One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
We wound up getting eleven and a half inches of rain in April. While the forecast a few days ago had called for drying conditions, it has now changed. We've had almost two inches of rain already in May, and the new forecast gives us just two possibly dry days before the rain begins again. Local rumor has it that lowland farmers are looking for gopher wood, gathering animals two by two, and reviewing odd measurements in cubits.
Starting More Gloxinias
With two shelves nearly full of gloxinia plants, you'd think I would have enough of them. But after getting most of the remaining garden transplants out of the basement and onto the back porch yesterday, I started a pot of Double Brocade gloxinias. We currently don't have many Double Brocades in our collection, and I like their ruffled, or double blooms. Seeding them now should assure blooms by November or December.
I've started all my gloxinias from seed for years in some old, plastic "pots" that were originally the bottom reinforcement on large bottles of soft drinks. Soft drink companies no longer use the heavy plastic reinforcers, so I take care of the three I have remaining, as they're just the right size for starting small, shallow rooted plants from seed.
I filled the pot with sterilized potting soil and topped it with a layer of vermiculite. I'm hoping the vermiculite will hold moisture, but not block the light required for germinating gloxinia seed. Before seeding, I top watered the pot with warm water. I often have trouble with moss growing among our gloxinia starts, so I added a touch of captan to the water.
Our Double Brocade seed comes from Thompson & Morgan (US). I'm not very happy with their packaging of the seed, as they put 30 (they say) of the dustlike seeds in a foil package. The seeds cling to the foil, making it hard to get them out of the package and onto the planting medium. More seed and/or putting the seed in a glassine (as Stokes Seeds does with their Empress variety) would be a big improvement.
Note that the "hardware" involved in this process is all pretty low tech. An old pop bottle reinforcer serves as a pot with a recycled plant label. Glad wrap allows enough light in, and while I'm working on the seeding, I keep the pot on an old Folgers Coffee "can" lid so water doesn't get all over the kitchen counter. The plastic coffee can lids also can be used under four or six inch flower pots to bottom water mature gloxinias. (Inverted plastic frisbees also do well for that job!)
Since I've pretty well wrapped up our continuing feature on Gloxinias, I didn't add this info to it. But if you're interested in trying your hand at growing them from seed, the feature story covers all the ins and outs of the process. It's really pretty easy.
Dianthus and Daffodils
When the sun briefly emerged Sunday afternoon, I finished planting dianthus along the east side of our house among our daffodils. The soil there is not very good, but the area gets good morning sunlight. We had an overabundance of dianthus seedlings, as I'd started all our saved seed in a pot last winter. I really didn't know if the seed was viable, but I ended up with lots of dianthus.
While transplanting the dianthus, I noticed the seed heads I'd snapped off the daffodils to prevent them from using their energy to set seed. It appears that I was too late, as many of the pods had mature seed in them. Never wanting to waste seed, I stripped the mature seed from the pods and put it in a bowl until I figured out what to do with it. After a little online research, I found that one can grow daffodils from seed, but that the plants take 3-7 years from seed to bloom! I dumped the seed in a flower pot anyway, as it will be fun to see what happens with it. (I put a teaspoon in the bowl with the seed for size comparison.)
Outdoor Gardening Nearly at a Standstill
In the short periods we've had without rain over the last week, I've tried to get what little I can done in our garden. I strung our trellis for our second row of peas over the weekend. I also poked in some more seed along both rows of peas, as it appears much of the seed may have rotted in the ground from the excessive moisture.
With both pea trellises in, I transplanted several varieties of snapdragons at the ends and along the backside of each row of peas. I like to grow our snapdragons there, as the trellis and T-posts provide some support for the plants and also a bit of protection from the winds that sweep across the open field to the west of our main garden.
I'm hoping to get some lawn mowing done tomorrow.
With several clear days in a row (but still some rain at night), you'd think I'd be back to doing some serious gardening. Sadly, I spent the time wresting my old lawn mower away from a really bad John Deere dealership, hauling it to a more reputable outfit, trading it off, and getting our lawn mowed. During the interruption for mower "service," we had patches of grass get a foot tall.
I now have lots of grass clippings to begin mulching our garden. I even used a couple of loads of clippings to mix in our compost heap. There's nothing like wet, green grass clippings to heat up a compost pile. Of course, most of the grass clippings are still piled, as they need to cook and cool a bit before putting them around tender garden plants. I was, however, able to immediately mulch our garlic plants. By this time, many of the garlic plants have tough, inch thick "stems."
While many of the potato sets I put in our main garden are rotting, I found that we had absolutely gorgeous potato plants growing out of our compost pile! Before beginning to turn the pile, I used a garden fork to carefully lift the potato plants from the pile and transplanted them into our main garden. I also harvested a handful of new potatoes in the process. In turning the compost pile, I put in several inch-thick layers of grass clippings, along with a lot of lime and a good sprinkling of fertilizer. Since the old pile had potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and several other veggies sprouting out of it, it obviously wasn't heating up.
We have several broccoli plants that are setting heads. As long as the weather doesn't turn hot, the heads should grow from their current tennis ball size to eight or nine inches in diameter. I put some mulch around one broccoli plant, several ornamental kale plants, and a geranium at the end of the raised bed they are growing in as a test. If the grass clippings haven't damaged anything by tomorrow, I'll know it's safe to go ahead and mulch the full bed.
Our softbeds at either end of our main, raised garden bed seem to be just marking time. Our onions really aren't growing very rapidly, although I noticed today that we have lots of carrots poking through the overcropped radishes. We've only lost one lettuce plant (to rot), but the incredibly wet growing conditions haven't been conducive to everything taking off as I'd hoped it would.
So while the weather has really slowed things down in the garden this spring, we're now at a point where things may really start growing rapidly. With our last frost date now past, I can begin getting our melons, tomatoes, and peppers into the garden...once things dry out enough for me to rototill again.
Tomato Grafting Clips
I wrote in April about some tomato grafting instructions on the Johnny's Selected Seeds site. I noted then that the initial investment was a bit steep. The tomato understock (rootstock), Maxifort F1, runs $21.95/50 seeds and silicone grafting clips cost $14.95 for a bag of 250.
