One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
Sweet corn is probably what got me started in gardening. My Grandpa Tyler used to grow the best sweet corn I've tasted. Our extended family would gather at my grandparents' house in the country to harvest, shuck, blanch, cut, and freeze sweet corn each year. It's one of my earliest pleasant memories.
Even though we had a brief shower last night, it was dry enough today to plant our sweet corn. We grow all sh2 supersweet varieties which germinate better in warm soil, so our late planting date may prove to be an advantage. Last year we planted early and had to replant...twice!
I had broadcast a bit of 12-12-12 fertilizer on the corn ground before tilling it last week. Today, I marked my rows and sprinkled a bit more 12-12-12 along the row before tilling the five rows to be planted. Once tilled, I strung string from planting stakes, hoed a furrow about 3" deep, and sowed the seeds spaced around 9-12" apart. After pulling loose soil over the furrows to cover the seed, I walked the row to compress the soil over the seed.
We're trying two new sweet corn varieties this year. Mr. Mini Mirai is a small eared corn that is supposed to be incredibly sweet. Gourmet Sweet is an early (71 day) yellow from Stokes Seeds.
Even though we had some real seed viability problems with Twilley's corn seed last year, I still planted Twilley's Summer Sweet 7640R as our full season (84 day) variety. It's an excellent super sweet that has good ear wrapping at the tips which lessens the need to spray. (Note, I generally spray corn silks with mineral oil for insect control instead of using insecticides.)
The first and southernmost row of sweet corn is a bit short, as I planted an eggplant at each end of the row. I've not grown eggplant before, but my wife asked me to try it. The transplants were Black Beauty and Fairy Tale, both from R.H. Shumway Seeds.
I also put in flowers, some direct seeded and some transplants, at the end of each row as row markers. I used cosmos, geraniums, zinnias, and snapdragons. At the north and south border of the East Garden, I planted a row of nasturtiums.
And...I had enough space, so I transplanted my one Waltham Butternut squash plant into the East Garden as well. I gave it its own row, hoping if I train the vines, they won't take over the entire plot.
Our one yellow squash plant in the East Garden has small squash on it already. Yellow squash mature incredibly quickly, so I'll have to keep an eye on this plant. I also need to start another yellow squash indoors for a succession planting.
After getting the East Garden done, I went out this evening when it had cooled down some and picked a gallon or so of Sugar Snap peas. The job was made harder by all the gnats we have now and by the vines having pulled away from the trellis.
If I'd had more time (and energy), I'd also have cut broccoli. Our March planting is now bearing heads around 7-8" in diameter. They aren't the biggest we've grown, but are certainly a good size. You can see from the photo that the hot weather we've had has lessened the quality of the broccoli.
And as I started to bring the camera upstairs to offload its images, I notice three deer across the street. They posed as I quickly stepped outside to snap a few shots.
And while the deer are pretty, I was glad they were in our neighbor's newly planted field of soybeans instead of in our garden!
I cut several heads of broccoli yesterday for my dad and one of our daughters. When I was doing so, I saw that I'd waited too long on some of our broccoli, and time and heat had caused it to begin going to seed. But I still was able to cut, clean, and store about a gallon of nice broccoli buds this morning. Broccoli for the freezer will have to come from sideshoots from the current plants or from fall broccoli. Sadly, when broccoli gets like that in the photo at right, it's only good for the compost pile.
After getting the good broccoli processed, I got my wife to help me pick and shell peas. We picked again from our Tall Telephone, Sugar Snap, and Extra Early Alaska varieties. Our best varieties, Eclipse (shown at left) and Encore, still aren't mature, so we'll have yet more and sweeter peas to pick and freeze next week. About a gallon of unshelled picked peas yielded just over two pints of shelled peas for the freezer!
While out by the peas in the main garden, I couldn't help but feel some satisfaction in looking at our caged tomatoes and peppers. I'd mentioned early last month one of the problems we had using grass clippings for mulch was that the early clippings were often full of maple tree seed. At times last month, it seemed as if every maple seed had germinated. They're really not hard to weed out of moist, mulched soil, but the sheer volume of seedlings wears one down. But...I think I pretty well got them all. And our tomatoes and peppers appear to be doing quite well.
