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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - 8/31/2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

We had a gentle shower last night after a whole lot of lightning and strong winds passed. The rainfall totaled a little less than two tenths of an inch, so this one certainly wasn't a drought breaker. But as we move into what is historically the hottest and driest part of our growing season here in western Indiana, any precipitation is welcome. And, the grass greened up a bunch overnight.

I'd noticed yesterday that our drought, deer, and puppy ravaged sweet corn had some corn smut in it. Corn smut is a wind and soil borne disease that can ruin a crop in short order, turning the ends of ears into nasty, purple smut blossoms. So my major task for today in the garden was to clear the corn plants out of the plot, denying the smut any more chance to spread. Since the stalks were stunted and bitten off, it didn't take too awfully long to clear and compost the corn trash.

Cleaning corn stubble

Corn dogMelon with dewSince our sweet corn crop failed this year, Petra, our new puppy, has taken to raiding the cornfield across the road from us. We've had several "corn dogs" over the years that enjoyed an ear of field and/or sweet corn.

Even with the drought, it's not all bad news. We're still ripening a few melons here and there. The last of our four yellow squash plants is still putting out small, but tasty squash. We're getting some nice tomatoes, too.

So while I'm a bit discouraged with this years's garden and have really turned a lot of my attention towards getting ready for next year, it's not all bad.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Whole HoneydewWe picked our first honeydew melon of the season yesterday, a Passport Hybrid. I was going to send it with my wife, Annie, today when she went to visit some friends. She remarked, "You really don't want to give away our first honeydew melon, do you?"

Cut honeydewSo I kept and cut the melon this morning and was glad I did. Passport melons begin showing a bit of orange on their rind when they're ripe, but don't go to half slip or full slip the way cantaloupes do. The seed cavity of the honeydew I cut this morning also was showing a good bit of orange coloring. As Passports go from ripe to a bit overripe, the entire flesh will turn orange, but isn't good to eat at that stage.

Melon bowlThis melon had the delicate, sweet taste that one looks for in honeydews.

Much, much later in the day and into the wee hours of Monday morning, I watched NASA-TV's coverage of the Curiosity landing while enjoying a bowl of mixed fruit. While the grapes came from the grocery, the watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew were from our garden.

I transplanted three varieties of honeydew into our East Garden this year, Passport, Tam Dew, and Boule D'or. Two different tries with Boule D'or transplants failed early on. We still have a hill of Passport and another of Tam Dew, although I haven't noticed any fruit set on the latter variety as yet.

And about the time I got done writing this posting, Curiosity landed and began sending images of the Martian surface back to Earth.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

ZinniasGrape tomatoesIn case you hadn't noticed, I'm making a real effort to write about positive things going on in our garden plots this month, rather than dwelling on the drought. I wiped out three false starts for the August 3 posting before I was able to get something positive down! But the effort may may prove to be beneficial, as I occasionally find a gem that I'd miss talking gloom and doom, or in a normal gardening year, in the usual hustle and bustle of August gardening and canning.

Yesterday evening, Annie and I were out in the East Garden when we noticed some very red tomatoes on a caged Moira tomato plant. There were three good size tomatoes in a cluster, and I'd picked and pitched one that had a bit of blossom end rot on it from the cluster earlier. I'd previously told my wife that I didn't know where the tomatoes (and for that matter, our melons) were getting the moisture to ripen such nice fruit. Of course, the plants, especially the melons, put most of their moisture into the fruit. In the case of melon plants, when the soil moisture runs out, they seem to wither and die in just a day or so.

I went out today and picked a bunch more tomatoes, along with a coffee can full of grape tomatoes (could've picked far more), an Athena melon, and one lonely yellow squash. Most of the tomatoes are cracked at the top, but still good to use.


Possibly the coolest part of getting some nice tomatoes was that the plant and the tomatoes appear to be disease free. We've had terrible problems with bacterial spot and anthracnose over the last few years. The disease can live in the soil or in seed, carrying it over from year. I've tried rotating our tomatoes to new ground, pulling and destroying any plants showing signs of the disease early on, but the diseases, especially the bacterial spot, have persisted.