James E. Bradley wrote this week of a couple of places to purchase smaller quantities (and thus, less expensive) of grafting clips. He's not investing in the understock this year, but plans "to play with a Sweet 100 rootstock with Big Boys...to try my hand at it this year."
He found smaller quantities of tomato grafting clips at:
I picked up a tip years ago on getting carrots to germinate well from Crockett's Victory Garden. It was suggested that one put "a few" radish seeds in the row with the carrot seed to break the soil crust for the carrots and also to identify the row so one won't mistake emerging carrot plants for weeds. The idea of using radishes as a nurse crop for the carrots has worked well for me many times, as carrots are slow to germinate, and by the time they need the space, the radishes are ready to be pulled.
This year's wet conditions must have been ideal for carrot germination, as our carrots came up about a week after our radishes emerged. When I started to mulch our softbed of onions, radishes, and carrots yesterday, I saw that I'd sown considerably more than "a few" radish seeds in the row. The radishes were seriously crowding our carrots.
I grow radishes only to break the soil crust for our carrots. I willingly eat only four or five radishes each year. My wife's annual radish consumption sometimes reaches one radish, and that only to show me that she loves me and appreciates my efforts in our garden. But we both eat lots of carrots.
So I began thinning the radishes from the combined carrot and radish rows. But thinning quickly became near annihilation for the poor radishes, as almost every one of them was preventing one or more carrot plants from getting sunlight and probably taking necessary nutrients as well. Some of the ill-fated radishes landed in piles of mulch beside the softbed, while others ended up in the yard, where they'll be slashed by the lawn mower and eventually picked up by our lawn sweeper to be used as lowly mulch. (Is "vegicide" really a word?)
With lots of grass clippings on hand, I'm doing a lot of mulching in the garden. If you don't treat your lawn with herbicides, grass clippings can provide an excellent mulch to conserve moisture and hold down weeds in the garden. One has to be careful, though, not to apply fresh, wet, grass clippings around tender, young plants, as the clippings can heat up as they decay and damage nearby plants.
I'd mulched around several of the brassica plants in a raised bed a few days ago to see if the grass clippings I had on hand had cooled down enough to use. They had, so I went ahead and fertilized and mulched all the broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in the raised bed yesterday. Since I have a row of spinach intercropped down the middle of the bed, I had to be careful not to cover those plants.
While I've successfully used grass clipping mulch for years, I do have one concern with the current mulching. With our mower out of commission for several weeks, our grass got very high, with some of the grass (and weeds) setting seed. Usually, I keep our grass cut short enough that seed in the clippings isn't a problem. Also, the action of our pull-behind lawn sweeper aides in winnowing out grass and weed seed. But I have noticed a good many seed heads in the mulch from my most recent mowing. Adding grass or weed seed to our garden may cause me some weeding headaches later on in the season.
And no, the lawn sweeper in the photo isn't ours. It's an ad shot. Ours is quite dirty and worn from over ten years of use. I've replaced the wheels on it once, and rethreaded the roller chains that drive the brushes more times than I can count.
Our softbed of onions, beets, and lettuce has survived being flooded several times, but really doesn't look very good. Normally, from the time I set out the lettuce, I'd be picking some for delicious salads by now. But lettuce, like most other garden plants, doesn't like wet, wet growing conditions. Of course, if we didn't have our lettuce in a fairly well drained raised bed, we would have lost it all from the heavy spring rains. And yes, that's a pile of grass clipping mulch at the top of the photo that will go on the softbed yet today (if the rain holds off). I'll also be adding a very light touch of 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer, as the heavy rains tend to wash nitrogen out of the soil. The bloom at the bottom of the photo is a very hardy cosmos plant. Something has been biting off the heads and leaves of the cosmos this spring, but this plant has managed to put on a lovely bloom.
And speaking of blooms, one of the dianthus I transplanted along the east side of our house a week ago has come into bloom. I was glad to see it behaving normally, as the plant came from seed I'd saved from a hybrid dianthus plant. I guess sometimes you can get away with breaking the rule about not saving seed from hybrids.
To wind up today's discussion about grass clipping mulch, I should add that we mow a lot of ground to get our mulch. Our lot is 1.3 acres, but we mow around 4 acres total! We keep an eye on the barn, pond, and field that abuts our property to the east and south for the landowner who lives in town. Although it takes a lot of time to mow that much ground, we also get to use the barn, pond, and especially part of the field for our East Garden. That's where we grow our "space hogs" such as sweet corn and melons. I also use the East Garden for isolation of varieties from which we intend to save seed (Moira tomatoes, Earliest Red Sweet peppers, etc.). Since our melons, squash, and pumpkins are grown in the East Garden, I grow our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers in our main garden to provide the necessary isolation for saving seed. We offer our saved seed to other gardeners via the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook.
I don't use any grass clipping mulch from the field in our main, raised bed garden plots. The field has way too many nasty weeds in it. I do use its mulch for the East Garden. The mulch for our pampered raised beds all comes from our yard which, of course, has its own weed problems.
The area we're going to use for our East Garden this year is still too wet to till. I tilled part of it in early April before the rains set in, but haven't been able to get back in to rototill since. I have peat moss and mulch along the edge of it in anticipation of just "mudding in" our melons and mowing and mulching around them for weed control. The area for sweet corn will just have to wait and dry out so I can turn the ground. And, I'm going to invest in posts, insulators, wire, and a fence charger this year, as the deer and raccoons took too much of our sweet corn and melons last year.
The heavy rains have finally let up here, and we've had a whole week without significant rainfall. I got our mowing out of the way early in the week and was able to begin tilling soil late Tuesday. I turned the open ground in our main, raised bed first, moved on to a row for our caged tomatoes in our old, main garden plot, before moving on to our large garden plot in the field east of our house (our East Garden).
