One of the Joys of Maturity
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The Old Guy's Garden Record
We're going into the month of July with our main garden plots in very good shape. Our plants are lush, healthy, and currently have good soil moisture. Our East Garden is coming along, although we're facing some tough weed and critter problems there.
One of the realities we face with gardening in west central Indiana is that our soil moisture situation will soon worsen. Sometime after the Fourth of July, we usually get into a mini-drought period that lasts through August and really makes gardening tough. Plants that are already established and have been mulched seem to do fairly well through the dry period, but getting new direct seedings started becomes a really iffy proposition. Our well won't support a lot of watering, which is one of the reasons I'm a bit freaky about heavily mulching our plantings.
The hot days of July will mark the end our harvest of spring peas, lettuce, and broccoli, but they also bring on bountiful harvests of onions, carrots, and green beans. We will get our first tomatoes of the season this month, and possibly some sweet corn, cantaloupe, and watermelon. Part of the joy of gardening is savoring each crop as its season comes in.
We've already enjoyed and frozen some peas, beets, and broccoli, and had a meal or two of new potatoes. But this month we'll begin storing, canning and freezing in earnest. We'll have garlic, onions, butternut squash, and possibly some potatoes to store in our basement "plant room." We hope our carrots will store as well in the refrigerator this winter as they did last winter. Green beans and whole tomatoes will be canned for winter use. And if we can keep the deer and raccoons out of the sweet corn, we should have enough of that to freeze as well.
As crops are harvested, we'll add compost and/or fertilizer to renew the soil before planting new crops for fall harvest. Last year, a new soft bed and our asparagus patch got almost all of the compost we produced. This summer we should have compost available to side dress plantings.
Garlic Harvest Complete
Yesterday was another harvest day. I dug the last of our garlic, picked just a few peas, and also brought in over a gallon of tender broccoli sideshoots. The tops of two of the garlic plants I dug had totally dried out, and not surprisingly, the "skin" over their bulbs was ruptured, insuring early rot if not used soon. So I was glad I got all of our garlic out a bit early to prevent such losses.
Since I don't have a better spot to dry our garlic, it just sits on our back porch to dry out for a couple of weeks. When the tops have totally dried, I cut them, bag the garlic in old potato and onion bags, and hang the garlic in our basement.
I occasionally will braid some of the garlic to dry. I usually do the braiding when the stems have dried and softened just a bit, but well before they are totally dry. I run a string through the braid to add strength to the braid and to facilitate hanging. At left is a braid from last year. (The braid I did today turned out way too ugly to display here!)
Our back porch gets plenty of ventilation, essential for drying garlic and onions, but it also gets some sun, which isn't all that great for drying bulbs. The dogs and cats seem to not mind the garlic imposing on their area. The yellow cat carefully steps in between the garlic stems when crossing the porch. But he also likes to lie on the leaves at times.
I got a surprise yesterday when watering our gloxinias that grow under plantlights in the basement. The brassicas I'd started last Sunday had germinated and were ready to be transplanted into fourpacks. Our gloxinias are a bit crowded under the lights, as I had two light units burn out their ballast units. The plant fixtures were just a year old and were cheapies. I'm looking for a couple better units, but haven't found what I want as yet (wide reflectors and a main frame deep enough to hold a good ballast unit).
The brassicas had already gotten a bit leggy (too tall) and should have been transplanted a day or two ago. But this is a frequent problem we have with our broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage starts with an easy fix. When I moved the plants to fourpacks, I simply placed them lower in the soil, covering much of the stem. Brassicas don't mind having that done to them when they are young.
Note that I still use sterilized potting soil when transplanting plants this young. Their tender stems can still be attacked by damping off fungus which is present in most potting soils. I started out with some potting soil that had been heated for an hour in a 400o F oven, but it quickly ran out. I did a quick, but somewhat less effective, sterilization of some more potting soil by pouring boiling water over it, putting the lid on the large kettle we use for sterile potting soil, and letting it sit for a few minutes.
The freshly transplanted brassicas went onto the back porch to grow and harden off. The leftover starts went back under the plantlights in the basement as insurance in case some of the transplants don't take.
