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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 6/15/2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lettuce replantingJune is usually the month when we begin harvesting crops in earnest. With the warm winter and early spring this year, some crops went in early, while others matured more quickly in the warmer than normal spring temperatures. We've cut all of the main heads of broccoli in the main garden plot and all but one of our cauliflower. Our spring lettuce matured and started to go to seed last week and has been replaced with another planting of lettuce. Our peas are producing, although the crop has been severely impacted by the lack of rain last month.

SpinachBut we're beginning June in much better shape than we ended May. We've had several showers in the last few days that have made the garden look a lot better, although I was still hauling water to our East Garden just yesterday morning. I'll not miss that chore if we continue to get good rainfall.

With the rain, our row of spinach that I'd heavily picked a week or so ago has come back strong and is ready for a light picking. We planted three varieties of spinach this year, America, Regal, and Melodyicon. All three have produced well. I was especially happy to see the old, open pollinated America variety do well, as it was one of our favorites years ago before new hybrids pushed it out of seed catalogs and off retail seed racks. We got our America seed this year from the Seed Savers Exchange.

GarlicWe have beets and garlic ready to be harvested in the next few days. The garlic, which emerged in late December instead of early March, is weeks ahead of its usual harvest time. That should allow us to get in a succession planting of green beans a bit earlier than usual. Picking peas has become a standard, every other day, morning chore joy, replacing the previous regular morning cutting of asparagus, now that we've let both patches begin to put on their summer growth.

Asparagus Patches?

We're tending two asparagus patches this year. We planted our patch in 2006, and then set it back considerably by enclosing it in a raised bed several years later. It's amazing how far out asparagus roots reach. I cut a lot of them when putting in the timbers for our raised bed. But now that it's done (and the asparagus has recovered from the abuse), it's an easy bed to tend.

Our asparagus patch

Bonnie's asparagus 1Beyond our property in an untilled section of land behind us has been an old, well established stand of asparagus. We've lived at our current location for eighteen years, and the asparagus patch was there when we moved in, so it's an old one.

Bonnie's asparagus 2The landowner used to come pick asparagus once or twice each spring. When I ran into the her at the grocery last summer, she asked if I'd picked asparagus from the patch this year. Since I keep her barn lot mowed, I guess she assumed I used her asparagus, too. We hadn't, as my mama taught me not to take things that weren't mine! The landowner suggested that I go ahead and use the patch, as she now lives in an assisted living facility and doesn't get out much.

So last summer, I fed the patch a bit of commercial fertilizer a few times and mowed the spent stalks in the fall. We did a light picking from the patch this spring. While there weren't a lot of shoots, those that emerged were quite thick and healthy (and tasty). We stopped cutting asparagus early from what we've always called "Bonnie's asparagus," as we'd like the patch to thicken a bit.

I've kept a path mowed to the asparagus, as the field it's in is filled with poison ivy. I'll need to do some more weeding underneath the foliage, as there are some nasty weeds still there. And this fall, it could use a good covering of manure. But with some TLC, we should have a second asparagus patch that should continue producing for years to come.

East Garden

East Garden - June 3, 2012

BrassicasMelon rowsWhat we call our East Garden, which I wrote about extensively last month, is looking much better after the recent rains. All of our extra brassica transplants that I put in last month have survived the May drought. Some plants have emerged in our potato rows (shown at left beside the brassica row), although there are some large gaps where I hope we'll yet see vines push up.

Our melons, planted into deluxe holes in bone dry soil, are mostly doing well after having water hauled to them every other day through the drought. Two hills died and were immediately reseeded. A few other hills have looked a bit sickly, but appear to be recovering now. Several of the cantaloupe vines have blooms on them already. I still have one more row with space open for some late melons to be transplanted and/or direct seeded in the next few weeks.

Yellow squashOne of the cheeriest sights in our garden is always the bright yellow blooms on our yellow squash plants. I had space open at the end of a row and put in four bush Slick Pik YS 26 yellow squash, far more than we'll need. They have blooms and a few small squash on them now. The squash should get a bit larger with more soil moisture. Since I have four healthy plants, I'm going to try a new defense against squash bugs with one or two of the plants that a gardening friend suggested. She sprinkles lime on the leaves of the plants to deter the pests. I probably will have to spray the plants with fungicide, as they're on the shady end of the East Garden. Squash, both yellow and butternut, seem more susceptible to powdery mildew when grown where the sun doesn't hit them until late morning. We usually have to replant squash several times throughout the summer to have a steady supply. The plants either wear out or bugs or disease get them.

So we're off and gardening for June.

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Monday, June 4, 2012 - More Peas

Pea trellisesI picked more peas today in a light rain. We're still not getting the kind of soaking rain we really need, but some is better than none.

Our tall peas are pretty well done for. The Sugar Snap vines are now yellowing and the late replanting of Mr. Big peas really didn't get much of a chance. The other, more established, tall varieties crowded them, and they grew in the worst of the drought.

Our Encore and Eclipse peas, planted later than most of the tall peas but well before the Mr. Big, are producing a nice crop of mostly well filled out pods. Despite the recent light rains, we're still getting some pods that look like snow peas, as the plant puts its available moisture into the pea instead of the pod.

After a good bit of shelling, we froze a quart of peas this evening. That certainly isn't a lot, but we froze a pint a few days ago, and another pint a week ago, and another quart that same week. It all adds up, but we never seem to have enough frozen peas to last through the winter.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

We're down to just one row of peas, as I pulled and composted the vines from our trellis of tall pea varieties. Since it was a gorgeous day, and the soil was dry enough to be worked, I went ahead and began renovating the row in anticipation of transplanting cucumbers into it later this week.

