Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Monday, June 1, 2009

June 1 harvestI picked the last of our early peas this morning. I'd added a bit of lime and fertilizer at their base a few days ago, hoping to encourage them into some new growth and blooms. But with a high today of 90o F and the bedraggled look of the vines, I'd guess the Maxigolt peas are pretty well done. We're picking a few of our second variety, Encore, with a large harvest looming in the next few days. Our third variety, Eclipse, is still blooming and setting pods. With a cooldown predicted for Wednesday, we may yet get a good harvest from our last two varieties.

Broccoli sideshootsI also cut sideshoots from our broccoli plants and took in two more nice heads of cauliflower. After the main heads of broccoli are done on hybrids such as Premium Crop and Goliath, sideshoots are a pleasant continuation of the season. And of course, before plant breeders developed large head varieties, sideshoot sized heads were pretty much the norm.

Cauliflower headOur cauliflower variety, Amazing, is one I've used for several years, as it self-blanches pretty well. I did have to throw away one head and plant where the leaves simply didn't wrap around the head to protect and blanch it. In the past, folks tied cauliflower leaves up with string to keep the heads white and sweet. The shot at right shows how the leaves protect the growing cauliflower. Note that I lightened the head a bit in Photoshop so it would stand out a bit more.

Often, when the heads first start to grow, they are totally covered by the leaf wrap. It's really important to use the tip of the sprayer at that time to separate the leaves a bit a get a good dose of the biological Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis) on the young head to protect it from small white cabbage worm moths and cabbage loopers.

The peas, along with a few picked yesterday, were blanched and frozen. I had to drive to town to get some pint freezer bags, as the smallest we had on hand were quart size. A pint of peas is just about right for just the two of us. Of course, I hope to put up some quart bags of peas for holiday meals, but that sorta depends on the weather and the harvest. I did sample a few of the raw peas this morning and found that they weren't as sweet as I hoped. Heat is really hard on peas!

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We're winding down our pea harvest for the spring. Our three varieties (Maxigolt, Encore, and Eclipse) have provided lots of peas for our dinner table along with some for freezing as well.

Peas

MollyI've pulled the Maxigolt and Encore vines. Our Eclipse peas have one or two pickings remaining. When they are done, I'll pull the vines, rototill the soil with some lime and fertilizer, and plant Sugar Snap peas along the trellis. I know I have the Sugar Snap seed on hand, as I saw it while snapping a shot of Molly today. Molly is one of our two house cats. She's taken to sleeping in my seed box.

If you're a first time gardener, sweet peas are one of the real treats of gardening. Frozen peas from the grocery can be good, but they can't match peas picked and cooked the same day. I find our frozen peas to be a bit superior to the ones from the grocery as well.

But maybe a dose of reality is due here. Peas take lots and lots of time to shell, and even with a very good harvest such as we've had, you don't get that much to put up in the freezer from a 15' row of trellised peas. On the brighter side, peas are a pretty trouble free crop to grow, as ours seem not prone to disease or insect pests. The trick is to get them in early (other than Sugar Snaps which seem to handle hotter weather better than spring peas) and pick them at the right time. I often pick every day, and if not, definitely every other day.

Red-bellied woodpeckerFemale red-bellied woodpeckerWe have a family of red-bellied woodpeckers who have taken a liking to our dogs' food this year. For that matter, a couple of families of cardinals are hitting the Old Roy pretty good as well. I saw one of the cardinals feeding a fluffy young female bits of dog food last week!

The woodpeckers have been fun to watch, as they're a bit more timid than the cardinals. The female woodpecker often lands on or around a planter that sits on our cistern and peeks out at us before approaching the dog food (or flying away).

Barn swallowWe regularly have hummingbirds at our hanging plants and hummingbird feeders. We also have four barn swallow nests around our house this year, along with a mockingbird that keeps us entertained with its varied songs.

East gardenOur May 23rd planting of sweet corn didn't make it. I got the seed in too deep...or too shallow...or it was too wet...or too dry. As an old commercial sweet corn grower, I'm embarrassed to say I'm not really sure what went wrong. But the best we got was one solid half row out of ten rows planted, so I tilled that planting under and replanted last Saturday.

