Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 8/9/2011

Monday, August 1, 2011 - Late Blight in Potatoes

PotatoesPotatoes with blightI knew I was in trouble with our potatoes earlier this summer when some plants I had transplanted out of our compost heap to fill in a row began to show the leaf damage and wilt typical of late blight. I began a regular spraying routine with Serenade biological fungicide to no avail, so I dug out the infected plants and continued treating the rest with Serenade.

It became obvious a couple of weeks ago that the disease had spread to my potatoes grown from certified disease free potatoes, and Serenade wasn't enough to combat the blight. I stopped by our local garden center looking for a copper fungicide that might check the blight, but they didn't have any. They did have a product called Bonide Fungonil. Since my potatoes were dying, I decided to give it a try and began spraying with it last week.

I could tell today that I'd lost some of the plants. On the brighter side, there were other potato plants putting on vigorous, healthy new growth. After removing our short trellis where our shelling peas had grown, I dug out the dead potato plants, being careful to try and remove all the infected stems. I also, of course, took the potatoes that had grown beneath them, as there's nothing wrong with them (for eating...definitely not for planting).

What's left of our potatoesI hilled up the surviving potato plants, but things still look pretty sad. Our Kennebec potatoes suffered the most damage and we've lost almost all of that row. Our Red Pontiacs are in slightly better shape, but are also infected.

I just let this go too long before switching fungicides. And of course, I did this one to myself. One should always use certified disease free potatoes. I just got a little foggy and decided to fill in a row from some very healthy looking potatoes that had sprouted in our compost pile. Since I'm apparently dealing with late blight, the transplanted plants didn't show signs of the disease until weeks after transplanting.

The photo above also shows another row of green beans I got planted today. Our planting from a week or so ago is just coming up and is a bit spotty. I filled in some of the gaps today with more bean seed before going on to plant a row of Jade and Bush Blue Lake green beans. With days to maturity dates of around 55 days, the second row might just give us a nice picking before our first frost.


Lots of melonsAll of our melons are running a bit late this year, but today marked all four varieties of cantaloupe finally producing ripe fruit. We've been picking Sugar Cube melons for a couple of weeks now and have had one early Athena melon. Today I picked Sugar Cubes, Athena melons, one Roadside Hybrid, and one Sarah's Choice melon.

Our Athena melons are doing the same trick they did last year, ripening but not going to half slip or full slip when ripe. If their rinds didn't change color, I might miss our ripened Athena melons, but having had this unusual behavior before, I just tear the vine and pick the melons when ripe and aromatic. (Yes, sniffing cantaloupe is an effective way to determine ripeness!)

Our watermelons are still a ways off from ripening. We have a good many set on, but they're just not ready as yet. I keep checking the Crimson Sweets each day, as they should be the first to begin to ripen. Our Kleckley Sweets, Farmers Wonderful, and a new variety, Ali Baba, have also all set fruit, but are later to ripen, although the Ali Babas (link to review of Ali Babas) are beginning to look like they may beat the Crimson Sweets.

Our Farmers Wonderful watermelons are the only seedless variety we're growing this year. We were pleased with their flavor last year, although they did have some seeds, but much fewer than a standard melon. We won't be picking the Farmers Wonderful for some time, as our first transplants didn't survive the sunny day in early spring when I forgot to open the cold frame (and many of our melon transplants fried in the heat of the cold frame). I started more Farmers Wonderfuls and Crimson Sweets as pollinators and got them in a month later than the rest of our melons. That should give us an early to mid-September harvest of seedless watermelon.

Japanese Long Pickling Cucumbers

Japanese Long Pickling cucumberOur Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers are once again setting fruit. They'd ripened three long cucumbers before the mini-drought set in last month. The dry weather, competition from the Sugar Snap peas that shared the same trellis, and my letting several cucumbers fully ripen for seed saving apparently stopped them from setting new fruit. After I took out the pea vines and gently, gently wound some of the cucumber vines up on the trellis, we got several good rains. I was pleased today to see a long, thick JLP cucumber on one vine.

