Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 5/1/2010

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Crockett's Victory GardenAs I looked yesterday at my now ancient copy of Crockett's Victory Garden, I smiled at Jim Crockett's words, "More than anything else, though, May is a working month. There are more tasks to be done than there are hours in the day." Crockett goes on to explain what most experienced gardeners already know. During May, one is still trying to get planting done while maintaining things already planted and even beginning to harvest a few vegetables.

For us, today is a bit of a lazy day, as we had heavy rain overnight. The ground is far to wet to work, and we have a couple more days of rain forecast before things begin to dry out.

We have lots of garden chores waiting than can be accomplished once the rain lets up. Our apple trees are ready to be sprayed again with streptomycin (Bonide Fire Blight Spray) to continue our fire blight control. So far, we see no signs of the fire blight that almost took one of our apple trees last year. I'll add some soap to the mix this time for insect control as well. The soap also helps control the sooty mold that we've fought for several years on the trees.

We also need to begin our spray routine with Thuricide on our brassicas and our evergreens. Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis) is effective on broccoli, cauliflower, and such for control of cabbage loopers or small white cabbage worms. Since cygon was pulled from distribution, I found BT to be effective in controlling bagworms on our evergreens as well. It's sorta cool that I can give up using a really nasty, toxic systemic in favor of a biological on our evergreens that doesn't leave any harmful residue.

Once things dry out, our big challenge is getting our 40' x 75' East Garden planted. It is part of a small field the farm renter has left fallow the last few years and allows us to use for our "space hog" crops.

East Garden

We have transplants ready to go for watermelon (seedless and seeded), cantaloupe, honeydew, yellow squash, Waltham butternut squash, and eggplant. Our Moira tomatoes and Earliest Red Sweet peppers also go in this section, as it's far enough away from our main garden to prevent cross pollination with other tomatoes and peppers. We plant to save seed (and share it through the Seed Savers Exchange) from both. Our sweet corn will also go into this patch along with a row of potatoes and possibly some sweet potato plants.

Asparagus bedIn between showers today, I did get out and snap a few pictures of the garden. One thing I haven't mentioned this spring is our asparagus patch. It sorta "starred" in our Building a Raised Garden Bed feature last spring. Unfortunately, putting a raised bed around an already started asparagus bed did some damage to the roots, but the planting we started from seed several years ago is doing well. Since the bed was manured and limed last fall, it really doesn't require any fertilizer right now.

Healthy asparagus shootsWe haven't picked any asparagus yet this spring, although we could have. My wife, who really loves asparagus, was away on a visit to one of our daughters when the shoots really began to emerge. And their emergence was really irregular this spring, possibly because I chose to leave the leaf mulch cover on the bed in place. I took a couple of minutes this morning to walk around the bed and pull the few seedling weeds that had sprouted. One of the big advantages of a long, narrow raised bed is that one can do things like weeding even when the ground is very wet. I can reach any part of the bed while standing outside it.

SoftbedOur softbed of onions, radishes, carrots, beets, and lettuce is off to a great start. I renewed the mulch on some of it this week as it was getting thin (grass clippings rot and also blow away some) and a few weeds were emerging. Some of the onions had a bit of a setback, as a mole burrowed right down the outside row, but they appear to be doing okay now. I'll have to spend some time next week thinning the carrots that have begun to emerge and mulch them in when they're big enough. Some of the lettuce looks as if it will be ready to pick later this month. We had some more lettuce transplants ready to fill in where we pick, but the storm last night flipped the flat that had the lettuce, so it's in pretty sad shape right now. I may have to start some more inside this week.

Caged pepper plantCaged tomato plantOur peppers that we mulched and caged yesterday, along with the tomato plants we transplanted appear to be in good shape. One of the problems with using lots of grass clipping mulch in the spring is apparent in the photos at left and right. We'll be pulling lots of maple seedlings this spring and summer. But it's hard to beat grass clipping mulch for hold moisture in the soil and preventing weed seed in the soil from germinating. The price of clippings, free for the raking, isn't bad either.

All in all, we're off to a great start this spring. I did forget to include spinach in our garden plan, but then, I don't grow very good spinach. I also purposely left out any green beans, as we'll plant them in the space the broccoli and cauliflower will vacate in a month or so, and we still have several canned quarts and pints of them in the basement. But it would have been nice to have some fresh, early beans.