In the long run, losing the first planting may have been a blessing, as I really wasn't happy with the seedbed I'd prepared. With a good bit more tilling, the soil was soft enough to just push the seed into the ground with a finger rather than using a hoe to make a furrow.

I pretty well filled our east garden yesterday when I put in two rows of potatoes. I planted one row each of Kennebec and Red Pontiac. I had plenty of seed potato and could have planted more if I'd done a lot of cutting of the seed potatoes, but since I was running out of space, I just planted whole potatoes most of the time.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American CookingI also harvested the last of our early savoy cabbage...and made a great garden slaw from a recipe from my wife's copy of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Cooking. I was able to use a head and a half of savoy cabbage, some red cabbage, and three green onions from this year's garden along with some peppers frozen from last year's garden. Our old copy of the cookbook is held together with duct tape! I think that may bear testimony to a good and well used cookbook. (Note: The text link above is to the newest version of the cookbook, while the link on the cookbook photo at right is to the older version...which is still available used.)

Cookbook and slaw

Lens error messageFor sharp-eyed readers, yes, that is some vignetting at the upper right edge of the photo above. It appears that Nikon didn't do such a good job fixing my Coolpix P60. Not only is it now vignetting photos, its lens isn't fully collapsing at shutdown, causing the error message shown at right. Nikon's response in repairing my camera and in communicating with me has been disappointing at best.

I'm currently trying to work on an update to the Gloxinia feature on Senior Gardening that includes information about dormancy, leaf cuttings, and saving seed. Obviously, it's a bit hard to do the necessary photo documentation when ones camera is in the shop.

Double BrocadeEmpressIt's really sad that a relatively inexpensive digital camera that can produce some incredible imagery is so prone to failure and so poorly supported by the manufacturer.

Some of our gloxinias are now freely shedding pollen. It can rather easily be transferred from the stamen to the pistil with a Q-tip to pollinate the flowers.

For now, that's the best I can do.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

With the last of our spring peas picked and shelled (and eaten Grin ) and our broccoli sideshoots picked and frozen, yesterday proved to be a sort of lazy day of pleasant gardening and general messing around. I went around the perimeter of our main raised bed weeding from the edge. While that may sound like a bit of a chore, it was relatively light work. We've had several days of good rain, so the weeds came out easily.

LettuceI noticed that I'd sadly neglected our lettuce. Several plants had bolted from the heat. When I started to make a salad one night this week, some of the lettuce was terribly bitter! So I spent a good bit of time discarding overripe lettuce before weeding the onions, lettuce, carrots and beets from the edge of the garden. I used a walking board to get at some of the interior parts of the bed. I eventually just gave up on the lettuce and picked some that still looked good and composted the rest.

Softbed 2008Compared to last year's soft bed (shown at left) of similar vegetables, my efforts this year look pretty sad. I refer to it as a softbed, as it's an area of the raised bed where I try never to walk through, other than on a walking board to spread my weight. Keeping out of the bed keeps the soil looser and easier to work.

Of course, last year our softbed wasn't competing for grass clipping mulch (and attention) with a large extra garden area (our 30' x 120' east garden of sweet corn and vining crops). And after a very slow start, we actually have more onions going than last year. But our beets and carrots do look dreadful.

Caged TomatoesOne of my regular daily tasks from now on through the summer is to check our tomato plants. Since we use wire cages for our plants, I don't have to mess with tying the plants to a post or pole. But I do have to regularly check to make sure the plants aren't growing outside the cages. If I let a main shoot grow through the cage, the weight of the tomatoes will bend and eventually break the branch that has grown outside the cage. Usually, I get behind in this task at some point along the summer. But right now, it's an easy task to push the pliant boughs back through the wire inside the cage. If I skip a couple of days, the vines have often firmed up so much that they snap when pushed back into the cage.

Main Garden - June 12, 2009

All in all, I'm pretty satisfied with our garden so far this year.