Tunnels and mounds around our yard and in our raised bed garden plots reminded me today that it was time to make another application of Milky Spore, a biological product that kills the grubs moles love. After applying the product twice this spring, we hadn't had any mole problems in the areas treated until recently. I had also been pleased to see that our earthworm population seemed unaffected by the biological. Maybe the moles were after the earthworms, which they also like, but the garden got a good treatment of Milky Spore this morning.
Note: I've tried the burning mole bombs, poison peanuts, and mole traps, but Milky Spore has proved to be our best deterrent to mole damage in the garden.
I'd planned to dig the rest of our carrots early this morning before it got too hot. I'd taken a good sampling (3 pounds) last week of the four varieties of carrots we're growing this year. When I started at one end of our carrot double row, I found that the Baby Sweet carrots there weren't quite ready to dig as yet. Likewise at the other end of the row, our Atomic Reds could use another week in the ground. But in the middle of the row, our Sweet Baby Jane and Mokum carrot varieties were at an ideal size to dig.
I wound up taking just two or three feet (four to six foot row because of the double rows) of carrots out this morning before I hit some rather immature carrots and decided to call it a day on carrot digging. (It was also getting very hot, very quickly!)
As I dug from the edge of the raised bed, I just pitched the dug carrots on the grass behind me. Once done digging, I washed the dirt off the carrots in our Ames Garden Cart that had conveniently filled with rainwater overnight.
The carrots went to the back steps to have the tops trimmed, and the cart of muddy water went back onto the garden. Despite a good overnight rain, our raised bed plot can use all the moisture it can get before our July-August dry spell sets in.
After trimming (and some sampling), we brought in just over two pounds of beautiful carrots today. That brings us up to about five and a half pounds of carrots dug so far with lots more to come. The first dug carrots will probably go into our fall batch of Portuguese Kale Soup, with the later harvests being stored in the fridge. We were fortunate to be able to store carrots from last summer all winter in our refrigerator in some of those green bags that have been so heavily advertised on TV. I'm still not sure if it was the bags or if we just dug our carrots at the right time, but I've bought several packages of the green bags since then!
The carrot trimmings along with some spent pea vines, broccoli trimmings, and some kitchen garbage went to the compost heap. We actually have two compost heaps right now. One is a "starter" that gets fresh material such as the carrot trimmings, coffee grounds, and lettuce trimmings. The other is our compost pile started last fall that is just about ready to use. We've already screened and used a bit of compost from it, but it really needs another few weeks to decompose before it's completely ready. And it's nice to have partially digested compost to mix into the new pile to insure that there are lots of microbes present to break down the material in the new pile.
Growing carrots, onions, and sometimes lettuce, beets, and other veggies in an intensive gardening plot is really a lot of fun and something to me that is aesthetically pleasing. I love to see the canopy of onion and carrot greens accented by flowers at the ends of their rows.
When I first tried intensive gardening plots with closely spaced vegetables, I was amazed at how well the plants produced in the close spacing. After discovering the glories of grass clipping mulch to suppress weed growth and softbeds, I became sold on intensive gardening for some of our crops. Softbeds are narrow raised beds, with or without timbers to hold in soil, that one works only from the side, never stepping into the bed. I don't think I've put a foot into the bed shown in the diagram below since I tilled it this spring! Keeping my weight off the bed helps keep the soil loose and friable.
Note that I still like to grow things like green beans and kale in traditional, long rows with wide spaces in between rows to make picking easier.
Our garden plan for this year for our onions and carrots worked out pretty well. I say pretty well as I usually am able to somehow squeeze in some beets in the intensive bed. That just didn't work out this year, so the beets went into another intensive planting bed with onions and lettuce.
Our carrot harvest so far has been excellent. The onions growing on either side of the carrots are bulbing nicely, with some of the greens naturally bending over as they mature. As long as a storm doesn't prematurely knock over the onion stalks, we should have an excellent onion harvest later this month.
The softbed at the other end of our main raised garden plot has also been productive so far this year, with excellent lettuce and some good beets. Because of the way I planted adjoining crops, I've frequently had to step into this bed to weed, harvest, and replant. I keep "walking boards" in this area almost all the time to help spread my weight a bit and prevent soil compaction.
Our beets were supposed to go in a double row from transplants, but our tray of beet transplants got stirred a bit while hardening off on the porch. I ended up going with just a single row of beets from the transplants that survived, filling in with some direct seeded beets in bare spots where transplants failed. Since my son-in-law, Hutch, and I are the only ones regularly dining at our house who like beets, we got more than enough for fresh use and freezing.