I really didn't want to pull the T-posts and trellis to work the ground, so I unfastened the clothesline wire that holds the bottom of the trellis netting, pulling it up to allow the tiller to get at the center of the row. I made several passes with the tiller, raking out clumps of grass from time to time, as I'd allowed grass and weeds to encroach a bit on the pea row and vines. Once the soil was well worked and raked, I added a good sprinkling of lime and 12-12-12 fertilizer, and made a last pass with the rototiller.

Tilling pea row Adding lime and fertilizer Row done for now

JLP seedlingsI really wasn't totally thrilled with the condition of the bed when I was done, but have the luxury of a week of predicted dry, sunny weather. I'm hoping the sun will bake any weeds left on the surface before I get around to transplanting. I left the bottom of the trellis netting hooked to the top wire in case I decide to make another pass with the rototiller.

I'm also not in a big hurry to plant this row, as some of our cucumber transplants are just getting going. I had to replant our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, as the first planting from our saved seed didn't produce any sprouts! I'm also growing some JLPs from seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I plan to allow my saved seed plants and the ones from Baker Creek to cross, hoping to improve the viability and vitality of our Japanese Long Pickling strain.

Debbie Meyer Green BagsEven though the tall peas are out, we had fresh picked sweet peas from the garden with our supper tonight. I got a nice picking from our short pea varieties, Encore and Eclipse. Those vines appear to have at least one more good picking left before I'll need to pull them to make way for some family heirloom pole beans Dennis Mohon sent me.

I also cut a few sideshoots of broccoli this morning, along with a great picking of spinach. While I had to pull a few spinach plants that were bolting, most of the spinach had responded well to our recent, light rains. The washed and stemmed spinach leaves filled a Debbie Meyer Green Bag.

Friday, June 8, 2012

BeetsWilted beet plantsI picked a nice bunch of beets yesterday. I got them washed, peeled, and tops and roots trimmed, but ran out of time to finish them up. Today, I used all of the red beets in a nice recipe of Harvard beets. We had some for supper and enough left to freeze a quart and pint bag of them.

Truth be told, I think I like growing beets a lot better than I like eating them! I simply like the way beets look in the row with their red and green leaves. But Harvard beets, while probably not the healthiest option for eating beets, were always one of my late father's favorites when we went to the MCL Cafeteria in Indianapolis. On our last trip there before he passed away, we both had beets (and strawberry shortcake).

After picking the beets that were ready yesterday, I noticed today that the remaining beets were all somewhat wilted. When picking them, I was amazed at how dry the soil was. Of course, the onions, beets, and carrots are growing in our best drained raised garden bed. I think this is one time when a raised bed worked a bit against you.

I filled the wading pool today for our grandkids who are staying overnight. But as long as they don't splash too much water out, I should have 40-50 gallons I can bail out of the pool for the raised bed on Sunday.

The remaining beets, if they make it, will probably get pickled and canned, as pickled beets are one kind of beet I really like. When Annie was in the Cleveland Clinic in 2000, I loaded up a salad with lots and lots of pickled beets in their cafeteria. Unfortunately, until that time, I didn't know anything about cafeterias selling salads by the pound. So...I paid up and enjoyed my $10 salad with lots of heavy pickled beets.

Elephant garlicWe may have one last picking left on our remaining vines of peas, but the beets had to come out first. They were more than ready, being good slicing size, but definitely way too big to use as whole beets. I also need to get our garlic dug. I had dug one German garlic last week as a test and dug an elephant garlic yesterday to use in an alfredo-ravioli dish last night. Cooking with fresh garlic is a real treat. But the size of the elephant garlic told me it was probably time to get busy digging and drying our garlic for this year.

Ã…lfalfa emergingI'd wondered if the warm winter and the early emergence of our garlic might have some effect on the size of our garlic. The German garlic I dug last week was of just average size. The elephant garlic I dug yesterday was pretty large, even by elephant garlic standards. So it will be interesting to see the size and condition of the rest of the garlic, once I get it dug.

The little bit of rain we got last week was just enough to get our alfalfa seed to sprout. It also showed that I didn't broadcast the seed very evenly. But I'm happy it's up.

The rest of the East Garden, where not mulched, looks just as dry as the image of the alfalfa emerging. Our potatoes look pretty good, with a lot of the bare spots now having tiny plants emerging. Of course, potatoes have a bit of a moisture reservoir from the potato set. Our row of brassicas next to the potatoes have only survived with regular watering.

Potatoes and brassicas Sweet corn Melon rows
Potatoes & Brassicas Sweet corn Melon rows

In a normal gardening year, I'd just turn down the part of our sweet corn that germinated poorly. But this year, will there be any more moisture to pop up sweet corn later on? And when I went back and was poking seed into the large gaps between sweet corn plants, I unearthed several sweet corn seeds in the process of germinating. So maybe, just maybe, we'll make a crop of some sort.

Our melon rows still look good. The melon transplants got lots of water when transplanted and have been watered regularly since then. They also have a good layer of mulch around them to hold in moisture. But without a good soaking rain soon, it may be time to give up and start planning for next year!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Digging garlicDigging a garlicThe garlic came out today. Well, all the garlic but one blooming plant whose bloom I thought too pretty to dig! It also may produce some usable bulbils.

The garlic sorta defied what I though was going to be the result of a warm winter and spring. The elephant garlics were indeed a good bit larger than normal. But our German garlic was about the usual size or smaller than usual, with a lot of irregular bulbs.