I changed the configuration of our East Garden plot. The tilled area is slightly smaller than last year (30' x 75') with the long dimension running east and west this year. I decided to rotate out the section we've had in cultivation since we began using the ground three years ago. That section is somewhat shaded and really needs some work on the soil compaction that troubles the whole field. I plan to seed it to alfalfa with a buckwheat nurse crop to try to break up the compaction.
I'd turned a bit of the ground in the East Garden in late April, but got cut off on that project by a month of heavy rain. In the interim, I held down weed growth with a couple of passes with Roundup. I returned to tilling the area Tuesday and Wednesday. Rather than going for a full, deep till before planting our melons, I did a shallow till of the entire patch east and west. Some of it is "new ground" that makes for difficult tilling. Then I went back and tilled north and south as deeply as possible. I didn't till the whole area, only turning the areas I had marked off for our north and south rows of melons. Interestingly, the tiller bit in full depth on those passes.
We've been fortunate to be able to grow good melon crops in our East Garden for several years. While I never seem to be able to do a full, deep till of the entire area, special attention to each hill for our melons has paid good dividends. When I dig a hole for a melon hill, I retain the dug soil in our garden cart where I mix in peat moss, lime, and fertilizer. I also put about a shovelfull of peat in the hole, again with a bit of lime and some 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer and work it in as deeply as I can with a long handled shovel (about 12-18"). I fill the hole with water that has a bit of starter fertilizer mixed in and then return the soil to the hole. The fluffing of the soil and the peat add enough volume to the soil that I end up with a small hill to move our transplants into. I also mulch around the transplants with grass clippings to hold down weeds and retain soil moisture. Doing such deluxe holes and hills is a lot of extra work, but it allows us to grow good melons on ground that many folks have suggested wouldn't grow good melons (or much of anything else).
I prefer transplanting melon plants over direct seeding, but some of our transplants got burnt when I forgot to open our cold frame one sunny morning. I added a few insurance seeds to several hills with rather weak looking transplants, just in case.
Our watermelons include Kleckley Sweet, Crimson Sweet, and Ali Baba. Our Moon & Stars and Farmers Wonderful starts got zapped in the cold frame fiasco. Our cantaloupe include Athena, Sugar Cube, Sarah's Choice, and Roadside Hybrid. I also have a hill each of Passport and Tam Dew honeydew melons.
Not in the East Garden proper is our one hill of Waltham Butternut squash. Since this variety can take over large areas with its vines, I transplanted our one pot of butternuts into the ground where our compost pile had been all winter. I've had good luck doing this before with both butternuts and pumpkins.
I got our bell peppers transplanted yesterday. I had held off transplanting them into our main garden until I could work in several bales of peat moss to loosen the soil and to raise the soil level a little, as water had begun to stand in the area after heavy rains.
I only transplanted six plants into a fifteen foot row this year. I'd gone with seven plants in the same length row last year, and they seemed to suffer a bit from the crowding.
For peppers, I use a trowel to dig a hole and then work in a bit of lime and fertilizer as deeply into the soil as possible. (Note: The photo at left shows where I goofed and got way more than "a bit" of lime in the hole.) I water the hole, and partially fill it with dirt before beginning the transplanting.
Since we've had some really awful experiences with cutworms and peppers, I continue to use cutworm collars around our pepper plants even though I've treated the soil with Milky Spore. I see fewer cutworms than I used to before using Milky Spore, but I still see an occasional one. Our cutworm collars are made from paper cups with the ends cut out. I've seen others online using cut up sixpack plant holders, but I tend to cut myself on the sharp edges of such things.
I set the paper cup into the hole and put the transplant into the cup, checking to make sure the top of the transplant's soil is level with the surrounding soil. I want the paper cut to extend at least an inch above the soil level (which keeps out the cutworms). I add dirt into the paper cup to fill in the edges around the transplant. I then water inside the cutworm cup collar and around the outside edge before backfilling with soil around the cup.
I started caging our peppers several years ago with good results. I use some old cone shaped tomato cages that came with the property. I've never used them for tomatoes because the plants would outgrow the short cages before they ever set any fruit. But they're close to ideal for peppers. (Note: I've noticed retailers with much taller versions of these cages. Some even have a rubberized coating on them to prevent rust.)
After adding a geranium "row marker" at each end of the row, I mulched around the pepper cages. I had to go back today and pull mulch away from the cutworm collars. I'd gotten mulch up against them, providing a fairly deluxe cutworm ramp right to my pepper plants!
Our bell peppers this year include Red Knight (2) and Red Ace for greens and reds, and Mecate and Sunray for yellows (and greens). I also put in a pimento variety, Lipstick, that is supposed to have wonderful flavor. I also have lots of paprika peppers started, but haven't figured out where I can put them. Of course, we have lots of ground paprika from last year, so if I don't get the paprikas in, it won't be a major loss.
With our peppers in, it took just a few minutes to get our green beans and kale planted in the last available space in our main raised bed. I planted Bush Blue Lake and Strike for green beans and a mixture of old kale seed (mostly Vates) I had on hand. The beans and kale got marigold and vinca row markers. Using flowers as row markers allows me to know where the rows are without leaving the stakes and strings I use as planting guides in place. If I'd had the space available, I would have planted more varieties of green beans, as I find that when canned, a mix of varieties seems to give a better flavor. I also think that's true with tomatoes.
With the peppers, green beans, and kale planted, our main, raised garden bed is fully planted for now. As crops mature and are harvested, we'll work the soil and replant throughout the gardening season.
The really nasty looking softbed of onions, beets and lettuce I showed last Monday (shown again at left) looked totally different yesterday after being hoed, fertilized, and mulched this week (shown at right). A light shower Thursday evening also gave it a boost.
Paul Calback wrote and updated me this week on his progress with the asparagus patch he started last spring. Paul and I had discussed intensive planting of asparagus early in 2010, resulting in postings about his patch and raised bed construction in June, October, and in our feature story, Building a Raised Garden Bed.
Paul found it "somewhat frustrating finding page after page of research info talking about planting rows five to ten feet apart so you could fit your tractor down, etc. Great for farmers, but for city folks trying to get by on a few hundred feet rather than a few hundred acres, different rules should apply."
