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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - 7/14/2012

Sunday, July 1, 2012 - Mad Dogs and Englishmen

July is finally here, and I ought to be doing all sorts of wonderful things out in the garden. Instead, I'm in my air conditioned office hiding out from the searing weather conditions outside. We're already over 100o F. in the early afternoon with forecasts for much of the same for days to come.

Combined forecasts

I posted these videos last July, but with the heat and drought this year, they seem even more appropriate now.

When it's this hot outside, I'm often reminded of Robin Williams' humorous Adrian Cronauer/Roosevelt E. Roosevelt weather report from the movie, Good Morning, Vietnam and Noel Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

It's probably a good day just to give in to the heat and prop ones feet up indoors with a cool drink.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead and hoping that it will rain again someday, we'll be starting transplants of lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli for the fall garden this month.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

WSIU mugI ran across an interesting story on CNN this morning, Coffee could cut skin cancer risk, about a new medical study that found a correlation between drinking caffeinated coffee and reduced risk of skin cancer. Here's a quick clip from the story:

Researchers analyzed data from the famous Nurses' Health Study on more than 112,000 people. One fourth of those studied had developed basal cell carcinoma over a 20 year period. Investigators found the more someone drank caffeinated coffee, (more than two cups a day) the lower their risk of developing this form of cancer.

Scientists noted caffeine seemed to be a key factor, because tea, cola and chocolate, all of which contain caffeine also seemed to cut a person's risk.

UV RiskSo I guess I'm protecting myself against skin cancer as I stay out of the sun this morning and write while enjoying my second cup of coffee. Of course, staying out of the sun to avoid UV damage isn't always a desirable option for those of us who love gardening.

I really haven't written much this year about protecting oneself from the sun's damaging rays, so with the Weather Channel predicting their maximum UV Index for today and me in the middle of another round of fluorouracil cream (chemotherapy) treatment, maybe now's the time. And along that line of thought, my skin cancer surgeon now is giving me prescriptions for generic Efudex (fluorouracil 5%) that the pharmacy formulates onsite, saving me a bunch. The generic cream was running $210 a tube at the Walmart pharmacy, while the new stuff costs just $62 for the same amount...and seems just as effective.

Both the EPA and have good pages about dealing with UV. The latter's The Danger of Ultraviolet Rays has lots of good information, including some I especially try to follow:

  • Sun elevation: As the sun climbs higher into the sky, UV radiation also intensifies. That means UV radiation levels are highest around noontime and in the summer. [My emphasis]
  • Time of the day: According to research, the hours of 10am to 4pm is the most dangerous period for UV radiation- it’s purported that as much as 60% of the day’s radiation comes between those times.
  • Time of the year: In most countries, UV radiation levels are usually many times higher in summer than in winter. When summer is at its peak, you can burn in 15 minutes or less. The months from May to September seem to pose the greatest risk for UV rays. [My note: Snow and water reflection (like out on a boat fishing) can really expose one to lots more UV than you'd think.]
  • Cloud cover: UV rays can penetrate through clouds, and so there is still a need to protect yourself if you are going outside. In fact a lightly cloudy day can contain the same amount of UV radiation as a clear day. Of course, the heavier the clouds, the more UV radiation will be blocked.

Having related all of the above, I do work out in the sun, sometimes at less than ideal times of the day and year. But when I do, I always have some form of protection from the sun. I recently read a review that gave the sunblock brand I use, NO-AD, high ratings for protection. It's cheap and works, but like most such creams, is pretty uncomfortable.

Coolibar UV protective hatFor overall protection, I tend to rely more on sun protective garments to allow me to work in the garden and mow the grass when the sun is high. Coolibar has been a leader in sun protective clothing for years, but their stuff can be pretty pricey if you don't catch it on sale. I really like their Featherweight Bucket Hats for head protection, as my hair is thinning and I seem to be getting more and more actinic keratoses there. The hats retail at almost $40 each, but I got two in August, 2010, on sale for $19 apiece. I think August is an annual sale period for Coolibar.

I'm to the point where I'm wearing out most of my original sun protective shirts from Coolibar. While I picked up a nice sport shirt from them two years ago on sale, that shirt is no longer available on their site or on Amazon! The last shirt I mail ordered from them turned out to feel like canvas and was simply unwearable in hot weather! So, I've turned to other options until the folks at Coolibar realize that much of their customer base live on fixed incomes and can't pay $70 for a workshirt.

dry vent shirtI picked up a couple of Natural Gear Dry Vent River Shirts at Sam's Club this year. While the shirts lack the SPF/UPF ratings other brands have, the ad for them states, "The Dry Vent River Shirt incorporates specialty yarns and a dense weave to shield you from 95% of the sun's harmful UV rays." They are comfortable and seem durable. Best of all, they run less than $20.

