Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 7/31/2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

Today was one of those days when I ran out of energy and enthusiasm before I ran out of time and jobs to do in the garden. I got an early start scuffle hoeing weeds in our East Garden. Our melons are growing faster than I can collect and spread grass clipping mulch, so keeping the bare dirt as clear of weeds as possible is the next best thing to mulching. It was cool this morning, making for pleasant work.

East Garden - July 2, 2010

For readers new to this site, our East Garden sits in a one acre field just east of our property. The farm renter doesn't farm it anymore and graciously lets us use some of the field for vining crops, sweet corn, and other crops that require more room than we have in our main garden. We also use it for crops we're growing for seed that require separation from similar varieties for seed purity. This year's plot measures about 40' x 75', with some of it being "new ground" that we haven't gardened before.

Hilled potatoesAfter wearing myself out with the scuffle hoe, I spread a bit of 5-10-5 fertilizer along the sides of our potato planting and rototilled as deeply as I could. Then I hilled the potatoes, using a shovel to gently cover the base of the plants with 4-6" of fresh soil. If potato plants could smile, this row would be grinning from ear to ear. It's a planting from what was left of our potatoes stored from last summer's garden. Even though the potatoes were a bit withered and had long eyes when I planted them, they're doing well and show no sign of disease carryover (a potential problem when replanting non-certified seed potatoes).

Wilted yellow squashOur one hill of yellow squash which is at one end of our potato row isn't doing very well. The two plants in the hill had just begun producing good squash when one of them totally wilted. I checked the plant for any signs of vine borers or disease and didn't find any, but the stem was soft at the base. The second plant is in a bit better shape, but I'm not confident about it making it. My best guess is that a mole has burrowed under the plants and clipped their roots. And if it is vine borers, I'm in a world of hurt with all of our melons! I have two pots of yellow squash seeded in the basement. They're quick growers, so even if we lose our first hill, we should still have time for the new plants to produce well before our first frost.

Mulched melon rowI went ahead and scuffled and tilled where I could between our rows of melons. I closed up one row with mulch last night, so weeding there is done for the season (other than weed breakthroughs). We have two rows of cantaloupe (well, one honeydew at the end of one row) and two rows of watermelon. If all produce and the raccoons don't find the planting, we'll have far more fruit than we can use. But with lots of ground and lots of varieties I wanted to grow, I'm sure I'll find takers for the extras.

We had to replant some of our melons by direct seeding due to critter damage, but that may stagger the harvest a bit for us. Shortly after the damage, one of our dogs killed a rabbit. By then I'd also begun using blood meal to repel rabbits and deer, so I don't know if the dog got the offender or the blood meal worked or a combination of both.

Kleckley Sweet Farmers Wonderful
This is a small Kleckley Sweet watermelon that just set on the vine. Kleckley's are my favorite variety for taste, but the raccoons got almost all of them last year. I guess our raccoons have discriminating tastes.
Two Farmers Wonderful seedless melons have set on here. I hope the variety lives up to its name. And I'm happy my pollinator varieties had enough head start for good pollination.
Crimson Sweet Athena melons
We have just one hill of Crimson Sweet watermelon this year. Crimson Sweets are hard to beat for taste, growth vigor and resistance to disease, and they have a good, thick rind that makes them popular with shippers. They're often included with triploid (seedless) melons as pollinator varieties.
Hidden away under some excellent foliage are four or five Athena melons. Athenas have quickly become my favorite variety of cantaloupe. They produce a large, aromatic, and extremely tasty melon. We have three hills of Athena melons this year!
Butternut squash Lots of blooms
Our Waltham Butternut Squash just about took over all of our vining crops the last two years. So this year they went in last and with good spacing from our melons. The hill grew very slowly at first, but has set on several squash this week.
If every bloom produced fruit, we'd be overwhelmed. But of course, some of the blooms are male and many of the female blooms fall away. But it's always good to see lots of blooms in a melon planting.

Having gotten the rest of our East Garden weeded, I turned my attention to our sweet corn planting. The East Garden was supposed to be our sweet corn patch. I turned the soil for it in the early spring two years ago, but had elbow surgery at planting time. Unable to get our corn in, I settled for a late planting of melons and squash that did surprisingly well. That got us started on using the area for melons as well as sweet corn.

Sweet cornOur corn this year is growing on a newly turned section of ground, as we changed the configuration of the East Garden this year to put a bit more distance between the woods and the garden. I'd guess that may just produce more physically fit raccoons rather than preventing the mayhem they've caused over the last two years. But we try to plant enough for them and for us!