Possibly the most important task of the day dealt with a lack of grass clipping mulch. I usually am able to stay just barely ahead of our melon plants' growth in our East Garden using grass clippings from the yard to hold down weeds. With our mower in the shop, I was back to traditional weed control this afternoon.
Since the area had been recently tilled, new weed growth was minimal. Lots of morning glories had germinated, though, and they can make a real mess of almost any planting. But the conditions were just about perfect for using my scuffle hoe between the hills of melons to cut plants off just below the surface and mix them into the soil. I also set my rototiller's depth adjustment shallow and practically raced up and down the rows between the hills turning under what weeds there were.
I really can't say enough good things about the scuffle hoe. I first learned of the tool years ago through a Crockett's Victory Garden show. It's not a lot of good once weeds get a good start, especially thick grasses, but for seedlings, it's incredible how quickly it can clean up an area. It's best used just after weeds germinate, although sometimes I scuffle an area after a shower and even before the weed seedlings emerge!
Our melons are doing quite well now that I regularly spread a bit of blood meal around them to ward off critters. One hill of Athena melons (cantaloupe at left), is at the edge of its grass clipping mulch. The Kleckley Sweet watermelon (shown at right) has now grown beyond the weed free mulch zone.
You won't generally see Kleckley Sweets (or Monte Cristo melons, as they're also called) in the produce section of your local grocery or even at local fruit and vegetable stands. Kleckleys are one of the best tasting watermelons ever, but they have a thin rind. Commercial growers don't grow them because many of the melons would break during shipping. But for a home garden where one only has to get the melon from the garden patch to the house intact, they're excellent. Our biggest drawback with the variety is that the local raccoon population seem to either appreciate the melon's taste or its easily penetrated rind. They seem to go for the Kleckleys first!
Our sweet potato plants (slips) that I put in last Monday appear to have taken hold. I'm sure the frequent showers we've had this week helped. I also noticed that some of the Red Pontiac and Kennebec potatoes (not shown) I put in, complete with their long eyes, have sprouted leaves. Of course, some of the long eyes have browned and appear dead. The seed potato on them may yet put up a new shoot, though.
I tilled on either side of the potato row and scuffle hoed between the sweet potato plants. I also pulled a bit of loose dirt around each sweet potato plant, beginning the hilling process that will go on to harvest if the plants make it.
We're still putting up small batches of peas about every other day. The only change in the routine is that we are now picking lots of our Eclipse variety, a genetically altered super sweet pea along with lesser amounts of our other varieties. The Eclipse variety produces lots of thin pods with 6-9 peas in each. Our Extra Early Alaska variety is still producing lots of pods, although they frequently are smaller with 3-5 peas each. Our Encore peas still aren't mature, and our Tall Telephone and Sugar Snaps are almost played out. I'll pull the two tall varieties later this week to make way for a succession planting of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers that I started yesterday.
The peas in the strainer have been blanched (placed in nearly boiling water for 90-120 seconds), so they're a deeper shade of green than when picked. Once again, about a gallon of picked peas produced two very full pint freezer bags of shelled peas. While it all sounds like a lot of work for very little product, I spent a delightful hour on the back porch yesterday morning taking my time shelling peas. It was cloudy and warm, but there was a delightful light breeze blowing. That's almost like being on vacation!
After repeated plantings last year to get even a rather poor stand of sweet corn, I've been watching our week old planting this year like a hawk. I scuffle hoed down the sides of each row on Monday, as the corn was just spiking so I could tell where it was. Yesterday I went back and replanted a very few bare spots in the rows.
While I'm not terribly proud of my somewhat crooked row at right, I am thrilled that we only had one serious bare patch to reseed. All three varieties that I planted are showing good germination rates, if I chalk up the one bare patch to getting the seed in too deep.
Note to photo buffs: The image at right was shot at f/22, the best I could do in the evening light. The larger image (available by clicking on the photo) shows the limits of depth of field even when stopped down that far.
