One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
September is a month where we find ourselves doing many different jobs in the Senior Garden. We're still harvesting crops planted in spring and mid-summer. We'll be planting a few short season crops such as spinach and lettuce. As we do final pickings in some areas, we'll also begin getting the soil ready for winter and spring. And I'll try to hurry along the decomposition in our compost pile by turning it several times so it will be ready to use for spring plantings.
I got out early this morning to haul water to our fall brassicas and a couple of hills of yellow squash that are just getting started. I also wanted to make sure the squash bugs and striped and spotted cucumber beetles hadn't found the tender new squash plants as yet. The variety we grow, Slick Pik YS 26, an F1 hybrid from Johnny's Selected Seeds, is listed at just 48 days to maturity. We find that in hot weather like we're having, the squash will beat that days to maturity figure by a week or so!
Since I'd checked our tomato plants and the melons in the East Garden yesterday, a quick look told me there wasn't anything ready to pick just yet, although there's another giant Kleckley Sweet watermelon beginning to yellow on the bottom. In the past, we've had trouble getting ripe Kleckley Sweets, not because of growing problems, but because they seem to be a favorite with the local raccoon population. A combination of sweeper bag debris, a couple of Nite Guard Solar Predator Control Lights, a package of Sweeney's All Season Weatherproof Deer Repellents, and a selective application of buckshot to several raccoons who were harassing one of our cats in the barn appear to have put an end to the raccoons' midnight watermelon parties for now.
With the sun just coming up over the treeline, I was done with my outdoor gardening chores for this morning before it began to get really hot. We're supposed to have highs near 100 for several days with only a slight (30-50%) chance of showers over the weekend.
Coming inside, I got to a pleasant chore I'd put off yesterday. I had a Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon, a Roadside Hybrid cantaloupe, and a Tam Dew honeydew melon to cut and chill. I ran out of containers to hold all the melon pieces, even after feasting on the delicious treat.
The Farmers Wonderful variety of watermelon looks like a Crimson Sweet, only slightly smaller. The melon today probably weighed around twenty pounds, so they're still a sizeable melon. (Our Crimson Sweets often weigh in at around forty pounds!) While the flavor of the Farmers Wonderful is not quite as good as a Crimson Sweet, the absence of big seeds is nice. And the flavor issue could be due to our dry growing conditions.
Roadside Hybrids are an older hybrid variety. I like their flavor, but we haven't had many ripen this year. I think they need irrigation, a definite no-go with our flaky well. The one today had excellent flavor, however.
Tam Dews are a new honeydew variety for us this year from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They're an open pollinated melon that has a slightly spicy taste, especially when harvested early. While our Passport honeydews have all ripened and been picked, the Tam Dew continues to set and ripen fruit, nicely extending our honeydew season a bit.
As I begin making notes about what did and didn't do well in our garden this year, all three melons mentioned above will go down in our "Grow next year" list.
Note: The photography in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog is really gorgeous. They sell only "non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented" varieties of seed.
Last Sunday, our high temperature nearly reached 100o F (98.7o). Since then, our daily highs have plummeted to around 70o! We're supposed to get back to more normal temperatures for this time of year by the weekend, but the change has been nice.
Sadly, we've not had a drop of rain in weeks, pretty effectively limiting our gardening efforts. Our well ran dry last night for the first time this summer after a toilet handle and flap caught and let the water run for an hour or so. Fortunately, the well recharged overnight, and we have good water again this morning. But we're done hauling water to the East Garden for now, as showers, doing dishes and laundry, etc., all come ahead of watering the garden. But in anticipation of some precipitation soon, I did move a tray of lettuce transplants from under our plantlights in the basement to the back porch yesterday to harden off.
While the drought has been hard on our garden, our melon patch has continued to ripen some nice watermelon. We have lots of large Kleckley Sweets watermelon (left) almost ready to pick. Our Crimson Sweets and "seedless" Farmers Wonderful (right) are also putting on and ripening nice melons despite the lack of rain.
Our continuing good harvest of watermelons is part luck but also probably due to the way we plant our hills of melons. Before transplanting our melons, I always dig a deep, wide hole for each hill, putting the soil into our garden cart or wheelbarrow. The hole is thoroughly watered, often with several gallons of water. I mix peat moss, lime, and fertilizer with the soil in the cart before returning it to the hole and watering the soil mix. Only then do I transplant and mulch in our melon transplants. I suspect the deep, wide holes with moisture retaining peat moss have allowed our melons to continue to produce in the otherwise dry conditions we're experiencing this summer.