Serenade biofungicideLast summer we'd used a new biofungicide, Serenade, as a preventative. But Serenade really doesn't kill the disease. It just controls it, and then I got lax with my spray regimen mid-summer. The bacterial spot came roaring back, requiring the use of a much stronger fungicide to allow us to pick any tomatoes. (And yes, I really should have pulled and disposed of the plants as soon as I saw the telltale spots on the lower leaves.)

But I did do something right, it appears, in our efforts to control tomato diseases last fall and this spring. When I started our tomatoes inside, I was extremely careful about sanitizing the fourpacks and flats for the tomatoes. As always, I used a starter mix that had been sterilized in the oven at 400o F for an hour or so. When I transplanted the tomatoes this spring, they went into ground where no tomatoes had grown the previous year or so. (Note that some agricultural extension services recommend a three to four year rotation for tomatoes to prevent carryover of anthracnose!)

Pyrex cup and Weston darkroom thermometerBut the thing I think made the difference this year was that I hot water treated all of our saved tomato seed from last summer's garden. And last winter before starting our tomatoes, I even hot water treated the commercial tomato seed I intended to use. There was only one packet that didn't get treated, as it came in a bit later than the others and got missed.

Gloxinias on plant rackWhile the tomato plants were hardening off on the back porch, we did have a scare with some plants. Two plants of different varieties got spots on some of their leaves. It could have been water damage or something like that, but it also could have been bacterial spot. I threw away those plants and any others touching them. I also quarantined the other tomato plants in the same flat, keeping them far away from the rest of our tomato seedlings that thankfully were in another flat. And all of the tomato plants got thorough, repeated doses of Serenade.

We saw no more signs of bacterial spot on the seedlings. But when I transplanted our tomatoes, I still didn't use any plants from the quarantined flat, costing me one favorite variety that I chose not to take a chance on and plant. The quarantined plants turned out okay and are just now beginning to produce fruit for one of our daughters and her family.

I added a section on how to hot water treat tomato seed a year or so ago to our feature story, Saving Tomato Seed, so I won't reproduce that info here.

I had forgotten to take our usual shot of our main garden that heads this posting until a few minutes ago. Since I had the camera out, I ran downstairs to get a shot of all the gloxinias, many in bloom, on our plant rack. It's a pity there's not space upstairs for more than one or two gloxinias in bloom at a time, but the display under our plant lights does raise ones spirits a bit, even in the midst of a drought.

Thursday, August 9, 2012 - When Will the Drought End?

US Drought 120807I just can't help myself. Even though I'm endeavouring to keep a positive attitude in writing this blog, I keep reading articles about the current devastating drought affecting much of the central United States. Of course, I probably wouldn't run into such articles if I didn't keep Googling, "When will the drought break?"

Midwest drought 120807An Associated Press article by Tom Coyne that appeared in our Terre Haute Tribune-Star, Recent Indiana rain can’t break drought, quoted associate state climatologist Ken Scheeringa as saying, "This drought is not short term." He went on to say, "This drought is probably going to go on at least a few more months. It's not going to be any quick fix where you get a series of rains and it's done."

Yeah, we knew that, but we were still hoping.

The Weather Channel's Nick Wiltgen writes in What Would It Take to Break the Drought, "What we're really looking for in terms of drought relief is not a magic bullet, but rather a change in the overall weather pattern. And we mean a change that lasts for weeks, if not months." He also adds, "In all likelihood, some regions will get relief sooner than others; the 2012 drought is so vast that it will be almost impossible for one weather pattern to wipe it out all at once."

So from the experts, it would seem we're in for more of the same throughout the midwest for at least another month or so. If that proves out, it pretty well rules out any chance for a fall garden without really heavy irrigation. And the scary part is that the drought could break in some areas, as Wiltgen wrote of the 1988 drought, and continue in others for years.

So What Do You Do?

August is when I usually get to transplanting our fall brassicas. If soil moisture permits, we begin transplanting lettuce and direct seeding spinach, kale, and late green beans. I missed the window for starting fall broccoli and cauliflower transplants back in late June or early July. While I have our freezer bag of lettuce seed thawed, I'm not sure it's worth investing the seed in what may prove to be a futile effort.

I have been working to keep weeds down in our garden plots and will do so for the remainder of the season. That should pay benefits in less weeding in future years.