Paul has been good to share his experiences and gorgeous photos so that others might benefit from his experience. What he found was that one can "break the rules" for planting asparagus with proper (actually, superior) soil preparation and wind up with an incredible patch in just a year.
Here's Paul's report:
Paul wound up a later email, "I just ate a thumb-thick spear right now, and my wife is chomping on the rest of the bundle that actually made it home from the garden. I feel like a kid in a candy store with my own grown asparagus!"
I think that's the way gardening is supposed to be.
We're back into another wet weather pattern here, but a strange one at that. Everything outside is wet and there's an almost constant mist in the air, but our poor man's rain gauges (buckets and the garden cart) have only a touch of water in them! But everything looks wet!
Despite apparent weather conditions that would normally preclude working the ground, I was able to till the row for our tomato plants yesterday and some of our East Garden patch. The soil conditions for tilling were marginal at best, but I really don't think I did any damage by tilling too wet soil. I certainly wasn't turning up muck.
When I began to get serious about getting our tomato plants in last week, I realized I'd made a planning error in the spacing of our rows in our old garden plot. I'd made a last minute change in row spacing when I put in our first row of peas and really didn't leave enough space between the pea row and our patch of garlic for our row of caged tomatoes. With no other space available at this point for the tomatoes, I went ahead and transplanted, caged, and mulched six tomato plants yesterday in a very narrow space.
I didn't do anything special in the planting. Each transplant hole got a sprinkle of 5-10-5 commercial fertilizer and a very light touch of lime worked in deep. Tomatoes need calcium from the lime, but don't like really sweet soil. I watered the holes with a bit of starter fertilizer, and transplanted the tomato plants fairly deep, leaving about six inches of each plant above soil level.
Our tomato cages are homemade from welded wire (six inch square openings in concrete reinforcing wire) and have a coat of Rust-Oleum on them to slow down rust. I've written about them here previously, so I won't go into it again now...or at least until our current ones rust out and I have to make some more. From a bad experience two years ago when our cages blew over, I buried the bottom ring of wire in the soil to add a bit more stability to the cages. They do get top heavy when filled with fruiting branches.
Burpee Gardening now carries what appear to be some excellent, tall, commercially made tomato cages. Their XL Pro Series Tomato Cages are 58" tall and appear to be coated with rust preventative. They also appear to be foldable for easy storage. While the price of $39.95 plus shipping for three cages may sound a bit steep, it doesn't seem so bad when you price welded wire at the hardware store!
Let me add that I really am not too happy with the tomato transplants I put in yesterday. We have some spotting on the leaves that could be indicative of a plant disease. I'm spraying the plants with Serenade, a product I tested last year and found to be effective combating bacterial spot and anthracnose. Since the spotting not only occurred on our tomatoes but several other plants we had on the back porch, I really think one of our cats peed on the plants, but...I'm still concerned. (BTW: When I checked the link above for Serenade this morning, I found that the price had nearly doubled from when I bought the product last year! If you can find it at a local outlet, you may do better on price there than from Amazon.)
Our tomato varieties in the main garden this year are two Better Boys, two Bella Rosas, with a Red Grape and a Sweet Olive at either end of the row. I find that putting the grape tomatoes at the ends of the rows facilitates grandkids (and grandmas and grandpas) getting to the fruit easily. With a row of sugar snap peas right beside the tomatoes, our grandchildren will have a feast out in the garden.
Just four main season, caged tomato plants isn't a lot for us, but we also grow several caged Moira tomato plants in our East Garden. While the soil there isn't very good, growing the Moiras there allows us to use them not only for table use and canning, but also to provide tomato seed that hasn't crossed with another variety. Both the Moira and Bella Rosa varieties are classed as determinates, or bush types, but I've found that growing them in cages produces more useable fruit than growing them on the ground, mulched, as is often done with determinates.
Note: Both About.com and the Garden Web have good pages about determinate and indeterminate tomato types. I'm glad to see that those pages and other sources are now recommending caging determinates "since the concentrated fruit set can contribute considerable weight to the branches."
While I had the tiller out yesterday, I worked up the ground we'll use for sweet corn and another row for sweet potatoes. The corn ground isn't planting ready as yet. It will need at least one more pass with the tiller before I get out any sweet corn seed.
Our Centennial sweet potato plants came in the mail yesterday from whomever Shumway's uses for their plants. I put the plants in water immediately, but it appears that I'm going to have to file a claim with Shumway, as the plants look more dead than alive. (I added a cover over the glass and plants to hold in humidity as I try to save them.) For $11.95 plus shipping for a dozen plants, I expect better. There's really not time for Shumway's to ship replacement plants, and I fear I'd just get more of the same (dried out plants). For this year, I'll just have to go with some very healthy sweet potato starts I grew from one of last year's sweet potatoes (Nancy Hall variety). I'd like to turn the row for the sweet potatoes one more time before planting, but the way our forecast looks, I might as well just mud them in!
Gloxinia Plants from The Violet Barn
A tip from reader Steve Paige last year allowed me to add a supplier of gloxinia plants to our Gloxinias feature story. I added a link to The Violet Barn on the strength of Steve's recommendation and The Violet Barn's excellent Garden Watchdog rating on Dave's Garden.
Even with those recommendations, I wanted to try The Violet Barn for myself to see if their stuff was as good as their ratings claim. I placed an order at the end of April or early May, was promptly advised of a shipping date, and my two new gloxinia plants arrived on Friday. The plants were exceptionally well packed for shipping. While tiny, the gloxinias appeared to be quite healthy.
Well, one wasn't so healthy after I overeagerly ripped open its packing and broke the stem! But a bit of Rootone and some pots of sterilized growing medium may help me divide the broken plant into several plants! I'll actually be happy if I can save one plant after my ham handed opening of the package.
I harvested five heads of broccoli this morning, all from Premium Crop plants. I'd worried earlier this month that the hot weather we were having might cause the broccoli to ripen before the heads had reached their usual size. And that's just about what happened, although the cause could be that it was just their time, or our soil nutrients weren't sufficient to support larger heads. So all of our Premium Crops produced softball plus sized heads instead of something considerably larger (soccer ball sized heads).