When the beets and first planting of lettuce were out of the softbed, I used the last of the lettuce starts I still had on the porch to plant a single row of late lettuce last month. Some of it bolted almost immediately, but it appears we're going to also get a few loose heads of lettuce from the second planting. Once the really hot weather of summer sets in, I don't even try growing heat tolerant varieties of lettuce, preferring to just wait until fall when lettuce again thrives in sunny, but cooler conditions.
I probably won't do a posting here tomorrow, so let me wish you now a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July.
The July issue of the JSS Advantage is all about planting fall crops. For northern growers, Johnny's recommends "beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery/celeriac, collards, chicories, fennel, greens, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas, radish, rutabaga, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips."
For southern growers, the newsletter suggests that "July through September is the best time to plant warm-weather vegetables including beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes. Herbs such as basil, cilantro, and dill are also good choices for fall production. Pumpkins and watermelons can be planted beginning in August in north Florida and into September further south."
Johnny's Fall Planting Calculator (358K) is a dandy, free spreadsheet that allows one to enter their fall frost date and then displays when fall crops should be planted each crop outside. It also shows which crops should be direct seeded and which should be started early and then transplanted on the recommended date(s).
Plantings for fall harvest in the Senior Garden are generally limited to fall brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower), lettuce, and spinach. I started our brassicas indoors late last month in flower pots and transplanted them to fourpacks and moved them outside last weekend. It's just about time here to seed our fall lettuce (indoors).
Harvesting Broccoli, Sugar Snaps, and Yellow Squash
Today's harvest included some nice broccoli sideshoots, a good many sugar snap peas, and several yellow squash. We had some of the sugar snaps steamed with supper this evening. My wife, Annie, used some squash earlier this week along with some of our carrots to make a delicious garden spaghetti sauce.
I forgot to get a photo of the squash this afternoon and just ran downstairs to get a shot of them. I obviously forgot to check our squash for ripe fruit yesterday, and one sorta got away from me. It seems our two yellow squash plants ripen fruit almost daily.
One thing I have been carefully looking for this week on our yellow squash plants is any sign of damage from squash bugs. I found a cluster of squash bug eggs that had been laid on one of the leaves last weekend. I dispatched the eggs, but didn't find any squash bugs. I did find one immature squash bug today, but there were no more eggs and no signs of insect damage as yet.
We had lots of damage from squash bugs last year in our yellow squash and our pumpkins. I'll continue to watch and wait, hand pick the bugs and remove eggs, but will probably have to resort to a pesticide at some point to protect our plants.
The area where our garlic grew had dried out enough today to be worked. I pulled back the remaining grass clipping mulch and tilled in some lime, 12-12-12 fertilizer, and a touch of Maxicrop dried seaweed. Since I'd pruned our caged tomatoes and also had broccoli leaves and cuttings on the ground (I strip the leaves from broccoli as I pick.), I decided to load up the scraps in the cart to add them to the compost heap. While I was at it, I also brought along the hardware cloth I use to screen compost and brought back almost a full cart of compost for the bed I was renovating.
Our twin compost heaps are being seriously crowded by a quickly growing hill of butternut squash. I thought I'd have the old heap used or turned into the new one before this happened, but...it didn't get done. So little by little, the old pile is being used up or turned into the new pile.
The renovated bed will get some paprika peppers, flowers, and possibly some herb plants I still have transplants for.
Our wax begonia plant that put on an incredible, summer long display of blooms last year got blown off its hook this spring and had to be repotted. I split the plant three ways in the repotting process, but for a long time, it appeared that only two of the repottings would take. The two are doing fine, but while taking a break on the porch this morning, I snapped the shot at left of the division I really thought wouldn't make it. Considering that the storm had begun the division by cracking the flower pot and partially breaking the original plant apart, I'm pleased that the three divisions are all doing well now.
Inside, we continue to rotate the gloxinias in bloom from under our plantlights in the basement up into our west facing kitchen window. We currently have a purple Double Brocade and a red to pink Cranberry Tiger in the window. I use empty coffee cans to raise the plants up to the window level so they can get adequate sunlight.