About That "General Messing Around"

I noticed the hummingbirds had completely emptied both of their feeders in one day yesterday! My guess is that they've hatched out their babies and the need for nectar has grown dramatically in just a day or so. This morning when I had one feeder down to fill it, I set up the GardenWatchCam to take a time-lapse movie of the hummingbirds visiting the other feeder. The competition for space (and dominance) at the feeder was fierce at times. The hummingbirds visiting our feeder are all ruby-throated hummingbirds. According to Wikipedia, they're "the only species of hummingbird that regularly nests east of the Mississippi River in North America." My brother-in-law, Mike, who lives in Florida, talks about all the species of hummingbirds they see there. It makes me a bit envious, but even our one species are really interesting to watch.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - Planting Sugar Snap Peas

The Senior Garden is getting a needed rain as we have thunderstorms rolling in this morning. We've had a bit of rain here and there for several days, usually just enough to make the grass too wet to mow. I was hoping for a good rain to get our Sugar Snap peas going.

Storms roll in

A gardening friend who heard I was just planting Sugar Snap peas commented, "Isn't it too late to plant peas?" And of course, the usual answer would be "Yes," but I've found that Sugar Snaps are pretty heat tolerant. Over the years they've also provided something in the garden throughout the summer that our children (and now grandchildren) could pick and eat right off the vine. I'm sure our Sugar Snaps would do better if planted in March or April, but planting them now allows us to use our full trellis area for spring peas followed by the Sugar Snaps.

TrellisI'd pulled our pea vines from the trellis as the different varieties played out. Our trellis is made of three 7' T-posts, some heavy, but pliable, plastic covered wire, and some heavy duty string netting I found on Amazon. I prefer the string trellis material over the plastic kind now sold in many garden stores. The string doesn't seem to cut the vines as badly as the plastic does when the vines are filled and heavy.

On Sunday, I pulled the bottom of the trellis up enough to allow easy access under it. I added several shovelfuls of compost (the pile really needed turning), a heavy layer of dolomitic limestone, and some 12-12-12 fertilizer before working the area. The tiller worked up the soil fairly well, although I also used a heavy garden fork to turn the seedbed area a bit deeper than our tiller reaches.

Seedbed for Sugar SnapsSeed in bedI raked up a small plateau for the seedbed as I'd done in March for our spring peas. This area of the Senior Garden can stay pretty damp and peas don't really like wet feet. I used a hoe to make a four inch wide furrow and added some granular soil inoculant. I added a liberal amount of seed, probably about a quarter pound to the fifteen foot row. Note that I still use the older, taller version of Sugar Snaps to take advantage of the trellis (and to cut down on bending when picking them). Our seed this year came from R.H. Shumway's.

While the pea seed will end up about an inch or so deep when covered, I always poke a good many seeds in a bit deeper in the soft soil as insurance in case the shallower seed level dries out too much. Since we function here with a well that can easily go dry in late June, we don't do a lot of watering in the garden! But with the heavy rain today, I think the Sugar Snaps will have all the moisture they need for good germination.

Kale Up

Portuguese Kale SoupJust to the left of the pea trellis in the photos above is our row of kale. A week ago, I tilled up the row that previously had brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kohlrabi) in it, added a bit of lime and fertilizer, and seeded it to kale (Vates Blue Curled). While I'd like to say this planting was an exercise in good crop succession, it really wasn't. I just messed up on my garden planning and didn't have any room for kale until now. But the late planting will be timed perfectly for when our onions, beans, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and maybe some early potatoes are ready and can all contribute to one of our favorite garden treats, Portuguese Kale Soup (link is to the recipe).

Direct seeding kale at this time of year is a bit risky, as the seed prefers to germinate in a bit cooler soil. It appears we have a nice stand of it on the way, but I really did get this one in late. I also started some broccoli, cauliflower, and more lettuce in fourpacks indoors to provide for a continuing harvest of those crops. This is a bit earlier than I usually seed my fall crop of broccoli and cauliflower. I'll just have to wait and see if we get a good crop from them, as they can quickly go to seed in really hot weather. I'll also seed some more of them in mid-July for a true fall crop. I started our fall crop of broccoli and cauliflower last year in early August and just barely harvested the broccoli in November before heavy frosts set in. The cauliflower didn't make it!