Sun GuardI also have taken to treating heavy t-shirts, all of my Carhartt shirts, and a few old sport shirts with Rit Sun Guard Laundry Treatment UV Protectant. It is supposed to add UPF 30 protection to garments washed with it.

A Strange Silver Lining

I wrote a week or so ago about turning our compost piles and doing a bunch of tilling and transplanting in our East Garden. What I didn't relate then was that I really hurt myself that day, pulling several muscles in my leg and and later straining my back, and generally putting myself out of action for over a week. It seems that whenever I use our 18 year old tiller, my 63 year old (64 next week) body revolts!

After lots of aspirin, Advil, Bengay, hot bathes, etc., I'm finally on the mend, but am being pretty cautious about doing any heavy work around the house or in the garden. Of course, while supposedly being careful, I strained my back by not bending my knees in picking up a very heavy old Mac IIfx computer in our sunroom/computer workshop. The IIfx is a near antique that was every graphic designers dream in 1990.

The silver lining to all of this has been, of all things, the drought. With things so very, very dry here, (Rain passed both north and south of us this weekend, but nary a drop here!) there's not much need to be out in the garden. So my postings have been a bit limited, as I'm really not doing a whole lot out in the garden.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Onions curing on porchOnions curing in gardenI got out early this morning and brought in the rest of our Walla Walla sweet onions. I'd pulled some earlier this week and put them on the back porch to cure. Since the onion crop is pretty well done, for better or worse, I also brought in our Red Zeppelin onions. A few of them were still actively growing, or at least looked like they were. But for the most part, the onions were done. I pulled our Milestone and Pulsar storage onions as well, but left them in the garden to cure.

Since our kitchen compost bucket was almost full, I gathered what garden trash I had from the main garden (leaves, old beets, rotten tomatoes, etc.) and took it to a new compost pile I started just outside our East Garden. I added most of the broccoli plants from the East Garden to the pile, as they'd bloomed as soon as they put on heads.

I also thought to take the scuffle hoe out to the East Garden and was able to clean up our potato rows and the aisles between our melons a bit. There weren't a lot of weeds to be pulled and hoed, as I had tilled a week or so ago.

East Garden - July 5, 2012

I'm amazed that we still have melons and potatoes that look fairly good, considering how dry things are.

I worked a little over an hour outside this morning and was totally soaked with sweat when I came in at 10:30. The temperature was already over 90o F, heading for a predicted high today of 102o.

Garden Tower Project Contest

Saturday, July 7, 2012 - Still Hot and Dry

Main garden plot

High Temperatures (F.)
July 7 105.4
July 6 104.7
July 5 105.9
July 4 100.9
July 3 97.8
July 2 100.3
July 1 102.9
June 30 100.6
June 29 103.8
June 28 104.0
Precipitation (Inches)
  2012 2011
July 0.00 3.25
June 0.15 5.53
May 1.19 3.38
April 3.80 11.51
March 1.52 3.79

The hot, dry weather this summer and our inability to water have pretty well done in our main garden for this year. Like much of the middle of the nation, we've had a string of 100+ degree days with no appreciable rain since April! We're supposed to have a high again today of around 105o before a "cold" front moves in tomorrow and chills things down to just 97o, with predicted highs in the low 90s for the rest of next week.

Of our succession plantings made last month, only our row of pole beans and our row of cucumbers, both outside our main raised bed, have much of a chance of surviving and producing a crop. This is one of those years when a well drained raised bed works against you! Our kale planting, which I watered until our well began to protest, is dead. One wide bean row, planted rather heavily, has produced spotty germination while the other bean row only pushed up five or six plants.

CarrotsI haven't taken out or carrot rows as yet, but the roots should have been ready to dig a week or so ago. I did take a trowel and dig out three small, half inch wide roots this week. They were the biggest in the row, and I bent the trowel handle in the rock hard soil in the effort. Since some of the plants still appear to be alive, and I can't really do anything else with the bed in these weather conditions, I'm leaving the carrot rows in place in hopes of a shower that might save some of the crop.