I have two terribly overripe JLPs on the back porch that I may use for seed. When saving seed from open pollinated cucumbers, one needs to let the cucumber ripen on the vine to a yellow color before picking and then let them sit and ripen a bit more before harvesting seed. Picking them early invites bad seed.

While we grow our JLPs mostly for seed, they're a good slicing and salad variety. Every few years I use them to make bread and butter pickles...which keep for years canned.

Every Blight Has a Silver Lining (Well...)

Losing most of our row of Kennebec potatoes wasn't a joyful experience, but (freshly dug) baked potatoes at supper tonight eased the pain somewhat. We also had corn on the cob again, a daily or every other day treat as long as our sweet corn holds out (and the raccoons and deer stay away).

Readers new to this blog may be surprised with the really foolish mistakes I still make, such as using potato plants that may look healthy but carry a serious plant disease. Late blight is the disease that caused the Irish potato famine between 1845 and 1852. Not opening the cold frame I attribute to a senior moment.

But sharing both the failures along with the successes in our gardens may help others deal with similar catastrophes.

Thursday, August 4, 2011 - Cleaning Up the Sweet Corn Patch

Weedy sweet corn patchI'm in the middle of one of the nastier gardening chores I have each year, cleaning up the sweet corn patch. It's a bit harder this year than usual, as I'd let our corn patch get weedy during a wet period when tilling wasn't possible. We'd also had a lot of damage to the crop from deer biting off the tops of the plants. I really wasn't sure we'd get anything from the crop, but decided not to take it out early and see what we got. As it turned out, we've gotten some nice corn.

Corn knife and cartI like to get our corn stalks out early, as they're easier to cut and chop while still green. There's the side benefit of finding a few "second ears" we missed in picking that are still good to eat.

I use an old fashioned corn knife to cut the stalks right at ground level. I can set the stalks across our garden cart and then chop them into sections before they go into our compost heap. Corn stalks break down slowly, but fairly well over a few months in our compost heap if I get them chopped well.

One thing that has made this difficult job a bit easier is that I'm not dealing with any corn smut on the ears and stalks this year. Smut can be carried over on field trash and in the ground from year to year. Once it gets going, it can really ruin a crop of sweet corn. Growing on clean ground not used recently for sweet corn is the best preventative for corn smut. But the spores for it can travel great distances in the wind, so if a neighbor upwind has a problem with smut, you may have one as well.

Corn smut on tasselSmut on corn leavesWhen corn smut is detected, it needs to be removed and disposed of. It's actually better to take the entire corn stalk, rather than just the infected area, as the whole stalk may be infected and the disease may re-emerge elsewhere on the plant. Usually the first signs of smut appear on the tassels of the corn plant.

Putting smut infected material into the compost heap is really an iffy proposition. If your compost pile heats up enough, it should kill the smut and its spores, but if not, you could be spreading the infection. Burning smut infected stalks isn't a good idea either, as the spores can become airborne without being killed. Burying it works, but only in a place where you're not going to grow corn for several years. (I sometimes put it in holes that I cover with used cat litter!) Bagging the smut infected material and letting it go to the dump seems to be the safest way to go in disposing of the infected plant material.

Getting back to the corn patch cleanup, I cleared two of our six 33' rows of corn yesterday, mowed over the area, and finally rototilled it. Our late watermelons had already sent runners two rows deep into the corn patch, so it was important to me to clear this area for future melon vine growth.

Corn rows cleared

Done!With cooler conditions today, I've been taking out the last four rows a bit at a time. Even with temperatures in the mid-80s, I'm having to cut and chop a bit and then come inside to rehydrate...and write this blog posting. By mid-afternoon the job was done with the area tilled a bit to suppress future weed growth.


As I headed to the house to cool off, I couldn't resist taking a look at some of our watermelons. I broke the stem on two watermelons trying to lift them just a bit, so I guess our watermelon harvest has started. Fortunately, both the Kleckley Sweet and the Crimson Sweet I broke off the vine were fairly ripe. I was able to use the core of each melon, so we now have tons of cut watermelon in the fridge.