Last October, HP and Walmart offered a special, garden themed laptop, the HP Garden Dreams. It's no longer available, but an email came in this week promoting the HP Dandelion Breeze Laptop. I'm not sure, but I think I like the flowers from last year a bit more than this year's dandelions!
The summer heat wave that currently grips much of the central United States has restricted our gardening mainly to early morning and late evening work in our garden patches. Other than a light, first picking of green beans Sunday afternoon, we've stayed inside in the air conditioning through the heat of the day.
The green beans were great, although they were heavy on the "green" and light on the "bean," as it was an early picking. But after waiting almost a year for fresh green beans, I couldn't help but don my best SPF 50+ sun resistant clothing and bring in a couple of quarts of beans.
This morning I was able to cut just a few small broccoli sideshoots, pick sugar snaps, shell peas, and a couple yellow squash, and take our garden and kitchen waste out to the compost heap before the sun came up over the treeline to our east. On the way to our East Garden, I spooked two deer, one that was browsing our sweet potato vines and another that was making a mess of our sweet corn patch (that is now tasseling and silking just a bit). When I came in from my morning gardening fun at around 7:00 A.M., it was already 86o.
After two cheapie fluorescent units failed a few weeks ago, I'd picked up a couple more inexpensive units last week, only to have them turn out to be bad out of the box! So after a trip to Lowes in Terre Haute yesterday to return the defective units, I went to Menards and found some better units (at three times the cost of the cheapies) and got them installed last night.
Although I could squeeze in all of our gloxinia plants on two shelves, the plant stems were weak and a bit floppy when I'd try to move them. Giving the plants a bit more growing room and better lighting should improve the legginess issue (too tall with weak stems).
I actually made the shopping harder for myself by hunting lighting units still made in this country. Alas, I don't think anyone in the United States still makes shop lights...at any cost. Even though my new units were branded American Fluorescent, the tiny print on the carton proclaimed "Made in China." I do like that the units will take either the T8 or T12 size fluorescent tubes, as I still have a lot of T12 tubes in stock.
This afternoon I made a run to the Vincennes Lowes to pick up a load of shingles for our back porch. The last two times I've made the drive down U.S. 41, I've noticed a field that really looked like it was planted to asparagus. The area has lots of diversified farming. There are several orchards, melon fields, and berry fields along the drive.
I planned ahead this trip and brought along my good camera and a long lens (which I didn't need after all) to try to check out the field. It turned out that a sandy side road runs along one edge of the field, which indeed was planted to asparagus. There are at least 30 acres planted to asparagus there!
One thing struck me as I stood in the bed of my pickup truck snapping pictures of the field. This was really an ugly looking field of asparagus! Maybe that's just the way large fields of asparagus look, but I was surprised at its appearance compared to our manicured, small raised bed of asparagus at home.
With a heat index of 115o F as I write, the shingles will stay on the truck until after sundown. About the only good news in that is that we just might get a good thundershower out of the heat and humidity yet today.
Yes, I did get a year older since my last posting here. And I was supposed to get help in blowing out all those candles, too!
I picked green beans again today. I'd picked one side of our row of beans last Sunday, producing several quarts of finished beans that were so good they never made it near a canner or the freezer. Today's picking of around 12 quarts of raw beans produced five quarts of canned green beans for next winter.
Picking our beans was a bit difficult, as the six inch wide row of beans planted had spread to about three feet wide. I crawled down one side on my knees while picking, as I had kale on my left and beans on my right. The pepper plants on the other side allowed a bit more room for picking there.
I was pleased to find only slight insect damage to our beans today. Only a few beans had to be discarded due to bug damage. So at this point, I still won't have to spray for insect control.
When we can beans, we usually follow the directions in our old Ball Blue Book. I added a couple of chopped Walla Walla onions to the beans today, and I also just heated them through, rather than boiling them before canning. I've found the beans to be a bit overcooked if I boil them before canning them.
Moving just a couple rows down from the green beans, I noticed how good one of our snapdragons looked along our trellis of peas. The snapdragons often get overgrown by vining crops, but this year have held their own amongst our short peas. Since I generally transplant our flowers before they come into bloom, and we often order mixtures rather than single color packets of flower seed, the color mix in the garden is pretty much pot luck. Even with that, we have a nice variety of colors of snapdragons around the garden.
I've tried putting our snapdragons where they're more visible in our garden. Sadly, they don't stand up too well to the strong winds that sweep across the adjacent field into our garden, so I plant them along our trellises to give them support.