Our caged peppers and tomatoes in the main raised bed are showing stress, but not dying as yet. The pepper plants are producing misshapen, small peppers for the most part, although one plant has several nice, full-sized green peppers on it. Our early tomatoes all had blossom end rot, and the fruit was undersized, so we're still waiting for that first homegrown tomato of the season. One of my granddaughters did pick several ripe grape tomatoes yesterday.

Onions curingI brought in the storage onions that I pulled yesterday and set them on the back porch to finish curing. There really wasn't any danger of them drawing moisture from the bone dry ground and rotting. On the odd chance it just might rain (someday), I moved them on the porch where they have some cover.

Some of our sweet onions were ready to be bagged and stored today, as was all of our garlic. So we actually did put away some food for next winter today.

Technical Note: Towards the end of June, I made a change in our standard large images (accessible by clicking on the images in this blog). Since I began Senior Gardening, I've almost always linked our images to larger views for those who may want to see more detail. Those larger images were usually limited to 1024 pixels on their longest dimension. With broadband becoming commonplace and modern web browsers sizing large images on the fly, I've started using a 1500 pixel dimension for our large images.

Sunday, July 8, 2012 - Relief!

Rain gaugeRainIt appears that the heat wave is over. The temperature, often 90-100o well after sunset over the last two weeks, was 73o at 9 P.M. this evening after a cold front moved through our area. High temperatures for the next week or so are predicted to be 10-15o lower than what we've been experiencing.

The drought may be another matter. At this writing, we've received a touch over an inch and a half of rain, the first serious rain we've had in two months. While today's rain will definitely help some of our surviving crops (potatoes, melons, tomatoes, and peppers), it will take a lot more precipitation before they're really healthy. And we're also entering what is historically the driest part of the year, from just after the Fourth of July through all of August and often into September.

Over the next few days to a week, we'll evaluate whether to go with the thin stands of green beans we have up, or whether to turn them down and replant, hoping for a better stand. Our kale will definitely have to be reseeded, as we got it up out of the ground, only to see it wither and die in the extreme heat.

Thursday, July 12, 2012 - BLTs

First tomatoes of seasonIn a gardening season that has been unusual and somewhat disappointing, my wife and I enjoyed what has become a tradition for us over the years. We always have bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches the day we pick our first, ripe tomato of the season. While our early, Moira tomatoes usually provide the fruit for the sandwiches, so far this year their fruit has all had blossom end rot. Our Better Boy plants seem to be tolerating the dryness a bit better, providing the tomatoes for our sandwiches this evening. Interestingly, we're picking our first tomatoes several weeks earlier than usual this year. And with the rain last weekend, the Moiras seem to be ready to produce unblemished fruit.

Good News - Bad News

CantaloupeIt appears that we may pick our first ripe cantaloupe in the next few days. But its vine appears to have downy mildew, so I'll need to break out a fungicide to combat the disease and prevent its spread to nearby plants.

dead vinesWhile the Sarah's Choice cantaloupe plant shown at left will probably survive, we lost a melon vine to drought this week. The Picnic watermelon plant shown at right had been doing well, but just withered and apparently died. I checked the vines for signs of vine borers, which can take a plant that quickly, but from all appearances, the plant just ran out of water. Watering the hill the last two days hasn't raised the dead. Fortunately, we have another hill of Picnic watermelon in the East Garden, as it's an open pollinated variety new to us this year that I'm eager to taste!

The current weather forecast is a bit more promising than what we've experienced the last few months. We have a 30-50% chance of rain Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with a slight chance of showers after that.

And while our drought really hasn't broken as yet, I realized yesterday that it's just about time to start our fall cauliflower...assuming that normal rains will return sometime soon., Inc.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Today's haul
Sugar Cube melon

ZinniasIt definitely doesn't look like much, but "today's haul," shown at left, was really pretty gratifying, considering the dry soil conditions here. The small cantaloupe, our first, is a Sugar Cube that I touched to see if it was close to "half slip." It turned out that it was at "full slip," the point where if bumped, it drops right off the vine.

Sugar Cube melons usually run just a bit larger than this one, but not by much. You won't feed a crowd with one, but the taste of the melon should bring a smile to your face. Sugar Cubes have become a favorite with us and some of our neighbors.

While our garden this year has been disappointing due to the drought, I've been pleasantly surprised that many of our flowers that edge our garden plots and serve as row end markers are doing pretty well. A row of zinnias that I did water a bit to get started are now in bloom and are putting on quite a show.