It was very windy all day yesterday, so I waited until sundown for calmer conditions in which to spray our butternut squash. We've had an infestation of squash bugs in the patch, and I'd sprayed previously with some pretty nasty stuff we generally avoid using in our gardens. It knocked down the bugs for a while, but I had to spray again last evening. Our butternuts are pretty well done producing, but I don't want the bugs migrating to our young yellow squash plants growing in another part of the East Garden.
Our row of sweet potatoes growing in the East Garden may turn out to be a smashing success this year. We tried growing sweet potatoes for the first time in years last summer with minimal success due to soil compaction and dry growing conditions. This year's crop almost didn't get going when the bulk of the plants we ordered arrived dead on delivery. We were able to save a few of them (and got a full, no questions asked refund from the vendor) and also had a few starts from a sweet potato I put in water in the kitchen windowsill and cut and rooted slips from.
When our transplants and a few plants grown from tubers came up, we had lots of leaves clipped by deer browsing the row. While blood meal failed to deter the deer, the Sweeney's All Season Weatherproof Deer Repellents I've mentioned here several times previously seemed to do the trick. I've since moved the repellents to protect our melons and fall broccoli.
Other than tilling for weed control and mulching with grass clippings along one side of the row, the sweet potatoes haven't received any special attention. In spite of my passive approach to growing them, they've produced a lot of vines and leaves. We won't really know what we've got underneath until we dig the tubers later this fall, but it sure looks promising right now.
My son-in-law, Hutch, finished up a rather large roof repair project on Labor Day. We'd fought leaks coming in through the upstairs windows, the siding around them, and the back porch roof for years. Several contractors had taken a shot at fixing the leaks without lasting success. The problems were intensified over the last three years by leaks created by the shoddy installation of our Dish and WildBlue satellite dishes on the porch roof.
Since we haven't had a hard, driving rain in...well, it seems like forever...we don't as yet know if we've solved the problem. But the new roof, repaired upstairs windows, and siding Hutch added sure looks great. I'm getting busy with some repair to the columns supporting the porch before painting what unsided surfaces remain.
We also dropped Dish and WildBlue service during the repair, replacing them with DirectTV (whose installer was extremely careful not to damage the newly shingled roof) and Frontier High Speed Internet. Frontier's service became available this year after they took over landlines from Verizon, who apparently never intended to offer internet service in our area. We're pretty happy with our faster internet connection, and the Frontier bundle for landline, internet, and satellite TV should be significantly cheaper than our previous service.
I put up a column this week, Living with Satellite Internet, on our mathdittos2.com website. In a nutshell, it relates that if you have no other options for internet service beyond dialup, you may be satisfied with satellite internet, although the cost is exhorbitant.
I picked tomatoes and melons today. While we have plenty of tomatoes for table use, we no longer are picking enough for canning.
I also read an interesting interview on CNN with Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. Eatabrook describes how breeding for maximum production and easy shipping has ruined most of the commercially available tomatoes available today in How the modern day tomato came to be.
Our melon patch continues to produce a bumper crop, despite the dry soil conditions. We're beginning to get a fair number of cantaloupe again.
One of the reasons I'd planted a late row of melons this year was to be sure to have some to take to an annual event in September where one of our daughters sings. Since the hosts are kind enough to invite us each year (It's a paid gig for our daughter.), I always try to take a lot of cut melons for the dinner before the band starts and the dance.
Sadly, something came up at the last moment, and we couldn't go. So...I picked a few more melons this morning, loaded up the truck, and took them to the mission in Terre Haute.
Always the optimist, I went ahead and transplanted some lettuce seedlings into the garden today. Even if my optimism was only slightly sincere, the lettuce starts were getting way too tall in their fourpacks and needed to go into the ground now if they were to survive and I was to get any salad before our first frost.
Also being somewhat cautious, I only planted half of one of the softbeds in our main raised bed. I still have lots of leggy lettuce plants in the flat in case some or all of the transplants don't make it. And I may yet put them out and use our cold frame to extend our lettuce season well past the first frost.
The transplanting was pretty standard, other than making sure each hole for the transplants got lots of water. The soil was dry before watering, but nothing like it had been before the showers this week. It had been absolutely powdery before. Since I haven't mowed recently, having resolved to wait for a good rain before risking more browning of our lawn, I didn't have any grass clippings to mulch the lettuce planting. I did, however, give the area the last of the blood meal I had on hand. Rabbits or something took all of our fall broccoli and cauliflower in the main garden and most of the cabbage.