One positive of all the dry weather is that we had no problems with early maturing bulbs beginning to rot in the ground.

CabbageBrussels sproutsBesides digging garlic, we got a light picking of peas today along with three heads of cabbage (One was in the pot boiling by the time I thought to grab a picture.), a nice head of cauliflower, and the first decent brussels sprouts I've ever grown. I always seem to lose brussels sprouts to bugs or hot weather. While the photo at right shows some bug damage, the sprouts were still good. I also got busy and sprayed all our brassicas once again with Thuricide to try and keep future sprouts a bit cleaner.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - Succession Planting

Lettuce successionAs some of our shorter season crops come out, we begin making succession plantings in the Senior Garden. Succession plantings, as we usually practice them, are plantings of a different crop following the harvest of a crop from a particular area of the garden. Doing so allows us to grow one, two, and occasionally three different crops during the season on the same piece of ground.

I'd already done one type of succession planting this spring, replacing our first planting of lettuce with more lettuce. But we're now to the point where crops are coming out, the soil is getting reworked, and a completely different crop is seeded or transplanted into an area.

Planting cucumbersOne of our more successful succession crops over the years has been following peas with vining cucumbers. Our tall pea vines came out a week ago. I delayed replanting the area while waiting for rain (We got a little.) and our cucumber transplants to mature a bit more. I did, however, work up the ground with the rototiller so that I'd have a weed free bed for our cucumbers.

Cucumbers and snapdragonsWith rain predicted for yesterday, I got busy over the weekend and began making several succession plantings. I ran the tiller over the pea/cucumber bed one more time, raking out a few more clumps of weeds before transplanting four "hills" of cucumbers along the 15' trellis. Each transplant got a hole filled with peat moss mixed with the native soil, a touch of lime, and a large handful of 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer. Since the rain at that point was anything but a sure thing, each hole was thoroughly watered, using several gallons of water containing dilute starter fertilizer and a touch of soluble seaweed fertilizer. The Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, which we use for slicing, pickles, and saved seed, share their trellis with snapdragons, a co-planting that has worked out quite well for us in the past (1, 2).

I had planned to pull our short peas over the weekend and replant with pole beans. When I looked carefully at the rather weathered pea vines, I saw that they were getting ready to bloom again, so I held off on that succession.

The area that had been in garlic and a row of cabbage and cauliflower also got reworked and planted on Sunday. I had to first rake up and remove the heavy layer of grass clipping mulch that I'd just pushed aside when digging the garlic on Saturday. This area is some of our best ground and had been thoroughly limed and worked last fall (and some this spring), so I could omit any general liming and fertilizing and just tilled as deeply as I could. Since getting the tiller close to the timbers that enclose the raised bed is tough, I first turned the ends of the bed with a garden fork.

Renovating bed

Kale row dibbleAfter a deep tilling and raking the bed smooth, I sprinkled a touch of lime over the area where I planned to seed kale. I worked the ground limestone in with a light touch with a garden rake before turning the rake over and using the handle to make a very shallow dibble for the tiny kale seed.

Planting kale seed brings up one of the problems with succession plantings. Since kale seed is so small, it must be planted quite shallow to be able to emerge. But often when doing a succession planting during the summer, the surface soil is quite dry, as it has been in our area for weeks. Even though we have a very limited water supply, this kale planting is one I will have to water until the seed germinates and emerges.

Also notice the walking boards in the photo at left. After loosening the soil by rototilling, it doesn't make much sense to compact the soil again by placing my full weight on it in the form of concentrated footprints. I use planting/walking boards to spread my considerable weight across the soil surface. It's a clumsy solution, as even 6" lumber feels like walking a tightrope at times, but it does help keep the soil loose.

I ended up using a whole 120 seed packet of Vates Blue Curled Kale seed to plant the row, so I'll hopefully have some thinning to do once it germinates and emerges. After firming the soil by patting it with my hand, it was time to move on to our first planting of green beans for this year.

Working in stuffI love green beans! Cooked with bacon, or just bacon drippings, some fatty ham if you have it, and lots of onions if your system can handle them, there are few fresh garden treats to compare. Multiple varieties of green beans in the pot just adds to the flavor, so I always try to plant at least three varieties of green beans in our garden each year. But with space constraints in our main garden, green beans almost always are planted in succession after garlic, lettuce, or broccoli come out of the early garden. I guess the waiting makes the beans all the better! (Should we all now sing a verse of Carly Simon's Anticipation?)

Seeding beansOne can plant green beans in a narrow or almost foot wide row, sparingly or with lots of seed. It's hard to go wrong planting them. I made a furrow about eight inches wide for this planting several inches deep. Then I sprinkled four or five handfuls of 12-23-11 commercial fertilizer and granular soil inoculant in the row and hoed it in, further loosening the soil under the bean bed.

While I prefer three or more varieties in my pot of beans, I only have one, fifteen foot row open right now, so I just went with two bean varieties, Burpee's Stringless Green Pod and the old faithful, Bush Blue Lakeicon. I have fresh Provider and Contendericon seed on hand for another row once space opens up, as well as some saved Strike seed and a lot of Jade, although it didn't do well for us last year. I'll have to hurry to get the other rows of beans in somewhere so that their harvests will overlap so I can include them all when canning beans.

Since I'm working in a rather confined area, future bean plantings will probably be the more traditional narrow row. But as you can see, for this first row, I planted a lot of seed across the 8" furrow. You get a lot more beans that way, but the wide row can be a bit of a hassle to pick.

