Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 6/30/2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - Catching Up

I haven't posted here since the end of May. That's not because I haven't been gardening, but is the result of way too much to do in some very hot and dry weather. After an incredibly wet April (11.39" of rainfall), we moved into a drying period in May (3.9") that is now turning into a mini-drought (no rainfall yet this month!).

Hanging basket impatiensJust keeping the hanging basket plants and remaining transplants on our back porch watered is almost a full time job. I've been quite pleased with a new variety of impatiens we're trying this year. We have planted Envoy in a couple of hanging baskets (cocoa basket at left) and in our shaded front flowerbed with good results.

Hanging basket petuniasWe just about lost one of our hanging baskets of petunias yesterday. In the photo at right, the plants in the basket on the left were totally wilted late yesterday afternoon. I bottom watered them overnight in an old steam canner lid we just leave on the porch or steps for bottom watering plants. That seemed to revive the petunias. Most of our hanging basket petunias are the Supercascade variety. Strong winds messed up their cascading a bit, leaving the one hanging basket a bit lopsided.

Canner lid bottom watering begoniaFor some unknown reason, our dogs and cats prefer drinking dirty plant water and/or rainwater out of the canner lid and our plant flats despite having fresh, clean water always available in their bowls! Here the canner lid is shown rehydrating part of our wax begonia. I divided and repotted the plant after a storm had thrown the hanging basket across our back porch. The plant was overdue for root division anyway, but the storm unpotting it made the division and repotting an imperative.

Transplants still waitingWe still have quite a few transplants remaining on our back porch that require some attention each day. While I long ago discarded our leftover brassica starts, I've hung on to our tomato and pepper transplants. I've already had to replace one tomato plant in our main garden, and I'd still like to get our paprika peppers transplanted when I can find a space to put them. There are also lots of flowers that will find a spot somewhere along the borders of our garden plots, along with some herbs that need to go into the ground almost immediately.

Our East Garden

Sweet cornThe dry weather has actually worked to our advantage in our large, East Garden. The current 35' x 85' plot and a 40' x 40' plot rotated out this year are in a one acre field we keep mowed for the landowner and farm renter and are allowed to use for crops that take up a lot of space (melons and sweet corn, mainly). With the soil finally dry enough to till and weeds beginning to fill in the aisles between our melons, I set our tiller shallow and worked up the top 3-4" of the soil. I also was able to throw a bit of soil into our corn rows, although our sweet corn is still small (4-8") and I had to be careful not to bury plants. I finished up the sweet corn weeding with my scuffle hoe and, of course, a bit of hand weeding. I also had to fill in some bare spots in the row with a short season sweet corn (71 day) that should tassel about the same time as our full season sweet corn (84 day).

East Garden

Mulched melon row

Farmers Wonderful Seedless
Athena melon plant blooming
Watermelon plant

After a slow start, our melons are now doing well despite the dry conditions. I've replaced transplants that failed in a couple of hills and also planted a late row of watermelon. Since it is so dry, I dug bigger holes than usual for the late melons, backfilling with a mix of peat moss, some potting soil that I didn't like much, and garden soil. Each hole got several gallons of water, lime and a touch of 12-12-12 fertilizer. I mulched the new watermelon plants the next day with grass clipping mulch.

Note: I finally got totally disgusted with Miracle-Gro potting soil. Each bag seemed to have more and more wood chips and less and less soil in it than the last. I also don't like starting seed in potting soil that has fertilizer pellets in it. Rather than write Scotts as I did a year ago when I got a bag of potting soil that had a pH of 5 (and getting a snotty answer), I just used up the Miracle-Gro for the melons and switched to Baccto Lite Premium for my potting soil needs. Scotts needs to let their potting soil "cook" a little longer before bagging and selling it. Writing them does no good, so I voted with my wallet this time and switched brands.

Getting back to our melons, I was pleased today to see one of our Athena melon plants beginning to bloom and put out some good vines. We still have one hill of watermelon that isn't doing very well, but I hauled water out to the East Garden several times over the last week, and that has seemed to help it and the other vining crops.

BuckwheatMy experiment with growing buckwheat and alfalfa together became a single crop story over the weekend. Despite the heavy stand of buckwheat, or possibly because of the shade it provided, the alfalfa germinated well enough that I mowed off the tops of the buckwheat to allow light to reach the alfalfa more easily. In some places, the buckwheat had totally canopied, blocking any direct sunlight from reaching the soil. I'd still like to grow and turn down a good stand of buckwheat as green manure sometime, but the alfalfa with its deep roots will do the soil more good than a turndown of buckwheat. And of course, the mowed buckwheat tops were left on the ground to add organic matter to the soil.