Today's cultivation of our sweet corn with our rototiller may be the last one possible before the corn canopies and the the roots extend enough that further cultivation might damage them. I tried to hill as much soil into the row with the tiller as possible and even went back and scooped soil with a sweep of my foot onto areas not covered. I'd fertilized and cultivated the corn patch about a week ago, and we got about a foot of growth on the corn since then. I didn't add any fertilizer today, although there was blood meal evident on the ground before I tilled. And I did refresh the blood meal after tilling, as the corn is still young and tender enough to attract deer.

We had grilled veggies from the garden both last night and tonight. The treat was a mix of cauliflower from the fridge (cut a week ago), fresh cut broccoli sideshoots, carrots just dug and washed, peppers frozen from last year's garden, and onion and garlic both recently harvested. Oh yeah, I added mushrooms, pineapple, olive oil, and butter from the grocery. But our main garden continues to produce well.

Renovating plotHaving dug our garlic last week, the soil was finally dry enough today to begin renovating that area. When cultivating the garlic early this spring, I'd noticed that we'd burnt up much of the organic material in the soil. It was dark, rich soil, but very heavy and hard to work. So when I dug the garlic, I added peat moss as I went, letting it fall into the deep holes I had to dig to lift the garlic bulbs. The soil was still damp when I dug the garlic, so I created some really nasty dried clumps of clay soil. Today I added a good bit of lime and a couple of small bales of peat moss before thoroughly tilling the plot. I may not have broken up all of the dried clods of soil, but if I didn't, I did bury them.

This section of our garden is part of our original garden space and has been used as a softbed almost continuously. I hope to put the section where the garlic grew into a raised bed about 3' x16' yet this summer. I don't plan to plant anything in the section right now, but may use it for fall lettuce or brassicas.

While I had the tiller out, I worked the area where we had one of our pea plantings and another area that hadn't been planted this year. The former pea trellis will get our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber transplants soon. I'm going to try planting some of those hard, yellow garlic bulblets that grow outside the main garlic bulb in the other area. I've had them soaking since I harvested the garlic, as I read somewhere that makes them germinate better.

I mentioned earlier that I had started a couple of yellow squash plants last week. I did so at the first sign of problems with our yellow squash, and I'd been planning to start more anyway. Along with seeding a couple of pots of squash, I also started two fourpacks of cauliflower. We've had great luck at growing fall broccoli the last few years, but our cauliflower, which takes a bit longer to mature, always gets caught by a hard frost before it matures. So this year I've started the cauliflower a couple of weeks before I usually start our fall broccoli. And since I had plenty of sterile starting mix, I also seeded a pot of Double Brocade gloxinias and another of Empress, probably our showiest gloxinia variety.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

WateringWe're into our usual July dry spell here. We've gone over a week without rain and there's none in the forecast. I do hope we catch an afternoon popup thundershower, as our ground is really drying out. I don't water much from the well, as it is prone to run dry this time of year. It does, fortunately, tolerate the occasional use of a soil soaker hose, which I'm doing today on a strip of flowers and a new planting of pole beans at one end of our raised bed.

I'd worked some peat moss into the flowerbed yesterday before mulching it with grass clippings. I also worked a good bit of peat, lime, and a bit of 5-10-5 fertilizer into the area under the trellis before digging a furrow, watering the base of it, and planting some Kentucky Wonder pole beans along it.

The pole beans are the first green beans we've planted this year, as we usually use the ground our broccoli and cauliflower have grown on for late plantings of green beans. We don't get any early beans that way, but we still get more than enough for fresh use and canning. This year, since our broccoli is still putting out nice sideshoots, I may use the ground I'm currently harvesting onions and carrots from for our beans and let the broccoli go a few weeks more.

Broccoli 1 Broccoli 2 Broccoli 3

Yesterday's picking of broccoli sideshoots produced about a quart or so of usable, cleaned broccoli. Some of the sideshoots were small, while others were almost baseball sized.

Onions pulledOnions all downWe're now in the process of bringing in our onion crop. I finished pulling our Red Zeppelin and Walla Walla onions on Sunday and today moved them to the back porch for curing. Our onions were a bit smaller than last year, and we had many more culls that had to be pitched on the compost heap due to rot and/or insect damage. It would appear nearly two straight weeks of rain we had in June took its toll on the crop. Also, the end of the raised bed we used for the onions this year is shaded part of the morning.

With one double row out of the way, I bent down the tops of the rest of the onions today. Our storage onions, Pulsars and Milestones, appear in better shape than the Red Zeppelins and Walla Wallas were.

Storage Onions bent down

The ground above was fairly heavily mulched at transplanting with grass clippings and renewed once over the onions' growing period. Note that no mulch is showing at the bottom of the photo. I didn't remove the mulch. It just naturally decayed. The heavy mulch at the top of the photo is new mulch I just added to our pepper and tomato rows.