We also got a little less than a half inch of rain last night. As I've written here before, any rain we get after the Fourth of July through August is a welcome bonus. I want to plant at least one more row of green beans and actually have a bed prepared for some paprika peppers and our remaining flower transplants. But the soil is really dry, and with the hot conditions we've had and that are predicted, I'm holding off a bit hoping for a good thundershower. When I finished up washing and snapping our green beans today, the water in the pot went between our row of kale and one of our rows of potatoes, an area in our main garden plot that isn't mulched and dries out quickly.
Despite the drying conditions, our main raised garden bed still is looking pretty good.
We have lots going on in our garden, but I just haven't had time to write. Yesterday, I had Simon & Garfunkel's At The Zoo going through my head as we did a trip to the Indianapolis Zoo with two grandchildren celebrating birthdays.
Today's big gardening task was either going to be taking out our broccoli plants or digging the last of our carrots. Our broccoli sideshoots are now beginning to bolt before I can get them picked, but since our carrots were due and overdue to be dug, they got the nod.
I'd dug a good many carrots from the ends and middle of our double row of carrots towards the end of June and in early July. I'd backed off digging the rest, as I got into some very small carrots during the last dig.
Today's effort reminded me that it's a good idea to get carrots out before the soil dries down in mid-summer. I used just a thin trowel to lift our carrots out earlier, but today I had to resort to using our garden fork to get under the carrots and break the dry, heavy soil.
There were very few small carrots today, but there were a couple that were trying to go to seed, along with about a dozen with split and deformed roots, probably due to the growing carrot root hitting a stone in the soil. But most of the carrots were good sized without blemishes.
I didn't weigh today's take, but there sure were a lot of carrots to wash, trim, and wash again before storing them in the refrigerator. I also gave our Frontier customer service technician a pound or so, as he was laboring in the heat to install a new phone box and our DSL connection.
Our onions on either side of our carrots are tipping over now and beginning to dry down. I brought in one Walla Walla sweet onion that was ready today and mixed it with carrots, sugar snap peas, green beans, garlic, and yellow squash from our garden for a steamed delicacy for our supper tonight.
When it's this hot outside, I'm often reminded of Robin Williams' humorous Adrian Cronauer/Roosevelt E. Roosevelt weather report from the movie, Good Morning, Vietnam and Noel Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishmen. It's good that I can enjoy the remembrance of such things in the heat, as there's not much going to get done in the Senior Garden this afternoon. I'm staying cool inside and hydrating with barley pop.
Today is one of those days where it would have been wise to garden early...very early in the day to avoid the worst of the heat. Unfortunately, I was chasing supplies in Terre Haute this morning and staying out of our house that I was fumigating for fleas. We love our pets, but our annual onslaught of fleas isn't much fun.
Like most of the central United States, there's not much relief in sight. We have a slight chance of rain over the weekend or on Monday, and the mercury may drop just below 90 towards the first of next week. While we don't irrigate our garden plots due to our weak well, I will be doing rescue waterings (with buckets) where I think I might be losing a plant.
I did finish up my annual recycling of plastic plant labels today. I soak and wash the labels before putting them into bleach to remove old marker labeling and sterilize them. I actually omitted the scrubbing part of the soak and wash cycle this year and found that soaking in Spic and Span and then bleaching the labels for a day pretty well removes most of the marker ink.
I know this sounds like a crazy old miser washing paper plates and plastic flatware, but recycling the plant labels saves me a few bucks and also makes me feel okay about using lots of labels where I find it necessary. Once the labels are thoroughly rinsed and dried, I store them in an old, plastic peanut butter jar.
The labels are available through Twilley Seeds for a fairly reasonable $9.90/200.
So...tomorrow's another day, the good Lord willing, and I'll try to get out early and get some gardening done.
I didn't get as early a jump on gardening this morning as I wanted, but I was out picking green beans by 8 A.M. today. Picking beans when the plants are still wet with dew makes the job harder, as leaves and blossoms stick to ones hands and knees. It can also spread disease if any is present in a planting. With the heat index headed for 115 or so again this afternoon, and our beans ready to pick, I went ahead and picked in wet conditions.