Alfalfa getting goingI'm glad I finally got a good shot that showed the color contrast of the buckwheat to the surrounding vegetation. Each time I approached the East Garden while the buckwheat was standing, I was surprised at the color of it. And...the current stand of alfalfa and buckwheat stalks looks pretty shabby. But with some rain, it should fill in nicely.

The Main Garden

Sugar Snap PeaMoving to our main garden plots, the star of our dinner table the last two nights has been Sugar Snap peas. We had them steamed in butter and olive oil last night and grilled in a mix with pineapple, onion, mushrooms, lemon, lime, orange, broccoli, and cauliflower this evening. Our thin stand of sugar snap vines probably won't produce enough to freeze this year, but enjoying them fresh is a treat. I hope the hot weather doesn't spoil them before the grandkids are here next. They love to pick and eat them right off the vine. Come to think of it, so do I.

Skyphos LettuceAnother star on our dinner table is a new butterhead lettuce variety, Skyphos. It was featured on the inside cover of this year's Stokes Seeds catalog. I'm usually a pretty tough sell on seed companies' "new and improved" varieties, but this one offered a bit of color contrast and was advertised as "tolerant to bolting," and of course, having excellent flavor.

I picked our first soft head of Skyphos a week or so ago and have been having it on sandwiches and in salads. It's quite good. I've also been watching the one remaining Skyphos plant in our garden for signs of bolting. After a week of 90+ degree weather, it still looks good!

Tomato Trouble!

Bacterial spot on tomato leafWe've had soil borne tomato disease problems for years on our ground. It was here when we moved in, and I'm afraid I've not done much to help control it. Rotating to different areas has helped somewhat, but I confirmed today my suspicion that our tomato plants in the main garden have bacterial spot disease again this year. Sometimes called bacterial leaf spot disease, the organism also attacks the fruit of the tomato plant, often rendering it inedible.

SerenadeThe good news is that there is a relatively new biofungicide that suppresses bacterial spot. Otherwise, I'd have pulled and destroyed all the affected plants today! I tested Serenade last year on our tomatoes that developed both bacterial spot and anthracnose late in the season. It seemed to help, so I'm going to step up my spray schedule with the product on the tomatoes in both our main garden area and in the East Garden. (Note: The tomato plants in the East Garden are not showing signs of disease as yet.) I had been spraying Serenade on the tomato plants every so often, but obviously, not enough. I'll spray every day for a few days before backing off to a once a week schedule for the rest of the season (providing that it proves effective). Since bacterial spot can also spoil peppers, they'll be included in the spray sessions, as will our potatoes. Our peppers currently show no signs of disease. Some of our potato plants are looking a bit sad, but they're the ones we transplanted from the compost heap, so I'm not sure if disease is the problem. Anyway, they got soaked today with Serenade.

I've also been concerned with our german garlic plants. They started yellowing way too early this spring, something they normally do when they're about ready for harvest. Interestingly, our elephant garlic didn't begin to yellow early. Then I saw our dogs, both males, doing their territorial marking around the yard. They've both been peeing on our garlic, from the side where the german garlic is growing! Oh, my!

Main garden plots

Even with the few problems we've experienced so far this season, our garden is off to a fantastic start. A little rain would be nice, but we're blessed to have the time and health to spend in our garden.

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Friday, June 10, 2011 - Flowers in the Vegetable Garden

I'm not quite sure what got me started including flowers in our vegetable garden, but I can't imagine now having a garden without flowers in it. I often use flowers to replace garden stakes marking a seeded row, as the flowers will eventually be a whole lot prettier than a wooden stake. On the other hand, I've never had a deer eat a garden stake.

Flowers in the vegetable garden

Our main, raised bed garden plot tends to get most of our flowers. Many years I'll devote one of the softbeds at the ends of the plot solely to flowers. This year, our flowers are along the long edges of the bed. The first went in at the ends of vegetable rows, but I later went back and filled in between rows.

We generally grow all our flower transplants ourselves, which allows us to pick and choose amongst a far greater variety of types available from seed vendors such as Johnny's, Twilley, and Stokes than would be available at local garden shops and discount stores. While growing ones own transplants sounds like it would be cheaper than buying them, I often wonder if the cost of potting soil, flats, seed, plantlights, and the electricity to run the lights doesn't add up to more than the cost of a few flats of flower transplants each year. But I enjoy growing, or sometimes attempting to grow, all kinds of different flowers from seed.