At the opposite end of our main raised garden bed, we have a couple of rows of green beans blooming profusely. I hadn't noticed the blooms until yesterday. It may have just been time for them to bloom, or possibly the light rain we got this week spurred them into production. Either way, I'm a happy camper.
As with most late plantings of beans, this one is taking a real hit from insect damage. Early beans seem to escape a lot of insect problems. I've already sprayed these rows once with insecticide, but will need to do so again if we're going to get a clean crop from them.
Our pepper plants are continuing to produce a good many full sized peppers along with some smaller, but still useable ones. There are also some dwarf peppers due to the dry conditions that aren't much good for anything.
We haven't found a drought all-star amongst the varieties we're growing this year. All are producing, and all have been somewhat affected by the dry conditions. It does seem that the peppers go to maturity (red or gold) a lot faster with less rot than in other years when we've had more moisture.
A new variety we're trying this year, Lipstick, a pimento type pepper that tastes like a red bell pepper, seems to be doing well. Our one Lipstick plant is in the middle of our caged pepper row, so it doesn't get any more sunlight or water than its neighbors and is producing lots of small, clean fruit. Both Annie and I like the variety at least as well as our other red peppers.
Pictured above is today's picking of peppers. The lipsticks are the smaller, non-ribbed peppers on top of the stack. While that's a lot of peppers, I hadn't picked any since last week (when we got even more than what is shown above.)
I've been working our compost pile the last several days. While I could have screened some finished compost out of one side of it, I really don't have a good use for it right now, so I'm using the mostly digested part to layer between new additions. As you might expect, there are a lot of melon and tomato culls at this time of year to be composted. I didn't lime or fertilize the pile while I turned and piled it higher (and added fresh material), but I did give it a good sprinkling of homemade compost starter.
I also wanted to get the pile cleaned up a bit to make room for a new pile I'll start with all the vines from this year's melon and squash crops. We're getting very close to the point where I'll be pulling our butternut squash vines and composting them right on the spot where they grew...and where the current compost pile started!
Yesterday turned out to be another "melons to the mission" day. Since I'd been working pretty hard on my other web site all week and on our back porch post repair project, I hadn't picked melons for almost a week. I ended up with twenty-some watermelons along with almost as many cantaloupes and honeydew to donate this time.
Our Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon plants had tantalized us with a couple of early melons, only to stop producing until recently, I think. Farmers Wonderful look a awful lot like a Crimson Sweet, having a slightly darker shade of green at maturity. Since we don't cut all our melons, I really don't know if they actually slowed production, or I was just missing them and giving them away. Anyway, I've gotten better at sorting them out from the pollinator Crimson Sweets, which are tasty as well, and we're enjoying seedless watermelon now. Interestingly, the flavor of the Farmers Wonderful we picked last and this week seems a good bit better than our early pickings.
With all the picking we've been doing from a 33' x 60' melon patch, one might think we'd be just about out of melons. While the number of melons remaining is definitely going down fast, we still have clumps of melons where the vines are healthy, producing big melons that should mature before frost. The group of Kleckley Sweets shown at right should be ready this week. We've regularly been picking 40+ pound Kleckley's this year...in a drought! Amazing!
As I mentioned earlier, it's been a busy week. I usually do three postings a week for my Educators' News site, but events in education this week dictated five postings. I also finished up a rebuild this week of a "freebie" computer. I'm not abandoning my old Macintosh, but need the new box which runs Windows 7 to evaluate software for EdNews. All the "broken box" really needed was a new power supply and reinstallation of its operating system and applications, but I added a new dual-core CPU and a wireless PCI adaptor to get it up to where I wanted it.
I'm still scraping, puttying, fiberglassing, and sanding the columns and fascia on our back porch before painting them to finish up the dandy repair job our son-in-law, Hutch, did on the back porch roof and windows opening onto it.
And there was some just plain fun stuff this week, such as going to the Sullivan Corn Festival to watch a friend sing a cute song, Watermelon, that she and her husband wrote. The group is called the Yearbook Committee, and they put on a great show. The Corn Festival is one of those nice, small town events with rides, lots of wonderfully delicious unhealthy food, and free music.
Oh, yeah. I also paid the rent this week, signing up for three more years of web hosting service from Hostmonster. While using one of the free blogging sites sounds attractive, I prefer the control over the appearance and organization of my web sites one gets from a web host. Hostmonster has provided excellent service for our web sites over the last two years at reasonable rates. Their customer service and tech support folks are great. So, trusting in the Lord that I may still be around for three more years, I took the plunge.
