Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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The Old Guy's Garden Record

June 16, 2014


Sunday, June 1, 2014

We're beginning June after a fairly dry month of May. Most of the crops we have mulched with grass clippings seem to have adequate soil moisture right now.

Main garden viewed from south to north Main garden viewed from east to west

Despite the lack of rain, this is a pretty time in the garden. Crops are maturing and our flowers around the borders of our raised beds are coming into bloom.

Small head of broccoli

Barbados letltuce bolted
Good lettuce draining in sink

Daily high temperatures in the 80s have pushed our early broccoli into setting much smaller heads than normal. There's not much to be done for that, other than to pick and enjoy the small heads and then wait for sideshoots to appear on the plants.

We also are beginning to have lettuce bolt just as we were ready to begin picking. The Barbados lettuce at right should have been picked several days ago, but had gone to seed by this morning. Fortunately, we grow a lot of varieties of lettuce each spring, knowing full well that some will bolt before we can use them. But we also picked three good lettuce this morning and some very nice spinach.

Our asparagus patchAs our broccoli and lettuce come into season, our asparagus is now done producing for the year. I quit picking shoots several days ago. As often happens, the asparagus responded by putting up lots of thick shoots that we could have picked. But it was really time to let the asparagus patches begin growing and building up energy for next year's crop.

While I didn't snap a picture of them during my morning garden chores, I noticed that our tall peas are trying to fill out their pods. We have a good chance of rain tonight that could really help them along.

Sweet corn plants emergingWhile June is often a month of tending planted crops and harvesting some, we still have a bit of planting to get done. I have two isolation patches yet to plant to tomatoes, paprika peppers, and pole beans. There are also a lot of flower and herb transplants under the cold frame that need to go into the ground. We must be doing okay on our planting, however, as I'm almost out of tomato and pepper cages.

AmazonAs granddaughter Katherine and I took some kitchen and garden refuse out to the compost pile early this afternoon, she must have thought her grandpa had lost it. Passing the area of our East Garden where I planted sweet corn last Monday, I grabbed my camera and dove to my stomach. I had to get a shot of the emerging sweet corn (as if it might disappear if I didn't record it). With the soil surface like powder, the sweet corn had no business finding enough moisture to germinate, but it did!

This evening, I'll need to spread the contents of our vacuum cleaner around the area and also spray the plants with some smelly, nasty tasting stuff to keep the deer from feasting on the newly emerged corn. The sweeper bag has "human odors" which may scare off the deer, and the Bobbex is enough to offend any creature's nose.

I think we're off to a good start for June!

Our East Garden - June 1, 2014

 
 

Monday, June 2, 2014

East Garden - corn patch in foreground
Sweet corn up an inch or two

Geraniums at ends of corn rowsI dressed up the East Garden this morning by replacing the wooden row marker stakes around our sweet corn with geraniums and snapdragons. We had lots of both flowers on hand, and they certainly are prettier than the wooden stakes. While using flowers for row markers works great in the excellent soil in our raised beds, in the East Garden's heavy clay, it's pretty much a 50-50 proposition on whether the flowers will make it or not.

The area looks a lot better than it has due to a half inch of rain yesterday, plus a bit more as I finished up the transplanting job. Most of our sweet corn is up an inch or more, although there are two or three five foot gaps in the seven rows of corn. If the current rains we're experiencing don't cause seed in those gaps to germinate, I have around 24 corn transplants growing in fourpacks on the back porch to fill in the gaps.

While rainy periods such as the one we are in are essential to growing good crops, they can also be a time when your garden gets away from you. Heavy rains and muddy conditions may interrupt outdoor work, but the weed seeds in the ground don't go on vacation. They seem to increase their rate of germination at such times. We've had several years where weeds have almost taken over our sweet corn patch during similar wet periods. That may explain why I was out with my scuffle hoe working the ground in between our emerging rows of sweet corn yesterday and pulling the odd weed I could reach this morning from the edges of the patch. Hopefully, that will slow down the weeds until I can get back into the patch with the rototiller or scuffle hoe to cultivate and possibly work a bit more fertilizer into the ground parallel to the corn rows.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Senior Garden - June 4, 2014Rain gaugeWhat had been forecast to be a rainy day today turned out to be some light morning showers followed by clear, windy weather. The quarter inch of precipitation we received this morning brought our June total up to around an inch and a half. Following a dry second half of May, we could still use some more rain, but our lawn and garden plots look a lot better now than they did a week ago.