When I pull these onions in a day or so, I'll twist the tops a bit just above the onion bulb and let them cure on the ground for a day or so. Then they'll go to the back porch or the garage for final curing. Once dried enough to remove the tops, they'll be bagged and moved to the basement for storage.

Rukaten Camera

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - Transplanting Cucumbers

Dig a good holeWith the heat index well over 100o today, I tried to get my gardening done early. My main task was to transplant our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plants. I'd tilled the area to be planted several days ago and did so again this morning. I'd also used what was left of my old and new trellis netting yesterday to extend the height of our short trellis to about five feet high.

Mixing backfillSince our ground is bone dry, I dug a good hole for each transplant. Each hole was soaked with about five gallons of water before being backfilled with the original soil mixed with peat moss, lime, 12-12-12 fertilizer, and a bit of bone meal. (BTW: I'm not sure what I would do without our sixteen year old garden cart to mix things in!) Then I pressed a hole with my fist about 6" deep and filled it with water before putting in the transplant.

I'll be mowing our lawn today (and maybe tomorrow) and sweeping up the the grass clippings to mulch around the new plantings. We've also had a change in our weather forecast with a 40% chance of thundershowers for tomorrow and Friday. A good shower would certainly help get the new transplants off to a good start.

Cucumbers transplanted

Japanese Long Pickling (JLP) cucumbers are an open pollinated variety I picked up years ago from Stokes Seeds. They produce long (20" or more), slender, burpless cucumbers that are ideal for making bread and butter pickles. Stokes has long since discontinued the variety in favor of various hybrids. I thought I'd lost my start of JLPs several years ago, but got just one seed to germinate from an old 1994 seed packet several years ago that had been in the freezer. From that plant I've renewed my stock of seed and also continue to share it with others via the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook. I wrote up the experience of almost losing and then saving my start of the variety in the Senior Gardening feature story, A Cucumber of Distinction.

Friday, July 9, 2010 - A Welcome Bit of Rain

Pole beans upMy wife, Annie, had the day off today, so we got out into the garden this morning to cut broccoli and dig (and wash) the last of our carrots. It was sort of a treat for me to have help in the garden on a weekday.

Sun protective garmentsSince the skies were still heavily overcast, I cheated a bit and just wore shorts and a T-shirt for our brief stint out in the garden. I usually have to wear my full complement of sun protective garments (shown at left). While I hate the hot and cumbersome protective clothing, I'm thankful that I can still garden in them without too much risk of more skin cancer. Most of my sungear is from Coolibar, although I've noticed other brands on Amazon and even Rit Sun Guard that one can treat clothes with to achieve a UPF of 30. 

Our ground was still damp this morning from the welcome rain we had yesterday. And with the watering I'd done earlier this week plus the rain, our row of pole beans along our tall trellis were up! It's amazing how rich the soil looks with a fresh rain (and a bit of color from flowers for contrast).

I usually don't try to mow any grass until well into the afternoon. We have too much shade and the grass often stays wet with dew until mid-afternoon. But yesterday morning, I took one look at the weather radar and ran for the mower. I got done mowing, raking, and mulching just as the first of the thunderstorms rolled in.

We ended up getting around an inch of rain. When digging carrots this morning, I noticed that the soil was still pretty dry once you got a few inches down. We may yet catch another shower today, although it's sunny outside while I'm writing this post. But the weather radar shows a nice line of showers just about upon us. It seems with gardening and farming that you're always hoping for things to dry out or for a good rain. I guess we're hard to please.

Sunday, July 11, 2010 - Harvesting Onions

Onions ready for harvest

Onions pulledI started off today thinking I'd pull the rest of our onions and let them lie in the garden to dry a bit until tomorrow. I'd pulled just a few yesterday and let them sit overnight. While the morning dew doesn't help the drying process any, the afternoon sun certainly helps dry down the onion tops.

My plan seemed sound until mid-afternoon. I'd been getting in some good exercise turning and moving our compost pile when I noticed that the skies had become overcast. So I finished up with the compost and quickly loaded the onions into our garden cart, depositing them on our garage floor to finish drying. I've cured onions and potatoes there before. With the big door open, there's pretty good air circulation, and, of course, protection from rain.

As I walked back to the house, the first sprinkles hit my face. I went in to get cleaned up, but when I looked outside later, the skies had cleared. It never did really rain hard. But we have rain possible in the forecast for the next two days, so I'm glad I got the onions under cover.