Salmon GeraniumZoned foliage on geraniumOur Growing Geraniums from Seed feature story has long been the most popular page, other than this home page, on this site. And with any endeavour such as this, we have some smashing failures and disasters along the line which can prove instructive for others and certainly for us.

The bulk of our geraniums this year are the Maverick variety, with a few Orbits thrown in for variety. I'm partial to geraniums with zoned foliage. Maybe I think I'm getting more for my money with the extra color in the leaves, but I think they're prettier than the plain green leaves.

We ended up with over twenty geraniums grown from seed this year, although I gave a few of them away to family. The rest tended to get the most conspicuous places in our garden beds, the corners. The geraniums, once established, are usually a sure thing to flower all summer and fall, and the corner locations give them more light than they'd receive at the end of a plant row.

My complaints with geraniums are few. The seed can be terribly expensive, although it holds well from one season to the next in the freezer. The plants also look really ratty if you don't break off spent flower spikes. Since I'm used to pinching off dead petunia flowers to allow the plants to put their strength into growth and flower production rather than seed production, snapping off a few geranium spikes isn't a big deal...when I remember.

Geranium, petunia cosmos, petuniaColorful cornerJust as we push our soil pretty hard with intensive gardening of some vegetables in tight rows, our flowers also end up blending into each other when they approach full growth. Other than putting geraniums in the corners of the beds, there's really no rhyme or reason to our planting pattern. It's often determined by what looks good in our flats of transplants when we put a row in the garden.

There actually is a geranium in the corner in the photo at right, but it's hidden by a very healthy cosmos plant.

I also like to grow vegetables with some color. You can see a gorgeous, dark red lollo lettuce plant that I may have left in too long just because I like its color in the garden. Besides using flowers as edging and row markers, I sometimes can squeeze them into other rows, such as the magenta snapdragons shown by the pea trellis. There are white snapdragons at the other end of the row. The color mix in the garden is random, as most of the plants are transplanted well before they begin to bloom.

MarigoldMarigold crowded by beansI should note that squeezing flowers in pretty tightly with other flowers and at the ends of rows can work against you sometimes. While the row marker marigold at one end of our row of green beans looks pretty happy, the one at the other end looks as if the beans are about to eat it up. I could rescue the marigold by thinning a few bean plants at the end of the row, but I love fresh and canned green beans way to much to do that. The poor marigold will either make it or it won't. The green beans will bear and be out of the garden in a few weeks, anyway.

BTW: The image at left was taken in the morning. The image at right was taken at around 9 o'clock in the evening!

PetuniaWe grow "stinky" marigolds. Some hybrids don't have the typical marigold smell, but also don't help deter bugs in the garden, so we grow stinky ones and have even grown to like the smell. Most of our marigolds are at the ends of our six rows of sweet corn in our East Garden. I still have a bunch in a flat that I had intended to put around our caged tomatoes, but the spacing just didn't work out. We also have a row of nasturtiums in the East Garden for their nematode deterrence power. Truth be told, I really just like growing nasturtiums. One year I put in a row of them in some very fertile ground and they took over the whole plot with green vines and very few flowers! I guess the old saying, "Be nasty to nasturtiums," is true.

One last flower to talk about before I just start sharing images is the petunia shown at left. From a distance in the sunlight, it appears as a dazzling white splash of color along the edge of the garden. When I looked through the camera lens this morning, I was surprised to see the faint purple edging on the blooms.

Vinca Cosmos Petunia
Cosmos Striped petunia Petunia and Cosmos

All of the above is the long way around to saying a garden full of blooming flowers invariably makes me smile.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We've gotten some much needed rain over the last few days. It's been wet enough that it's been hard to find an afternoon when the grass is dry enough to mow when I have the time. I blew one dry opportunity to mow, as I was out transplanting one more yellow squash and one eggplant in our East Garden when I noticed how the weeds were getting going in our sweet corn. So instead of mowing, I got out the scuffle hoe and cleaned up our six rows of sweet corn. Of course, the weeds that sprouted up against the corn stalks had to be hand weeded, but the scuffle hoe makes quick work of the rest of the patch.

I was also pleased to see that the short season sweet corn I'd planted into bare spots in the rows was coming up well.