Burpee Seed Company

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Earliest Red Sweet peppersI'm celebrating my first day in two weeks where I can cheat a bit and work in the garden in full sun. I'm just coming off a two week round of treatment with generic Efudex, a type of cream chemotherapy for actinic kerotosis and skin cancer. While wearing the stuff, sun exposure is a no-no. While I spent more time outside than usual this morning, I did still have on my sun protective garments.

While working in our large East Garden plot, I was pleasantly surprised to find four gorgeous Earliest Red Sweet (ERS) peppers on one plant. I grow this open pollinated variety of pepper apart from our other peppers to prevent cross pollination, as I offer ERS seed each year through the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) annual yearbook. Our East Garden almost never gets watered, and the soil there is rather poor, so our peppers there often aren't something I'd show in a photo here.

ERS and Ace size comparisonWhile not as large as the hybrids we grow in the main garden, Earliest Red Sweet peppers provide lots of medium sized bell peppers that generally don't rot before ripening to a bright red color. I began growing them in the 70s, but lost my start of seed. I eventually found seed on the Seed Savers Exchange a few years ago. I think it's important to preserve an alternative to hybrid varieties that one can't save seed from.

I ran (well, walked) outside while writing this posting to pick a hybrid pepper to make the comparison photo at left. It turned out that the only ripe red pepper on our hybrid plants was the enormous Ace F1 shown in the photo that makes the ERS look even smaller by comparison.

Let me add a note here that when growing bell peppers, one wants to plant them in the best soil possible. Our practice of growing our ERS peppers in the rather poor soil of our East Garden has shown us over and over that growing peppers on poor soil just doesn't work out very well. Interestingly, we couldn't grow good peppers in our main garden for years. Something in the soil changed a few years ago, possibly a trace element added by using powdered seaweed, and we are now able to grow gorgeous red and yellow peppers that rival those sold in a garden market or supermarket.

Our East Garden

Watermelons and tomatoesI actually was working on cutting melon vines off our tomato cages in the East Garden this morning and picking tomatoes. I ended up filling a twelve quart pot with Moira open pollinated tomatoes. The Moiras, like the Earliest Red Sweet peppers, are grown in the East Garden to provide separation from our other tomatoes in our main garden to insure purity of the seed we offer through the SSE.

Ali Baba watermelonI also took some time to pull weeds that had broken through our grass clipping mulch and the heavy vine cover of the melons. There were two melons, of course, that I just couldn't resist picking. Our first Ali Baba watermelon weighed in at a bit over 32 pounds! When I cut and tasted it, I wasn't disappointed. While the exterior of the melons are a very pale green to white, the interior is bright red with very few seeds. The flavor is excellent. The variety seems to live up to its rave reviews elsewhere on the web.

Melons of similar size and quality are going for around $6 each in our area this year. I noticed our local grocery had melons on sale this week for $4 each, but they were only slightly larger than icebox or personal sized melons. A friend mentioned last week that prices on melons at local garden markets are staying a bit high this year as well. (Note: We live in an area where there are a lot of commercial melon growers.)

Basil in bloomI wound up my outdoor work for today by picking grape tomatoes, cleaning our our main season tomato plants a bit, and pruning a couple of basil plants that were blooming. Until today, the only one picking our grape tomatoes had been our grandchildren. I was pleased to see that even though one granddaughter had feasted on grape tomatoes over the weekend, there were lots there still to be picked. I also took the time to clean up all the groundfalls, as they get smelly when left to rot...and produce hundreds of tiny plants if left in the soil.

Sweet Olive and Red GrapeWe're growing two varieties of grape tomatoes this year, Sweet Olive and Red Grape. We've grown both in previous years, although not last year. Since seed for grape tomatoes is generally quite expensive and one only gets a few seeds in a packet, I'm always looking for a bargain on that seed. Johnny's Selected Seeds has both varieties on sale this year. The health, growth habit, production, and most of all, flavor, of both varieties are excellent.