I'm pretty sure it doesn't qualify as a drought breaker, but we're having a nice shower here this evening. It's been raining for an hour or so, and we've already surpassed our monthly total of precipitation. Of course, beating forty-one hundredths of an inch of precipitation isn't much. At this writing, we're approaching half an inch of rainfall. It's certainly not time to start "gathering the animals, two by two," but the shower will help our newly transplanted lettuce, along with the rest of our crops.
The rain will probably wash most of the insecticide off the tops of the leaves on our green bean plants and our butternut squash, both of which I sprayed this morning. But I was careful to spray the undersides of leaves as much as possible, so we'll still get some control from the spraying effort.
Of course, the rain now means my excuse for not cutting the grass is gone. I'd been concerned that I'd worsen the condition of our lawn by cutting it during the extreme dry spell and had vowed not to mow again until we had an appreciable rainfall. I had, however, run first the weedeater and then the mower around the main garden yesterday before transplanting lettuce into it. I just couldn't stand the long grass going to seed leaning over the edges of the raised bed into the garden.
We're continuing to get lots of glorious rain today. Our rainfall total yesterday was over an inch, and it came down as moderate showers all night, allowing a lot of it to soak in. Today we're getting brief periods of heavy rain interspersed with light rain the rest of the time.
Taking advantage of a break in the showers, I planted the other half of a bed of lettuce I'd started on Saturday. When I dug holes for the lettuce transplants, I hit dry soil at three to six inches down, depending on where I dug. That's not all that bad, considering how dry it's been for the last two months.
My rows of lettuce aren't straight, as I decided to plant a bit closer to the edge of the bed today. And no matter whether the rows are straight or crooked, the lettuce will taste great all through the fall.
I also broke out a couple of hanging planters today that really weren't doing all that well and transplanted their plants into our raised beds. So we'll have some petunias around the lettuce bed and some vincas in what is now an herb bed. I didn't get a shot of the flowers, though, as the light mist that was falling while I transplanted suddenly turned into a downpour.
Our green beans are obviously benefiting from the showers. They continue to bloom and set on tiny, slender new bean pods. Barring a really freakish early frost, we should get several nice pickings from the rows.
After picking peppers on Saturday, I trimmed our basil plants, as they were beginning to bloom and the leaves will go bitter if the plant is allowed to bloom and go to seed. In my haste, I quickly pruned a dwarf bush basil plant I'd grown from a sample package included in one of our seed orders before getting a photo of it in full bloom.
While one wouldn't want to grow a bunch of bush basil plants if planning to cut and dry basil, the plant is compact and absolutely gorgeous when in bloom. The flavor is good, but it takes a lot of cutting of the tiny leaves to get much. For a kitchen garden or a large pot plant, it might be ideal. I'll probably grow this variety again, not for drying basil, but simply as a pretty novelty plant in the garden.
We're getting to the point in this gardening season when we're figuring out what crops we'll still be able to pick, can, freeze, dry, or otherwise store, but also are looking at getting the garden ready for next spring. We should have green beans to can, and with a little luck, another batch of tomatoes to can as puree. There's parsley to be cut and dried. We'll also be cutting and drying sage and oregano for the first time. And we still haven't made our annual batch of Portuguese Kale Soup!
Even though we have lots of basil and a few paprika peppers ripening, we won't be drying either one. We still have lots left from last year. I'm finding that I really like our dried mix of paprika peppers better than either store bought or our own dried Paprika Supreme. We grew, dried, and mixed Alma, Feher Ozon, and Paprika Supreme peppers last year. The mix is a bit spicier than our own or store bought paprika and adds a great flavor to lemon-garlic chicken.
We have just a few hills of potatoes to dig, due to my error in bringing in late blight with some plants I moved from the compost heap into our rows of potatoes grown from certified disease free stock. But we have a long, gorgeous row of sweet potatoes. I won't know until I start digging if we've gotten all top growth due to too much nitrogen and few tubers. But any tubers will be welcome, as this is just our second year of growing sweet potatoes.
And we're keeping our fingers crossed that our fall broccoli comes in before a killing frost. We lost all of our fall broccoli and cauliflower in our main garden to critters and drought, but have several plants doing well in our East Garden.
I've already picked the area where I'll be planting our garlic next month, and I think I know where our early peas will go. Planting peas in March goes a lot easier if one gets the soil ready in the fall. Then all you have to do is pull back any mulch covering over the intended pea row, scatter the seed, poke it into the cold, cold soil with your finger, and squish the soil over the seed/finger holes.