Knowing we had rain predicted for today, I mowed and raked our lawn yesterday. The amount of grass clippings was a good bit less from previous mowings, but enough to allow me to re-mulch our raised bed of garlic, beets, and celery. The initial layer of mulch I'd put down around the plants in early May had begun to wear thin in places, allowing seedling weeds to emerge. As grass clipping mulch decays, the need for such reapplications isn't all that unusual and is far easier to do than constantly hand weeding our raised beds.

Mulched garlic bedAlong with mulching, I also pulled the existing mulch away from our four celery plants in the bed to allow me to hill soil around the base of each plant. Such hilling seems to encourage stalk growth, tenderness, and bleaching. I hilled the soil around the celery to about six inches below the plants' top leaf growth.

Hilled and mulched celeryI didn't hill soil around our celery last year and paid the price. We ended up with some tall, tough celery stalks. I hadn't grown celery in years, though, so I was encouraged enough by last year's plants to try again this year. I remember my mother telling of her dad and my great grandfather growing celery in old washtubs whose bottoms had rusted out. She said they'd stack the tubs as needed, filling them with soil so that only the topgrowth of the celery was exposed.

Lacking old washtubs and having planted our celery in a row, I'll eventually need to use some old boards along the sides of the celery to continue hilling the plants. Note that the grandpas also kept their celery washtubs close to the back door of the house.

Broccoli head with quarter for size reference
Pea vines on double trellis

Flowers edging raised bedsI had to make a second trip out to the garden this morning with my camera and a quarter to record the size of our broccoli this year. With the rain, the heads I haven't picked yet are putting on a bit more size, although far less than the usual, giant, soccer ball sized heads we often get. The quarter was for a size reference.

We had steamed broccoli with cheese sauce with our dinner Monday night, the first pickings of the season. It was delicious. But from the look of the head shown at left, I'd better get picking (well, cutting) again soon, or I'll have opened yellow broccoli flowers and bitter heads. Once the main heads are picked, the plants should begin putting on sideshoots, smaller but still tasty heads that come in some volume for several weeks. We also have more broccoli in our East Garden, but it's coming along very slowly and also is suffering from some rabbits that like broccoli as much as we do.

Our tall peas planted between a double trellis seem to have mostly grown outside the north side of the trellis. I'd put up the double trellis in hopes that it might protect the pea vines from falling over when filled with heavy pods in the strong winds we get here. Today's windy weather may be a good test of the double trellis, as the vines are now filled with long pods that are slowly plumping.

The flowers we've planted as row markers and more later as edging to our raised beds are bursting into full bloom now. While our vegetable crops will come and go in succession, the flowers stay all season, providing a continuing delight for the eyes.

Trays of sweet corn, cucumber, and flower transplantsWe still have several trays of flowers on our back porch and under our cold frame to put out in the flowerbeds around the house. Along with the flowers shown at right is our tray of sweet corn transplants. By tomorrow I should be able to tell where I'll need to fill gaps in our sweet corn rows. Also in the sweet corn tray are a couple of fourpacks of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plants. They'll be a succession planting on our double trellis once our tall peas are done.

Planning for the Fall Garden

JSS Fall Planting CalculatorHaving mentioned succession plantings above and with another rain shower possibly moving in, I'll go ahead and mention here that it's getting close to time to start transplants for the fall garden! I know it seems incredibly early to be thinking about such things, but if one needs to order seed, you'd better do it now to be ready to start seed indoors or in a cold frame later this month.

Floating row cover over lettuce and spinachWe usually start our fall broccoli and cauliflower about mid-June. Even that early date often leaves our cauliflower a bit short on time to mature without frost protection, as the shorter days of fall extend plants' days-to-maturity a week or two. Besides the brassicas, we'll later seed lots of lettuce which often extends our growing (and eating) season well into November (again with some frost protection from either floating row covers or cold frames). While one can direct seed lettuce for a fall garden, our growing conditions through the middle of summer are often too dry to reliably direct seed fall crops, so we just start transplants indoors as we did in March. We will, however, direct seed both fall carrots and spinach into the garden, watering the plantings as much as our puny well will permit.