And I did remember to spread a bit of blood meal in the corn patch last evening. I'd bought a new bag of it, but had let it sit. Blood meal in the bag doesn't do much to scare the deer away! And they do love to nibble on new shoots of corn and beans.
Our one yellow squash plant is setting on lots of fruit. Even if I didn't like yellow squash in steamed mixed vegetables, I'd be tempted to grow it because of the plant's deeply saturated greens and yellows. I'd started two pots of yellow squash this year, but only one made it. I'll need to start another pot or two of it soon for a succession planting when a spot opens up in the East Garden. I don't grow squash in our main garden, as they could cross pollinate with our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers from which I save seed each year.
We had heavy, heavy rain last night. The shots below of our two major garden patches were shot before the rain fell. The corn shots above were today, after the rain had shot the corn spikes up what seemed to be an inch overnight.
Both of our garden patches are now in good shape. With the recent and predicted rains, I'll have to be on my toes keeping up with the weeds.
Today was one of those days where one could hear thunder in the distance almost all day but still had bright sun for a few brief periods. Despite all the thunder, the rain didn't come until early evening. And then it came in torrents.
Since this was the first day all week where my morning was free for gardening, I took advantage of it. I cleaned our tall trellis of the old Tall Telephone and Sugar Snap pea vines. Their productive period was cut short by the vines blowing off the trellis (and my later catching some of them with the mower). But both produced acceptable to good crops. But I wish the Sugar Snaps would have lasted longer for our grandkids to be able to pick and eat some straight from the vine.
After putting the pea vines on the compost heap, I cut a couple of heads of cauliflower, some broccoli sideshoots, and a red and a savoy cabbage. Working the brassicas also told me I needed to spray again with BT, as there was a good bit of leaf damage.
Last week, Annie had said that she really was craving pasta, so I picked up some fresh cheese ravioli noodles at the grocery. When I got started cooking, I realized that I didn't have any fresh or dried garlic. Not wanting to use the commercial chopped garlic in a jar that Annie had bought, I went out and dug one garlic plant. I'm glad I did, both from the excellent flavor the fresh garlic gave our supper and also because it told me our garlic was ready to dig almost anytime now. I'd actually been a bit worried at the appearance of our plants, but they're just doing the normal drying down that garlic does.
With some really serious clouds rolling in midday, I hurriedly worked our five rows of sweet corn with the scuffle hoe. I managed to nip a couple of spikes of corn, but otherwise got the area cleared of weeds and a bit of loose soil pushed up by the corn. I also grabbed my early, short season corn seed and filled in the few remaining bare spots in the rows (and the two I created with the scuffle hoe). I could have opted to rototill between the rows of corn, but wanted to hand work the area one more time. When the corn is around 8-12" tall, I'll go back with the tiller with the shields up to till the aisles and throw loose soil around the base of the corn plants.
And living in an area where there are two coal fired power plants and an oil refinery, we regularly get some incredible sunsets (probably from the pollution in the air). But...we do enjoy them. This is the sunset from Wednesday evening.
Paul Calback had written me in January with a question about spacing asparagus plants in an intensive planting. He obviously was doing his homework before getting ready to plant asparagus roots in the spring.
After an exchange of several pleasant emails, I asked Paul, as I usually do when conversing with readers, to let me know how his project worked out. Below is his response that I received this week:
Paul rents garden space (link to Google maps of garden area) from the city in a community garden in Toronto, Ontario. For those of us with lots of land, we forget that gardening is a bit of a luxury for us that city folks living in apartments and condos may have to pay for!
I was impressed with Paul's raised beds. Just looking at his surrounding plots, one can tell that he's a serious gardener. He wrote in another email that he uses a style of Square Foot Gardening. I've read a bit from Mel Bartholomew's first edition of Square Foot Gardening and may try some of it yet this year. But as Paul wrote of the allotments surrounding his, "I love that there are 120 gardens, and about 120 different ways to garden, and hundreds of different things to grow."
My thanks to Paul for letting me share his experience in building raised beds and getting a new plot of asparagus started.