Buckwheat tilled in

With one of the most promising forecasts for rain in weeks yesterday, I broadcast buckwheat as a green manure crop over where our sweet corn had been and tilled it in. I had scuffle hoed the area several days earlier, so there were almost no weeds showing. The tiller was set extremely shallow, only stirring the top 2-3" of soil. Obligingly, we received a half inch of rainfall overnight. It certainly wasn't a drought breaker or even enough to germinate green beans or kale, but possibly enough to bring a bit of buckwheat out of the ground. I left the previous corn row marker snapdragons and marigolds in place, just because they're pretty.

AlfalfaNext to the area seeded to buckwheat is a so-so stand of alfalfa that I seeded this spring. The area had been used for sweet corn, melons, and fall brassicas last year, and I didn't want it to revert to weeds as it lays out and rests this year.

I'd experimented last year with a dual planting of buckwheat and alfalfa, and ended up with neither one doing very well. But when I tilled the East Garden this spring, I kept running into deep rooted plants that just about stopped the tiller. Those were some alfalfa that had survived and had done just what I wanted, sinking their long roots into the heavy clay subsoil of the field. (And no, the alfalfa in the photo at left just runs back to the pepper cage on the left, not clear back to the barn.)

One thing I'm not doing until we get a really good rain is mowing. I mowed the drainage ditch by the road a couple of days ago and around our back porch, but left the rest of the yard as it was. With the last good rain in mid-July, our grass greened up a bit, and I certainly don't want to kill it by mowing it closely or too often. When you drive out from the house, you really can't tell the lawn hasn't been mowed recently! And when I do mow, I keep the blades set a good bit higher than normal. I also quit taking any grass clippings for mulch from our lawn months ago, as it needs all the fertility and moisture it can get.

I'm still taking a bit of mulch from the field our East Garden is in. I spread some limestone and fertilizer over it in the early spring, overseeded it a bit later, and the burnt out field has responded nicely. It is still mostly weeds, however, so I only use mulch from it in our East Garden, as I don't want to transfer weed seed from it into our main garden plots.

It's also not too early to begin planning where our fall planted garlic and spring planted peas should go for next year's garden. I've had a general idea of what I want to do in my mind for some time, but it's time to start getting it down on paper (or more correctly, in a computer document).


Cluster of Granny SmithsGranny Smith applesOne of our granddaughters brought in a groundfall Granny Smith apple last weekend which turned out to be fully ripe...and quite tasty. Then on Monday, my wife, Annie, noticed more Granny Smiths on the ground. I brought in three more groundfalls and decided that even though it seemed way too early to me, it might be time to pick apples.

Our Granny Smith semi-dwarf apple tree is one that survived an infestation of fire blight that also took our standard Stayman Winesap apple tree several years ago. At the time, I had cut out all the infected wood from the tree and treated it with streptomycin (fire blight spray). That set it back in bearing fruit by several years. The volunteer apple tree that grows near our East Garden is filled with fruit this year, probably from pollination from the Granny Smith. It's small apples taste like Red Delicious, only with a bit of character, and are just blushing red now. Interestingly, the tree grew in an area where we used to dump our cull apples from the old Stayman Winesap tree.

Amazon - Fruit picker basketGranny Smith appleAnyway, I got out the long-handled apple picker and picked seven or eight full size Granny Smith apples. Either the picker or going up on a ladder was necessary, as almost all of the apples were high on the tree. I did leave one, low-hanging Granny Smith on the tree for a certain granddaughter to pick.

A Very Cool Weather Map

I picked my main, online weather service, the Weather Underground, due to it having at first one and now three, local reporting stations. Because we live in an unusual area subject to high winds off Merom Bluff, locally reported wind speeds are considerably more accurate for us than the nearest official weather station.

Wundermap WM - our house

When the Weather Underground updated their site a year or so ago, they added a feature that I really like. Their WunderMap® combines weather radar with Google satellite photos on a web page where you can zoom either in or out to see what is coming or going on around you. Since we live near the Turtle Creek Reservoir that shows up well on satellite, it's pretty easy for us to find our house and grounds using the feature. It also allows us to zoom out, look to the west (usually), and see what weather is coming and its intensity.

Of course, no weather map can make it rain. And while the images above show light green over and around our property, any rain falling wasn't reaching the ground before evaporating! But we might yet get another shower today.

And bless their hearts, Wunderground kept around and continue to update their classic Weather Underground format pages for old farts like me that really don't like change all that much.

Today's Senior Gardening is Brought to You By...