Sunset over senior garden

Monday, July 12, 2010 - Basil

Sweet basilBasil and pepper rowWe have two basil plants growing this year at the ends of a row of paprika peppers. We had many more basil plants last year around the perimeter of our caged tomatoes. We found that to be way too many for our needs, and the plants suffered a bit from crowding from the tomatoes. At the ends of rather open rows, both plants this year have matured to beautiful, round plants that are now trying to bloom and set seed. I've regularly been pinching them back, as the flavor of the basil leaves is said to be spoiled if the plants are allowed to bloom. While the pinching takes a bit of time, the aroma of the basil while pinching makes the job well worth the effort.

Basil in dehydratorLast year I dried our basil in the oven. This year I have a borrowed dehydrator on hand, so I decided to use it to dry down our first picking of basil. I picked our basil in the morning, as again, that is said to be the time when the oils in the leaves are most pungent. Rather than wash down the plants first, I just picked into a cooking pot and rinsed the basil in it before picking off the leaves and laying them out on the "shelves" of the dehydrator. The instructions on the dehydrator specified using its lowest setting, 95o F, to dry the basil overnight.

Oven drying is probably a more economical and definitely a quicker way to dry basil. It ended up taking about ten hours to dry four four "shelves" of basil in the dehydrator. If I were a true gourmet, I'd be interested to see which method produces better dried basil. But since I'm not, I'll just enjoy the basil once its dried down. And of course, for the rest of the summer, we have fresh basil!

Here are a few good pages I found last year about preserving basil:

Sweet Corn Smut

Sweet corn tasselingWhen I walked out to our East Garden this morning, I was greeted by a welcome sight. Our sweet corn is really beginning to tassel, a sure sign that it won't be long until we're enjoying one of the real rewards of gardening.

Corn smutMy joy was short lived, as a closer inspection revealed that we are already facing a corn smut infection. Corn smut is generally a soil borne fungus that carries over from year to year. We had a bit of smut in last year's sweet corn, but are growing on fresh ground this year. Smut also can blow in from nearby infected crops.

Smut on corn leavesWhile some university pages describe smut as "usually not economically important," our experience has been that it can quickly decimate ones sweet corn if not dealt with quickly and effectively. Most of what I found this morning was on the tassels of our plants, although one plant had leaves infected and another had a large smut gall at its base.

Removal of the infected plants (yes, the whole plant) is the only effective treatment I know of for corn smut. One can lessen their chances of getting smut by growing on clean ground and leaving adequate spacing between plants for good air circulation. But even with such precautions which we'd followed, it can still happen.

I broke off about 10-15 plants at the root in our planting this morning. Unfortunately, I'll now have to walk the rows of our sweet corn every morning, searching for new outbreaks of the infection. The infected plants went onto our compost pile and were covered with soil. Obviously, I won't be using the compost to fertilize our sweet corn area. And I should note that this outbreak occurred at the end of the corn patch where deer had browsed on some of the plants. Humid growing conditions also add to smut problems, but then, growing sweet corn in an arid area is pretty hard to do.

Had I not worked the East Garden this morning, we might have had a real problem with our sweet corn. We may yet face more smut, but by catching it early, I hope we'll still get a good crop of corn for fresh eating and freezing.

Melons and Tomatoes

Cantaloupe in bloom

I was pleased to see our cantaloupe still putting out tons of blooms while also ripening a good many melons on the vine. My initial reason for heading out to the East Garden was to check to see if any of the cantaloupe had reached half slip as yet.

Moira tomatoWe even have our first ripe tomatoes of the year on our Moira tomato plants. Even though our Moiras were transplanted a full fifteen days after our caged tomatoes in the main garden, they ended up producing first. The Moiras were started from seed well before the other tomatoes, and they probably get a little better sun in the East Garden. They're also a fairly short season tomato, listed variously as a 66 to 70 day tomato.

More Softbed Renovation

Softbed turnedWith our onions harvested and curing in the garage, the softbed where they grew was ready for renovation. I used my garden fork to loosen the soil about 8-10" deep and to add some peat moss, lime, and even a bit of bone meal to the area. I prefer to turn the soil first with the garden fork before tilling, as I can go several inches deeper with it than I can with the tiller. And when you're working ground with a garden fork, you get a much better idea of what's in your soil and how good its tilth is.

Ames True Temper Garden ForkTurning the area with a garden fork obviously doesn't leave it planting ready. But even if I'd wanted to go for a quick turn of the soil with the tiller today, I couldn't have. Just as I was finishing up tilling last week, the (forward) clutch cable snapped, so I'm waiting for a part before I can do any more rototilling. I'd really like for the plot to catch a good rain before I topdress it with a bit more peat moss, lime, and commercial fertilizer and till them in. Fortunately, I'm not in a hurry on this plot. Its next crop will be our fall cauliflower and broccoli. I've already started the cauliflower in the basement, but the broccoli isn't even started yet. I'm aiming for transplanting in early August.