Johnny's Selected Seeds provides an excellent, downloadable spreadsheet tool that can help one know when to start and/or set out stuff for the fall garden. If you lack a spreadsheet program on your computer, the one in the free, open source OpenOffice Suite works quite well. You will need to enter your approximate first frost date and then the Fall-Harvest Planting Calculator calculates the appropriate planting or transplanting dates for a good number of fall vegetables.

Later

More tomatoes and peppersThe skies cleared a bit again mid-afternoon and I was able to get one of our remote plots planted. An online gardening friend had suggested I try the Mountain Fresh tomato variety because of its resistance to Early Blight and had sent me a sample of the seed. During the course of our online discussions, I also picked up a packet of the related, Mountain Merit variety, as it has resistance to both Early and Late Blight. Both varieties are hybrids, but also are said to produce fruit a good bit larger than the open pollinated varieties we grow. The friend noted they had great flavor.

I drove a T-post into the ground between the tomato cages for support. Wiring the cages to the T-posts helps prevent the cages from blowing over when they're top heavy with fruit. Also, many of the "legs" at the bottom of the old cages have broken off.

Broccoli and cauliflowerI also transplanted six paprika pepper plants into the area. Only one pepper plant got a cage, as I've run out of the smaller cages I use to keep peppers up off the ground. Since we don't intend to save seed from these paprika peppers this year (have plenty of seed frozen from last year), I closely transplanted Alma, Feher Ozon, and Hungarian paprika peppers into the plot. And while we'll use these peppers to make dried, spicy paprika powder, our main thrust this year in drying and grinding paprika will be from Paprika Supreme peppers to produce a mild, reddish Spanish paprika.

Later, Annie and I cut broccoli and cauliflower. We got four nice heads of broccoli and two very heavy heads of cauliflower. As I twisted the cauliflower plants from the ground, Annie commented, "I guess cauliflower plants don't produce sideshoots." Sadly, they don't.

We have one remote, isolation plot yet to plant. It will go to a couple of Quinte tomato plants (and my last two, very beat up tomato cages) and a short row of Mohon's Greasy Beans, a family heirloom pole bean Dennis Mohon sent me a few years ago. While we have soybeans planted all around us, the isolation plot is back by the barn, has woods on three sides of it, and is over a hundred yards from any other beans (soy or ours) that might cross with the pole beans. While we'll definitely eat some of the beans, the planting is more of a seed crop, as I'd like to help preserve this variety.

Burpee Gardening

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tiny weeds starting in sweet corn patch

When you look closely at the ground and see grass seedlings such as the ones shown at left from our sweet corn patch, it's time to do some scuffle hoe weeding. While our ground is still too wet to run the rototiller up and down the rows of sweet corn to clean up the weeds, a scuffle (action, or hula) hoe makes fairly quick work of them by cutting the weeds at the soil surface while also fluffing the top half to three-fourths inch of soil a bit.

I started working on the weeds last evening and finished the job this morning, hoeing the aisles between our seven rows of corn and the nasturtiums and kidney beans adjacent to the sweet corn. With care, one can use a scuffle hoe right up beside plants in a row, seriously cutting down the amount of bending down and hand weeding in the row one has to do.

Nasturtiums mulchedGoing through the corn patch with a scuffle hoe at this point buys us time for the corn plants to get enough size on them that I can rototill the aisles between the corn rows in a few days, throwing dirt around the corn plants to smother young weeds in the row. Of course, that's counting on dry weather that will allow tilling.

After I finished scuffling the corn rows, I took the time to spread some grass clipping mulch along one side of our row of just emerging nasturtiums. The mulch will help keep grass from overwhelming the now tiny seedlings. Weeding on the other side of the row will be accomplished with the scuffle hoe and tiller.

Nasturtiums overwhelm Plot A (2008)I do wonder about edging our well fertilized sweet corn patch with nasturtiums because of something that happened about seven years ago. I planted nasturtiums alongside rows of potatoes, onions, and green beans in some fairly fertile ground. The old advice of treating nasties nasty is well taken, as the nasturtiums overgrew and crowded out most of the melons and green beans that year. Since that time, I've been careful about not fertilizing plantings of nasturtiums, lest we once again have the incredible sprawling vines we had then.