I pulled several inches of soil back over the beans with the rake. Then I used the rake head to tamp down the soil over the freshly planted soil to help insure good soil contact with the seed. Note that I rarely leave my planting stakes and line over a row, pulling the stakes in favor of flower transplants to mark the row. I also tend to trip over strings left in the garden, and they can cut the stems of tender, emerging seedlings.

Once last chore for the area was to return some of the mulch to the crops adjacent to the new plantings. The rest of the used mulch went to the cucumber row. Depending on soil moisture conditions in the next month, I may or may not re-mulch the area once the kale and beans are up. Grass clipping mulch can be a mess if it gets on beans (or kale leaves) you're harvesting. Since both crops canopy well, weeding with the scuffle hoe often keeps bean and kale rows clean. But...with the weather we've had so far this year, I probably will have to mulch again to retain what little moisture there may be in the soil!

Succession plantings

Male cardinalFor the really sharp eyed folks reading this blog, yes, that's a male cardinal in the cucumber row photo towards the beginning of this posting, apparently monitoring my planting technique along "his trellis." I didn't have room to squeeze in the photo above.

Getting back to succession planting, there are a number of things to consider to make succession plantings successful. One has to be careful with the timing. Is there enough time left for the crop to mature? Watching crop rotation is also important so you don't limit where you can grow things the next year, or worse yet, have insect or disease carryover from planting the same crop in succession on the same piece of ground. Also, soil moisture for direct seeded crops can often be an issue. For us, the soil is often way too dry to direct seed crops when ground becomes available...often during our usual July dry spell. We're starting our succession plantings a bit early this year, but then, our dry spell has also come early.

PeppersI did a couple more plantings yesterday morning that could be considered succession plantings. One wasn't a happy one, as I had to replace a pepper plant that appeared to be infected with bacterial spot disease. While spraying with the biofungicide, Serenade, might have held the disease in check, this early and with uninfected plants nearby, the plant went. I replanted a bit off the hole from the previous infected planting. And yes, all the adjacent plants were thoroughly doused with Serenade.

I also took a last picking from our row of spinach before pulling all the plants. Picking was a bit difficult, as almost two-thirds of the plants were putting on seed heads and their leaves would have been bitter. As it turned out, we had a delicious spinach salad with our supper last night. Hopefully, we'll have good spinach again this fall (in yet another succession planting).

I replaced the spinach row with a few marigolds and a little something extra. I've always wondered if those hard, little garlic cloves that grow on the outside of the main bulb of elephant garlic might grow if replanted. I've read that they're tough to get to germinate. I'd just pitched them into one of the dogs' water bowls after digging our garlic. (My wife says she heard that garlic water helps prevent fleas, but I noticed the dogs avoiding that bowl after at first tanking up on the garlic water.) Since I had the mulch pulled back a bit when removing the spinach and transplanting marigolds, I stuck them into the row to see what happens.

Main garden bed

If you're new to succession planting, here are some links that may prove helpful:

Note that most of the articles linked above suggest mapping out ones intended succession plantings. Mapping, while certainly not as fulfilling as getting ones hands dirty in the soil, does provide a good record of what was planted, or is to be planted, where. I've kept my garden charts for years using ClarisWorks/AppleWorks. Sadly, Apple has chosen to orphan their excellent office suite, so I'm going to eventually have to switch over to some other program to do it (or install an emulator such as Sheepshaver to allow me to use AppleWorks under Mac OS X Lion, which is on my new laptop). The "brackety" thingies in the center are my moveable measuring sticks, graduated in one and three foot increments, my common spacing requirements.


I have a big, bonus space coming up in our main bed. When the onions and lettuce come out, that will open a lot of space for future succession plantings...if there's any moisture in the ground to grow the stuff.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Yellow SquashI remarked to my wife, Annie, at dinner this evening that I hadn't picked anything from the garden today. It made me realize that we've been enjoying fresh picked vegetables almost every day for weeks. Despite not picking today, we did have leftover spinach salad with supper. I also had put the last of our spring spinach to boil, so it wouldn't go to waste spoiling in the refrigerator.

Yesterday, I looked at our yellow squash plants and told myself, "one more day," before picking. But I found myself saying the same thing again today. We really should have some nice yellow squash to enjoy by the weekend. I already have a couple more pots of yellow squash started on the back porch. They are one vegetable that I just keep planting regularly, as the plants wear out and/or get taken by disease or bugs.

My main gardening chore for the day was getting our open pollinated Quinte, or Easy Peel, tomatoes transplanted. We started growing Moira and Quinte tomatoes shortly after their introduction in the mid-1970s. Both varieties disappeared from commercial seed catalogs as vendors rapidly replaced most open pollinated varieties with hybrids in the 80s. We were some of the few who continued to grow open pollinated varieties of merit and offer them to others via the Seed Savers Exchange.

While I've preserved our original strain of the excellent Moira variety all these years, I lost our start of Quintes, as I didn't grow them out often enough. A reader looking for Moira seed last fall put me onto the Germplasm Resources Information Network of the USDA which had Quinte seed available for research purposes. They quickly approved my application for the seed, and a few months later, a packet with a 50 seed sample of Quinte arrived.

Quintes isolatedI didn't get the Quintes transplanted when I put in our other tomatoes, as they had the misfortune of being in the same flat as a tomato plant that developed bacterial spot disease. The infected plant wasn't a Quinte, but rather, a commercial variety. Whether it was infected seed or contamination from some other source, the infected plant was thrown out and all the other tomato plants in the flat quarantined.