I'm not complaining (too much), as the broccoli was sweet as I sampled some. The five heads and assorted sideshoots pretty well filled a twelve quart pot! Two heads went in the fridge for fresh use in the coming days, while the other five were blanched and frozen. If our plants follow their usual habit, we'll get good sideshoot heads of broccoli for a month or so more. And we still have three Belstar broccoli plants that are just forming their main heads.
One of my chores yesterday was to clean up our front flower beds. Our tulips were pretty well spent and ready to be clipped, and there were lots of seedling weeds to be rooted up with a scratcher tool. Once done, I gave our dianthus and some hostas I planted last year a shot of solid fertilizer, transplanted a few impatiens, and mulched the beds. I'm not sure if I'm going to add anything else to these beds, as my choices are limited to mostly shade loving plants. We've had coleus, dusty miller, impatiens, and alyssum in these beds in the past.
Our East Garden patch has dried out enough that I was able to pretty well get it planted in the last few days. While it was still cool yesterday morning, I planted buckwheat and alfalfa to a patch (foreground in photo at right) that we're going to rest this summer. (And no, that's not our tractor.) I spread lime and fertilizer before broadcasting buckwheat and alfalfa seed over the plot. I set my tiller as shallow as I could and still stir the top of the soil and worked in the lime, fertilizer and seed. To say the least, this is an experiment. If just the buckwheat germinates, I'll turn it under in six weeks or so as a green manure crop to add some desperately needed organic material to the soil. If just the alfalfa takes (very unlikely this late and with hot weather), I'll let it grow, mowing it occasionally. Alfalfa puts down deep roots and helps break up compacted soil. If both the buckwheat and alfalfa grow, I may mow the patch before the buckwheat sets seed and then let the alfalfa grow. Of course, neither type of seed may germinate. Then I'll just have another weedy area to mow!
As clouds rolled over yesterday morning and occasionally dropped a touch of moisture, I hurried to do a final till of the row for our sweet potatoes. The rain held off and I was able to thoroughly till in some 5-10-5 fertilizer and a touch of sulfur to provide the necessary soil acidity to prevent potato scab disease.
I was able to save and set out four of the dozen dried out sweet potato plants Shumway sent me. Upon receipt of the plants, I immediately noticed how dried out they were. I put them in a glass of water and covered the glass with a translucent pitcher to hold in moisture but still allow them some light.
I filled in the row with some Nancy Hall sweet potato plants I'd grown in a glass in the kitchen window. After the sweet potato put on lots of green growth, I snipped off the top growth, applied some rooting powder, and allowed the slips to root in potting soil. I also put in a few small, whole sweet potatoes we had left in storage from last year's crop. A large geranium went at each end of the row as a row marker and to add a bit of color to the area.
Growing sweet potatoes is still an experiment for us. Last year was the first time we've harvested sweet potatoes. We were fortunate to have two hills survive last summer's drought.
When I was done planting sweet potatoes, I took a few moldy sweet potatoes to our compost heap. For some reason, instead of just plopping the sweet potatoes on the top of the heap, I lifted some grass clippings on the side to slip the sweet potatoes under them. To my surprise, the pile was quite hot! That's a good thing, as a compost pile should heat up as the material within decays.
Pushing my luck with storm clouds overhead in the early afternoon, I went ahead and tilled the entire area we plan to use for a late row of melons and our sweet corn. With the rain holding off, I marked my rows for the sweet corn and applied half a coffee can (39 oz. size) of 12-12-12 fertilizer to each row in a band about a foot wide. I tilled in the fertilizer in a final, deep till before opening furrows with a garden hoe.
I planted six rows of sweet corn, spacing the seed 8-12" apart and the rows 3' apart. I used a garden rake to pull soil over the seed which ended up about 2-3" deep in the soil. To ensure good soil contact with the seed, I walked each row, letting my footsteps pack the soil over the seed.
I planted just a bit of Mr. Mini Mirai, an unusual 74 day variety that produces extremely sweet 5" ears of corn. I had to laugh when I went back and read the variety description. It read, "Strong plants hold the ears high off the ground which makes it difficult for raccoons to reach the ear. Give this one a try - we’re sure you’ll be pleased with its eating quality." Difficult for your raccoons maybe, but ours got almost all of our Mr. Mirai last year. (And yes, I'm strongly considering an electric fence around our melons and sweet corn this year.)
I also put in a bit of Stokes' Gourmet Sweet 2171, a good 71 day early bi-color. Of course, early corns don't have the deep kernel and sweetness of full season sweet corn. So the bulk of our planting was Twilley Seed's Summer Sweet #7640R, a true, full season (84 day) yellow variety with excellent sweetness and good ear tip wrap (to keep out bugs).
All of our sweet corn varieties are of the sh2 type. Note that the homozygous shrunken 2 gene type, sh2, is not a genetically modified organism (GMO) or seed, but a product of selective breeding for a shrunken gene...the gene that tells corn to turn its sugars into starch. I was an early adopter of that type of supersweet back in the 80's when we raised 2-4 acres of sweet corn each year to roadside from our farm. The sh2 type, like other supersweets, does require isolation from field corn and other types of sweet corn. Since all three of our varieties are sh2, we don't have to isolate them from each other. The farm fields around us are far enough away that it's highly unlikely wind would carry corn pollen from their plants to ours. While isolation by distance works well for us, one can also isolate different types of corn grown in close proximity if they tassel and shed pollen at distinctly different times. We benefit from that type of isolation also, as the field corn grown around us generally tassels a good bit later than our sweet corn.
We're not quite done planting in our East Garden, but we're getting close to it. I've left one row open in the melon area for some late melons that I just started seed for yesterday. I also need to plant a few more tomatoes and peppers for seed production. I'll be adding some marigolds at the ends of the corn rows to replace the stakes I used to string twine as row guides. I don't have enough "planting stakes" to leave them in the ground, and flowers are certainly prettier and mark the rows just as well (unless something eats them!!).