CabbageOf course, periodic showers don't prevent one from picking in the raised beds. I cut our cabbage (and had boiled and buttered cabbage for lunch today) and most of our lettuce. The lettuce is all ready to pick or to bolt. But with the rain, the temperature has been about ten degrees cooler, helping the lettuce to hold a bit better.

Our Encore peas have come in. We had our first light picking of them with dinner over the weekend. The second picking made just a pint to go into the freezer. Peas are a lot of work for not a lot to go into the freezer, but they're sure good through the winter.

And I finally got around to freezing our beets. Processing beets makes such a mess that I'd put the beets in the refrigerator for several days, but finally froze two pints today and kept another pint in the fridge for fresh use.

If you look closely in the cabbage photo at right, you'll notice some bolting spinach. I took the spinach row out several days ago. Growing good spinach in our area is a skill I lack, but we did get several nice pickings before the heat set in and the spinach got bitter and went to seed. It was just enough to encourage me to try a fall planting this year.

With the spinach, cauliflower, and cabbage out of our raised bed of brassicas (a row of broccoli still remains for sideshoots), I'm hoping to get our parsley, oregano, and sage planted in the recently vacated spaces. I've gardened since I was a kid, but have never grown oregano or sage, so this planting will be a learning experience for me.

GloxiniasOur gloxinia plants are beginning to come into bloom again. We'd gone a month or so with no plants blooming. I brought two plants upstairs a week ago to strut their stuff on a kitchen counter that gets strong afternoon sun (now that I've pruned the bushes that were shading the window). Glox in basementWe have several plants in the basement that are vying for an upstairs position with their colorful displays. Some of them are coming out of their second period of dormancy (at least three years old) and should be strong enough to bloom for an extended period this year.

I had an email last month from a southern reader who was having trouble getting her gloxinias to bloom. She was growing them in a sunny window and appeared to be doing everything right. I suggested several things, among them moving the plants to a cooler location. We grow our gloxinias in our basement under plantlights, so they stay a bit cooler than they would upstairs. We bring some of them up when they're already beginning to bloom, and that seems to suite them just fine, as they usually put on a display of blooms for a month. The reader moved some of her gloxinias to a cooler location and they bloomed! (Whew! I'm really glad they didn't all die, as it's really hard to diagnose plant problems from a long ways away.)

Healthy tomato growthWednesday, June 15, 2011

Bacterial spotOur caged tomato plants in the main garden are responding well to regular sprayings with Serenade biofungicide. The leaves showed definite signs of bacterial spot several weeks ago when I got sloppy with my spray schedule. The plants are now putting on healthy new leaves. The Serenade label lists bacterial spot as a disease the product suppresses, not cures or eliminates completely, so I'll probably be spraying with the product throughout the summer. (I bought another bottle of it last week.) And of course, pretty tomato leaves aren't my goal, so we'll have to see how the fruit does on a previously infected plant.

Herbs into raised bedWe got another good rain overnight and through the early morning hours, but I was able to work in our raised beds a bit today. I transplanted several varieties of parsley, some oregano and sage into the area recently vacated by our cauliflower, cabbage, and spinach. The transplants were all ones we'd grown ourselves. Although sage is a perennial, I wanted to get it in somewhere. I may have to move the plants next year, but we should be able to harvest sage leaves later this summer.

I also cut the last two romaine lettuce plants in our main garden, but only got one tiny romaine heart. I kept finding bugs and bug damage as I stripped away the outer leaves of the lettuce. That' a price I'm willing to pay for not eating lettuce that has been sprayed with strong chemicals. We've gotten several nice heads of romaine (and other lettuce) before the bugs got bad.

Lettuce inAfter clearing out all of the lettuce save one lovely Red Lollo plant, I transplanted a row of lettuce plants between where the rows of lettuce and beets had previously grown. The plants may all bolt, but I had the transplants on hand, so I stuck them in the ground anyway. We just might get lucky with them.

Note that red lollo lettuce can turn bitter well before it bolts. We have plenty of lettuce in the fridge right now, and the plant I left may already be bitter tasting, but it sure adds some nice color to the area.

A row of late green beans will go in what is now an aisle between the old lettuce rows (see the red lollo lettuce as a marker) and our short peas. The peas are just beginning to bear pickable pods and will be done in a week or so.