This evening just before sundown, I ventured back out to the sweet corn patch with some seed I'd soaked for several hours and some ACcentuate MRBC bicolor corn transplants to fill in gaps in the rows where seed hadn' t germinated. Most of the transplanting and reseeding took place in the area I'd seeded to the Mirai 002 variety. I'm waiting on a controlled germination test I started today with some of the seed before making more than a suggestion here that we may once again have seed quality problems.

Sweet corn patch

While I'm pleased with our sweet corn so far, I'm even more pleased to see the row marker geraniums in the foreground still alive. When we first started gardening this ground, geraniums transplanted into it would almost immediately die. Bell pepper plants also didn't do well, producing dwarfed plants and fruit if they survived at all. After five years of green manure crops (mostly alfalfa and buckwheat) and lots of grass clippings and other organic matter turned into the soil, I'm finally seeing some improvement in the heavy clay soil. I hope I haven't jinxed the geraniums and peppers, as they're both doing well...so far.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Some of our tall pea vines were ready for a picking today. The Maxigolt variety had the most pods ready, although many proved to only have one or two mature peas in them, possibly because of our dry weather of late. There were a few pods ready on our Champion of England vines, with our Mr. Bigicon planting having lots of long pods that have yet to fill out.

Peas on double trellis Other side of pea trellis Plump pea pods

Blanched peas drying before freezingPeas, cauliflower, and broccoli in bucketMy experiment with using a double trellis to prevent the pea vines from blowing off their trellis really hasn't been a smashing success. We have less bent over vines this year, but still far too many. The area between the trellises seems to be a bit too narrow...or I planted too wide a row of peas.

We should get several more good pickings from the vines before it's time to compost them and move on to the next crop. The picking produced about a pint and a half of peas for the freezer. Peas take an awful lot of time and work for what one gets. They're certainly not a crop to grow to save money over buying at the grocery. This is one we grow for the quality of what we get.

When I finished picking peas today, I moved on to our raised bed of brassicas. I found one more mature head of broccoli and three heads of cauliflower to cut. I really jumped the gun on cutting the reddish Violet of Sicily variety. When I looked online later, it's supposed to ripen to a uniform red when mature. But I was pleasantly surprised to have found another good, self-blanching variety of cauliflower to go along with our two favorite white varieties, Amazing and Fremont. Violet of Sicily blanches and/or cooks to a green color, but has great cauliflower taste.

Violet of Sicily cauliflower

The broccoli and cauliflower also got blanched and frozen today.

Sunday, June 8, 2014 - "Just Add Water"

The Senior Garden - June 8, 2014Corn patch on June 6, 2014You used to see lots of ads for dehydrated products that used the line, "just add water." After getting about four-tenths of an inch of rain overnight, I might change that ad line to "just add rain" for our sweet corn patch.

I'd run the photo at right of our rather fragile looking sweet corn on Friday after finishing scuffle hoeing weeds from the area, reseeding some gaps in the rows, and transplanting corn plants into other bare spots. With last night's precipitation, the corn seems transformed, having jumped up several inches and now having a very healthy, deep green color.

Obviously, four-tenths of an inch of rain isn't going to carry the corn patch and East Garden for long, but we have a good chance (70%) for more rain on Tuesday and Wednesday. While lots of little rains make it hard to get back into areas of the garden with the tiller for weed control, if frequent enough, such rains probably are more beneficial to the crops than downpours that often run off. Give me four-tenths of an inch of rain two or three times a week, and I'll be a very happy gardener.

Corn patch on June 8, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - Rewards

Rice-A-Roni BeefThe Senior Garden - June 10, 2014I admittedly put a lot of time into gardening, but it does have its rewards. For supper last evening, Annie and I enjoyed fresh peas, broccoli, and lettuce salad, all from this year's garden along with some hamburger/Rice-A-Roni stuff, which actually wasn't all that bad. (BTW: We get our Rice-A-Roni at our local Save-A-Lot for a buck a box.)