When I began snapping our beans, the effects of the extreme heat of late were evident. Many of the beans simply didn't snap well. Some were limp, while others gave a dull "pop" indicating overripeness. I canned six quarts with enough left over for a nice mess of beans for supper, but the quality of this picking certainly wasn't nearly as good as our first picking.
After picking beans, I got to a chore that I'd put off for several days, clearing out our spring broccoli plants. Our broccoli had succumbed to the heat with sideshoot heads blooming almost as soon as they set on.
I was able to twist most of the shallow rooted broccoli out of the ground today. I then used a corn knife to trim the leaves for our compost pile. Heavy stems went into a hole someone dug that I'm filling in with yard trash. I've found that thick broccoli stems don't decompose well in our compost heap. They take well over a year to break down.
With the broccoli out of our narrow raised bed and our lettuce and carrots out of our main raised bed, the garden is beginning to look a bit bare in spots. I have green bean seed I'd like to plant sitting out in the kitchen, but haven't put any in the ground as yet as conditions are really dry here. As I'm working against a first frost date of early to mid-October, I'll have to get the beans planted soon, or I'll run out of time for them to mature.
Where Our Beautiful Sunsets Come From
A front page article that appeared in today's Terre Haute Tribune-Star, Indiana 6th in toxic air pollution, had a second headline in the print edition on the page it was continued to, "Merom closest coal-fired plant to Vigo on list." Vigo refers to Vigo County where Terre Haute is located. Merom refers to the power plant whose chimney we can see from our back porch when the trees aren't leafed out!
We live in a Bermuda Triangle of air pollution, with Hoosier Energy's Merom Generating Station just a mile or so away. Ten or twelve miles southwest of us is the Marathon Oil Refinery in Robinson, Illinois. And the Ameren's Hutsonville Power Station is just eight or nine miles west of us, although the station only comes online these days in peak use periods.
Needless to say, we have beautiful sunsets...and we use lots of lime on our ground.
We had several nice showers Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, we got caught with the roof off the back porch, and it seemed at times to be raining harder in the kitchen than outside! But some persistent leaks we've fought for years should be remedied by the current repairs and reroofing of our back porch. And our garden will certainly benefit from the first good rain we've had in weeks.
Anticipating some rain at some point, I went ahead and seeded a row of green beans Friday morning. I pulled back the mulch that covered the area to be planted, sprinkled a bit of 10-20-10 fertilizer and soil inoculant on the ground and hoed them both in. My furrow for the beans was at least 4" deep, deep enough that there was still some moisture evident in the soil...but not much. I watered the furrow thoroughly before placing the seed in a single row. I often plant beans thickly in a furrow 4-6" wide, but with the dry conditions, a single row may make better use of what moisture is available. I then covered the seed with an inch or so of soil and firmed it before gently watering the furrow again being careful not to wash up the seed. Then I filled in the furrow with dry soil, firmed it, and drew grass clipping mulch up to the sides of the row.
I finally took out our row of sugar snap peas. The hot weather made what peas there were limp, and the vines were about done for. I've successfully grown sugar snap peas in mid-summer in years past, but not in this hot, for this long, and this dry weather. I'd planted several Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers along the pea trellis weeks ago, and it's really time to let the cucumbers have the trellis to themselves.
I didn't have room for our paprika peppers this spring, but kept the transplants I had started just barely alive in seed flats. With our broccoli out of our narrow raised bed, I moved three Paprika Supreme peppers into the bed yesterday. The spaces between the peppers were filled with basil and marigolds.
In one of the garden harvest biggies for us, we brought in all of our storage onions and most of our sweet onions today. While the rain made us pan fry our burgers this evening, the slices of sweet Walla Walla onion on them were still delicious.
We'd had most of our onions tip over naturally a week or so ago. I pulled the storage onions yesterday and let them just sit in the garden until today when I transferred them to our back porch for final curing. Later, one of my grandsons, Brady, pulled the sweet onions while I rubbed dirt off the bulbs and put them in our garden cart.
One of the great things about growing ones own onions is that they're pretty much ready to use at any growth stage. One can take scallions early on for salads, and bulbs as soon as they've formed a bit. We use the sweet onions that don't store well over the winter for summer dishes, pulling them as needed, especially where we've crowded the onions in the row a bit.
As we have way more sweet onions than we can use before they spoil, some will get chopped and frozen for use this winter. Others will go to family members.