Inventorying seed on hand is another task that needs to be done soon, as we place a few, early orders each year for things like geranium and onion seed. I keep my seed inventory in a spreadsheet, making it fairly easy to add and delete items. Getting the seed out of the freezer and going through it packet by packet is a chore, but a necessary one.
Changing the Subject
The photography for today's posting turned out to be a real challenge. I made several extra trips to our garden plots to get shots of stuff I'd forgotten and to redo shots I'd totally botched. I finally resorted to using an old shot of the sweet potato row, as the one I took today wasn't in focus and it was pouring outside by the time I caught the error.
Lighting conditions on heavily overcast days make shots of long rows difficult. On sunny days, I normally use an f/22 f-stop to increase the depth of field (focus over a long distance). Today's low light made that impossible, as the shutter speed would drop to 1/4 second at f/8 or f/11.
I took what I thought was a great shot of our raised bed of mostly herbs and paprika peppers, only to find that only the center of the shot was in good focus. Heavy repeated use of Photoshop's sharpen filter was required to make the image passably good enough to use here...as a bad example.
The challenges of documenting the garden in pictures and also creating a decent looking web page in HTML are good for my aging mind, but sometimes overwhelm me. While editing one shot today, Photoshop got a bit crazy and decided to quit displaying my toolbar! Dreamweaver (my web editor) regularly does weird stuff, but then, I'm still using a 2004 version of Dreamweaver!
After two years and over 9,000 shots, I'm beginning to become comfortable and somewhat competent in using my Canon Digital Rebel XSi and its 17-85mm lens. I still find that I need to go to the manual at times to figure out how to do stuff.
Long, long ago, when I was doing wedding and portrait photography to supplement my teacher's salary, getting to know my equipment seemed much easier. I suspect that today's equipment is a bit more complex, but I also think an aging mind doesn't absorb all the new stuff quite as quickly as it once did.
Our weather here in September is often rather hot and muggy, so our current stretch of cool weather is quite a treat. The heavy cloud cover we've had off and on over the last week cuts down on UV radiation, making it safe to work outdoors in a short sleeved shirt (with sunscreen, of course).
With some good rains, I was able to mow and rake grass clippings again. I got our fall lettuce mulched in on Friday, but still need to thin our row of spinach before mulching it. I'd planted spinach weeks ago, only to have just a few seeds germinate and then die in the dry conditions. When the grandkids were here a couple of weeks ago, I opened up a furrow right over where I'd previously seeded and had them sprinkle spinach seed into the row. Now, with adequate moisture, we have lots of little spinach seedlings.
The grass clippings from the barn lot and the field where the East Garden sits went into and onto our old compost pile. They will be the last additions of organic material to that pile, as I want it to finish up "cooking" and be ready for use by spring. To the right of the old pile is a new pile I started with the vines from our butternut squash and one hill of cantaloupes that had ripened all its fruit. Starting a new pile will also allow me to use the contents of the old pile in the holes I dig for next year's hills of melons and squash without fear of carrying over any diseases that might have been present in the old vines.
The cantaloupe vines pulled do leave a noticeable bare patch in our East Garden, however.
While I've already saved both Earliest Red Sweet pepper and Moira tomato seed from plants in our East Garden, I'm continuing to set aside outstanding peppers and tomatoes for seed saving. I have a jar of blood red tomato goop fermenting in a (closed) jar in the kitchen now from some very ripe Moiras I picked this week.
The pepper plant at right has some nice, small Earliest Red Sweet peppers that will also be used for seed. I'm letting the peppers get fully ripe before cutting them for seed to insure seed viability. While these peppers are about half the size of some of the hybrids we're growing in the main garden, this plant is also growing in some really nasty, heavy clay soil. I've grown our Earliest Red Sweets in the main garden before and the peppers from them were about three-fourths the size of the giant bell peppers we often grow (and you pay through the nose for at the grocery).
We've also been freezing peppers this week for winter use. Since I've frequently written about how we freeze peppers here on Senior Gardening, I'll just share a link and let it go at that.
We're just a week or so away from pulling all the rest of our melon vines. Our first frost date in this area is in mid-October, although we often get one light frost followed by several frost free weeks. We still have some good sized watermelon ripening, along with a bunch of small, Sugar Cube cantaloupes. I noticed one of the yellow squash plants I put in last month has a bloom with a squash attached, so we'll have a few more yellow squash before winter sets in.
As we move into fall, I find that I'm mentally planning next year's garden even while I'm transplanting, mulching, weeding, and harvesting this year's garden. I'm also still splitting my time between gardening, publishing this and one other web site, and finishing up some needed repairs to the exterior of our house.
It feels good to be busy.
at Senior Gardening