Main garden

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Scene of the crimeI managed to highlight the "senior" in Senior Gardening once again this week. I'd been trying to clear out some scrub trees and wild rose bushes that threatened to overwhelm a nice little volunteer apple tree that serves now as the main pollinator of our Stayman Winesap apple tree. Pitching around tree trunks cut to cordwood length didn't agree with my back very well. So while I can pick up a camera today, that's about the heaviest work I'll be doing for several days.

Transplants readyWe have lots of healthy transplants lining our back porch, ready to go into our large East Garden. But that area still needs to be turned over at least one more time before it is planting ready. Fortunately, the soil is still just a tad too damp to turn, or I might be tempted to risk putting my back out again tilling it today.

Tractor idleEven when our soil passes my "drop a handful and see if it shatters" test for dampness, I also keep an eye on what area farmers are doing before tilling marginally dry soil. Todd, who farms the ground around us, has his tractor and disc just sitting in the field near our East Garden. That's a good tip for me that if he still thinks it's too wet to work, so should I.

I hope to be back at some serious gardening by Monday. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lettuce transplantedMixed lettuce greensWe had soup and salad for supper last night. The soup was Portuguese Kale Soup canned last fall, but the lettuce for the salad was fresh picked from our garden. I got busy picking three lettuce plants yesterday after I noticed one of our plants had died. It probably got undercut by a mole, as we lost one pepper plant and one tomato plant as well. Since I was going to be replanting one lettuce, why not several and have salad for supper!

Our main gardening chores are still on a weather hold for now. We had a good rain last night (1/2 - 3/4"), and we have rain in the forecast for the next several days. When I transplanted the lettuce, pepper, and tomato replacements yesterday, I was a bit surprised at how dry the soil was under our grass clipping mulch. Our raised bed dries out quickly, so the rain (so far) is welcome.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Peas in bloomWe're still in a period of a few days of rain followed by too few sunny days to dry the soil for cultivation. Our peas seem to love the rainy weather and are now beginning to put out blooms. We planted one row of peas in early March and another in early April, as it's always a race to beat the hot summer weather that spoils the quality of most peas. While it's really too late to plant spring peas in our climate zone, one could still plant Sugar Snap peas and probably get a good crop. They always seem to me to be a bit more warm weather tolerant. Our Sugar Snaps were part of the March planting, so we're pretty well set on peas.

Carrots in softbedOur softbed of onions, carrots, and lettuce required a bit of thinning yesterday. I'd overplanted the carrot seed with radish seed to help break the soil crust for the carrots. With our carrots fully emerged and the radishes bulbing, it was time to rescue the carrots! With rain in the forecast for the next few days, I'll wait until the soil is really wet before thinning the carrots themselves to a 1-2" spacing in the row. Our beets that filled out the rest of the carrot row died during a dry spell, so I'll have to replant them, or use the area for something else.

While I generally don't use herbicides in the Senior Garden, yesterday proved to be an exception. We'd planted most of our melons in our large East Garden last year in late April. With the clock ticking on getting our melons in and our transplants beginning to show considerable stress on the back porch, I went ahead and used a knockdown spray of Roundup over the whole area. I'll still come back and till the sweet corn section again before planting, but the melon patch needed to go as is.

Cantaloupe plantMulched transplantOur previous tillings of the area hadn't been that deep, but I generally give my transplants a pretty deluxe hole to grow in. As I described in a posting last year, I dig a hole about 16" deep and wide, putting the soil in my garden cart. I then add a bit of lime, fertilizer, and a shovelful of peat moss to the hole and work it in with the shovel so that it runs another 6" deeper. I then fill the hole with water that has a bit of transplanting fertilizer. The soil in the garden cart gets mixed with peat moss, fertilizer, and lime and goes back into the hole, forming just a bit of a hill. I dig a small hole into it and plop in the transplant, add a bit of starter solution, pack the soil around it, and finally mulch the plant with grass clippings.

I put in two rows of cantaloupe. One row of three plants were all Athena melons, our favorite. A second row contained Sugar Cube, Sarah's Choice, Roadside Hybrid, and an experimental melon from Shumway's. I also put in a bush yellow squash plant at the end of what I hope will be our row of sweet potatoes and regular potatoes.

East Garden

Besides melons and sweet corn, we use our East Garden patch for plants that require isolation for pure seed production. I planted Moira tomatoes at the ends of the rows of cantaloupe, as the hundred yards between the East Garden and the tomatoes in our main garden insures we'll be getting true Moira seed from the plants, rather than a possible cross. I'll be adding some Earliest Red Sweet bell peppers later, also for seed production. I plan to offer the Moira, Earliest Red Sweet, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed through the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook next winter.