A good bit of today's posting was written in the wee hours Wednesday morning while I listened to all six of our Boston "albums." Some of my fondest memories are of attending Boston concerts with my sons and with my wonderful wife. Five of their "albums" are available on iTunes...

Boston Boston - Don"t Look Back Boston - Third Stage Boston - Walk On Boston - Greatest Hits

...and all six from Amazon.

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How's that for sneaking in multiple ads at the end of a posting!

WSIU mugFriday, August 10, 2012

I'm sitting in my upstairs office this morning savoring a cup of fresh, hot coffee. Windows are open all around the house, and as I'm writing, I'm trying to decide whether or not to turn off the fan in the office. It's that cool today, currently just 66o F at 11:30 A.M., compared to other recent mornings at this time when the thermometer was at or past 90o.

Moon & Stars melonI got out early this morning to take advantage of the cool temperatures, surveying our melon patch and pulling a few weeds here and there. I brought in two melons, one a small Trillion seedless, and another a whopping 30 pound Moon & Stars. The Moon & Stars vines appear to be dying, just as they're ripening the two large melons they set. We also have a couple more hills of melons just barely hanging on due to the hot and dry conditions this year. The cooler temperatures brought in by a front today will help, but we still need lots and lots of rain.

Ali Baba melonsWe also had another Picnic watermelon split open in the field, but I think it got some help opening up from a raccoon. It appeared to have claw marks on it yesterday and was split this morning, revealing light pink immature flesh. I suspect our new "puppy" may have had something to do with the critter not staying and finishing its meal. Petra has turned out to be quite a critter dog, cutting the local population of moles, possums, and even raccoons.

If our vining crops survive, we should have a fairly steady supply of cantaloupe and watermelon the rest of the season. A number of our hills of watermelon are showing some heat stress with vines wilting and leaves dropping. Our cantaloupe plants seem to be a bit more heat tolerant.

I gave away our first Ali Baba watermelon that came ripe, but we have several more of them nearly ripe. They're a bit of a challenge to pick, as the melons start out a light green and then get lighter as they ripen. But along with Moon & Stars, the Ali Baba melons give us a second heirloom melon that we like and grows well in our area.

Saturday, August 11, 2012 - Fall Planting

JSS - Fall planting calculatorMain lettuce bedIf you're in an area where there is adequate soil moisture, it's getting to be time to start your fall crops. Brassica transplants such as broccoli and cauliflower should go in the ground now. In just a few weeks, it normally would be time in our area to begin transplanting fall lettuce and direct seeding spinach. Fall crops of carrots and beets can also be sown successfully in August. And with cold frames and/or floating row covers, one can extend their growing season well past the first mild frosts of fall. I picked the last of our green beans last year that had been protected with a floating row cover on October 24 and fall lettuce right up to Thanksgiving!

Several years ago, Johnny's Selected Seeds began offering some free tools to help folks with planting times, both spring and fall. Their Fall-planting Calculator (358K .xls spreadsheet) is quite easy to use. You just type in your average first frost date, and the spreadsheet calculates when to seed or transplant ones fall crops. Dave's Garden has a handy page where you just enter your zip code to get the average first frost date in your area.

If you don't have a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel on your computer, the free, open source OpenOffice spreadsheet tool will handle the file. The image at left is from OpenOffice.

Looking a bit at the graphic, I can see that I probably should have run this posting several weeks ago, as the time is already past for starting some fall crops.

Green beans ready to pickAnd as to extending the season a bit, we've used our old cold frame over fall lettuce with good results in the past. Since our cold frame is only 3' x 6', I tried using floating row coversicon (from Johnny's) for the first time last year to cover larger areas and more crops. While one of our dogs tore the covers a bit, I found them to be good protection against light frosts for our fall lettuce, spinach, and even some green beans I planted really late (Aug. 1).

Not listed on the spreadsheet is fall garlic which one plants in the late fall and harvests mid-summer the next year. If you plan to plant garlic this fall and don't already have your garlic sets, it would be a good idea to get them ordered soon. Vendors frequently sell out of some preferred varieties quite early.