Since I'm growing out the Quinte tomatoes to save seed from them (as well as for table and canning use), they need to be isolated from our other tomatoes. We have several tomato varieties growing in our main, raised bed garden. Three Moira tomato plants for seed production (and table use) are in our East Garden. While tomatoes pretty much self-pollinate, a hundred yard separation is really necessary to insure purity of seed. So the Quintes went in at the far end of the field from our East Garden near the barn. The sunlight there isn't ideal, and the soil is terrible! But with some landscape fabric to hold down weeds and a lot of peat moss and fertilizer in the planting holes, I hope the plants are able to ripen a few fruit for the table and seed saving.

Since I'm just rambling a bit tonight, let me share some info about the Moira and Quinte tomato varieties from The Long Island Seed Project:

MOIRA- determinate, canning or juice processor, very meaty, firm red, nice interiors, oblate, deep 2-3", early, a compact development from HIGH CRIMSON, a cultivar with dark crimson, red interiors (ripen from the inside out). Developed in 1972 by Jack Metcalf, Smithfield Experimental Farm/Agriculture Canada. The original source of the high crimson gene used to breed HIGH CRIMSON was KANATTO, a selection by Canadian breeder T. Graham of an ungainly sprawling Philippines wild tomato. Graham developed HIGH CRIMSON and a sister-line, CRIMSON SPRINTER. Metcalf, in turn used this genetic material to breed QUINTE, BELLESTAR and EARLIBRIGHT, all sister lines of MOIRA .

QUINTE aka "EASY PEEL" as marketed by Park Seed Co, in the 1970's., Smithfield Exp. Farm, Canada, 1976, high crimson interior gene, skin peels off without hot water, firm, deep globe 2 1/2" red fruit. Determinate, healthy, heavy vines with many fruit.

Note that our original seed for both the Moira and Quinte varieties came from Stokes Seeds.

While I was outside this evening getting a shot of the Quintes, I walked back to our East Garden. From the south, part of our sweet corn planting didn't look too bad...from a distance and in waning light. The light green ground cover to the right of the sweet corn is our planting of alfalfa. I seeded it the day before we got a light rain. Apparently, it was just enough to get the alfalfa going.

Corn and alfalfa

I have a five pound bag of buckwheat seed stored in the garage. When the sweet corn comes out (or withers and dies from lack of moisture mixed), I'll seed that area to buckwheat. At that point, we'll have almost all of the ground used last year in the East Garden in cover crops, building energy for next year.

Bonnie's asparagusI wrote earlier this month about "Bonnie's asparagus patch." It's a patch of asparagus the farmland owner no longer uses and suggested we harvest if we were so inclined. Although we have our own fabulous asparagus bed, you never have too much asparagus (for the table, family, and friends).

Amazon - Canon Digital Rebel XSiI'd taken several photos of the asparagus patch this year, but really wasn't happy with any of them. This evening, after snapping a shot of our main gardens, I shifted to manual exposure on my Canon Digital Rebel XSi, bracketed the shot a full f/stop each way from the metered value, and finally got a nice shot of the asparagus patch. It looks a good bit better now, as the farm renter mowed around the patch when he was mowing the roadside and edges of his fields last week.

I'm a bit amazed that the asparagus patch has survived so long with so little care and really, a lot of abuse. Sometimes the farm renters have mowed the patch down several times over the summers, not knowing or caring that it was there. In the eighteen years we've lived here, I've never seen anyone add any fertilizer to the patch, although I gave it several handfuls of 11-23-11 last fall.

Sunroom windowOur photos that appear at the beginning of this blog and today, of Bonnie's asparagus patch, are taken from a rather high, second story window from what the previous owners of the house called the sunroom. While the room below it, added on probably in the 40s or 50s, is heated, the sunroom has no ductwork and little to no insulation, so it's really only habitable in the spring and fall. We use it for storage, my computer workshop, and taking pictures out the window of our main garden.

IIfx and QuicksilverFor any antique Mac computer enthusiasts reading this blog, that's my fully functional, internet capable Mac IIfx supporting an old Apple 1705 monitor in the sunroom/computer workshop. However, the monitor in the shot is being driven by the QuickSilver dual 1 GHz in the photo. It was briefly retired in February when I switched over to using a Mac Mini as my main computer, only to be put back into service last month when a second, backup Mac G5 toasted its motherboard. (Note, the G5's were seven year old computers that had seen heavy service. The terribly noisy but multi-functional Quicksilver is even older, but hasn't seen as many hours of service as the failed G5's had.)

Since the window I take the photos from is perpetually dirty, I open the top of it to grab our garden shots. Over the years, lots of wasps have flown in while I was taking photos with the window open. One time, a barn swallow flew in, did a lap around the room, and fortunately, flew back out!

Like most hundred plus year old houses, ours always has something that needs repair, painting, or replacement. Someday when I'm rich and famous, I'd like to get some heating and air conditioning for the sunroom to make it more usable year-round.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Single Granny Smith appleCluster of Granny SmithsAs I took the camera out to the East Garden to grab a couple of shots today, I got a pleasant surprise. I stopped under our semi-dwarf Granny Smith apple tree to see if it had any fruit on it. It hasn't borne fruit since almost being vanquished by a fireblight outbreak that killed our standard Stayman Winesap apple tree. When I looked up, I first spotted a single, unblemished apple. And then beyond it, much higher, was a cluster of four more Granny Smiths.

What apples we've gotten the last few years since losing the winesap have come from a volunteer apple tree along the side of the road. It apparently was the pollinator for the Granny Smith, as our replacement winesap tree was still too small to bloom this year. The volunteer tree produces small, but very flavorful Red Delicious type fruit...only better.