Cucumbers and snapdragonsWe have snapdragons scattered throughout our garden plots. The ones along our cucumber trellis are beginning to bloom. I think they have benefitted from the mulch around them and the cucumber plants.

Marigolds and snapdragonsOur snapdragons and marigolds I used as row end markers for our sweet corn in the East Garden are doing far better than the corn. Deer have eaten off the tops of most of our corn plants, despite our flashing red night lights, sweeper bag residue, and Sweeney's Deer Repellent Stations that seemed to deter the deer last year. With the drought, I haven't worked too hard at any other measures to scare off the deer, as we probably weren't going to make a crop anyway. But the flowers are pretty.

Caged tomatoesIf it appears we have a really good chance of rain in the next week or so, I'll probably take the corn out, till a bit, and plant the area to buckwheat...leaving the flowers in place, of course. Buckwheat can produce a rather lush turndown crop in just six or eight weeks. The soil in our East Garden can use all the organic matter it can get!

Along the back edge of our main, raised bed, petunia and vinca plants are in full bloom. We can't see them from the house, as our caged tomatoes block the view, but when you're out working in the garden, they certainly are impressive. The tomatoes haven't been all that impressive so far this year, but the larger ones a granddaughter picked today went well in spaghetti sauce for lunch.

Petunia and Vinca

And while I've not mentioned it this year, we have our usual bunch of hummingbirds zipping around our hanging basket plants on the back porch, jockeying for space at the two feeders we have there.

Hummingbird at feeder

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Radar imageWundermapWe still haven't had the kind of major storm front move through our area that probably will be necessary to break the current drought. But scattered thundershowers in the area over the last few weeks have given some area gardeners and farmers a bit of relief. Yesterday was one of those days where the weather radar showed lots of small, scattered storms. But for us, one of those storms finally passed over and even lingered a bit over the Senior Garden, producing just over an inch of precipitation.

The Weather Underground site that has several local reporting stations in our area added something called a WonderMap to their page last year. It employs Google satellite maps with weather radar overlaid to produce images such as the one at right. The inserted smiley face is the location of the Senior Garden.

Melons lostThe rain didn't come in time to save two hills of watermelons that died from lack of water. The vines from both hills were extensive, and one plant had set fruit. Vines from surrounding hills should quickly fill the empty spaces.

And of course, with a couple of good rains in the last week or so, weed pressure is again something to deal with. By this time of summer, we usually have our melon rows pretty well mulched with grass clippings. That obviously isn't the case this year, so some work with the scuffle hoe or rototiller will be necessary soon.

Melon rows

Friday, July 20, 2012

With one of our daughters home this week and grandkids coming for the weekend, I went ahead and picked a watermelon and several cantaloupe this morning. The watermelon, a seedless Trillion, was just barely ripe enough to pick.

The cantaloupe were ripe. A Sugar Cube melon dropped from the vine as it should with just a touch. But our Sarah's Choice melons and an Athena melon were still firmly attached to their vines, despite being fully ripe. We've experienced cantaloupe not going to half and full slip, where the melon begins to separate on its own from the vine as it nears maturity. The problem has mainly occurred with Athena melons in the past, something I had previously attributed to a quirk of the variety. But with other varieties now failing to properly separate from the vine at maturity, I'd guess there is something in our growing conditions causing the abnormality.

On a positive note, slip or no-slip, and in the case of the watermelon, a bit underripe, the melons all had good, homegrown melon flavor.

I also sorted and bagged our storage onions today. They'd tipped over in the ground prematurely from the heat, so I went ahead and harvested them several weeks ago. Sadly, over half of the onions showed signs of rot from the early harvest and from rain that blew onto them on the porch while curing. The net result was very few storage quality onions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

I was reminded last night of why we haven't been doing much watering of the garden this summer. I'd just gone to bed when my wife said she heard the well pump sounding funny. Annie had been doing small loads of laundry all day, and the well was running dry.

She ran downstairs and shut off the pump, and I volunteered to stay up and turn it back on again. The well usually will recharge in 45 minutes to an hour. I gave it 40 minutes before firing it up, only to hear it grind a bit as it began pumping water again. The good news is that she heard the pump, as it will burn itself up trying to pump water that isn't there if left on at such times. We also didn't lose the prime on the pump, something that necessitates a bit of priming from a well used water jug that sits beside the pump.