Precipitation (Inches)
  2012 2011 Ave.
Jan. 3.20 0.84 2.48
Feb. 1.10 2.28 2.41
March 1.52 3.79 3.44
April 3.80 11.51 3.61
May 1.19 3.38 4.35
June 0.15 5.53 4.13
July 1.89 3.25 4.42
Aug. 0.39 0.32 3.82
Sept.   3.76 2.88
Oct.   2.31 2.76
Nov.   5.63 3.61
Dec.   3.62 3.03

2011 & 2012 precipitation data from the Kinmerom2 weather station, Merom, IN
Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN

With the cold front that passed through our area this week, I've noticed a few weather people getting a little giddy, saying things about the drought not being over, but that we've "turned the corner." I suppose that might be true, but a quick glance at where we are on precipitation quickly reminds one that fall planting for us is probably a no-go this year.

Even if we were to immediately begin to get good, regular rainfall, there is simply no reserve of moisture left in the soil for plants to access between rains. And while we did get our fall garden going last August, which was drier even than this August has been so far, it was only with lots of watering. With the current drought, our well simply won't support any watering of the garden. It just barely is staying up with normal household usage, with me thinking about visiting the laundromat as a water conservation measure.

Zinnias and Butterflies

Butterfly on zinniaIn a gardening year that has been more notable for its disappointments than successes, our row of zinnias in the East Garden has been a joy to behold. After working our melon rows a bit today, I just stood and watched the moths and butterflies flittering around the zinnias.

The zinnias are a mixture of at least three varieties. I didn't have enough of any one kind of seed to do the row, so I just mixed several old seed packets together for seeding. The zinnias were one area that did get regular waterings to get them going, but once established, a bit of mulch and weeding is about all the care they've gotten.


First row melons planted Second row melons planted

I brought in three more watermelons and one cantaloupe today. The watermelon vines seem to be ripening up fruit already set, but not setting on a lot of new melons. The cantaloupe, usually our first melons to ripen in any volume, have this year been a bit slow. We have a bunch of Athena melons almost ready to pick, and the Sugar Cubes have several good sized melons about ready. But overall, the watermelons have been ahead of the cantaloupes.

We've lost several hills of melons this year seemingly overnight. In actuality, the vines showed some stress for a few days before succumbing to the dry conditions. But most of our hills are still going, even if they're not currently setting more melons.

Since we really haven't watered the melons since getting the hills established, I can only attribute our meager success with them in a drought year to soil preparation, mulching, and good luck. The soil for each hill was improved with lots of peat moss at planting time and was given gallons and gallons of water before transplanting. Each hill in our first row of melons were immediately mulched with grass clippings to hold back weeds and hold in soil moisture. Our second row of melons had to wait a week or so until more mulch was available, and they seem to be showing more stress from heat and dryness than the first row.

The good fortune factor has come into play several times this summer, as the few good rains we've had have seemed to come just when the melon vines needed them most.

So far this year, we've been able to manage our melon rows without employing any pesticides. I did have to use fungicide a couple of times to hold back some mildew on the leaves. But I'm beginning to notice increasing populations of both striped and spotted cucumber beetles, which may require chemical attention. I've already had to spray our yellow squash, butternuts, and pumpkins for squash bugs with chemicals that would make any organic gardener cringe.

Generally, our first line of defence when we have to go chemical is a strong knockdown spray of pyrethrin (in the past, rotonone-pyrethrin). It usually kills what it hits, but doesn't have much residual effect. If that doesn't take care of the bugs, we then resort to Sevin (or Eight, same active ingredient). Sevin based products have a lasting effect in the field and can delay harvest. They also are terribly toxic to bees, who apparently can take the poison back to their hives with the pollen and nectar they collect, causing havoc in the hive. So...we're pretty reluctant to go to such products.

Green bean rowGreen Beans?

I really thought our plantings of green beans had totally failed. But I didn't turn under the few plants that came up, and one row of them has spread out over the last week or so and might just give us a mess or two of the delicious vegetable. I had watered our green bean rows after planting, right up until the time our well dictated we water no more. After that, the bean plants seemed to just barely hang on, so I didn't turn them down, and I kept the area weeded.

It definitely isn't the most attractive or even row of green beans we've ever grown. And it will face serious insect pressure once the bugs in the adjacent soybean field discover the green beans, which they seem to prefer. But it's better than no beans at all.