Monday, July 19, 2010 - Picking Cantaloupe

I picked our first cantaloupe of the year this morning. I'd had my eye on a couple of Athena melons that had changed color last week, but a Roadside Hybrid was ready today where the others still weren't.

First cantaloupe

We've already picked three honeydew melons (Passport variety), but as good as they were, they don't match up to the flavor of a vine ripened cantaloupe.

Picking honeydew and watermelon is almost an art. I got lucky picking the first of our honeydew, as they'd changed color and you could smell that they were ripe. I'll write about picking watermelon when ours are a bit closer, but this GardenWeb page has some good tips for picking all types of melons.

Melon at half slipCantaloupe are easy to pick, as they let you know when they are ready. Many varieties will begin to change from a green to a lighter, yellowish color as they ripen. But the best way to be sure a cantaloupe is ready to pick is to watch the joint where the stem meets the melon. About two days before the melon is ripe, a crack or circle will appear around the vine where it attaches to the melon. If you pull at the vine, it will detach easily. In the trade, this stage is called "half slip," and it's the point at which commercial pickers harvest their melons. The shot at left is of a Roadside Hybrid from last summer between half and full slip. You can easily see the ring or crack at the stem attachment.

Note: Avoid any cantaloupe in stores with some vine still attached. They've been picked very early and green for shipping. I saw a whole crate of cantaloupe with vine still attached at our local Sam's Club this spring. The flavor won't be what you want.

Cantaloupe do continue to ripen some after picking, and if picked at half slip, should make a flavorful melon in three or four days. But waiting a couple of days until the melon naturally detaches from the vine, at full slip, will assure you of fuller flavor. And some melons even benefit in flavor from being let sit a day or so after picking at full slip!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wind damageHaving survived an early bout of corn smut, some deer damage, and the local raccoon population partying late at night in the patch, a good bit of our sweet corn got blown down in heavy storms the last few nights. At this point, I'm not sure if what was once a very promising stand of sweet corn will produce much of anything for us. But such happenings are part of gardening and have to be taken with some equanimity. The Lord willing, there's always next year.

icon iconWith all of the critter damage to the sweet corn, I actually had a solar fence chargericon and related supplies in my cart at TSC last week. And while I may yet put a hot wire around our East Garden to protect our melons from the raccoons, I'm sorta glad now that I didn't pop for around $200 worth of fencing supplies that wouldn't have helped in the least with the wind damage.

Some of the sweet corn stalks have begun to right themselves already. Others are broken off and won't produce any corn. The damage also makes the sweet corn more susceptible to corn smut, which we just about had licked after some drastic thinning of infected plants.

Eggplant and sweet cornAt the end of our first row of sweet corn our first eggplant appears about ready to harvest. Since I've never grown (or willingly eaten) eggplant, I had to go online to find out when to harvest it. I'm growing it for my wife, who is an excellent cook, so I may yet change my opinion about the vegetable.

EggplantFrom what I read on Veggie Gardener and VeggieHarvest, the eggplant shown at right appears to be ready. It's a bit bigger than my hand and has a glossy appearance, both said to be signs of proper ripeness. It also didn't hurt that Veggie Gardener had a good photo of a Black Beauty variety eggplant ready to pick. The one that's ready in our garden is a Black Beauty. At the other end of the corn row is a Fairy Tale variety plant. It has lots of purple blooms on it, but no fruit as yet.

The recent heavy rains have caused us some delays and problems in the garden, but they've also made for luxuriant foliage and some whopping big melons in our cantaloupe and watermelon patch.

Melon patch

Large Kleckley Sweet watermelonAnd yes, zooming into the center of the photo above reveals an absolutely huge Kleckley Sweet watermelon! I've not had this variety get quite so large before. But the frequent rains of late have swelled all of our melons. Cantaloupe and honeydew melonsThe cantaloupe and honeydew sitting on our back porch are all considerably larger than fruit of the same varieties grown last year. The rapid growth also has a downside, as our Roadside Hybrid cantaloupes are splitting a bit at the seams even though we picked them between half slip and full slip. We haven't started sneaking them into unlocked cars at night yet, but we're getting close to it! grin

Having now rambled on for several paragraphs, I'll get to the main chores of today. I reluctantly pulled the last of our spring broccoli plants this morning. I think this is the latest we've ever been able to let the plants go. But they were still producing up until a few days ago when the heat finally got to them and sideshoots started blooming almost immediately. So there's another "hole" in the main garden to be renovated and replanted when things dry up a bit.