We still have two rows of watermelon to transplant, but I simply ran out of both time and energy yesterday. It's raining again as I write today, so we'll be transplanting watermelon (peppers, squash, and eggplant) into the patch sometime next week.

Margarita BouquetAnnie and I are celebrating our sixteenth wedding anniversary this weekend. Not having found just the right gift for her this week and knowing she'd gotten us Jimmy Buffet concert tickets, I resorted to just sending her flowers...of a sort. I seem to remember lime margaritas on the rocks having a good deal to do with our courtship, and a lime Margarita Bouquet® iconfrom certainly seemed to go with a Jimmy Buffet concert (Wastin' Away in Margaritaville...).

Geraniums in planterBTW: Annie brought the bouquet home last night from work, where it was delivered Thursday, and it is just as pretty as the ad photo at right!

A cement planter on our cistern cover came with the house when we bought it sixteen years ago. We fill it each year with various flowers. With the advent of grandchildren, it's become a favorite "easel" for their chalk artwork. One of our granddaughters spends hours coloring the top and sides of the planter each week.

This year I put three geraniums in the planter. The first to bloom is a lovely Horizon Salmon from the World's Top 6 Mix from Thompson & Morgan.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Peas againCosmosIn between attending the rehearsal dinner for one of my daughters and walking her down the aisle, I managed to step off the back porch awkwardly and twist my ankle. I find myself "benched" from gardening for the second time this month due to just plain being old and clumsy! The twist, fortunately, isn't so severe that I can't do that father-daughter dance, but I dare not try anything in the garden before the big event.

And while being coordination challenged is keeping me out of the garden proper, I can still enjoy looking at our peas that are now in full bloom. Their lush growth is now beginning to worry me. I fear that they'll tear off the trellis when weighted down with ripening pods. What a nice worry to have!

We also have a lovely cosmos plant in bloom in the garden. I'd never grown cosmos before, but tried some that came in a sample packet with a seed order.

Gloxinias on plantrackWith lots of rain every few days, I've confined myself to uppotting some of our transplants that were showing the stress of their potted back porch growing environment. I've also had time to be a bit more observant of the needs of our gloxinias that grow under plantlights in the basement. I've tried setting gloxinias out on the porch in the past without much success. They just don't seem to do well there, and of course, can bring some nasty bugs with them when brought back inside.

Red gloxiniasOur plants are now at all stages of growth, other than seedlings, as I've spaced out seeding them. We have some entering dormancy, while others that had been dormant in a cool, dark part of the basement, are now returning to active growth (and a required repotting).

The best of the bloomers come upstairs for us to enjoy in a bright, west-facing kitchen window. I've noticed that these late bloomers from a seeding almost two years ago have denser foliage and seem to bloom more profusely and longer than some of our earlier blooming gloxinias. I attribute the masses of blooms (one plant had twelve open flowers at one time) to the older corms being stronger. I'm not sure what is causing the good leaf production, other than better attention to the level of my fluorescent lights over them.

Our weather forecast still holds a chance of rain for several more days, so any serious gardening is still a ways off. The weather has warmed considerably, which our tomatoes and peppers will love, but I'll have to really watch our lettuce to get it picked before it bolts in the 80-90o F temperatures. If these temperatures hold, it will pretty well bring our spring lettuce season to a close. But we usually are able to grow great fall lettuce at the end of the season.

Thursday, May 27, 2007

After several weeks of rain, our weather pattern this week has turned hot and dry, other than scattered thunderstorms that so far have missed us. My wife told me last night of a report she'd heard that said it had rained every day for thirteen straight days this month! We didn't get thirteen straight days of rain at our house, but we've had enough that we haven't been able to work the soil since early this month.

Damaged tomato plantDamaged melon plantBeyond weather trivia, I'm now having to replant things I thought I had well on their way. Several melon plants, one yellow squash, and even some tomatoes were damaged. We had some plants nibbled, while others were eaten off to the ground. I'd guess deer, as they seem to eat almost anything, but there were no discernable tracks. Maybe rabbits?

Last week when it was still too wet to do much, I did direct seed cantaloupe to replace the plants that were eaten. One hill has already germinated. I also started new transplants indoors, just in case our visitors return. I also put down a good layer of blood meal and rabbit and dog repellent around all the plants in the East Garden, something I should have done originally.