If you're in an area that is emerging from the drought, as some seem to be, one might still be able to make a good crop of green beans if they can irrigate them until better rains return and provide some frost protection for the plants. Most bush bean varieties mature in 50-60 days from emergence, so in our area, something like floating row covers would probably be necessary.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

School buses are rolling again in our area, reminding me that the growing season will soon be drawing to a close. It also reminded me how nice it is being retired from teaching and not having to try to squeeze in gardening and canning while getting a new school year off to a good start.

Star@SunriseI sent "Indiana's weatherman," Paul Poteet, an email this week reminding him that while Indianapolis is now getting some much needed rain, we poor folks in western Indiana are still bone dry. Paul surprised me by running my email in his Star@Sunrise forecast for today! His daily forecast is one of several I regularly consult, partly for its consistent accuracy, but also because Paul is quite entertaining.

Glox in kitchenOur kitchen counter gloxinia stars have changed again. We now have a purple Double Brocade and a red Empress on our sunny kitchen counter. The Double Brocade, one of the few I have, is absolutely loaded with buds and should stay in bloom for weeks to come.

Also on the kitchen counter is a plastic container I reminded my wife last night not to open. It contains open pollinated Moira tomato seed that is fermenting before separation from the tomato bits and pieces that cling to the seed. The fermentation step in saving tomato seed is also said to help destroy seedborne bacteria and diseases.

Saving tomato seed from open pollinated varieties is really a pretty easy process. I tell about how to do it in our feature story, Saving Tomato Seed. Warning ones spouse or significant other saves a bit of wear and tear on noses and relationships. It's a goo that only a true seed saver can appreciate.

Fermenting tomato seed

Compost pileSince we're now off on a tangent about smelly garden stuff, let me relate that I heavily limed our compost pile today. Since we live way out in the country with our nearest neighbor quite a ways downwind, I generally don't worry much about compost pile odors. But I'd pitched some melon rinds on the pile this week, creating what Templeton from Charlotte's Web would call "a veritable smorgasbord - orgasbord, orgasbord," but what city folks might call a stinking garbage dump. So I broke out the the pile far more than it needed for pH correction, but probably not enough to completely douse the odor of rotting vegetable material.

Buckwheat germinatingI also noticed yesterday that our cover or green manure crop of buckwheat seeded last week has begun to germinate. I got out and broadcast the seed the day before we caught one of the rare showers that have graced our area. From what is coming up so far, it's hard to tell if we'll make a good enough stand of buckwheat to smother weeds and provide a good turndown crop in just a few weeks. But we have a good chance of rain tomorrow, so...maybe.

Diseased tomato leafToday's real work in the garden was spraying. While I'd written last week that our tomatoes looked disease free, I may have spoken too soon. Some tomatoes I picked yesterday from one plant in the East Garden looked a bit suspect. Playing it safe, I broke out the sprayers this morning, filling one with Serenade biofungicide and another with Roundup, as I still had some weeds in the aisles of our melon rows (and in the driveway).

I'm a little aggravated with myself, as I made the same mistake this year as I did last year with our tomatoes. Since I'd hot water treated our seed and planted only non-diseased plants in areas I thought were disease free, I let up on our spray routine with Serenade. While only one plant appears to be infected, I'm still not very happy with myself for not staying up with regular sprays throughout the dry weather.

Defoliated pumpkin leavesAfter spraying the tomatoes, I refilled the insecticide sprayer (have a separate one for Roundup only) with liquid Sevin and Fungonil. While I usually use pyrethrin as our first knockdown spray for insects, we obviously had a problem with squash bugs in our pumpkin hill that would require a pesticide a bit more lasting than pyrethrin. Sadly, I'd neglected the pumpkin problem and squash bugs and their eggs were evident on many leaves with some serious defoliation as well. Also present were both striped and spotted cucumber beetles.

The Fungonil was just a throw in, as our hill of pumpkins is towards the shady end of the East Garden, making them a bit more susceptible to powdery mildew. The hill of pumpkins, two yellow squash plants, a hill of butternut squash, and our vining cucumbers all got sprayed.

Sadly, once you cross the threshold into chemical spraying, there's really no going back. You kill off the beneficial insects right along with the bad guys, locking yourself into a regular routine of spraying with some fairly nasty stuff.

But on the whole, the East Garden for now looks pretty good.

East Garden

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Canning tomatoesPeeling tomatoesIt was supposed to rain today, or at least there was a good chance of it. But it appears the front and showers will pass well north of our area, leaving us dry for yet another week or so.