If you're dealing with fireblight in your fruit trees, cutting out the infected sections and disposing of the cuttings is about the only remedy. And it only works if you cut the infected sections out before the disease moves to the roots of the tree. Streptomycin spray helps prevent reinfection, but can't save already infected limbs.

Tam Dew honeydewHowden pumpkinThe stuff I was out to take pictures of wasn't nearly as exciting as the apple surprise. I added a hill each of Tam Dew honeydew and Howden pumpkins to our last row of melons. I'd purposely left the row open for late plantings and still have some watermelons germinating on the back porch for a late crop.

We had a Tam Dew start in our original bunch of melon transplants, but it succumbed to a sudden striped cucumber beetle infestation of our transplants while under the cold frame. Since we really liked the Tam Dew variety last year, our first year to try it, I started another pot of them.

The pumpkin hill may be going in a little early. I'm not sure why I started the transplant so soon, as we generally get our best pumpkins by waiting and timing maturity to just before Halloween. But I started it, and it was ready to transplant today.

East Garden

The view above shows the last row left for late melons pretty clearly. It's very close to the edge of the garden, but I can spray or mulch down the grass if the vines run that way.

The yellow squash I mentioned yesterday did get picked today...five of them. I was out transplanting and set the squash aside in the shade until I was done. I forgot them, the shade shifted, and the squash baked in the sun several hours! They were only fit for tossing onto the compost pile.

With four bush yellow squash plants, we still should have plenty of squash. Once they begin blooming and setting fruit, picking is a daily activity, as they're tremendously productive.

Limed squash plantYellow squashBut right behind the squash plants beginning to produce is the annual invasion of squash bugs. Our plants show some signs of insect damage, but I haven't found any squash bugs or eggs on them yet. They're sure to come, though, especially with pumpkins now in the ground and with a hill of butternut squash still to be transplanted. Squash bugs love them all. And I've already found a few squash bugs in our main garden.

I took the advice of a local gardener and sprinkled a little ground limestone on the plant leaves today, as she said it deterred squash bugs. But I'll have to be vigilant, as once squash bugs invade, it seems they can destroy plants in just a day or two.

We're still watering where we can do some good, but not so much as to stress our well. I hauled a cart of water to the East Garden this morning for the transplanting and also gave a few other plants a good drink. I've also been watering our newly seeded row of kale and was rewarded today by three tiny, tiny kale plants having emerged. I'll keep watering the kale row until the full row emerges.

Friday, June 15, 2012 - Planting More Beans

Broccoli out

Short pea vines
Peas out

After picking some rather "hot" broccoli yesterday, I decided it was time for the broccoli plants to make way for another planting of green beans. Likewise, our row of short peas also came out, making way for a row of pole beans. I really hated to pull the peas, as they were trying to bloom again, but without a good bit of rain, we'd just get more dwarfed, flattened pods. The vines were already browning in places. Of course, without some rain, we won't get the beans out of the ground either.

The broccoli leaves and the pea vines went to our compost pile. The heavy, fibrous stems of the broccoli plants went into a hole I'm filling with slow-to-decompose material.

Planting pole beansI began the planting where the old pea vines had been. Rather than pull up the bottom of the trellis and rototill as I'd done over the weekend, I chose to manually clean up and prepare the planting row. With things as dry as they are now, I really don't need to be fluffing and drying out the soil with the tiller. A bit of hand weeding and a quick pass with the scuffle hoe removed a few weeds from the sides of the planting area. I spread 11-23-11 fertilizer, lime, and granular inoculant down the row and hoed them in well before making a furrow.

The bean seed is something really special. It's a family heirloom greasy bean Dennis Mohon shared with me. I'd soaked the seed for several hours before planting and also added a little water to the furrow before seeding it and closing it up. I soaked way more seed than I needed, so the row is seeded pretty heavily.

Aother bean rowWhen I moved on to the previous broccoli row, the first job there was to rake up the grass clipping mulch. It went around the new pole bean planting.

After marking the row with a string, I hoed the row as deeply as possible. Then I used a rake to make a six inch wide furrow. I spread 11-23-11 fertilizer, lime, and granular inoculant and worked them in several inches deep with the hoe before seeding the row in thirds with Strike, Provider, and Contendericon.

With today's plantings, we now have six varieties of beans seeded. If they come up, and if they mature around the same time, we should have a nice mix of beans for fresh eating and canning.

It's not often that I choose to use a garden hoe instead of the tiller for working up ground. But I'd left myself a bit of a tight spot to work where I pulled the broccoli. The brussels sprouts at the end of the rows are still producing, and I have flowers at the other end of the row. Combined with the dry soil conditions, an old fashioned garden hoe was by far the better tool for today's plantings. There's also something special about working the soil by hand, as you can better assess the soil conditions than you can when working up ground with a tiller.

I'm sorta relieved to have this round of succession plantings done. It's often a tough call on when to pull the broccoli, dig the garlic, or pull the pea vines. Do it too early, and you miss some harvest. Do it too late, and all sorts of bad stuff can happen, including running out of days to grow your next crop. Our main raised bed looks pretty bare right now, but with a little rain, it should be canopied in green in just a few weeks.