Open area in main garden

Compost pile and corn knifeI've been known in the past to just throw old broccoli and other brassica stalks in a hole to get rid of them. They break down very slowly, and if you don't cover them well, make an awful odor as they decay. But since I started a new compost pile that will have lots of time to "cook," I chopped our broccoli stalks into it today with my corn knife. A chipper-shredder would be a better, if considerably more expensive tool for the task. But if I chopped the stalks well enough, they should break down in a season.

Trimming onionsMy other main chore for the day was considerably easier. I cut the tops from our onions that have been curing in the garage for a couple of weeks now. Perfect onions were bagged for long-term storage in our basement, while those that showed any softness, rot, or any other irregularity were set aside to go either into the compost pile or onto the back porch for fresh use.

Because of the very humid conditions at harvest and curing of these onions, I'll have to be especially vigilant in checking them over the winter for signs of spoilage. I usually check our onions, garlic, and potatoes about once a month over the winter. This year I may have to check and sort out bad ones at two week intervals. But that's a nice problem to have. We had a good season on onions.

As I drove into town this afternoon, I noticed the great blue heron below in the shallows of Turtle Creek Reservoir. I think it's the first blue or white heron (great egret) I've seen this summer. Usually, we have lots of them on the reservoir and its inlets. But this year they're just not apparent, or maybe I'm not as observant as I was in the past.

Blue heron

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Red peppersMy wife, Annie, went out and picked five, large red peppers yesterday afternoon. So our pepper picking season has begun in earnest. I also noticed some Earliest Red Sweet peppers turning red in the East Garden earlier in the week. If we get a good crop of them, I'll offer seed through the Seed Savers Exchange this winter.

For years our pepper plants would look good right up to the time they set fruit. Then, they'd die. We kept trying peppers each year, and about six years ago, we suddenly began to grow beautiful bell peppers. My best guess is that there was something lacking in our soil that got replenished with all the soil amendments we've added over the years.

My gardening is on hold for about a week. I had a parotidectomy yesterday, which is essentially the removal of a salivary gland under the jaw joint. While the surgery went well and the tumor was benign, I'm pretty well restricted from doing...well, almost anything. I'm on some lovely pain killers, which make trying to garden or really do any serious postings unwise. So, I'm going to sit and heal, take lots of long naps and let Annie pick vegetables for a few days.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Apparently healing quickly and now on half strength pain killers, Annie deemed me well enough today to accompany her to our East Garden. We'd picked a few ears of corn last night that the deer had been kind enough to leave on the stalk. The sweet corn was okay, but we've lost our crop to the critters! But the shucks and ears needed to go to the compost pile today, so out we went.

I was assigned the job of pointing out melons for Annie to pick. (I'm still not allowed to lift.) There were several ripe honeydews and cantaloupes and two watermelon that appeared ripe. Both "thunked" right and the bottoms had turned from white to cream colored. When we got back to the house, I cut both melons. The first, a Crimson Sweet, had a bright red interior, but stunk. It was overripe and had begun to rot. The second melon, a Kleckley Sweet, had just a tinge of red flesh and was probably picked about five days too soon. So we took the bad melons back to the compost pile.

I remembered that another Crimson Sweet had sat beside the one that turned out to be overripe. When I rolled it over, it looked ripe. It "thunked" well also, but so had the overripe and underripe melons we'd picked a few minutes earlier. Luckily, this one turned out to be good, possibly picked a day too early, but still red, ripe, and fairly sweet.

First watermelon of the season

And while I write about Annie keeping me on a tight leash while healing, I was worn out just from the brief trips to the East Garden, just as I was last evening when we struggled to find five edible ears of corn amongst the trampled stalks. I'm blessed to be able to share my senior years with someone as wonderful as Annie.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - Today's Take

MelonsI went out to our East Garden today all by myself to dump a couple of buckets of scraps on our compost pile. I'm really not supposed to be doing any such stuff until after I get my stitches out later this week. But other then sweating off my bandages, there appears to be no harm done.

Since I'd hauled the buckets out to the garden in our garden cart, I thought, "Why not check the melons while I'm out here?"

I found that our Athena melons for some reason are not slipping off the vine as they should. I'm not sure if it's a weather related phenomena or if my seed this year isn't the same as last year when the Athenas went to half and full slip just as they should. So I found myself picking Athena melons that were obviously ripe but having to tear off the vine.