As I worked in the garden this morning, I could hear occasional raindrops on my floppy gardening hat. Despite the heavy rain we'd had overnight, today's gardening showed the value of raised beds and mulching, as I was able to plant from the edges of the beds or on the mulch. Possibly a downside of mulching, or just due to the dry weather we'd had until recently, some of the soil was still pretty dry in spots when I pulled back the grass clipping mulch to transplant. Fortunately, I'd left our four cubic foot garden cart where it could catch water off the roof and had it and the water in our grandkids wading pool to use as a water source for the bed. Both areas I transplanted into got a thorough drenching.

All the stripped leaves from the lettuce plus some weeds and our kitchen garbage went to our "new" compost pile that sits just beside a pile that is just about done "cooking." I stripped some of the dry grass, weeds that had gotten started (mostly tomato plants), and compost from the edges and top of the pile to partially cover the new pile. I left it at that point today, as I'd like to have some grass clippings to layer into the new pile to add nitrogen to it and also help it heat up.

And...let me share one of the joys of gardening for me. After getting cleaned up, I went back out to the garden to snap a couple more photos. On the way back to the house, I snapped off and ate a broccoli sideshoot. It was absolutely delicious!

Friday, June 17, 2011

After getting a good report yesterday morning at my six month checkup from my skin cancer surgeon, I went out in the afternoon and violated most of his advice. I spent five or six hours mowing, raking, and mulching, although I did have on a good layer of SPF 45 sunscreen and my full Coolibar sun protective outfit. Not smart, but necessary.

I didn't realize that I'd forgotten to pick peas until it was dark. So this morning, my first job was to pick the few peas that were ready on the vines. The shelled peas didn't quite make up a pint, but little by little we're putting by veggies for winter use.

New potatoesTrying to be good and stay out of the midday sun (You know, Mad Dogs and Englishmen...), I hilled up our potatoes and called it a day early on today. Before hilling, I dug out the potato plants I had transplanted from our compost pile. For some reason, they were all dying while the plants in the row with them and beside them planted from seed potatoes are thriving. I'd sprayed the plants with Serenade biofungicide to no effect. If it was a disease, it was one that Serenade can't handle and the other potatoes are immune to. If it was bugs, again, why weren't the nearby plants getting eaten?

The good news in all of this is that there were some nice new potatoes under the dead potato plants.

The rest of the potatoes look very healthy. I do wonder if they're putting on too much top growth in our rich, raised bed soil, but there's little I can do about that. The hilling was a bit difficult due to the close planting of the two rows of potatoes and a nearby row of peas.

Healthy potato plants

As you can see above, the crops in our main raised garden bed are thriving now that they've had several good rains in the last week. Our forecast for the next three days includes a 40-50% chance of thundershowers each day. And I'm not complaining a bit.

Sunday, June 19, 2011 - Father's Day

Garage (before)We're still in a rainy period here at the Senior Garden, so my limited gardening is in between showers, and not much at that. But a Father's Day present arrived a day early, as one of my sons-in-law, Hutch, came down and put the finishing touches on our garage repair/rebuild project last evening.

Finished garageOur garage had become an eyesore with a leaking roof, rusted overhead doors, and composite siding that was rotting and falling off. In a fortuitous combination of events, when I was beginning to explore contractors for repairs last August, my son-in-law found himself out of work due to our governor's game playing with funding for public agencies. So Hutch took on the job of repairing, and in many cases, improving our garage.

As you can see, Hutch does good work. I bought lumber for shelving last week and can't wait to get started building inside and using the "new" garage.

Plot B left Plot B right

While I didn't even get my hands dirty in the garden today, I did take time to snap a couple of shots of our main, raised bed garden plot. All the rain we've had recently makes everything in the garden look better.

Our carrots are just entering the picking stage. I dug a couple of thin ones and had a taste a day or two ago. They should be ready to dig in a couple of weeks, although I'll have to be careful digging. While our onions are beginning to bulb, they won't be ready to harvest when the closely planted carrots need to come out.

Our one row of green beans is trying to bloom. I read somewhere, but can't remember or find just where, that lightning at night will slow or prevent beans from blooming. Maybe that's just a "rural legend," as opposed to the usual urban legend. But we've had almost nightly thunderstorms for a week now, and our beans that should be blooming aren't!

I went ahead and began mulching under the beans and our kale row. I may hate myself for it later, as it's hard to get grass clippings off the beans. But as dry as things were for a while, I'll put up with picking grass clippings off the beans if I can hold moisture in the soil. I'm pretty sure we'll move back into another extended dry spell soon.

Potato plantsCompost pilesI screened a bit of compost yesterday and used it around our freshly hilled potato plants. I really don't want to add a bunch of nitrogen to the planting, as the potatoes are putting on a lot of tall top growth already. But I wanted to put the compost somewhere in the plot shown above, and the potatoes still needed to be hilled a bit more.