Our garden patches are way too wet right now for any serious work. Having raised beds has allowed me to work from the side of the bed and pull a few carrots from and dig a few garlic bulbs. Most of the garlic just had their tops bent down to increase bulbing (if that really helps) and to get them started drying down before I dig the bulk of the crop. The wet ground also makes weeding the garden and flowerbeds quite a bit easier.
I couldn't be more delighted with our crop of onions this year. We started four varieties from seed in January, and they're just about to the point where we'll bend down the tops to let them finish bulbing and begin drying. We grew Walla Wallas, Red Zeppelins, Pulsars, and Milestones last year, but the tops were prematurely bent down by some severe storms and our harvest suffered. Other than the Walla Wallas, which we use fresh and chop and freeze, the onions stored well and had excellent flavor. So we went with the same varieties this year and appear on our way to an excellent harvest.
Our garlic plants have been bent down now for about a week and should be ready to dig. I couldn't resist digging a few last week for table use and to check size and development. The plants that didn't get used fresh have been drying on the back porch. They're just about ready to go into storage. One advantage to bending over garlic tops in the field is that it leaves a softer, withered set of tops that are easier to braid for drying and storage than the ones I just dug without bending the tops down first. And the aroma of fresh garlic again in the kitchen is wonderful!
With lots of rain and hot weather, we're eagerly awaiting peppers and tomatoes from our main garden. Our peas have finally played out, and our broccoli production is down to sideshoots only, although we still have a couple of heads of cauliflower to cut. But other than some light weeding and keeping up with BT spray on the brassicas, this patch doesn't require too much care right now.
Melons and Sweet Corn
Our larger East Garden patch has become pretty labor intensive over the last few weeks. I normally mulch and till for weed control. But my mower was in the shop for over two weeks, and we've had regular rains that have prevented using the rototiller much. So I tried to stay ahead of the weeds using my trusty scuffle hoe.
I thought I was going to be okay when I finally got the mower back. The two week plus backlog of grass clippings supplied plenty of mulch, but I had to scuffle hoe the weeds around the hills, hand weed in the hills, and then gently lift the vines and to mulch under them. And then the lawn sweeper stripped a couple of teeth off one of its drive wheels! Fortunately, Sears Parts Direct still carries the parts (at a princely price!). But our melons are thriving with the hot weather and frequent rainfall.
And our sweet corn is off to a great start.
It's a little weedy right now. I'll need to do some careful work in the row with the scuffle hoe before tilling with the shields up (or off) to throw soil over the base of the plants. Of course, if it rains, I'll have to just scuffle hoe the whole patch (again), but homegrown sweet corn is well worth the effort.
Barn Swallows and Susie
We've had barn swallows nesting under our porches and on protected nooks on the sides of the house for years. We don't really discourage them, as they're great bug catchers and fun to watch. Occasionally, the parents get a bit too protective of their nests, but our front porch barn swallows (two nests) this year seem to be old timers who remember us. The clutch of five shown at left are pretty well feathered out and should be leaving the nest any day now. I've counted at least five nests around the house this year with another in the garage.
Susie, our lab-rottweiler cross, came with the house sixteen years ago. She doesn't have much to do with gardening, but she's actually been here longer than we have. When we bought the house, the owners gave Susie, a pup from their dog, to some friends who lived over eight miles away. Several months after we moved in, Susie showed up on the back porch, more dead than alive. She'd walked all the way "home" from her new owners' house. We nursed her back to health and contacted her new owners. They suggested we keep her, as she'd probably just try to walk home again. She's been an incredibly loyal and friendly dog over the years. While grayed and a survivor of several apparent strokes, she still gets around fairly well and seems to enjoy life.
We grew our garlic this year in a softbed just outside our main raised garden bed. With my attention focused on the raised bed the last couple of years, I hadn't added a lot of organic matter to the bed. I found the soil in the softbed to be quite dense and somewhat difficult to dig!
I generally bend the tops down a week or so before digging our garlic. I definitely don't wait for the tops to wither naturally, as I find the garlic bulbs begin to rot quickly in our clay soil.