The day started with a good cloud cover (for just a bit of UV protection), a nice breeze, and moderate temperatures. I got out early and picked a few tomatoes. Along with some tomatoes I'd picked earlier in the week, it gave us enough to can our first batch of the season. It wasn't a large batch, making just six quarts of whole canned tomatoes. But it's a start.

Our canning method isn't anything special, just the standard process right out of the old Ball Blue Book. I did use cold pack today, rather than our standard hot pack. We use our pressure canner with the pressure regulator off for water bath canning.

The canned tomatoes usually go into chili and homemade spaghetti sauce, and occasionally a batch of Portuguese Kale Soup when we don't have fresh tomatoes on hand.

As the day wore on, it got hot and humid, made more so inside by the canner venting steam in the kitchen. But it was sure nice to finally be canning something for use next winter. And as I started to upload this posting, I heard thunder outside!

Ten Day ForecastLater: By 9 P.M., we'd received slightly over an inch of rain! And where previous rains had been pretty localized, this one was a widespread front that brought needed rain throughout a good bit of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. While welcome, I doubt we're coming out of the drought just yet. The Weather Channel's 10-day forecast has little to no precipitation in it, indicating the dry weather pattern we've had all summer may continue a while longer.

But with cooler temperatures predicted, the rain may really help some soybean fields and should definitely perk up home gardens and lawns a bit.

And...all six quarts of tomatoes sealed properly. For those readers who have never canned anything, that doesn't always happen.

Saturday, August 18, 2012 - Trying Kale, Again

One lonely kale plantI reseeded kale into the same row I planted back in June. Even with some watering, only one kale plant survived. But with the soil still showing good moisture today, I decided to try again for a fall crop of kale. Chances are the planting won't make it, but I really hate the idea of not making at least one batch of Portuguese Kale Soup this year using mostly products from our garden.

Since I'd kept the bed pretty clean with hand weeding and a bit of scuffle hoeing, all I had to do was scratch the soil a bit with the scuffle hoe, but a bit deeper than usual. I used a 1" board to make a shallow dibble, spread the seed, covered and firmed the soil over it.


Carrot row Carrots in sink

I really thought our carrot planting from this spring was a total loss. When the onions in the same bed died prematurely, I just left the carrot plants in place, as I wasn't going to do anything with the bed until fall. Occasionally, I'd dig a little to see how the carrots were doing, but usually came up with bug damaged roots or ones too small to dig.

When I checked the carrots today, there seemed to be a few ready to be dug. I took just two forkfulls of carrots out of the rows, as most of the carrots were still too small. Many of the roots did have bug damage, but some were in good shape.

I still had a cart of water gathered from the rain earlier this week and lavished the entire thirty gallons on the remaining carrot plants in the raised bed.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 - Melons and Buckwheat

Brady with melonsBuckwheatWith some help from my wife, Annie, and grandson, Brady, we picked a good many melons this morning. Just about all the watermelon hills had a melon or two ready. We also picked six Athena melons, although I had to pitch two of them, as I'd left them on the vine a day or two too long. Fortunately, our Athenas this year are going to half and full slip as they should, something they didn't do the last two years!

With the recent salmonella outbreak apparently caused by an unnamed melon farm a bit south of us, we're glad to have our own cantaloupes. But I think it's been a little unfair to other melon farmers in the region to not name the source of the outbreak, as now folks are going to be leery of any cantaloupes from southwestern Indiana.

A bit behind Brady in the photo with the melons is the area I seeded to buckwheat a week or so ago. It now appears that we will make a fairly good stand of the excellent green manure crop.


Peppers in main garden

Red peppersBucket of peppersWith a good rain last week, we're beginning to ripen some full-sized peppers. We had to replace a couple of pepper plants in the row, one that died and another I pulled because it appeared diseased. We ended up with only one yellow pepper plant with five red pepper plants.

I harvest our peppers using a set of hand pruners. Every time I try picking peppers by hand, I end up breaking off the brittle branches of the plant, losing the immature peppers still on that branch. Even with caged peppers, some branches break off from the weight of the peppers on them. But we seem to do better with our peppers caged than leaving them freestanding.

