feature, Building a Raised Garden Bed, I put timbers around our patch to define it and also allow me to build up the soil a bit. I've added some cow manure and fertilizer at various times through the summer. Other than an occasional weeding and added some fertilizer, asparagus at this point is a pretty trouble free crop to grow.

Monday, August 31, 2009

PotatoesI started digging our row of red potatoes yesterday, but quit at half a row, as the remaining vines still had some life in them. I'd already taken new potatoes from the end of the row a couple of times, so I really didn't dig all that much. We got around eleven pounds of potatoes for storage with another pound or so of small, new potatoes and others that had scrapes and won't store well.

Burlap bags airing outWhen I began storing our onions a few weeks ago, I realized that I wasn't going to have enough storage bags for our garlic, onions, and potatoes, so I started shopping for potato bags. I found that the kind of potato bags you get (and we save) from the grocery are only available in large lots or at premium prices. I turned my search to burlap bags, and found that many sporting goods outlets carry them for three legged races! And that, of course, has inflated the price for them.

I finally found some affordable burlap bags from S&S Worldwide sold by the dozen. They do have what S&S describes as a "distinctive odor" from the "batching oils" used to soften the burlap before it is woven into bags. S&S doesn't try to hide the odor problem on their site, but does say the bags will eventually lose the offensive odor. You can see the bags airing out on our back porch in the photo above.

The bags are large and just heavy enough to do the job. If you need storage bags for your potatoes, I think these may serve the purpose at a fairly reasonable price.


July, 2009

From the at Senior Gardening

 

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