Main garden bed

Monday, June 18, 2012

rain gaugeJust an eighthI'd been using a variety of buckets as rain gauges for years, so my thoughtful wife, Annie, got me a real rain gauge for Father's Day. She was a bit apologetic in giving it to me, as we've had almost nothing to measure in any kind of rain gauge here for months. Maybe adding a rain gauge was the mojo we needed, as we got around an eighth of an inch of rain Sunday night! While not exactly a drought breaker, we're thankful for any precipitation we get right now.

Any flat-sided, flat-bottomed bucket or container will function as a rain gauge. Add a ruler for a bit of precision in measurement, or a finger in the bottom and a little estimation, and you've got an effective rain gauge.

I actually needed a commercial gauge, or at least something up off the ground. My wife's latest rescue, a puppy named Petra, had taken to knocking over any bucket I left out, and occasionally chewed a bit on the sides.

Let me add that most inexpensive rain gauges die an early death from cracking after having water left in them in freezing weather

Peppers set onBaby kaleWe continue to have good fortune in crops producing despite the dry conditions. I noticed that we now have some nice peppers set on. They're smaller than usual, probably due to the drought, but they're there and ripening! Our tomato plants are also setting fruit. And our kale row that I've been watering every morning is now beginning to germinate. I even saw a few green bean plants poking up out of the ground in the next row over.

As I mentioned here previously, our main garden plots in the back yard look pretty bare right now, as we've harvested peas, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, replacing each with a succession planting.

main raised bed plot a

Potato rows

Volunteer apple tree
Volunteer apples

Our rows of potatoes in the East Garden, shown at left between a row of zinnias on one side and a row of late brassicas on the other, look quite good considering the dry weather. There are no signs of insect damage or disease as yet. We have one row of Red Pontiac and another of Kennebec, the two most commonly grown varieties in our area.

I really like having at least one border row of flowers somewhere in our garden plots, and zinnias are one of my favorites for that purpose. I have some nasturtium seed I may edge the other side of the East Garden with if it appears we might get a good rain.

And when writing about our Granny Smith apple tree last week, I mentioned the nearby volunteer apple tree that probably was the pollinator for the Granny Smith. I didn't get a good photo of the volunteer tree then, so I grabbed a few shots of it yesterday. I've cleared away a good many of the trees and bushes that threatened to overwhelm the tree, but it still is getting crowded by overhanging branches. It's loaded with lots of small apples just beginning to show a blush of red. The tree will self-prune many of the apples, but it appears that we'll get a good many more than the five or six we picked and ate last year while working in the nearby East Garden.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - Gloxinias

Gloxinias on plant rackDespite my best efforts to have gloxinias in bloom year around, our older plants seem to sense the change in seasons and emerge from dormancy during the summer. It's a good thing that we're done for now growing transplants for the garden on our plant rack, as all three shelves are almost totally filled with gloxinias in various stages of growth.

Baby gloxiniasPart of the logjam is due to the volunteer gloxinias I found in one of our plant pots in December coming into their own. Somehow, a flower had pollinated and seed from it spilled into several surrounding plant pots. I first put the volunteer plants in fourpacks, gradually uppotting them to three and four inch pots. They're now putting on a good bit of growth, beginning to bloom, and requiring more space than I'd ever envisioned.

Usually, our top shelf of the plant rack is reserved for blooming gloxinias. This year, the bloomers have filled the top shelf and need parts of the other two shelves to hold them all.

Blooming gloxinias

From time to time, I get emails requesting further information on how to handle gloxinias during their dormancy. Our gloxinia feature story covers the subject, but folks are understandably concerned about not watering their prize plants during the necessary multi-month dormancy period. The most recent such email arrived yesterday and got the same answer as always, "No, no water during dormancy."

White and purple gloxiniasAnd once a plant goes through a few growth and dormancy cycles, some wonderful things begin to happen. When the corms break dormancy after their third or fourth such cycle, they tend to grow much faster than one might expect. Large varieties such as Empress, begin to put on huge leaves and an incredible number of large blooms.

We've been enjoying a mature gloxinia with large, white blooms for a month or so in our kitchen window. After carrying over twenty blooms at a time for several weeks, it's beginning to wind down this blooming cycle. It may well be the best gloxinia we've ever grown. A little pinching of leaves trying to grow in the center of the plant which would obstruct emerging blooms was the only special care this fourth cycle plant required.

Bringing another gloxinia upstairs to eventually replace the superstar white gloxinia in our kitchen window got me writing about them.

Obviously, I'm being a little lazy today. It's really hot and humid outside, but the soil is still incredibly dry. In other words, it's a great day to stay inside, soak up air conditioning, and pretty much ignore the garden.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Compost pileI went out to our large East Garden yesterday just to get a little compost to use when transplanting a hosta. I'd added four hostas to our front flowerbeds last summer, but the dogs like to lie in those beds in hot weather, and we lost one plant. I screened what compost I needed, but realized that the pile really wasn't ready and needed to be turned.

I ended up turning both our long-term compost pile and the working pile into one big compost pile. The long-term pile, filled with broccoli stems, asparagus stalks, evergreen trimmings, oak leaves, and other slow-to-digest material had really broken down better than I'd hoped for over the winter. A few heavier stalks and sticks got thrown on the burn pile, but most of it went into the new, combined pile. The working pile had broken down a bit more, but still needed more time to digest. While I mixed a bit of fertilizer and lime into the new, big pile, the thing it needs the most is moisture. I added a couple of buckets of water to the center of the pile, but as with all other areas of our garden, the pile needs a good rain.

Melon rowsOf course, once started, there were lots of things that needed doing in the East Garden. Even without much rainfall, weeds have been germinating between our mulched rows of melons, so I ran the rototiller along the edges of the rows, just leaving the weeds in the center of the aisles to deal with later. I really need to widen the mulched area for our melons, but with little to no rain, there's no grass to mow for mulch.