Our main crop tomatoes are just beginning to bear ripe fruit. We're still fighting some tomato diseases, but it appears that the Serenade biofungicide is working. I picked just four or five tomatoes from the main crop plants, and most of those were ones that looked ripe on the plant but once picked, appear to need a few days of ripening to be ready for the table.

I noticed the basil plants on either end of our row of caged tomatoes had begun blooming last weekend when I went to the garden for fresh basil, parsley, and oregano. I was cooking spaghetti sauce from scratch (well, I used canned tomatoes from the garden) and fresh herbs really make a difference in the taste of the sauce. Fortunately, a second planting of basil hadn't begun blooming, as basil gets bitter when it blooms. I cut back the basil that was in full bloom today and will need to be vigilant in pinching off blooms from now on.

I'm still holding off on transplanting our fall broccoli starts. While our high temperatures have come down just a bit, our ground is once again bone dry. I still have about a week before I'll have to go ahead and just put the plants in to beat an early hard frost.

Rukaten Camera

Sunday, August 14, 2011 - Planting Fall Brassicas

Row of brassica transplantedWe've had a pleasant change in our weather over the last few days that has made our gardening much more enjoyable. Our high temperatures have run in the low 80s for several days, letting us garden more and save on air conditioning. What we haven't gotten, like much of the rest of the country, is a good, soaking rain.

Taking advantage of the lower temperatures, I put a few broccoli and cauliflower plants into our main garden Friday morning. Even with lots of water at transplanting and mulch, one of the plants had wilted by evening, but recovered after a thorough soaking of the soil around it. When you can do it, planting early in the morning or in the early evening during hot weather gives transplants a much better chance at survival.

CabbageWith the cooler temperatures and a possibility of rain in the forecast, I went ahead and put in the rest of our fall brassicas today. I'd hoped we'd have a good shower before putting them in, but days to maturity dictate that they had to go in now whether we got a rain or not.

I used the area that had sat fallow since I harvested our garlic for cabbage plants. I'd gotten carried away when I started our cabbage indoors and had lots of transplants. I ended up putting in nine cabbage plants - 4 Alcosa savoy cabbage, 3 Tendersweet, and 2 Super Red 80. Since I had two geraniums left in a flat that I hadn't used yet, I also put a geranium in at either end of the row.

Spinach rowOn a roll, I moved to the last open area in our main garden that I'd been saving for either fall lettuce or flowers and put in a single row of spinach. The last of our marigold transplants I'd been saving for the patch died in the flat, making the decision for me on what would go into the bed. I made a shallow (less than 1" deep) dibble in the soil and watered it a good bit before seeding Regal and Melodyicon spinach varieties. I really wonder if we'll get much germination with our current dry soil conditions, but I had the space, seed, and the time. There's still plenty of room in the bed for our fall lettuce which I just seeded indoors last week.

Moving to the East Garden, I put in a long row of broccoli with a couple of cauliflower plants as well. Brassicas demand pretty good soil, so putting some of our fall planting there is a real gamble. (Deer are also quite fond of broccoli seedlings!) The planting went into the area recently vacated by our sweet corn. Even though there probably is a good bit of fertilizer left in the soil from the previous planting, I tilled in a good bit more fertilizer and lime today before beginning transplanting.

I dug a hole about a foot deep and a foot in diameter for each transplant and backfilled the hole with peat moss, lime, and 12-12-12 fertilizer. I then dug even a bit deeper and wider as I mixed the peat into the surrounding soil before adding several gallons, yes gallons, of water to each hole. The transplants went into the muddy mess with a rim of soil around each to hold any rainfall we're lucky enough to get. I'll also mulch the plants with grass clippings the next time I mow and rake.

Broccoli in East Garden

I hauled a lot of water today in the transplanting effort, and will be doing so all this week to try and get our fall brassicas going in the dry weather. I ended up putting in thirteen plants, mostly Premium Crop broccoli with a couple of Amazing cauliflower, and two or three Goliath broccoli. The Premium Crop broccoli should make a crop if it grows well in the poor soil of our East Garden. Both the Amazing and Goliath plants have longer growth periods to maturity and are a bit iffy on beating a killing frost.