Our porch repair project forced me to get busy on something I should have pursued months ago. Our satellite and TV dishes were located on the roof to be repaired, so they both had to come off. Some time ago I'd called Dish to question some items on our bill (such as the "free" high def they advertised, but still charged us for). I spoke then to a very rude customer service rep who sealed Dish's fate in doing business with us that day.
We switched from Wild Blue and Dish to Frontier High Speed Internet and Direct TV. When I called to cancel our service with Dish, it turned out that there were all kinds of savings to be had. It's too bad the rep some months ago wasn't willing to play fair. So the old dishes are on the ground awaiting their return. We have somewhat faster and far more reliable internet service for a fraction of what satellite internet cost. And we'll see how the Direct TV part of the bundle works out. (We can't get their dish installed until after we lay new shingles on the porch roof.)
We're still working out a few kinks on the Frontier High Speed Internet, however. We got just half the speed we ordered, and I had an unproductive talk with their customer service about it on Friday. In frustration, I emailed the regional president a bit after the close of business Friday afternoon and got a return email and later a call saying things would be fixed next week.
As I was writing up this posting at the end of an eventful day, a lovely sunset appeared.
I began picking cantaloupe this week. Our Sugar Cubes, "personal-sized" muskmelons, began ripening in bunches. We tried this variety for the first time last summer and really liked the small, tasty melons. One melon is about right for breakfast for two.
Besides ripening multiple melons at once, the healthy Sugar Cube vines seem to set their fruit in clusters. I've picked well over half a dozen melons this week, but had to go to the field this evening to find another whole melon for the photo at left. Friends and family love them!
Since the Sugar Cubes are our first cantaloupe/muskmelons to ripen fruit, it will be interesting to see how long they produce. Our hill of Sugar Cubes last year ripened a lot of fruit early, but then continued to produce well into the fall, despite some really dry conditions.
Our Passport honeydew melons have now ripened (and we've picked) all the fruit they'd set! We have one Tam Dew, a new honeydew variety we're trying for the first time this year, still ripening, but I haven't seen any other honeydew in the mixed Passport/Tam Dew hill. With a bit of rain, both varieties should begin to bloom and set fruit again soon, as the vines are still in good shape.
Our melon patch in our East Garden has become much less work now that we've begun to get the aisles between our rows of melons almost completely mulched. All of the inner aisles are fully mulched, with parts of the outer aisles still needing some more grass clipping mulch before they become essentially weed-free. I still have to pull an occasional weed here and there in the patch, mostly close to the base of our melon plants, but mulching is certainly easier than constantly weeding and/or tilling, and far preferable to using herbicides. (Note, I did treat the aisles with Roundup herbicide when the ground was too wet to till and there were just too many weeds to pull by hand.)
When I went out to hunt a Sugar Cube melon this evening, I noticed that our row of nasturtiums (above left) may survive. While the geraniums and marigolds in the row weathered our mini-drought, I thought the nasties were goners. But I noticed them leafing out again this evening.
We're sorta holding our breath and hoping that the critters don't find our melons and sweet corn before we get the corn in and begin harvesting melons in earnest. Deer bit off the tops of many of our corn plants, but it appears we may still get several dozen ears from the planting. Last year, the deer and raccoons took almost all of our sweet corn. I'd resolved then to put up a hot wire this year, but backed off due to the cost of electric fencing.
I tried using a couple Nite Guard Solar Predator Control Lights to deter the deer without much success. I've since lowered the units to raccoon eye level, hoping the blinking red lights will do something other than illuminate the coons path to our melons.
Annie gave me a package of Sweeney's All Season Weatherproof Deer Repellent as a bit of a joke, but the stuff may actually have some effect on the deer. Or, maybe they're just waiting for the sweet corn to mature. But putting two of the "baits" in our sweet potato row has apparently stopped the deer damage there.
I've also been spreading the contents of our vacuum cleaner around the garden, along with some blood meal. The sweepings idea came from a friend who used to grow a certain cash crop in very remote locations and swore it would keep the deer away. At this point, I'm willing to give it a try (the sweepings, not the cash crop).
We're just beginning to get some small tomatoes from our Moira tomato plants in the East Garden. Our grape tomato plants in the main garden area are also beginning to ripen. But our Better Boy and Bella Rosa tomatoes in the main garden, our main crop tomatoes, are all still green.