Athena melon plantNot every plant was damaged, and we have some great looking cantaloupe plants well on their way. I've also begun transplanting watermelon. Our first row included hills of Kleckley Sweet, my favorite, a seedless variety, Evergreen, and Crimson Sweet, our most reliable producer. The seedless variety went in between the two seeded varieties for better pollination.

Note that the brown and green colored rings of mulch aren't for decoration. The brown inner ring went down at transplanting, and the greener outer ring was added yesterday. As mulch becomes available, I continue mulching the row until it's fully mulched from end to end. Then I begin mulching outward into the rows (that are tilled and/or mowed for weed control until they're mulched).

East Garden

In an exercise much like adding blood meal and rabbit and dog repellent after the plants had been damaged, I did till the melon section of our East Garden today for weed control. I actually got started on the melon end of the plot tilling a single row I've reserved for sweet potatoes and potatoes. From there, I just sorta kept tilling south.

We still have one or two more rows of watermelon to get in before we start worrying about getting our sweet corn planted. Since I've had really lousy luck with early plantings of sh2 supersweet varieties of sweet corn, I've been in no hurry to get our sweet corn started this year. With daily highs in the upper 80s, I think it's time now!

Pea podsOur main garden doesn't require much attention right now, as we mulched everything fairly heavily several weeks ago. I did spray all the brassicas with the biologic, Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis), and used up the last of the sprayer tank of it on some of our evergreens. Thuricide seems pretty good at controlling bag worms as well as the cabbage loopers and white cabbage moths.

Garlic seed stalk and podOur peas have set pods but haven't begun filling them out yet with peas. Peas don't like hot weather like we're having now, but I hope we'll get a good crop. They're showing no stress right now. I did hill some loose soil along one row of peas I tilled beside today.

Another necessary but quick and easy chore this week was snapping off the seed pods formed on our garlic plants. Putting up seed pods such as the one shown at right is fairly normal for garlic. To force the plant to put its energy into building the garlic bulb, one snaps off the seed pods as soon as they appear (or as soon as you notice them). I'll need to be watchful for seed pods for about another week.

Broccoli headingSavoy cabbage headingI'm also keeping an eye on our broccoli plants, as they've begun to put on their main heads. In warm weather like we're having, cool weather crops such as broccoli can go from not quite ready to overripe in just a day or so. Our cauliflower variety, Amazing, always runs behind our broccoli in ripening. There are tiny heads just beginning to form on those plants. Our red and our savoy cabbage are beginning to head also. I switched to the Alcosta savoy type cabbage not so much for flavor and appearance, but because it seems to handle hot weather better than the regular varieties we were growing (and seeing bolt in hot weather) in the past.

Jennifer Korak HutchensJen & HutchThere's a whole bunch more that got done between showers, wedding rehearsals and the ceremony, but I can only write so much in one sitting. My main job for the last week or so has been to stay healthy enough to walk my daughter down the aisle and do the father-daughter dance bit. Jen was and is a beautiful bride and person. I was just proud (and old smile ).

Friday, May 28, 2010 - Lettuce

Something else always seemed more pressing this week than picking our lettuce. With the sustained warm temperatures here, our lettuce became the first priority of the day in our garden.

Lettuce ready to pick

Most of our lettuce is romaine, although we also grow some looseleaf Red Lollo and some soft head iceberg types, Summertime and Crispino. The two romaine plants above look a little tattered and have a bit of grass clipping mulch on them, but both produced good heads.

Cleaning lettuceI actually cut our lettuce with a knife, rather than picking it and go back and deal with the stem in the soil later. I did an initial cleaning of the lettuce in the back yard, stripping off the outer leaves and giving it a good washing with a garden hose. It's always amazing to me to see all the little bugs and slime that reside at the base of lettuce and cabbage. When I was done, I had half a cart of lettuce strippings and stems for the compost pile.

Lettuce drainingThen the lettuce went to the kitchen for another washing, stripping off any bad leaves I missed earlier, and a chance to drain and dry a bit. My wife, Annie, picked up some of those green bags that have been so heavily advertised on TV, and I store our lettuce in them. The bags are a bit pricey, so we wash them out and reuse them. I'm not really sure whether stuff stays fresh any longer in them, but we've got them and I use them.

Lettuce SaladThe payoff for this work begins at supper this evening. We'll be grilling out since the grandkids will be here, but there will also be lettuce salad (I've already made the hard boiled eggs for it.) and lettuce for the burgers.

And as is our practice, the blank spots in the row were filled with new lettuce transplants before the lettuce picked had a chance to chill. The hot weather probably will make the newest planting bolt before it gets to size, but since I have the plants and space on hand, why not?