Mulching

Using grass clippings as mulch is a bit of a mixed blessing. The clippings, when applied in a fairly thick layer, hold down weeds and conserve moisture in the soil. But being an organic mulch, they decay and add nutrients to the soil, but the seed in the mulch itself can germinate, causing even more weeds. So it's important to renew layers of mulch from time to time.

Grass clipping mulchSince I'd just harvested the last of our lettuce and replaced it with more lettuce, it was time to get serious about weeding the softbed and renewing its mulch. I have directed almost all of our grass clippings collected from the yard to our large east garden plantings of watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and squash and paid the price in lots more weeding to be done in the main garden.

Pepper plantsUsing fresh grass clippings can burn or even kill tender garden plants. Even though I'd let the grass clippings lie for over 24 hours before using them, they were still warm to the touch last evening when I finished up adding mulch to our softbed. I was careful not to get too heavy a layer around our tender, young carrot crop, but really put a heavy layer around our hardy onions. I also had to renew the mulch layer around our crop of pepper plants.

Red Zeppelin onionOur Walla Walla and Red Zeppelin sweet onions are just beginning to bulb now. Since I planted them in a fairly close pattern, we are already pulling some of them for kitchen use and to free up enough space for the others to fully bulb.

I transplanted onions three different times into our softbed. That way our harvest will be staggered by both maturity time and by variety. In the photo below, from right to left, are a double row of Red Zeppelin and Walla Walla, a double row of Milestone and Pulsar, and a double row of all four varieties mixed with six leek plants thrown in for good measure.

Softbed

GarlicOur softbed is obviously too wide to reach everything from the sides. You can see my "walking boards" above in the lettuce row that I stood on when applying mulch to the bed.

Our german garlic is yellowing a bit, letting me know that it will soon be time to dig and dry the crop. Our elephant garlic is still green and will come in a bit later than the regular garlic.

Garlic can really be dug and used at most any time as it approaches maturity. I pulled (not recommended at the stalk can snap) and photographed one garlic plant as an example.

Gloxinias

Plant rackMoving indoors, I transplanted gloxinias last week into fourpacks from the "pots" they germinated in. GloxiniasAs you can see, I got way too many seeds in one starter pot and despite having moved 32 gloxinias to individual packs, I have lots more to go. But stepping back a bit reveals lots of open space under our plantlights for more gloxinias.

Empress gloxiniaTwist-tieOur current kitchen superstar is an Empress gloxinia with red-throated white blooms. A close inspection of the plant reveals what can only be a twist-tie around the stem of one of the blooms!

I've started hand pollinating some of our gloxinias to begin the seed saving process. To keep track of the blooms receiving pollen, I loosely attach a twist-tie around the stem of the pollinated blooms.

We keep one or two of our best looking gloxinias in our west-facing kitchen window to enjoy them. While the display in the basement under plantlights is sometimes spectacular, we really don't have room for any more upstairs, but also hate to miss their beauty. Since our August planting began blooming in December, we've been treated to a variety of single and double blooms in various colors.

December February April June
December February April
April May May
April May May June

The East Garden

The

PotatoesOur "east garden," part of a fallow field just east of our property, is now filled and promises to make some nice crops that just wouldn't fit into our regular garden. The potatoes I planted last week now have leaves and need to be hilled for the first time. Hilling holds down weeds and also allows the potatoes to put on "fruit" in roots that grow into the hilled soil.

I almost hate to write about the potatoes in our garden this year for fear of jinxing us! I've not been able to grow a good crop of potatoes on our ground since we've lived here. They either drown out and rot or get ravaged by Japanese Beetles. But I'm trying again this year pretty much because we just had some extra space in the east garden.

Yellow squashOur vining crops are off to a fantastic start. Our yellow squash are blooming big time. I picked one to use for summer tonight to go with the broccoli I'd picked yesterday. If nothing else, the contrast of the yellow fruit and blooms to the richly green plant leaves are a feast for the eyes.