Digging garlic isn't rocket science. You just use a garden fork and ease up to the garlic, being careful not to spear the bulb and dig deeply enough to raise the garlic bulb intact. Garlic puts out a lot of strong roots, so it takes a bit of leverage to lift the garlic and the surrounding soil.
I'd been fortunate last week to run across a closeout sale on peat moss at a local discount store and stocked up on the soil amendment. As I dug the garlic yesterday, I also shook peat into the ground, as I was digging around 6-8" deep. When the soil has dried a bit more, I'll renovate the bed with a lot more peat moss, live, and whatever compost I can spare to loosen the soil a bit. This particular bed will also probably be enclosed soon with timbers to make a long, narrow raised bed.
In hindsight, I really wish I'd dug a few more bulbs of garlic early and stored them in the refrigerator. I did that with just one bulb and found the fresh garlic to have much more aroma than dried garlic.
I washed the garlic this morning and lined the bulbs along the edge of our back porch to dry. I even tried my hand at a couple of braids of garlic, but they look pretty ratty. It will take a week or so for the garlic tops to dry enough to cut them. I like them to be completely dry (no lush green in them) when I cut them and bag the garlic in old potato mesh bags for storage in the basement.
And finally, I found a really nice article about elephant garlic today on Grow Your Own.
Sunday Night, June 27, 2010
We've had (and are still having) strong thunderstorms this evening in our area. Our power has been out for a half hour or so now. I'm working by the light of a candle and my laptop screen (until its battery runs down). The Slab-O-Mac battery indicator says I have two hours and eight minutes left, but I'd guess something closer to just over an hour until it shuts down.
Our power has gone out several times this spring and early summer during heavy storms. I'm not sure the storms are any worse than in past years, but power companies have cut back on line maintenance and personnel, with rural areas paying the price in increased outages.
Having lived in the country for years, we usually have a good supply of candles and several working flashlights. During one power outage this spring when some of our kids and grandkids were here, we lit a bunch of candles and played Taboo by candlelight. It was lots of fun.
We know not to flush too often (well water from an electric pump) or open the refrigerator unnecessarily. Our chest freezer in the garage is full, so it will hold though multi-hour outages without any problem. And the phones are still working. I've already make the requisite call to the automated number for the power company.
When the power is out for more than just a few hours, I worry about water seeping into our basement without the sump pump to remove it. Years ago, we had several feet of water in the basement during an outage with continuing severe thunderstorms. Such events tend to shorten the lifespan of ones water heater, furnace, washer and dryer.
We had rain early this morning, but the skies cleared quickly for a rather hot and muggy day. I transplanted some snapdragons at the end of a row of corn to replace the row marker plant that didn't make it. I had a few snaps left over, so I put them along our now empty pea trellis. I hope they survive the storm, as the last time I transplanted flowers into that area, a storm wiped out many of them!
Ah, yes, two hours turned into just over thirty minutes of battery power. The emergency power indicator just told me to shut down...now! And as the Mac wound down on its shutdown cycle, the power came back on. The outage lasted only 90 minutes, the shortest we've had this year. So now I continue from my main Mac upstairs.
I've been working so hard lately at mowing, mulching, and weeding, I really missed something. Yesterday, my wife, Annie, said that we had lots of gorgeous, large, green bell peppers. I'd weeded the pepper and tomato rows twice in the last week and laid fresh mulch over part of the area. I pulled lots of weeds that had come up where the mulch had thinned, but never noticed the peppers!
Our gloxinias growing on our downstairs plantrack seem to know it's summertime despite being in a windowless room. I snapped a few shots of them this morning before taking the last, poor plants still left in fourpacks and putting them into the front flowerbed. I don't think they'll much like getting their leaves wet, but I wasn't going to transplant any of them into larger pots, as they are all repeats of colors I already have.
We're really heavy on reds and pinks with just a few purple flowering plants from our seedings over the last two years. Most of the plants shown here should be in their final flowering period before going into dormancy. (There are several not visible on the back row of the bottom rack coming out of dormancy.)