Our best producing variety throughout this dry summer has been the Ace variety from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Our yellow variety, Mecate from Stokes Seeds, has produced good, full sized fruit throughout the drought, but not in great quantity. Most of the smaller, red peppers are open pollinated Earliest Red Sweet. We save seed from ERS peppers isolated in our East Garden each year, but so far, the plants there are still producing undersized or shriveled fruit due to the drought. I'm glad I included one ERS in the main garden this year.


Callie JoTux in asparagusCallie Jo, a wonderfully affectionate calico cat, and her sister, Dolly (not shown), have adopted our cocoa planter as a bed. I finally transplanted the trailing impatiens out of the cocoa planter, as during the extremely hot weather we had, it wicked moisture out so quickly that the plants kept withering. The planter just got plopped down on the porch with some other stuff that needs to be stored downstairs, but the cats quickly adopted it.

Tux, our latest feline addition, has been getting used to being an indoor-outdoor cat the last month. He's not quite a year old and finds something to play with wherever he goes. Today, he was in our asparagus patch, making life miserable for the bugs and toads that live there.

Cucumbers and Snapdragons

Cucumber vines and snapdragonsSnapdragonsA co-planting that has worked well for us in the past appears it may be a success again this year. I started planting snapdragons along our trellised crops several years ago to provide some support for the flowers. They seem to do well with peas and amongst cucumber vines.

Our cucumbers had been a little shaky so far this year, producing blemished and misshapen fruit due to disease and the drought. We ended up losing two of our four cucumber plants, but the two remaining vines have responded well to a couple of thorough doses of fungicide to knock down some powdery mildew and the recent rain.

And while our snapdragons have not as yet produced the fabulous displays of blooms they did last year, I've been impressed with their tolerance to hot and dry conditions, still producing lovely blooms. Our varieties the last couple of years have been Burpee's Tall Mixicon, Ferry-Morse First Ladies, and Madame Butterfly from Stokes Seeds.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - Refreshingly Cooler

We're still in a drought, but the blazingly hot temperatures of June through early August have eased off considerably over the last ten days. The lower temperatures, along with an occasional shower seem to be helping our garden considerably.

Hi-Lo Temps July Aug 2012

A few weeks ago, I pretty well expected almost everything in our garden plots to simply dry up with daily highs around 100 and absolutely no rain. Our daily high temperatures are predicted to get back to more normal, August highs of 90-95 this week, but the break has been welcome after watching stuff simply die from heat and lack of rainfall. The lower temperatures will almost certainly lower our electric bill which hit an all time high last month. We've had our air conditioning mostly off over the last week or so. We did use it on two recent evenings, more to close out the skunk smell that wafted in open windows than to cool anything off! (Petra, the puppy, has now learned about skunks.)

Indiana State Health Officials Refuse to Identify Source Farm of Salmonella Tainted Melons

I saw in today's news that state health officials are continuing to stonewall releasing the name of the farm that caused the recent outbreak of salmonella poisoning from cantaloupes grown in our area of southwestern Indiana. State Health Commissioner Gregory Larkin and Amy Reel, a state Health Department spokeswoman, claim they are withholding the source farm's name "to better protect consumers," according to an Indianapolis Star article by Tony Cook.

From news reports, it appears that state officials have pretty well identified at least one source of the tainted melons, but claim the investigation is ongoing and refuse to release the identified source. Headlines such as Time magazine's Indiana Cantaloupe Linked To Nationwide Salmonella Outbreak won't do much good for other Indiana growers.

And folks like us who live in the area also have a right to know. Before we began growing our own melons, we frequently patronized the many melon growers in our area.

Friday, August 31, 2012

August Animated GIFWe're finishing August doing much as we've done all summer: picking, weeding, and hoping for rain. Only this time around, it appears that the remnants of what was Hurricane Isaac may track over us this weekend and provide several inches of much needed rainfall.

We're getting some nice bell peppers and continue to pick a surprising volume of melons, considering the drought. Our cantaloupes, however, seem to ripen and then begin to rot very quickly this year, possibly because of the weather conditions...or maybe not.

We're picking lots of tomatoes now, but pitching almost two thirds of those picked. Recent rains seem to have swollen the tomatoes, producing deep cracks on top. Invariably, when I find a large, red ripe tomato without cracks, it often has blossom end rot. But we have enough for table use and have canned fifteen quarts of whole tomatoes, so I guess I should be glad for what we've got.

I even noticed a few bean pods filling out in the row I left in place despite terribly poor germination.

July, 2012

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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