The bad news is that our water rationing season has now begun. Once the well runs dry for the first time in the summer, it's much more prone to do so again for some reason. I really thought it had run dry a month ago when the water in the shower just stopped running, with me, of course, with a head full of shampoo. It turned out that some woodland creature had committed suicide in a power substation somewhere near, cutting power to the whole area for an hour or so!

Water tankPetra with cornWith our now reduced water supply, the limited water hauling to our East Garden I'd been doing is at an end. So is swimming for the grandkids in the wading pool. Long, long showers are out as well, and I may once again get reacquainted with our local laundromat.

It could be worse. Lots of our neighbors have wells far worse than ours. You can tell who they are by the large water tanks mounted in the beds of their pickup trucks.

Since I'm already off the subject of gardening a ways, let me point out our cute puppy in the picture at right. Besides the depredation caused by the drought and deer, Petra has developed a taste for sweet corn (ear on ground).

With the two rains we've had this month, our melons are looking a good bit better. Of course, the weeds in the aisles in between the melon rows are also growing. I spent an hour this morning using the scuffle hoe to clear weeds at the edges of the rows, often lifting vines and hoeing underneath. I had grass clipping mulch on hand, as I had mowed and raked the field the East Garden is in over the weekend, so I gently pushed mulch under the vines and out a bit into the aisle to accommodate future growth.

East Garden - melon rows

I didn't get anywhere close to done on the job today, as the heat drove me back inside after an hour. I took the photo above this evening at 8:30 P.M., and it was still 95o outside! I'd planned to get started weeding and mulching early this morning, but I slept late after babysitting the well pump last night.

CantaloupesI picked two Roadside Hybrid melons, two Sugar Cubes, and a Sarah's Choice today. The Roadside Hybrids and the Sarah's Choice cantaloupes were just past half slip, while the Sugar Cubes were at full slip. One Roadside Hybrid went into the fridge, as I love their flavor. Since we still have some cut melon left over from last Friday's picking, the other melons will go to work with my wife, where her fellow employees are already asking if we have melons ready.

And while we've had a bunch of cantaloupe come ripe in a short time, there won't be many more, at least for a while. Cantaloupe stop setting fruit when stressed by heat or drought or, as we're having this year, both. I have just one more Roadside Hybrid melon maturing on the vine, with a few other, very small cantaloupes here and there. But if the vines survive this dry period, they will begin setting fruit again once the weather moderates a bit.

We also have several good watermelon on the vines. Again, we'd normally have lots and lots of melons set by this time of year, but with the drought, we're actually doing pretty good. While we lost one hill of Moon & Stars, another hill of the variety has just one nice melon set on with the typical yellow spots on the fruit and the leaves of the vine. We have several of the pale skinned Ali Baba melons we first tried (and liked) last summer. And there's one lone Picnic watermelon, a highly recommended open pollinated variety we're trying this year.

Moon & Stars Ali Baba Picnic
Moon & Stars Ali Baba Picnic

TrillionFarmers WonderfulI originally wrote last Friday that I had picked a Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon. Later, I realized that where I picked wasn't where the Farmers Wonderful were planted. When I checked my garden chart, I found that I'd picked a Trillion seedless watermelon, a variety we grew several years ago. It's funny as both seedless varieties set two melons side-by-side. The remaining Trillion is shown at left and the two Farmers Wonderful are on the right.

From the images, you can see how I mixed them up, as the two varieties look quite similar. Both seedless varieties look like a smaller version of a Crimson Sweet watermelon, from which they were probably bred.

Elsewhere in our garden plots, things are pretty sad. Having suffered through a couple of droughts when I was farming in the 80s, I really think this one is worse. With the media suggesting that food prices may skyrocket later this year, we're stocking up on what we can, but also are hoping for some good fall crops...if the drought breaks by then.

I'm hearing from lots of other gardeners around the country who read this blog. They're having similar problems, and many wonder if this may be the climate change that has been predicted by many. We still need to add some guttering to our house and garage this summer, and I'm thinking about rain barrels and even possibly getting our old cistern back online. But if our current weather is the "new normal," we'll have to adapt, possibly with a smaller garden more heavily mulched.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

App Store - Mountain LionCukesEven though I was up late last night working on a column about Apple's latest operating system, Mountain Lionicon, I got out early this morning to see if there were any ripe tomatoes to pick. Despite the drought we're in, our tomatoes have been somewhat grudgingly supplying us with a bit of ripe fruit.