Farmer's WonderfulEverglade or Crimson Sweet?Several of the new varieties I'm trying and evaluating this year had ripe melons on them as well. Our hill of Farmer's Wonderful (left) seedless had lots of melons at the same stage, so I picked one as a test. It was ripe, and as seedless varieties sometimes do, actually had a black seed or two. But it also had a wonderful rich red interior color and good flavor. The melons are just over soccer ball sized and a dark green color. I also picked what I thought was a seedless Everglade (right) watermelon, but it had lots of seeds. Since Everglades look like small Crimson Sweets and their hills are side by side, I really don't know which variety it is!

Sugar CubeSarah's ChoiceGetting back to cantaloupes, our Sugar Cube and Sarah's Choice both produced ripe melons today. Sugar Cubes (left) are supposed to be a small melon, but our hot and moist conditions this year seems to be pushing up the size of all our melons. The melon had good, but not exceptional flavor. Our first Sarah's Choice (right) had a unique flavor that I'm at a loss to describe.

We should have lots more melons coming, so I'll have more time to evaluate (enjoy) each type of melon. I may have picked some of these melons a day or so early which would lessen their flavor.

I also picked a bunch of Roadside Hybrid melons. They have proved to be a healthy, heavy producer of large, good quality melons. We're still seeing a good bit of splitting along the heavily ribbed sides, but again, our rather intense weather is probably more to blame there than any defect in the variety.

Cantaloupe in dehydratorDried cantaloupeWith so many cantaloupe coming on at once, I decide to try drying some in our borrowed dehydrator this week. I sprinkled the melon pieces cut 1/4' - 1/2" inch thick with a bit of fruit preservative (basically a sugar, citric acid mix) and dried them for about 20 hours at just under 100o F.

The dehydrated cantaloupe leathers proved edible, but not really sweet enough to be much of a treat. We got our biggest thumbs up on them when we gave pieces to our quaker parrot, Simon!

I'm not giving up on drying cantaloupe just yet, though. I plan to make a sugar-preservative solution and dip each piece in it before putting them into the dehydrator. Just a bit more sweetness might make them a good, if less healthy, treat for grandkids, parrots, and even we hard-to-please cantaloupe connoisseurs.

While I'm making some pretty subjective comparisons of varieties here, all of our melon plants we've picked from so far have produced good fruit. Not one of them is a variety I felt I'd wasted my time and garden space on, and I'll probably grow each of them again in the future. Also, varieties react to weather and other conditions producing slightly different flavor from year to year. Last year's Athena melons were the best cantaloupe I've ever tasted. This year's Athenas are good, but so far, not quite up to last years.

Mountain Valley Seeds

Saturday, July 31, 1010

Corn smutWe had corn on the cob for supper last night. It was delicious, but will be one of the few messes of corn we get this year. Deer and possibly raccoons have pretty well decimated our corn patch over the last few weeks. We'll probably invest in electric fencing for next year, but I need to read up a bit more on solar fence chargers, as I've only used the traditional kind. And I find the reviews posted about the solar units and their reliability a bit disappointing. If you have experience with them (good or bad), please drop me a line.

Having had my stitches from surgery a week ago removed yesterday, I got out into the garden yesterday a good bit. Besides the critter damage in our sweet corn, the corn smut I wrote about earlier this month had spread a good bit. An outbreak such as the one pictured at right is pretty severe, as some of the smut has already erupted, spreading spores throughout the patch. In a good stand of sweet corn, it would probably get into the ears, rendering them unfit for consumption. But since the deer ate most of our ears, the only damage is that the smut will be in the ground for a few years, making this area unfit for growing sweet corn.

Beyond the smut infection, having to take several weeks off during the height of gardening season really didn't hurt us too badly. Annie pitched in big time helping with picking and bringing in melons, peppers, and tomatoes. I did have a bit of weeding to do in the main garden with the scuffle hoe, but our grass clipping mulch held down the weeds in most areas. It only took about an hour to clean up the seedling weeds on some bare soil areas in our main garden. After an overnight shower, I had to go back this morning with the scuffle hoe and clean up a few weeds that had re-rooted.

Cumcumber plantsOne of the areas that took a bit of time was on either side of our short trellis. I'd transplanted and mulched in Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers early this month. The area on either side of the mulch was still bare soil, so it had to be weeded. We only have three cucumber plants growing, and those just barely. All of the plants I transplanted on July 7 died. So did their replacements and more replacements. I finally direct seeded and got one plant started. I later transplanted two more plants, but not to the same spots as where the others died. It would appear I got too much of something (fertilizer, peat, lime, ???) in the holes I prepared for the transplants or the summer heat was just too much for them. So, our cucumbers for pickling may come in right before frost, or possibly not at all.