Earlier this week, I decided the time had come to do some serious, but light cultivation in our asparagus raised bed. We have lots of seedling asparagus that has germinated, and I've even transplanted some of it to fill open spots in the bed. But along with the seedling asparagus, there are also lots of weeds. Most of them are seedling grass plants that I have been laboriously pinching out by hand so far this year.
But on Thursday, I took my scratcher to the bed, added a bit of fertilizer, and loosened the soil and scratched out the weeds as carefully as I could. I did hit the tops of a few not yet emerged spears of asparagus. I was relieved yesterday when I got a good picking. I apparently did little damage to the plants and roots.
Once I quit picking asparagus, weeding will rapidly become less important. Our asparagus fills in so fully with foliage that most weeds close to the soil surface don't get enough sunlight to survive. Of course, the seedling asparagus plants will also have to compete for light.
Another Flowerbed Mulched
I also got our flowerbed along the east side of the house cleaned up and mulched. Since we had some daffodils there, I had to transplant what I wanted in the bed around the drying daffodil plants so as not to injure their bulbs. I'd previously put a row of dianthus in the bed and added some petunias, cosmos, snapdragons, and vinca to it this time around.
I used a black, wood chip mulch that was on sale at Lowes for a little over $2/2 cubic foot bag. It's the same stuff I used on our front flowerbeds last week. This bed already had a good mulch base from what I'd applied last year from our maple tree stumps.
I'm not confident that this bed will produce beautiful flowers, as the soil in it has received little improvement and is mostly heavy clay. One of our dogs also takes an occasional liking to wallowing in it. But even if all the plants die, the bed will look better with the mulch on it.
I'm almost out of the flower planting "business," as I sent most of our remaining flower transplants home with one of our daughters yesterday. She'll get some good out of them in one of her flowerbeds, and I'll have one less flat of plants to keep watered on the back porch. As I mentioned earlier today, I still have some marigolds to get in, and I want to plant a row of nasturtiums along one edge of the East Garden. But after tilling, hoeing, planting, etc., all day yesterday, I'm going to take it easy today.
I put up yesterday's posting early in the day, as Annie and I were going to Indy to help celebrate my Dad's 98th birthday! The flaming cake photos taken with my iPhone actually make the "fire" look a good deal larger that it really was. While my niece's (Ruth Abby) expression might indicate the need for a fire extinguisher, Dad, with the help of great grandsons Justus, Gabriel, and Alexander, was able to blow out the candles without assistance from the fire department. We had a great visit, and I think Dad had a good time.
Snapping Off Garlic Seed Heads
Since we were traveling yesterday, I only did a really quick morning garden walk, mainly hustling back to pick asparagus. This morning I found that I had missed our garlic putting up seed heads. Putting up a seed head is normal behavior for garlic, and to a much lesser extent, onion plants. Just as one should do with onion seed heads, the garlic seed heads need to be snapped off as soon as possible so that the plant's energy will be fully devoted to developing delicious garlic cloves underground.
My biggest problem this morning was trying to get a sharp photo of a garlic seed head in the strong winds that later produced some severe thunderstorms. I left the seed heads in place, as I wasn't sure I'd gotten a good shot, and went on to transplanting some marigolds into the East Garden and beginning to mow our grass.
I didn't get back to the garlic until evening, after a good rain had cut short my mowing and gardening for the day. Most of our elephant garlic plants had seed heads to be snapped off. Our German garlic appears to be running a bit behind (and actually doesn't look all that healthy). I just plopped the snapped seed heads down on the mulch for the time being, but will probably gather them up tomorrow and throw them on our compost heap.
Green Beans and Kale Up
Even before our afternoon rain, I noticed that our green beans and some of our kale had somehow found enough moisture in the soil to germinate. I'd carefully dug up a couple of green bean seeds several days ago, and they didn't appear to be swelling (absorbing moisture prior to germinating). So I was happy yesterday morning to see them emerging (saw the beans but missed the garlic seed heads...hmm) and today to see them leafed out. Since I've treated the soil in our main garden patch with Milky Spore, and we don't have soybeans planted in the adjacent field this year, I'm hoping we'll have a bit less insect pressure on our beans than in the past. But then, I did notice a bunch of grubs under some peat moss bales just outside the main garden when I moved them a few weeks ago. I guess I should treat the ground around the raised bed with milky spore as well. I won't begin spraying the beans until I see that I need to, however. I'd rather suffer a little bean and leaf damage than break out the heavy duty insecticides any earlier than necessary. Some years, I can get a clean crop of early beans with no sprays.
I was especially gratified to see the kale coming up. Kale can be a bit difficult to get going once the weather warms and the soil dries a bit. I didn't water either the green bean or kale rows, as it was just a year ago that I forgot I had the soil soaker turned on watering emerging beans and kale...and burnt up a well pump when the well temporarily ran dry.
I'll be planting more green beans as space opens up in our main garden. Later planted beans do experience more insect pressure, though. One good row of kale, however, will give us lots of greens for boiling with bacon drippings, garlic, and onion and also for our Portuguese Kale Soup. The kale will get preventative sprays of the biological, Thuricide, to prevent or hold down cabbage loopers and white cabbage worms.
Our peas are pretty much a disaster this year. I didn't get our early peas planted in March because I didn't have ground prepared in the fall for them. Actually, I did, but changed my mind last fall and put our garlic in the area I'd prepped for the peas. So I ended up waiting until I could work the soil before planting our Sugar Snaps in April. Standing water slowed them down and required some re-seeding. We now have a very thin stand of the excellent edible podded variety that will just have to do for this year.
Instead of planting half of the "early" row to Sugar Snaps and the other half to Encore, a great shelling pea, I planted an entire row of Sugar Snaps in the early row that gets our tall trellis. I decided to plant the Encores in our main garden, splitting a row between them and a supersweet variety, Eclipse. The Encores germinated well and are doing fine. But the Eclipse planting germinated poorly, as the supersweet requires considerably warmer soil than other pea varieties. I've been replanting the half row of Eclipse about every two weeks without getting a good stand. (I don't take out any emerged plants, but just scratch around them to put in more seed.) After two or three replantings, I'm now seeing what may be a good stand of Eclipse emerging. I ended up going though all the fresh Eclipse seed I bought last winter, and the final replanting was done with seed from 2009 that has been continuously stored in our freezer.