We currently have two compost piles. One pile is almost ready to use, while the other is building. As I screen compost from the pile on the left, undigested material screened out goes either on the new compost pile on the right or on our burn pile if it looks like it won't decay. I dumped the last of our overwintered and shriveled garlic and onions on the new pile today.

Sweet potatoesMoving to our East Garden, our row of sweet potatoes is doing well. We have Centennial and Nancy Hall varieties planted this year. I haven't mulched the sweet potatoes yet, but that's only because I've needed the mulch elsewhere. Sweet potatoes do form a nice canopy to keep light from the soil and hold back weeds, but I'd really rather mulch than have to hand weed and scuffle hoe around them. Right now, the ground is too wet to do anything in the area. I stepped into the garden to pull a weed and sunk in the mud to my ankle!

BTW: R.H. Shumway's quickly and courteously made good on my claim on our sweet potato plants. The plants arrived more dead than alive. I put them in water with a clear cover and was able to save four or five of the dozen plants shipped. Shumway's didn't quibble about part of the plants surviving and issued a prompt refund.

Rapidly spreading melon vinesWe're now in our annual race to see if I can gather enough grass clipping mulch to stay ahead of our melon plants. They're quickly putting out runners towards the bare soil I haven't mulched as yet. I try to train the runners to stay in the row as long as possible, or until I completely mulch over the open ground. I do rototill and scuffle hoe the open areas. On occasion, I'll even take a piece of plywood with me to use as a shield to protect the melon vines and knock down weeds with Roundup spray.

I should add a note here that we make no pretense at being organic gardeners. We use no pre-emergent herbicides and as little pesticide as possible. One reason we grow our own is that we like knowing what we eat has been grown in a healthy manner. We also use commercial fertilizers as necessary, but again favor compost and good soil management over commercial products when possible. I admire the organic growing community, but simply am not able to go totally organic and grow what we want and need.

Deer damageOur East Garden is looking good for now, but we're beginning to get some deer damage in our sweet corn. I'm going to have to get busy on putting up an electric fence to discourage the deer (who can easily jump whatever fence I put up) and later the raccoons who love our melons. In the past, we've been able to tolerate the damage to the corn and melons, still getting enough for our table and freezer. But last year, the deer and raccoons took almost all of the sweet corn and quite a few melons. So...a fence is necessary, but I hate to get started with all of that again. Charger, grounding rods, posts, insulators, gate handles, wire and/or's all very expensive. But I do love melons and sweet corn!

East Garden

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - Digging Garlic

As I write this evening, it's raining heavily outside. Fortunately, I got my gardening done early in the day and had enough time left before the rain began to mow the lawn.

Crockett's Victory GardenAfter picking shelling peas, sugar snaps, and some broccoli sideshoots, I decided to dig at least a few bulbs of garlic this morning. Jim Crockett recommends in Crockett's Victory Garden that one wait until "the stems lose all trace of green and the tops bend over" before digging garlic. I've followed that advice in the past, but found that we lost some of our harvest to rotted bulbs, probably due to our heavy clay soil. (I think Crockett gardened in well drained, sandy soil.)

I started digging garlic at the ends of our garlic bed, lifting out a half dozen bulbs from each end with a garden fork. There's no magic to digging garlic. One just needs to get deep enough under the bulb to lift it and loosen the soil enough so that you can gently pull the bulb out by the stem. If you wait until the stems and leaves have dried a bit more, you'll need to completely lift the bulb from the soil with the garden fork, as the rotting stem will probably break if you pull on it.

Garlic ready to dig

GarlicAfter digging garlic from both ends of the bed, it was obvious that our elephant garlic is ready to harvest, while our regular garlic could use a week or so more in the ground. The first row of garlic, the row in the foreground in the image above, is all elephant garlic. I'll strip it away sometime yet this week, being careful not to disturb the two rows of regular garlic behind it.

I let our garlic dry on the porch. When the tops become pliable, I like to braid some of the garlic for storage. I use a string in the middle of the braid to add some strength to the braid and to hang the braided garlic. The rest I let dry until the tops can be twisted or cut off (with no green showing inside). I store the garlic bulbs in old potato bags.

If you grow garlic, don't make yourself wait until it's fully mature to use some of it. Freshly dug and chopped or sliced garlic is a real treat in a variety of cooked dishes.