Waltam Butternut bloomsOur Waltham Butternut squash are putting on fruit as well. The photo at right is one I could have used to help teach about male and female blooms when I was in the classroom. Our melons have lots of male blooms but have yet to set on any fruit.

Our sweet corn planted May 23 (and turned under) and replanted June 6 is still a bit iffy. I've filled in bare spots with some sweet corn transplants I'd started and with more seed. It appears from what happened with the transplants and the direct seeding in the field that our early variety of sweet corn, Twilley's Summer Sweet #7640R, was germinating at less than 50%.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tree downCutting up treeLike much of the midwest, we had a fairly strong storm come through here last Thursday. The wind took down a good part of one of our old maple trees and our power service line with it. So Senior Gardening has had to take a back seat to tree removal and electrical repair.

One of my sons-in-law, Terry, dropped by with an electrician friend yesterday to re-hang our power service line. It made for a great Father's Day present!

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We began the month of June picking peas and harvesting broccoli and cauliflower. Now, at the end of the month, the spring peas not eaten fresh are in the freezer and just one row of broccoli is left producing a few sideshoots each day.

It's really been a good month in the Senior Garden. We've harvested peas, broccoli, savoy cabbage, red cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, a few onions, and several yellow squash. This is the first time I've grown yellow squash, and the variety we have seem ready to pick just as the blossom drops off the squash!

East Garden

As space has opened up in the garden, we've planted succession crops. And we've also stayed busy doing first plantings in our grand experiment, a 30' x 120' patch in a field east of us that we're now calling the East Garden. It's at the north end of a small field the renter has left fallow and allows us to use.

Main garden 090629

Unfortunately, the large field just west of us is still fallow as well, like many other fields in our area. Planting conditions for farmers in this area have been dreadful this year. Just when things dry out enough for them to work the fields, we seem to get another heavy rain. Our current forecast is for almost a week of dry, somewhat cool (70-80o F) weather after a week of high humidity and highs in the mid 90's.

Iffy sweet corn patchOur sweet corn planting in the East Garden, actually a complete replanting, is still iffy. I had soaked some short season seed yesterday and spent an hour or so this morning weeding and re-seeding the bare patches in the rows. This is awfully late to be plugging in seed, but I'd already done so and also used up all of my transplants I'd grown for the purpose of filling in bare spots. I'm hoping the short season corn in with my full season corn will tassel at the right time to help with pollination. The planting is thin enough that I am worried about getting enough pollination to fill the ears.

Several problems have worked together to make this a tough planting. Our short season supersweet variety, Twilley's 7640R, was germinating at just 33%! The seed I used this morning was the same variety, but from a partial packet from several years ago that has been in the freezer. We also had some crusting of the ground when it dried out which could have prevented the seed from emerging. But when I replanted, I often found sweet corn seed in the ground that had not sprouted at all.

BeetsI pulled a few beets yesterday. I'd planted just a few beets but used three varieties in the planting: Burpee's Golden; Red Ace; and a novelty variety from the Seed Savers Exchange, Chioggia. The Chioggia variety is supposed to have well defined red and white zones in it, but ours just had a bit of red striping. I'd guess that they need to get a bit larger for the color to develop, but I like to pick my beets fairly small.

Our kale is struggling to get going in our now dry weather. I watered it this morning, but that can't be a daily thing in the Senior Garden. Our well doesn't produce enough water for household needs plus watering during the summer.

I also watered our row of sugar snap peas. The soil had crusted over our planting of them, and we didn't get a good stand. Rather than turn them down, I just soaked seed last week and filled in the gaps with it.

It's been an interesting month. With a limb taking down our power line, phones out for a week, a pulley failing on our lawn mower, the sump pump failing during the storms, bad seed from Twilley, and my Nikon P60 coming back from Nikon Service in worse shape than it went in, you might wonder if I'm getting a little grumpy these days. But it's also June 30, sunny outside and in the mid-70's, and we have a great breeze.

What a great day for gardening!


May, 2009

From the at Senior Gardening

 

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