Broccoli rowThe brassica transplanting in our East Garden today is definitely an experiment. Whether giving the plants a rather deluxe transplanting hole works or not remains to be seen. That technique has let us grow good melon crops for several years that amaze the folks who used to farm the ground.

East GardenHaving lots of space helps, as we are able to rotate our crops to avoid soil nutrition and insect buildup problems. I am, however, seeing growing populations of both striped and spotted cucumber beetles around our property this year.

And in one of those pleasant surprises, our 85 day seedless watermelon variety, Farmers Wonderful, is producing beautiful, ripe melons at 70 days from transplanting. While days to maturity is a good estimate of when to begin checking plants for ripe fruit, degree days have a lot more to do with ripening crops. We've had lots of degrees this summer, so I've been keeping a close eye on the seedless variety.

Our muskmelon/cantaloupe harvest has slowed, as the plants didn't set a lot of new fruit while ripening the first fruit set. I suspect our dry spell may have had a lot to do with that. I see lots of blooms on the vines now, so we may yet get another good harvest period from the plants.

Note: I continue to provide a link where possible to the supplier of the varieties of vegetables we grow. Other than the Melody spinach link (to Burpee Seed), the links are not to affiliate advertisers and do not provide us with any commissions.

Long Shadows and Lens Flare

I worked from 9 to 3 in the garden today but didn't take the camera out with me. I was simply too busy getting the brassicas in to digitally document what I was doing. After a quick shower and a not so quick, three hour nap, I realized that I needed to get some photos of what I'd done today. So there are some long shadows and even some lens flare (even with a lens hood in place) in today's imagery. And I'm one worn out gardener, but thankful for the exercise and good health to do the work.

Broccoli in the Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - Hauling Water

What appears to be a row of broccoli growing in the desert (at right) is really our newly transplanted row of broccoli and cauliflower in our East Garden. When I hauled out the first load of water this morning, I was surprised to see the new planting still showing good moisture from its watering yesterday. Of course, I'd watered both morning and evening yesterday, but it is really dry here.

I'll be watering the row in the East Garden plus our newly transplanted fall broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage in our main garden each day until we begin to get some rain (or our well starts running dry).


Sarah's Choice cantaloupeI mentioned in our last posting that our cantaloupe are beginning to bloom again, but I didn't get a photo of the blooms. While out in the East Garden yesterday, I snapped the shot at left of our Sarah's Choice cantaloupe vine with blooms and several new melons set on.

I spent a good bit of time today clearing out old, partially used containers of melon from our fridge and throwing the remains on our compost pile. When done, I cut a Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon, an Athena melon (cantaloupe), and our first Tam Dew honeydew melon to go into the fridge. The Farmers Wonderful had good flavor, excellent color, and few seeds, but I think our Crimson Sweet watermelons this summer have had generally better flavor. The Tam Dew, a new variety for us, was quite good...if you like honeydew melons with a bit of a spicy flavor. And the combination of fully ripe, home grown watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew is sure hard to beat for a cool summer snack.

Freshly cut melon

Tomatoes, Butternuts, and Squash Bugs

Butternut SquashWhile picking tomatoes yesterday, I noticed that squash bugs had finally found our planting of Waltham Butternut squash. Butternut squash are vigorous growers that can stand a good bit of neglect and bugs and still produce a respectable crop. I planted ours outside our regular East Garden so they wouldn't take over our melon plantings. The planting hasn't had much care, other than a bit of mulching around it and training the vines out of our new compost pile which is right beside the squash planting.

Butternut Squash VinesSquash bugs had helped finished off our yellow squash plants towards the end of the plants' bearing period. I chose at that time to just pick and crush the squash bugs and their eggs, but the current invasion required a good spraying with insecticide. While we don't regularly use insecticides in our gardens, we find them essential at times to save a crop.