Lettuce in

Monday, May 31, 2010 - Memorial Day (U.S.)

Peas - Extra Early Alaska

PeasThe month of May ends with one of our eagerly anticipated harvests. I picked a small bowl of spring peas this morning. A few of our Tall Telephone and Sugar Snaps were ready, but the Extra Early Alaska variety, planted several weeks later than the other two varieties, had lots of pods filled out.

I shelled out the Sugar Snaps along with the other peas, but I did string and eat a few out in the garden while picking them. Sugar Snap peas are one of the true treats of home gardening.

Peppers and peasI added another row, mainly of paprika peppers, at the north end of our main garden yesterday. After a successful trial of the Paprika Supreme variety last year, I put in one plant of that variety plus two each of Alma and Feher Ozon. The latter two are from the Seed Savers Exchange. The Paprika Supreme variety yields a good, mild powdered paprika, but I wanted to try something with a little more zing to it. Possibly a mix of the three varieties will give me what I'm looking for.

The soil was pretty dry yesterday, so I gave each pepper plant a pretty deluxe hole. I dug a foot square hole for each, backfilled a bit with peat moss, lime, and 12-12-12 fertilizer, and then mixed all of it while also trying to go as deep as possible with my shovel. After adding about a gallon of water to each hole, I returned the dug soil, again mixed as above, to the hole and transplanted a pepper plant to each hole. Each pepper plant got a cage of some sort, but they look pretty ragtag, as I was down to my very last of our short cages. At the ends of the row, I put in a geranium and a basil plant. I still have some sage, oregano, and parsley plants to fit into the garden somewhere!

Sweet potato plantsI planted what for me is a totally new crop today, sweet potatoes. I've ordered slips or plants in the past, but never was able to get them into the garden before they died. This year I ordered a dozen Nancy Hall sweet potato plants from Shumways, hoping to do better with getting them in. The plants arrived earlier this month, before I had a spot in the East Garden ready for them, and just when our rainy period arrived. Fortunately, most of the plants survived in a vase of water.

Since I'm a total rookie at growing sweet potatoes, I consulted my copy of Crockett's Victory Garden to see how to start them. I'm glad I did, as Crockett recommended no fertilizer and slightly acid soil. When I worked up the row earlier this week, I'd added a bit of sulfur to acidify the soil, but also added a bit of peat moss to the hole for each sweet potato plant today. I also watered each hole pretty thoroughly before putting in the tender sweet potato slip.

Since the sweet potatoes only took half of the row, I filled the rest of the row with the last of our Red Pontiac and Kennebec potatoes we had left in the basement. They were long past the eating stage, as many of them had foot long eyes growing from them and through the burlap bags I store them in.

I dug a wide, shallow trench for the potatoes, adding a touch of sulfur, peat moss, and some 5-10-5 fertilizer (about two handfuls for the remaining 20' of row). I used my garden fork to work the soil additives into the bottom of the trench, loosening the subsoil that my tiller didn't reach. Then I dug a small hole and put in the potatoes whole (some with their long eyes). With good seed potatoes, one can stretch them by cutting the potatoes, making sure each cut section has at least two eyes, and planting the pieces. Since I had plenty of old, somewhat shriveled potatoes, mine went in whole.

Hills of melonsOur weather forecast for today was for an 80% chance of thundershowers, but the showers held off until evening, so I had time to add one last row of watermelon. I put a caged tomato plant at each end of the row again, planting three hills of watermelon in the 40' row. The outside hills got standard (seeded) plants, Kleckley Sweet and Moon & Stars. The center plant is a new seedless variety from Johnny's Selected Seeds that I'm trying, Farmers Wonderful.

You may note in the photo that I didn't use our usual grass clipping mulch on the new planting. I mowed yesterday and would have raked up the clippings with our lawn sweeper, but the steering gear on our lawn tractor gave out just as I got done!

We're done planting melons for this year, as when you add around 90-100 days of growing time from transplant today to maturity, it doesn't leave much wiggle room. Our watermelons will be late this summer, but we should still have time to get a nice crop.

And while I would have loved to get our sweet corn in this month, it just didn't happen. I enjoy having corn on the cob from the garden as much as anyone, but most of our corn goes into the freezer, so I haven't been in a hurry. We'll need to get it planted in the next week or so, though. I also have one butternut squash plant to get in yet, but I may just till a spot for a hill in our East Garden area, away from everything else. Waltham Butternut squash has a way of taking over a large area.

April, 2010

From the at Senior Gardening


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