On my way out to tomatoville, I noticed that our cucumber vines were holding up under the weather pretty well. The two Japanese Long plants from Baker Creek Seeds each had a fairly ripe cucumber on them, while our own strain of Japanese Long Pickling were busy putting out lush growth, but no pickable cukes as yet.

TomatovilleI optimistically took our twelve quart kettle for large tomatoes and a smaller container for grape tomatoes for the picking. I think I pitched at least as many rotten tomatoes into the soybean field beside our garden as I put into the kettle, but I was actually thrilled to be getting any good tomatoes at all. The grape tomatoes, having been heavily picked last weekend by grandkids, really didn't have any fully ripe fruit to pick!

The takeIf I were a commercial grower or had been planning to can tomatoes today, I would have been aghast at the picking. But I'm not a commercial grower, and I knew before I went outside that I'd be lucky indeed to get any good fruit. So I was pleasantly surprised at what I got. (I guess that's a reward for low expectations. Mixed) I even got one rather disfigured red bell pepper, but I suspect it will taste just fine when cut up into some dish or other. For the one good pepper I picked, I chucked ten rotten ones into the bean field.

Since my wife, Annie, is babysitting grandkids this evening, and I had the foresight yesterday to buy a pound of fresh bacon, I'll treat myself to a BLT for supper. But in the meanwhile, I'm going to go take a nap while I wait for Apple's agonizingly slow download of the Mountain Lion upgrade to complete.

AppStore Slow

iTunes, App Store, iBookstore, and Mac App Store

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I walked through our melon patch this afternoon and found that we had several melons ready to be picked. The image below shows an Ali Baba, a Farmers Wonderful, and a Trillion that were ready today. I also picked a Picnic watermelon, not shown in the image, as the raccoons had scratched its rind and the melon had split open. Had it been another variety, I would have just pitched the melon, but this is the first Picnic watermelon we've grown and harvested. I took the melon to the porch, hosed it off, cut away the flesh that had been exposed, and cut up the rest of the melon flesh for our use.

Melons on porch

The cantaloupes are a Roadside Hybrid and a Sugar Cube.

Just a few minutes ago, I finished listening to an excellent Seed Savers Exchange webinar on hand pollinating corn. As an SSE member, I'd received a promotional mailing about the webinar a week ago and immediately pre-registered for it. The SSE webinar page carries links to previous webinars, along with info about upcoming sessions. Next month's topic is on hand pollinating squash.

Gotta go, I'm going to listen to the April webinar on apple grafting.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I'm finally getting caught up on managing the weeds in our melon patch. I've scuffle hoed along the edge of the rows and mulched as much as I can. I took the mower out yesterday, set the deck as low as possible, and mowed the weeds between the rows. Now, I'm just waiting for a cool, calm morning when I can spray the center of the aisles between the rows with Roundup.

Melon rows

For the most part, I avoid using any herbicides in the Senior Garden. Hoeing and tilling, along with mulching, usually take care of most of the weeds in our melon patch. But this year, mulch has been hard to come by. Coupled with a pulled muscle that re-manifests itself every time I use the tiller, I've had to begin spraying a few areas to knock down weeds.

I'm also following my skin cancer surgeon's advice by limiting my time out in the sun each day to an hour with sunscreen and sun protective garments on. I do violate his "rules" on mowing days, as I can't get the mowing done in that amount of time. But other than mowing, I do what I can in an hour and let it go at that.

When I spray, I'll take a scrap sheet of plywood, usually a cut down, but still eight feet long, piece to place along the edge of the melon row next to where I'm spraying. In calm conditions, that usually is enough to prevent the herbicide from drifting onto our precious melon vines. But with almost any wind present, spraying is a no-go. And with temperatures running in or close to 100o each day, even Roundup isn't all that effective.

With most of our summer garden a complete failure due to the drought this year, we've begun stocking up on canned and frozen vegetables from the grocery when they're on sale. It's been a long time since we've bought canned green beans in any quantity, but we are this year. Frozen carrots, peas (even though we still have some of our own in the freezer), and sweet corn are beginning to make things tight in the freezer, as we've also begun stocking up on ground beef on sale.

It's probably going to be a tough winter on folks buying staples at the grocery this winter, as both meat and fresh and vegetables are expected to rise in price significantly. Livestock growers don't have corn and/or hay to feed their stock, and will begin reducing herd sizes. That may initially produce a drop in prices, especially on beef and pork, but then will result in much higher prices by next spring at the latest. Egg and poultry prices could see the quickest and steepest rises in price, as growers are dependent on corn products to feed their flocks.