Sweet potatoesWith the tiller out, I turned some peat moss into what was supposed to be our first row of sweet corn. The corn didn't germinate, so I transplanted eight Nancy Hall sweet potato slips into half of the row. It's pretty late to be transplanting sweet potatoes, but I had the space and some very healthy plants, so why not.

Pole beans upI also replaced our hill of Boule D'or honeydew that had died, and put in a new hill of Crimson Sweet watermelon. While not a vining crop, I used a bit of our last, partially open melon row for an eggplant, and following our usual practice, transplanted a hill of Waltham Butternut squash where one of the compost piles had been outside the East Garden proper.

In our main garden, my watering efforts were rewarded by our row of pole beans popping out of the ground and the mulch that surrounds them. I actually had to pull the mulch back a little bit so that it wouldn't impede the emergence of the young bean sprouts.


I've tried not to dwell on the lack of rain this year, but the photos above tell a bit of the story. Our ground where there isn't heavy mulch is bone dry. A report from WSBT-TV in Mishawaka, Drought monitors: 80 percent of Indiana parched, just confirms what we see outside. The U.S. Drought Monitor Report for the Week Ending June 19 from the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, relates how widespread drought conditions are right now for much of the country.

In contrast, folks in Duluth and northeast Minnesota are suffering from severe flooding after a ten inch rainfall!

Saturday, June 23, 2012 - Squash Bugs (Yuck!)

East Garden

Squash bug damageSquash bug eggsI got up early this morning so I could spray the untilled portions of the aisles between our melons with Roundup without fear of the spray drifting. As I rounded the end of the row where our four yellow squash plants are growing, I noticed the telltale sign of squash bugs on one of the plant's leaves - eggs. I'd noticed leaf damage over the last few days, but wasn't sure of the source, as I found a striped cucumber beetle on one of the plants, but no squash bugs.

I'd been trying an organic deterrent a friend at our local garden store recommended, sprinkling ground limestone on the leaves of squash and related plants to at least annoy squash bugs. Actually, I think it helped, as I didn't find a single squash bug on our squash plants or on our hill of pumpkin plants. But there were lots of eggs, a sure sign squash bugs had been there. (The squash bug photo at left is from 2010.)

Squash bugHaving tried organic, I checked my chemical tub and found I was out of both liquid Sevin and Eight (same thing, different names). So I substituted a broad spectrum mix I had a little left of, along with the last of my rotenon-pyrethrin, and gave the plants a thorough spraying. Even though I've now gone chemical with my bug defense, I think I'll continue sprinkling the limestone dust on susceptible plants, as it did seem to have some positive effect.

Butternut squash plantsAnother hill that got a good spraying was our newly transplanted butternut squash. Squash bus love these plants, too. Our hill of butternuts is just outside our regular East Garden, planted on the site of a previous compost pile. I've found that if one gives butternuts the fertility they want, they'll just about take over any area they are planted in. Over the last few years, I've taken to segregating our butternuts outside the regular garden. There, they are free to vine as far as they can, or at least as far as I'm willing to mulch to hold down weeds. The hill shown at right still needs to be mulched.

Our purple kitchen gloxinia that I wrote about last Tuesday has exploded into full bloom. I counted sixteen open blossoms this morning with many, many more buds maturing under the canopy of blooms and leaves.

Gloxinias in kitchen

I cleaned up and added to my comments from last week about succession planting and put it up as a feature story yesterday.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - "Yeah, but it's a dry heat."


Rather than share the images I've been taking of stuff burning up in our gardens from lack of rain, I thought I'd just use the shot I got yesterday of buzzards loitering in a tree across the road from us. With the mercury headed for a hundred or more later this week, I wonder if they're just waiting for us to drop.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quinte tomatoes
Dead Quinte

The two weather stations closest to us are reporting 0.44 and 0.15 inches of precipitation for the month of June. Add to that their May figures of 2.13 and 1.19 inches of precipitation, and that pretty well explains the devastation we're seeing in our garden plots. Our onions are prematurely falling over, the carrots are a mess, and there's not much to do but hope for rain.

New QuinteI did replace one of the two Quinte tomato plants this morning that I'd put in near the barn a few weeks ago. I'd segregated the open pollinated plants to make sure they wouldn't cross-pollinate with any of our other tomatoes. I noticed yesterday that one plant hadn't made it, and since I still had an extremely healthy extra on the porch, I moved it into the ground today. While I gave the transplant lots of water, without rain, it doesn't stand much of a chance.

Our second planting of lettuce has all gone to seed, but that was to be expected. I only transplanted it because I had the plants and the space on the chance we might get a bit more fresh lettuce.

The one crop seemingly unaffected by the drought is our yellow squash. One of the plants was simply loaded with bright yellow squash this morning. Some of the squash are a bit smaller than usual, and one has to pick them promptly, as they begin to spoil quickly once they ripen.

We also have several cantaloupe and watermelon setting fruit. That has been a surprise to me, as melons usually don't set new fruit in very hot and dry least for us. Possibly due to the deep holes with lots of organic matter we used at planting and mulching, there are a few melons now. And of course, maybe we just got lucky.

And our row of zinnias lining the west side of the East Garden are beginning to bloom...and wilt a bit.

Yellow squash Cantaloupe Watermelon Watermelon

June animated gifConsidering the weather conditions, we're not doing too badly.

Here's our animated gif of the main garden for June.

May, 2012

July, 2012

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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