I mentioned in my posting on Sunday that our onions were beginning to bulb.

Milestone onions

Shown above are some Milestone onions with some carrot greens peeking through. We usually plant our onions in tight (6") double rows, leaving just enough space in the row between onions so they won't touch at maturity. We grow Milestone and Pulsar for yellow onions. Both store well and have good flavor. We also have some Red Zeppelins that store surprisingly well for a red onion, and Walla Wallas for sweet onions. Walla Wallas, like most sweet onions, don't store well, but can be chopped and frozen for winter use.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - More Garlic

GarlicI dug most of the rest of our elephant garlic yesterday. I'm trading off letting them grow to maximum size in favor of getting them out of the ground before the bulbs begin to split and even rot. I'll probably go ahead and dig our regular garlic soon, as I dug one by accident yesterday and found it had already split its outer covering. When garlic does that, it doesn't dry down properly or store well.

The photo at left shows all of the garlic we've dug so far, with yesterday's "dig" being the whiter bulbs at the top of the photo.

The Boundary Garlic Farm has some great pages on growing, curing, and storing garlic. There's also a really interesting page about producing garlic from bulbils, the "garlic flower" that forms at the top of what is commonly known as the garlic's"seed spike." I may let a few of our elephant garlic flower next year and try propagation from bulbils.

I found another good page about growing elephant garlic, but must first issue a caution about the page. Google (and the Firefox browser) both warn that the Grow Your Own site is a "reported attack site" that may download and install malware on your computer. Since I work on a Mac and almost all viruses and malware are written for Windows, I went ahead to their excellent Elephant Garlic page. The Safe Browsing diagnostic page for gives more info about the potential dangers in visiting the site at this time., Inc.

Carrot rowsSunday, June 26, 2011 - Carrots

I began digging our carrots today. I'd planted four varieties along a double row, so I dug a bit at each end and in the middle to get a sample of the varieties we planted. Since it rained heavily last night, I loosened and lifted the soil a bit to get the carrots started coming out and then was able to pull them down the row without digging.

CarrotsI'd been a little concerned that I'd overdone our intensive planting technique and gotten the carrots too close to the adjacent onions. I feared disturbing the onions' root systems while digging the carrots. As it turned out, I shouldn't have worried, as the carrots came out and didn't disturb the soil in the onion rows at all.

Our "take" today after trimming tops, roots, and grandchildren (and grandpa) sampling a few was just over three pounds of carrots. Since I dug about three feet of the fourteen feet of double rowed carrots we have planted, I think we'll have plenty for next winter.

Atomic red and standard carrotOne surprise from the harvest were some reddish colored carrots . Upon consulting my planting diagram, I realized the red carrots were the Atomic Red open pollinated variety I decided to try this year. I also found three Atomic Reds that had put up seed spikes and had to be discarded.

Atomic Reds are supposed to be "high in lycopene," a substance which may help reduce the risk of contracting some cancers, although the Wikipedia entry on lycopene relates that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "has cast significant doubt on the potential for lowering disease risk, showing no link between lycopene and prevention of prostate cancer." Lycopene is also available in red tomatoes. An "FDA review permitted a highly limited qualified claim to be used for tomatoes and tomato products which contain lycopene, as a guide that would not mislead consumers, namely:"

Very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that eating one-half to one cup of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim.

Since I like both carrots and spaghetti sauce, I'm not going to worry much about lycopene and the FDA. I do think I'll grow some Atomic Reds again next year, though. Our other carrot varieties include Mokum, Sweet Baby Jane, and Baby Sweet. All are hybrids, and as with all hybrids, one is at the mercy of breeders for availability. Baby Sweet seed is no longer available, and we pretty well used up our supply of that seed this spring. Sweet Baby Jane has proved to be an acceptable substitute. The Mokum variety is an excellent early, baby carrot variety, producing sweet, tender roots when picked early.

Getting Ready for the Fall Garden...Already!

Broccoli sideshootSugar Snaps bloomingAs our harvest of broccoli sideshoots continues with our rainy and cooler weather, I realized last week that I needed to check the calendar and count my days to harvest for starting our fall broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. I actually picked several sideshoots yesterday that were almost as big as small, main heads of broccoli. But it was tough to get the harvest to the house, as the tiny young hands of grandchildren kept reaching into the pot for tender, sweet broccoli florets! And of course, we encourage our grandkids to enjoy fresh broccoli right off the plant, along with sugar snap peas and grape tomatoes (when the tomatoes finally begin to bear fruit). And since our sugar snaps germinated so unevenly, we still have vines blooming!