With the weather warming, it's hard to say if we'll get good, sweet peas this year. While the Eclipse peas require fairly warm soil to germinate, they don't do well in really hot weather. With the Sugar Snaps and Encore getting started much later than usual, I'm not happy with my garden management this year for peas. I made a really dumb mistake in not getting my pea ground prepped in the fall so I could plant in March as usual. Not planting our Encores early was another dumb move.
All of that is to say that gardening is a continual learning, and in this case, re-learning process. And even when you do everything right, some crops will be a smashing success while others aren't due to weather, insects, and other variables. My guess right now is that we won't have many, if any, peas on the table next Thanksgiving Day. But then, we may feast all winter on frozen sweet corn and asparagus, canned green beans and Portuguese Kale Soup. And it appears we're just about ready to begin picking lettuce!
I didn't get to do any gardening today. I had other stuff that kept me occupied in the morning, and I even missed my morning garden walk.
When the grass dried just after noon, I mowed a bit, pulled the lawn sweeper some to rake up grass clippings, fixed the lawn sweeper, swept a bit more, fixed the lawn sweeper again, mowed and swept a bit more...and again had to tear down the lawn sweeper's wheel assembly and get the roller chain back on its sprockets. Obviously, the lawn sweeper is wearing out, but I finally found that if I didn't do fast, tight, left turns and kept my wheel speed down, it wouldn't throw the chain. And then I mowed a whole bunch more and just left the lawn sweeper in the garage and said to heck with the grass clippings.
But the day certainly wasn't a bad day. While mowing the field east of our house, I mowed an area behind the barn I only do about once a month. When mowing a rather secluded area behind the barn, I came upon a doe and the fawns shown below.
The doe ran off a bit and the fawns sorta went nuts running around for a few minutes, but slowed down enough for me to get the shot above. From the material on the ground in the photo, I'd guess the fawns were born overnight or sometime in the morning. I didn't get off the mower or intrude very long on them. But it sure made my day.
I've posted the photo to our free Desktop Photos page. I also shared it on Pics4Learning, a copyright-friendly image library for teachers and students. (Note: It takes a few days before uploads become available at Pics4Learning. They manually screen all submissions.)
The cover crop experiment I wrote about on Sunday is producing results already. I'd lightly tilled in alfalfa and buckwheat seed, hoping that one or the other would "take." While I can't see any evidence of alfalfa germinating, the buckwheat is coming up strong. If the alfalfa doesn't germinate, I'll till the buckwheat under later this summer to add some needed organic material to the soil.
If the alfalfa comes on strong, I may just mow the buckwheat (and alfalfa), letting the cuttings stay on the ground. The alfalfa part of the experiment is an attempt to let it grow for a season, putting down roots that may break up some of the soil compaction in the field. And either way, this section of our East Garden gets rotated out for a season.
Our East Garden is pretty well planted for this year. I added a row of nasturtiums with several marigolds and geraniums thrown in for a bit of variety. I will need to plant a late row of watermelons whose transplants are just now germinating in our basement. And I'd like to add a row of zinnias just beyond the last row of sweet corn. I hate to have a garden that doesn't have marigolds and zinnias in it somewhere!
I also spread mulch in the rows of melons today. I always try to train the melon vines to first run in the row on the mulch. Eventually, the melons will fill the 15' aisle between the rows with vines. It's always a race to collect enough mulch and get it down to suppress weed growth before the melons take over.
A side benefit of grass clipping mulch is apparent in the photo above. In the foreground, there's a very green patch of lawn grass. That's the spot where we first had a compost pile and followed it with well mulched pumpkins. Even though I raked and composted the grass clipping mulch last fall, some grass seed from the mulch stayed in the soil, producing a very out of place green patch of good grass in an area that's pretty much filled with field grasses and weeds.
Our main garden areas in our back yard are poised to produce an abundance (I hope) of veggies. I picked a few asparagus spears this morning and one main head of broccoli along with a bunch of nice sideshoots. I noticed that the Belstar broccoli heads are a bit more cone shaped than are Premium Crop or Goliath. I could have, possibly should have, picked baby spinach leaves and a few beets as well. But there were other chores to do.
Weeds had begun to pop up in our potato rows, so I ran our scuffle hoe over the weeds and also hilled the potato plants a little. Even after transplanting some potato plants from our compost pile and also adding some fresh seed potatoes to the rows, our planting is still a little spotty. But with sufficient rain, we should make a good crop this year.
While I had the scuffle hoe out, I clipped some seedling weeds in and between our rows of green beans and kale. Even when weeds aren't visible, roughing the soil a bit with the scuffle hoe can interrupt weed germination.
I also removed our dixie cup cutworm collars from our pepper plants. The peppers should have tough enough stems to resist any cutworms that have survived our milky spore soil treatments. Before I pull the cups, I cut them on each side with scissors all the way down. Then I very gently pull half a cup at a time while holding the pepper and its surrounding soil in place. I then firm the soil and give it a shot of water with liquid starter fertilizer.
At this point, I couldn't be happier at the way our softbeds are doing. Softbeds are garden sections where we never, well, almost never, step into the bed without a walking board. Our softbeds are bookends at either end of our large, main raised bed, so we have access to three sides of them without ever stepping into them.
Our bed of onions and carrots that was mulched first is now growing well, after virtually standing still for weeks in some soggy weather. I still need to finish weeding and thinning the carrots, a job I've been doing a little at a time when I pass by the bed.
A few of our beets, which had such a rocky start, are ready to pick. They're slightly larger than golf ball size. Some of the lettuce is ready for a light picking, while some of the plants I had to replace are lagging a bit behind. That will extend our harvest a bit if the weather doesn't turn really hot in June.