Our tomatoes have definitely come into season. We've had great tomatoes from our Moira plants in the East Garden for several weeks now, but our main crop tomatoes, Better Boys and Bella Rosas in the main garden area, have just begun to produce lots of good, ripe fruit. While the base of the plants still show the effects of bacterial spot disease, frequent sprayings of Serenade biofungicide appear to have protected the fruit and much of the upper foliage.

I ended up canning twelve quarts of whole tomatoes and juice yesterday, with a lot of tomatoes left over that I thought could use another day or two to ripen. (Hey, they looked red when I picked them!) We now have enough whole tomatoes canned to last us through the winter, so our next picking and canning will be made into tomato sauce...or we'll just give the tomatoes away. And of course, we're still enjoying BLTs once or twice a week.


SnapdragonsSnapdragon closeupAugust in the garden is always an incredibly busy time of the season. Some of our crops are already a distant memory, some are in their height of production, and others are just getting started. There's always lots to do, but one has to stop at times and just enjoy the beauty of the summer.

After uploading the original posting for today, I grabbed the camera to record some of what I walk past every day. Since I've been picking tomatoes and cleaning up groundfalls from our grape tomatoes, I couldn't help but notice that one of our snapdragon plants growing next to our tomato row was putting on an incredible display this evening.

What had gotten me started looking a bit closer at our flowers were the incredible reds on our wax begonia plants. Our one wax begonia hanging basket had blown off its hook in a storm this spring. Its pot was cracked and the rootball had partially separated on the back porch from the impact. I cut the rootball into three possible plants and repotted them. I hoped to save at least one wax begonia out of the mess, as its a plant I like and have kept for several years. I ended up getting three very healthy plants, one of which is shown below.

Wax begonia

Impatiens in coco basketI purchased a marked down coco basket hanging planter towards the end of summer several years ago. They were all the rage for a time, probably until folks discovered that the things wick water into the air like crazy. We've had exceptional luck growing impatiens (Envoy) this year in our only coco basket. It generally hangs just outside our kitchen window, as it's a very showy sight. Its placement also reminds me that I have to let it sit in a pan of water about one day in four to keep the impatiens from wilting.

Summer Showers ivy geraniumAnother hanging basket on our back porch holds our Summer Showers trailing/ivy geranium. Just one seed of ten survived several years ago when I first tried the variety from Stokes Seeds. I've overwintered the plant several years, and this year had about the same luck with seed from Twilley Seed. While the hanging basket now contains both the older plant and the new one that germinated this year, only the older plant has bloomed so far. There's far more vining than blooms, but the delicate blooms are gorgeous. While this plant probably falls more into the domain of professional growers, I'm going to try starting seed for it again next year, as I'd really like to get some variety in the blooms.

Maverick Red geraniumOut in the main garden again, I'm always pleased that I often use Maverick Red geraniums to mark the corners of our raised bed. With just a little care in breaking off dead leaves and old bloom stalks, the plants provide a show all summer long. Maverick Red is a zoned leaf geranium and is often one of the less expensive varieties of seed geraniums offered by seed houses. It also seems to be easier to start than other seed geraniums.

Pacifica XP vincaMost of the vinca around our house and garden are just now coming into their own. A few plants that went into our main raised garden bed early have been in full bloom for some time, but are now looking a bit ragged (and are not pictured). The rest of our Pacifica XP vincas have lots of blooms on them despite the dry conditions and getting transplanted rather late in the season. Since I usually order a mixture of colors and types, it's always a surprise to see what we get.

I cut back most of our petunias in the garden a week or so ago because they'd gotten really leggy. I'd not been very careful about pinching off spent blooms, either, so the plants probably thought they had borne seed and were done for the season. With any luck (and some rain), they'll grow back and be in full bloom throughout September.

Monday, August 22, 2011 - Likes Broccoli, But Not Cauliflower

Brassica row damagedDamaged broccoli plantAs I started to water our row of fall brassicas in our raised bed garden plot this morning, I discovered we'd had a visitor. The leaves of every other plant in the row had been eaten off!

At first, I castigated myself for not using cutworm collars on the late planting. Then I realized that whatever critter had been in the garden had a taste for broccoli leaves, eating the three Premium Crop plants, but leaving the Amazing cauliflower untouched! I'd alternated the two kinds of brassicas in the row.