Once I consulted the calendar, I was mentally kicking myself for not getting our fall cauliflower started a week or so ago. I keep forgetting that our favorite variety of cauliflower calls for 75 days to maturity from transplanting, while some of our broccoli matures in just 58 days. Hoping for a long summer and a late first frost, I went ahead and started pots of Amazing (75 days) cauliflower, Premium Crop (58 days) and Goliath (76 days) broccoli, and Alcosa (72 days), Super Red 80 (73 days), and Tendersweet (71 days) cabbage today. If I can transplant in four weeks, we should be okay on all of the brassicas above, but if the transplants take six weeks to get up to transplanting size, it will be close to see if we get the harvest or the frost takes most of it.

Thursday, June 30, 2011 - Fighting Weeds in the East Garden

Weed pressureJune this year started and is ending dry, with some very wet weather in between. While our main garden plots are doing well, our large East Garden plot is suffering from pretty intense weed pressure. Our melons and sweet corn got off to a good start, and I was initially able to keep the plot pretty weed free with mulch and cultivation. With heavy rain through the middle of the month, cultivation was out, and I couldn't mow to get mulch when needed. Areas we'd previously gardened have experienced less weed pressure, but the new ground we turned this year mainly for sweet corn is a total mess.

Weeds mowedSadly, the sweet corn will just have to wait until the ground dries out enough for me to rototill, but I was able to take some corrective action around our melons. I mowed the aisles between our rows of melons on Tuesday with our riding mower. This is one time I really wished I had a small push mower I could run between our rows of corn.

I also resorted to using Roundup herbicide to control the weeds in the aisles. (And yes, I'm well aware of the dangers in using Roundup and other herbicides.) The wind was fairly calm Wednesday morning, ideal weather for spraying. To be sure there was no drift onto the melon plants, I used a sheet of plywood as a barrier between the areas being sprayed and our melons.

After mowing and raking on Wednesday, I spread mulch along the edges of the already mulched melon rows this morning. A good bit of hand weeding of weed breakthroughs in the existing mulch was also necessary.

Honeydew melonsThe story in our East Garden isn't all grim, as most of the melons are now in bloom, with a few honeydew melons already set on. I even picked a small yellow squash today. I'll almost certainly be able to save our first three rows of melons that are on ground we grew corn on last year (and have less weed pressure). Our late row of watermelons is on new ground, and it's touch and go if we'll be able to knock down the weeds enough to make a good crop there.

I'm just happy at this point to have three good rows of melons and be able to stand on the garden soil without sinking into the mud!

No Hot Wire This Year

Nite Guard Solar Predator Control LightI researched, planned, and stewed and stewed over putting an electric fence around our corn and melons this year to discourage the deer and raccoons. We lost almost all of our sweet corn last year to the deer and raccoons, so something needed to be done.

Nite Guard on tomato cageAfter all of my cost projections, I decided that I'd wait another year before trying an electric fence, if necessary. I decided instead to try a solar powered flashing light to at least lesson the damage this year. Like any other such product, the Nite Guard Solar Predator Control Light gets mixed customer reviews, but I thought it better than nothing...and at about 10% of what I was going to spend on a good electric fence solution.

Of course, I only got two of the Nite Guard units and four are recommended. I hung ours today from a tomato cage and noticed them flashing this evening. We'll see how they do. I have noticed this week that the deer (clear hoof prints in the mud) have taken a liking to your sweet potato plants!


I've mentioned our experiment in green manure/cover cropping several times this year. I seeded buckwheat and alfalfa in May to an area we'd gardened for three years that had fairly serious soil compaction. Earlier this month after getting a dandy stand of buckwheat with good alfalfa growing under it, I mowed the plot to allow the alfalfa to take over (and left the buckwheat cuttings on the ground to enrich the soil). Even though it was still too wet out for general mowing on Tuesday, I went ahead and mowed the alfalfa again to knock down the last of the buckwheat and a few weeds in the area. I have a brand new mower this year, but the alfalfa was so thick that it nearly clogged the mower!

Good stand of alfalfa

I won't be taking hay or using the alfalfa for mulch this year. The idea is to grow a thick stand of alfalfa and allow the root systems to go deep into our heavy clay soil in the East Garden to help break up the compaction. I plan to turn the alfalfa down next spring...and grow a whale of a sweet corn crop...with very little added fertilizer.

May, 2011

From the at Senior Gardening