Speaking of hot weather, let me insert something here before I forget it. The Johnny's Selected Seeds newsletter for August is all about production, harvest, and post-harvest solutions to summer's heat. It's really an interesting and informative read for those of us who struggle to keep a garden going through some really hot summer days. Here's just one paragraph from the newsletter:

Surprisingly, many of the vegetables we think of as cool-weather crops will germinate at extremely high temperatures. Cabbage and cauliflower will germinate at 100F (37.8C), carrots and onions at 95F (35C), turnips at 105F (40.6C). But they won't thrive if the temperature remains that high, because there are other growth stages that are more sensitive to heat.

Ah, fun food for the gardener's mind!

Alma paprika pepper plantFeher OzonWe have lots of lovely cream colored peppers on our Alma and Feher Ozon paprika pepper plants. I had to do a web search to be sure the cream color wasn't their mature color, as this is the first year I've grown these varieties. When I selected our paprika pepper seed this year, I was looking for something a bit stronger than the Paprika Supreme variety, a good but very mild paprika. A photo of a ripening, orange Alma pepper from the Territorial Seed Company site told me I was just being a bit impatient to begin picking and drying paprika.

I was also a bit worried, as I noticed the peppers on our one Paprika Supreme plant were far wider than they should be. It appears our plant crossed with a nearby bell pepper last season. We used saved seed for them this year, as I couldn't find the variety anywhere for sale and our old seed had gone bad.

Sweet basil in bloomPlot A - 7/31/2010At both ends of our paprika pepper row, our sweet basil plants were in full bloom. While pretty to the eye, basil allowed to go to seed develops a bitter flavor. I'd kept them pretty well pinched back until my forced gardening "vacation." So this morning I took the scissors to both plants, pretty severely cutting back the blooming branches. My garden cart that already had corn husks in it from last night now has an aromatic cover of basil cuttings. All will go to the compost pile later today.

The area shown in the picture above right is what I call Plot A. It's now about half of its original size, as I began cutting it down when our gardening needs decreased with our children all out of the house. With the installation of our raised bed (plot B) over the last few years and more intensive gardening techniques, what's left of Plot A now gets the overflow of what won't fit into the raised bed.

Garden - 2003The 2003 photo at right shows most of plot A (far right), along with plots B, C, and D. Plot B became our raised bed, plot C was returned to grass, and plot D was cut down in size, raised, and is now our asparagus bed.

Plot A now has a fallow bed that contained our garlic and will probably be used for fall lettuce, our short trellis with cucumbers, the paprika pepper row with basil at either end, and a row of zinnias. The zinnias were an afterthought when I planted a row of garlic bulblets I'd soaked after harvest as an experiment. Not one of the garlic bulblets came up, but the zinnias are just beginning to come into bloom.

Our main, raised garden bed (plot B, shown below) has lots of open space in it right now. Heavy rains, a tiller breakdown, and my surgery prevented getting some of it back in use as quickly as I would have liked. The far left area, when renovated, will be used for our fall brassicas. The transplants are already growing in our basement under plantlights (and cooler conditions than outside). Our pepper and tomato rows are getting quite tall. The center open section was where our spring brassicas grew and was to be used for a row of green beans. It's getting close to being too late to get them in, but I may still take a stab at it. Our kale row, the trellis row that now has pole beans climbing, and our flower row that was overwhelmed by our spring peas, complete the bed.

Plot B - 7/31/2010

I'm actually pretty comfortable with the open areas right now, as it makes access to the crops growing much, much easier.

I tried drying another batch of cantaloupe this week in the food dehydrator. Since the first batch we dried seemed to need a bit of sugar, I used a 4:1 water-sugar ration to mix some fruit preservative in and dipped each piece in it before drying. While the first batch really wasn't very good, this one approaches being edible. If I try again, I'll have to make a really strong sugar solution to dip the fruit slices in before drying, but that seems to defeat my purpose (other than trying to use up a bumper crop of cantaloupe). I'd hoped to make a tasty, healthy treat, but with that much sugar in it, I'm not sure I'd want to feed it to our grandkids!

And while it may seem that July has been a pretty tough month in the garden for us, we actually have enjoyed a good harvest. Early in the month we were still getting nice broccoli sideshoots despite the high temperatures. Our tomatoes and peppers came on strong with the heat and humidity, and our melons are literally splitting at the seams from the weather. And, the raccoons haven't found them yet this year!

Main garden

And of course, I feel pretty lucky to still be around. When I discovered the lump in my neck earlier this year, well, if you've been through it, you know the kind of thoughts that come to mind. Although I ended up losing a superficial parotid gland, some feeling in my face and ear (possibly temporary), and two to three weeks this month to the lump and some nasty infections that seem to have been related to it, the tumor turned out to be a Warthin's tumor, a benign type of tumor. I can only guess that the Lord has some purpose for me yet.

June, 2010

From the at Senior Gardening