I noticed at least one seed was germinating in the row of green beans I planted last week. That's good, as I took out our only row of green beans today in a third and final picking. The vines were in pretty bad shape from two previous pickings and the dry weather conditions we'd had for most of this month. Since I didn't get all that many beans today, I just made one big pot of green beans, seasoned with ham, jowl bacon, and onion, that should last us through the weekend.
While it was tough finding good beans to pick today, the picking was pretty easy, other than the heat. For our last pickings of beans, I just pull the plants and pick the beans off of them before putting the vines in our garden cart. It saves a lot of stoop labor.
After working in the East Garden in the morning, I couldn't help but appreciate the great soil in our raised bed while picking beans in the afternoon. The East Garden is an old farm field that is too small and too burnt out for anyone to want to farm it anymore. We get great melons out of it only because I dig deep holes for each hill of melons and backfill with peat moss, compost, and any other soil amendment I have on hand at planting time.
Interestingly, our sweet potatoes don't seem to mind the lousy soil in the East Garden. Last year was the first time we've done much with sweet potatoes. Since I had the space this year, I put in a long row of sweet potatoes. I'm sure come fall when I have to dig sweet potatoes from that heavy clay soil, I'll wonder what I was thinking in planting so many.
I mentioned in my last posting that we were still working out some kinks in our new, "high speed" internet connection. After several unsuccessful calls to tech support and customer "service" at Frontier Communications, I finally got ahold of someone who could get things moving. We're now getting what we subscribed for and will be paying for. It's too bad I had to go to the regional president of Frontier to get things fixed.
We've enjoyed having the visual backdrop to our main garden this year of the best field of corn I've seen so far in our area. I'm sure some of the credit goes to the skill of the farmer, but I also know that the field had been in soybeans the two previous years. I'd guess that may have a lot to do with the gorgeous field of corn.
Our dry spell broke last night with a real gully washer for an hour or so, followed by a steady soaking overnight rain. We got well over an inch of rain here, but just a few miles south of us, they only got a couple tenths of an inch. I dug a bit in the garden this morningand was pleased to find our soil moist six to eight inches deep in the garden.
As the storm rolled in last night, I hustled out to our back porch where we had the last of our onion crop curing. I'd been trimming and bagging onions all week for storage. I trimmed all but several dozen onions that just weren't dry enough yet and moved the bagged onions to the basement for storage (along with our garlic that was already there).
When you finally get the bulk of your onions bagged and stored, it becomes apparent what did well and what didn't. We have tons of Walla Wall sweet onions this year. They don't store well, but can be chopped and frozen.
Our Pulsar, Milestone, and Red Zeppelin storage onions produced okay crops, certainly enough for our use over the next year. I cheated last winter and used some year old stored seed, even though I know onion seed doesn't freeze well. I'll obviously go with fresh onion seed next December or January when I seed our onion starts for next year.
It has become a bit of a tradition for us to have bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches when we harvest our first, really ripe, full size tomato. My wife, Annie, picked a bunch of ripe Moira tomatoes in our East Garden Wednesday evening, so it was BLTs for supper on Thursday. Moira tomatoes have a deep red interior when ripe, and Annie selected a perfectly ripe one to slice. I managed to find some good ears of corn in our weedy corn patch to go with our sandwiches and some green beans leftover from earlier in the week, but there's nothing quite like that first tomato of the season.
Annie and I went out to pick in the East Garden this afternoon. While there weren't any perfect tomatoes, we found two Sugar Cube melons and two Athena melons that were ripe. The real surprise of the picking was how much sweet corn was ready to pick. Our sweet corn patch had been ravaged earlier by deer eating off the tops of the corn plants and later became partially overgrown with weeds when I focused my attention elsewhere in the East Garden.
We picked enough corn for supper for kids, grandkids, friends, and us and still had enough left to freeze three quarts. That's a far cry from years when we filled almost half our our small, chest style freezer with sweet corn, but pretty good for a year when we wondered if we'd get any corn at all. We'll get at least one more picking from the patch.
As I was cutting corn off the cob, I noticed how pretty our current star of the kitchen counter was. We rotate gloxinias from under the plantlights in the basement into the kitchen, and the current purple Cranberry Tiger is just loaded with blooms.
at Senior Gardening