Amazon - Planet of the ApesIn the 1968 movie classic, Planet of the Apes, it was a nuclear holocaust that caused Charlton Heston's George Taylor character to realize what humans had done to the planet, saying:

Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it.

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

Sadly, if these summer droughts continue, we may be like Taylor, suddenly realizing what we've done to our planet. Over our years here tending the Senior Garden, we've noticed our usual dry period each summer extend into mini-droughts, culminating this year with the worst drought our area has experienced in over fifty years. We've also noticed wind speeds increasing here each year. Whether global warming or climate change, something not good is happening to our environment.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Drought mapI began this month's blog with a couple of YouTube videos, Robin Williams' humorous Adrian Cronauer/Roosevelt E. Roosevelt weather report from the movie, Good Morning, Vietnam and Noel Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishmen. The posting, sadly, was prophetic for the month's weather.

Midwest droughtWith our area now classed in the worst drought category, D4 Drought - Exceptional, what we already knew is official: Our summer garden is pretty much a failure.

Early on, the dry conditions cut short our pea harvest. Our lettuce bolted weeks earlier than usual. We also took out our spring broccoli a bit early, as the sideshoots the plants were producing bloomed almost immediately and were bitter.

Our storage onion crop was severely impacted by the weather, leaving us with about a fourth of what we should have put into storage for use over the next year.

Our carrots were a total wipeout, and our usual succession plantings of green beans and kale simply didn't have enough moisture in the ground to germinate properly. While our sweet corn miraculously germinated in the dry soil, the plants were all stunted. Even our transplants in trays on the back porch withered and died despite frequent waterings from our iffy well.

Looking at What's Left

Acknowledging the failure of many crops does allow us to focus on what is still growing with the possibility of producing a crop. Our potato rows in our large, East Garden still look fairly good as do the row of zinnias beside them. With the built in moisture supply in the seed potatoes, our Kennebecs and Red Pontiacs were able to survive with almost no rain in May and June. A couple of good showers this month, while only totaling about 2" of precipitation, have allowed them to continue, although I wonder what I'll find under the topgrowth.

Potato rows

Melon rowsOur melon rows are ripening some good melons, mostly ones that set before things totally dried out. The deep holes I dug for each hill and backfilled with peat moss mixed with native soil gave the melons a small reservoir of moisture. Heavy mulching with grass clippings, besides holding down weeds, helped hold in what little moisture there was in the soil. The melons hills also received regular watering through much of May and June until our well could no longer support such an extravagance. There even were several bright, yellow-orange pumpkin blossoms in evidence this morning at the edge of our melon rows.

Caged tomatoesOur tomato plants, all caged and heavily mulched, began producing edible fruit with the showers this month. Initially, they produced fruit ruined by blossom end rot, as there apparently wasn't enough moisture in the soil for them to uptake the calcium required to prevent the condition. My wife also related to me later that she'd been watering the tomatoes and peppers some on the sly. With our well giving us regular warnings that the water table had dropped precipitously, I had become the "water Nazi" of our household. In my defense, I'm the one who gets to put in a new pump if we burn one out from it pumping air instead of water.

We're also beginning to get some nice, full-sized bell peppers!

Main asparagus patchBonnie's asparagusOur two asparagus patches seem to be handling the extreme weather pretty well. I quit picking each patch early this year, allowing them to get going fairly early with their delicate looking, if itchy, growth. Our raised asparagus bed had some deluxe, deep soil amendments when I put it in. The older asparagus patch we tend for the owner of the farmland around us continues to do well, as it's an incredibly well established patch, especially now that I'm weeding, fertilizing, and mulching it. Both patches are slated to receive a good bit of our almost finished compost pile, which should ensure future healthy growth.

Looking Ahead

July, 2012 anigifIt's hard to work up much enthusiasm for planning and starting a fall garden when weather experts are hinting that the drought may not break until October. Broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce transplants need to be started now to have enough time to mature before winter sets in. We've had a good bit of difficulty getting direct seeded crops for fall started over the last few years due to mini-droughts our area has experienced. Trying to start either kale or green beans in this weather without heavy irrigation is simply a no-go this year.

I think I need to get my attitude adjusted and get some transplants started, just in case it does rain sometime soon.

June, 2012

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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