Since there weren't any deer tracks in the soil, I'm guessing our guest with a taste for broccoli leaves was a rabbit. We don't see many rabbits in our yard, as our dogs are pretty tough on them. My wife, Annie, saw our border collie cross, Shep, consume a whole rabbit in about five minutes one day!

Figuratively "closing the barn door after the cows got out," I spread blood meal in and around the row today, just in case the rabbit develops a taste for cauliflower. I'm not rushing to replace the eaten off plants just yet, as I've seen broccoli with similar damage come back and produce nice heads.

Cucumbers and a Sleepy Cat

Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines and fruitCallie JoI botched the focus on a closeup of the damaged broccoli plants and had to run back out to the garden to get a crisp shot. As I started back to the house, I snapped a shot of one of our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines. I'm always a bit amazed at how little leaf area these plants require to produce good cukes.

When I got to the back porch, I found myself somewhat indignantly inquiring of Callie Jo, possibly the sweetest of our many cats, where she was when the critters were feasting on our broccoli. Callie, who was napping under the glider, didn't even stir at the insult. She always has a good attitude.

No Big Deal

Melon patchI drove to Indy yesterday to visit my sister and father and to pick up my wife at the airport. Any time I visit Dad, I try to take the best we have on hand from our garden. As it turned out, the most impressive thing I had on hand was a 38+ pound Kleckley Sweet watermelon that would be way too big for my Dad, now 98, to handle. So I put two small Crimson Sweet watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a Tam Dew honeydew melon in the trunk of Annie's car. I also bagged some tomatoes, red peppers, a cucumber, and grabbed a tub of cut melons.

Sis and Dad oohed and ahhed about the fruit and veggies, but that's just them being polite. But it's really nice to be able to share the bounty of ones garden throughout the summer.

As I worked our East Garden this morning, picking tomatoes and peppers and "thunking" watermelons to test for ripeness, I realized that we were going to have quite a few jumbo watermelons ripen at about the same time. When I planned our melon patch this year, I had something in mind to do with our extra melons, other than sharing with family and neighbors. This morning, Annie suggested she drop off the one jumbo melon we had on hand to "the mission." Annie knows the founder of the Terre Haute Lighthouse Mission, and we both have supported it with cash gifts over the years. But when I'd planned our garden, I thought it would be great if we could share some of our garden bounty with the mission. So when the "jumbos" come in, that's where they'll go.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Matthew 25: 35-36, 40 (ESV)

East Garden

Friday, August 26, 2011

I had to laugh to myself last weekend when my sister told me she and her husband had 42 tomato plants out this year! That's a lot of tomatoes!

Squeezo StrainerAt this time of year, one usually has to look for unlocked cars in parking lots to get rid of surplus tomatoes.Grin But it seems this summer is another tough one for many gardeners. Droughty conditions and plant diseases have made our tomato growing a bit challenging, but mulching, spraying with a biofungicide, occasional watering, and just plain good luck have enabled us to already can all the whole tomatoes we want for the winter. (I still need to get out our Squeezo Strainer, which I bought used on eBay, and put up some thickened tomato juice/sauce.)

Lots of tomatoesThis year we have four, open pollinated Moira tomato plants in our East Garden, two Bella Rosa and two Better Boy plants in our main garden, and a couple of grape tomato plants. While our determinate Moira plants are just about at the end of their production cycle, our four main season hybrid tomato plants have just come into full production and are keeping us in an abundance of tomatoes.

I snapped the photo at right last evening before we shipped off a bunch of the tomatoes and a few melons to a retirement home whose residents always seem to treasure our extra produce. I also packed up a bag of 20-30 tomatoes and another of cucumbers on Wednesday to go along with the 20 melons I drove up to the mission in Terre Haute on Wednesday.