I also popped in a couple of basil plants at either end of our caged tomato row this afternoon. My hands smelled good after handling the basil. I still need to figure out where to put our sage, oregano, and parsley, though.
I'm hoping when I do my morning garden walk tomorrow morning that I won't find too much storm damage. We had a really nasty line of strong thunderstorms move through our area about nine o'clock in the evening. The first blast of strong winds took out an attic window (shown at right) I'd been trying to save because of some nice woodwork above it. We'd replaced the two smaller windows on either side of it years ago. I finally resigned myself last winter to replacing it, as the window and the decorative woodwork were just too far gone to save. And yes, I got to find our roll of plastic and some plywood and cover the hole during the storm. But we're all safe and sound, unlike many folks in the south central part of our nation who have lost family and property to recent, horrible storms. Annie and my prayers go out to them.
I got our double row of carrots thinned today. As I thinned, I was surprised at the number of seedling weeds that were hidden amongst the carrots. The thinning was necessary because I'd seeded a bit too heavily, and carrots don't like touching each other as they grow. Ideally, one would thin to at least one inch apart, but I let some go that were a bit closer. We'll harvest our carrots fairly early and small to get maximum tenderness and flavor, so we can let them be a bit tight in the row.
I decided yesterday that it was time to stop picking asparagus for the year and let the plants begin building energy for next year's harvest. It's always a little sad when a crop goes out, but at this time of year, there's always something new to pick. Today, it was our first picking of spinach.
While picking the spinach and later looking at the cauliflower growing beside it, I noticed an unacceptable level of insect damage to the spinach leaves and the cauliflower. Ants were all over one head of cauliflower and either they or their aphids had left a visible dent in the head. I sprayed the brassica-spinach bed with rotenone-pyrethrin to knock down the pests. I'll now check the bed daily to see if something more potent is necessary. So far, we've had excellent control of cabbage loopers and white cabbage moths on the brassicas by using Thuricide. Since the rotenone-pyrethrin spray may zap the Thuricide I have on the brassicas, I'll need to respray them with it again tomorrow.
I noticed that my bottle of rotenone-pyrethrin was getting low, so I went online to order some more. When I did, I only found Pyrethrin concentrate. After poking around a bit online, I found that rotenone has been "linked to the development of Parkinson's disease." Wow!
I've had our Brinno GardenWatchCam set up for several weeks waiting for one of our praying mantis egg cases to hatch. The rechargeable batteries needed to be swapped for a fresh set today, and the flash drive also needed to be cleared. When I brought the batteries and drive inside, I took a moment to look at the video I cleared from the drive and was surprised to see that the mantis had indeed already hatched!
For several years, we had all the praying mantis egg cases we wanted from ones attached to bushes around our property. We would cut some of them in the fall and store them in the fridge until spring, allowing us to place them where we wanted. Something changed a few years ago (pruning the bushes?), and we're back to buying the egg cases. We've used Arbico Organics the last two years and have gotten good service from them. (Note: We dropped Arbico as a Senior Gardening affiliated advertiser for what we considered unethical handling of their affiliate accounts.)
I transplanted two Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers along our row of Sugar Snap peas. I'm hoping that the peas will come in before the vigorous cucumber vines overwhelm them. Some of the pea vines are blooming, while others are just getting started. But the cukes were ready to go into the ground, so...
I also transplanted a couple of pots of muskmelon into the East Garden to replace hills that had failed. Roadside Hybrid is one of our favorite varieties of muskmelon, so I was sorta crushed when our first transplant didn't make it. I also put in a replacement for a hill of Sarah's Choice, a variety we tried last year and liked well enough to give it another try this year. Our Athena melons also got off to a rocky start when transplanted, but they've perked up a bit with some timely rain. I have two replacement pots of Athena transplants ready, but don't think I'll need them now.
My experiment with planting buckwheat and alfalfa together as a cover/green manure crop continues to be interesting. The buckwheat has germinated well, but I also noticed on closer examination that the alfalfa is germinating fairly well, too. The buckwheat is a strange, light green color in contrast to the darker greens of the woods and grass beside it.
Harvesting today was a bit of a mixed experience. I noticed yesterday that I'd waited too long to cut one of our Belstar broccoli main heads. It had yellowed and was only fit for the compost heap. But I did get two other nice, main heads of Beltar broccoli, along with several sideshoots from our Premium Crop plants whose main heads have already been harvested. We also lost our only Alcosa savoy cabbage plant to bugs. When I brought the head inside to try to save what I could of it, I found slugs all the way to the core of the cabbage.
I'm still withholding judgment on the Belstar variety. We tried it this year because it is supposed to be more heat resistant than other varieties. I've not seen that in evidence yet. It produces a good sized main head, but it's too early to tell about sideshoot production. And of course, our usual second broccoli variety, Goliath, is pretty hard to beat for main heads and sideshoots.
I cut one soft head of lettuce today that had divided three ways. If I'd left it, I think it would have bolted soon. I also picked a nice bunch of beets. Considering the rough start our beets got this year, I'm glad to get any. This bunch is mostly Chioggia and Red Ace. Since the beets I picked were next to the lettuce I harvested, it left a nice patch of fresh ground in between the beet and lettuce rows for a Baby Star lettuce transplant to go in!
In just five days, our asparagus has rebounded from our spring picking and is putting up thick, healthy shoots. Not having a lot of recent experience with asparagus, I decided to error on the side of caution and stop picking a bit earlier than necessary. From the vigor and number of shoots coming up, I think I guessed about right. I'll keep the bed weeded until the asparagus canopies, and plan to add either compost or manure over it later this summer or in the fall.
And the first shot I took of our sweet corn today at around 7:30 A.M. didn't look very good. So I went back out in the heat, decided it was time to roll a little soil into the rows, and tilled a bit before grabbing the photo at right. It may not appear to be much, but we've had lots of trouble in past years getting a good stand of sweet corn in the East Garden. There are a few bare looking spots in the rows, but when I brushed a bit of soil aside on a couple of them, I found a corn shoot just emerging.
at Senior Gardening