I'll be starting some more gloxinias from seed later this month, as they begin flowering after six to seven months. I hope to get more purple blooms. And after looking at the images I shot in the morning, I had to go back downstairs a few minutes ago and shoot a few more shots without flash, as that reveals the dazzling colors a bit better. (Note, the shot below was taken with just the florescent lighting on manual at f/8 and 1/60 second.)
The heavy rain we had Sunday night apparently washed away all of the blood meal I'd spread around our sweet corn. A deer managed to find our unprotected sweet corn and did a good bit of damage in the wee hours of the morning. From the tracks in the mud, it appears to have been just one deer. That's a good thing, because just the one bit off the tops and/or trampled about ten sweet corn plants. Had the whole gang come to dinner, I'd have been getting my sweet corn this year at the farmers' market!
I spread more blood meal around the corn yesterday morning and was thankful that I'd planted as much sweet corn as I had (5-40' rows). If we escape further damage, by no means a sure thing with a healthy raccoon population just down the way at the creek, we'll still have plenty for fresh eating and freezing.
I've noticed several gardeners in our area this year protecting their sweet corn and other crops with a hot wire. I'm not sure how effective an electric fence would be with raccoons, as the resourceful creatures are our major pest in both our sweet corn and especially our melons. But such a fence would certainly deter the deer. Having used electric fences to confine our hogs and cattle when we were farming, I really would prefer not to mess with chargers, posts, insulators, and wire again. But...if the raccoons start partying again in our watermelons like they did last year, I may change my mind.
We'd had just a few hummingbirds at our two feeders until about a week ago. The first clutches of babies must be out of their nests now, as we have lots of hummingbirds at the feeders. When one feeder ran empty last weekend, the other feeder had 8-12 (It's really hard to count that many.) hummingbirds around it jockeying for position.
We've standardized on the type of feeder shown at right. I'm not sure they're any better than the others I see in stores, but by staying with the same model, I can mix and match parts.
More important is the mixture that goes into the feeder. Since the base is red, we don't need or want any food coloring in the nectar mix. Several years ago a nice lady shopping at Rural King gave me her recipe for homemade hummingbird nectar. It's just four cups of water and one cup of granulated sugar (or any 4:1 ratio). Since we draw our drinking water from the cold tap that bypasses our water softener, I heat the water in a pan on the stove just enough to dissolve the sugar. Since our feeders have just a twelve ounce reservoir, we rarely have trouble with the nectar mix fermenting before it's used up.
With lots of hummingbird babies and adults now visiting our feeders, I'm a steady customer at the grocery for sugar! And while hummingbirds are incredibly quick, having feeders on our porch produces some good photo opportunities. My two best hummingbird shots shown here are available on our Desktop Photos page for free use as desktop images or wallpapers.
And while I'd love to pretend to be a great photographer, sometimes you just get lucky. The shot at right is actually a small crop from the full photo at left! Having some great photo equipment helps. My Canon Digital Rebel XSi produces images 2848 x 4272 pixels. Combined with my "long lens," a Canon 55-250mm, even though I centered the feeder in the shot, I was able to use the hummingbird that popped into the upper right of the frame.
Canon's latest and greatest advanced amateur digital SLR is their Canon EOS Rebel T2i 18 MP CMOS APS-C Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only). Note that the link above is for the body only, as the kit lens Canon supplies with such cameras is disappointing. I'd recommend what I use for a "normal" lens, the Canon EF-S 17-85mm, or their newer, faster (and more expensive) Canon EF-S 15-85mm.
The storms Sunday night blew over some of our onions, so I've begun to pull a few onions. I actually was a bit too late, as a couple of Walla Wallas I pulled had already begun to spoil! I left all but one of the ones I pulled in an open area of the main garden to begin drying. (My porch space for drying is still full of garlic!) I'll be bending down the tops of most of our onions soon and the harvest in earnest will begin. Since I picked up a ham shank for supper last night, tonight's supper was simple: canned green beans from last summer's garden seasoned with lots of ham and fresh, sweet onions from the garden!
Possibly saving the best until last, Annie made another discovery yesterday in the garden. The first of our grape tomatoes were beginning to ripen. By this afternoon, two were ripe.
at Senior Gardening