While our overabundance of melons was by plan, some of our other crops have just produced well (and some not). An ample planting that would supply us enough of what we want in a tough year sometimes turns out to be an overabundance that needs to be shared to prevent waste.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Monthly Weather ReportWhile we've made the best of it, and other places are in lots worse shape than we are, the lack of rain in August has taken a lot of the joy out of our gardening. I notice things each day about our crops that aren't as they should be, would be, with adequate moisture. It was our cucumbers today that are shorter and not filled out as well as they should be. Yesterday, it was red ripe watermelon that simply lacked that fantastic watermelon taste it should have.

I'm a bit surprised that we have done as well as we have with just 0.32 inches of precipitation for the month. We are getting tomatoes and melons in quantity. Our pepper plants are producing some full sized fruit, although many of the peppers are dwarfs due to the plants not having enough moisture. And with regular watering, some of our fall brassicas recently transplanted appear to be taking hold and may just make it despite the drought.

Chance of PrecipitationSadly, even with a major hurricane sweeping up the east coast, the forecast here doesn't show much hope for rain in the near future. One of our local TV weathermen noted that the humidity has dropped so much this month that there's simply not enough moisture in the air to produce late afternoon, early evening pop-up thundershowers. I guess that makes working outside a bit easier, but a good, soaking rain would sure help us out a bit.

So I'm a bit discouraged as I write tonight, but still thankful for all we have that is good. Having had the experience of watching our own fields of corn wither and die during the Midwestern States Drought of 1983, I feel for farmers and gardeners in the south and west who are facing devastating losses this year. I guess I should add something here that appears on our About page:

I am a person of faith, even though I don't write about it much. I wasn't for a long time, but in the depths of my despair when my first marriage ended and we lost the farm, the Lord lifted me up and graciously granted me a new life and family. Living in retirement with all the problems of aging, there's so much to be thankful for and praise the Lord.

Something Totally Off Topic

Free Stuff 1Free Stuff 2I rarely cross-post items on my various web sites, but am going to today, as I think a feature story I released this week might be helpful to parents, grandparents, and others who work with school aged children who also visit this site. As I facetiously described it on Educators' News last Tuesday, "Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011 is guaranteed to give you something that always works with every student, remove unsightly blemishes, get your significant other to pick up around the house and do dishes..."

The piece may seem a bit heavy on astronomy, science, and images, but there's also lots of other stuff worked in that may prove useful in working with grandchildren. Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011 is basically a year of Educators' News with all the politics stripped out of it!

I've published Educators' News on and off since April, 2001. It's my way, now that I'm retired, of keeping my hand in education just a little bit. Educators' News is part of my larger, site that houses my old columns and previous math sharewares that are now freewares.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Broccoli rowI wound up the month of August in the Senior Garden by transplanting some replacement brassicas and a couple hills of yellow squash. We certainly don't have ideal weather for transplants to survive, but it appears today was as good a day as any for the next week or so.

Dead broccoliWe'd lost several broccoli plants in the East Garden to the dry weather despite regular watering, and several more in our main garden area to critter damage. I plunked our two remaining broccoli transplants into the better soil of our main garden along with three new cabbage transplants. It's a bit late for the broccoli, but you never know if that first killing frost will be late or not.

Some of the stronger broccoli transplants in the East Garden are actually looking pretty good despite the drought. Regular waterings have helped them take hold. We may get some nice heads of broccoli before frost.

The squash went into some very hard, dry ground in our East Garden. I didn't have any peat moss or compost available to enrich the soil the transplants went into, so I dug a deep, wide hole for each and poured in several gallons of water before transplanting. I'll be hauling water out to them (and the broccoli row) each day until we get some rain (or the well runs dry!). I'll also have to keep a close eye out for squash bugs, as they can quickly decimate the plants if one lets them get started. While I pretty well knocked down our squash bug infestation in our butternut squash planting, I've noticed the bugs on some of our tomato plants in the main garden area.

A sign of the drought and the waning season wasn't lost on me today. I looked to see if I needed to pick tomatoes or harvest melons, often a daily chore. None were ready! I did pick a nice seedless watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew melon yesterday, but our harvest season is definitely winding down.

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July, 2011

From the at Senior Gardening