The peas were outstanding, tender and incredibly sweet, having been picked and shelled just hours before we ate. Our last main head of broccoli from our main garden plot was excellent. We're hoping our broccoli plants in our East Garden bear a few good heads before warm temperatures make them bitter. Since we usually grow both spring and fall crops of broccoli, we're just happy to get what we can in the spring, knowing we'll probably have more in October.

I picked several heads of romaine lettuce yesterday, but only one of them was partially good. All had burnt leaf tips and some insect damage. I also picked a large, sweet head of Crispino icegberg lettuce and a soft head of Skyphos butterhead lettuce. I was really surprised the head lettuces had held up to the heat and not gone to seed. That about does it for our spring lettuce. I left one immature plant in the ground, but we're probably done with lettuce until fall.

Beyond harvesting, my main "garden" chore yesterday was mowing the field the East Garden is in, including the rotated out garden patch of alfalfa. Mowing the field was easy, but the thick alfalfa mixed with a good bit of giant foxtail was just about too much for my mower. Last year, I probably mowed our alfalfa too early and just before a dry spell. It died out pretty quickly after that. This year, I waited almost too long to trim it. But with rain in the forecast for a couple of days, I'm hoping our cover/turndown crop will rebound.

As you might have guessed, this posting is either a really late Monday posting, or a really early Tuesday posting. I'm writing a bit after midnight as a thunderstorm rolls in from the southwest. I obviously focused yesterday on harvesting and mowing, at the expense of taking any garden photos. But as Annie and I were watching (and napping through) some TV, I noticed that our "senior dog," Mac, had fallen asleep with his favorite toy. We're not sure how old Mac is, but he's at least 13 years old and showing his age a bit. So we've let him become an indoor dog, by his choice, although he occasionally shows his old spirit by running back to the house from the barn...before begging to be let inside again to sleep away most of the day and night.

Mac with favorite toy

Annie had always been curious about Mac's breed, so I gave her a Wisdom Panel 2.0 Breed Identification DNA Test Kit for her birthday last year. We knew he had some lab in him, but were interested in the full report. It turned out he's half Labrador Retriever and half Chow Chow and Rottweiler cross.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Storm coming in

Oversize beets
Hummingbirds at feeder

I began writing this posting from our back porch, enjoying the breeze as a thunderstorm tried to blow in. Other than picking some peas and pulling a few early carrots and some oversized beets, I didn't do much gardening today. I did take the time to drop the sprouted sweet corn seeds from a germination test I'd started four days ago into bare spots in our sweet corn rows.

I spent a pleasant hour on the porch shelling peas and watching hummingbirds jockey for position at the feeders. From the increased activity at the feeders, I'd guess we've had a clutch or two of newborn hummingbirds leave the nest recently. Until this week, we had only a few hummingbirds visiting our feeder. Things picked up enough yesterday that I hung a second feeder.

We received a full inch of rain overnight. I carefully checked the rain gauge twice before dumping its contents, as we've not had that much rain all at once in some time. But I was pretty sure it was accurate, as our "backup rain gauge," otherwise known as our garden cart, had about the same amount of water in it.

The overnight rain brought our June running total of precipitation to 3.25 inches. That's a very healthy figure for this point in the month and is certainly enough to sustain our garden crops for now. Last June, we experienced some torrential storms late in the month that severely damaged our spring carrots and our onion crop. So I think I'll be thankful for moderate precipitation and hope it continues...at a moderate rate.

The beets, which I simply forgot about until they were way too big, will go to work with Annie tomorrow, in case someone there wants them. The peas and the five carrots had a small yellow squash added to them as part of our supper. And the thunderstorm went somewhere else without getting us wet.

But I had a great time shelling peas, watching the hummingbirds, and looking out over our main garden.

Main raised bed

Light House Mission

Thursday, June 12, 2014 - Weeding Sweet Corn (Again)

Weedy corn rowCleaned corn rowI'd planned to mow our lawn today, but in the back of my mind, I had an idea there might be a more urgent chore. When I walked out to check our sweet corn patch this morning, I observed that our rows of corn looked fairly healthy, but that parts of some rows had lots of seedling weeds growing between the corn plants.

After several days of rain, the ground was far too wet to rototill. The corn I'd reseeded was also too small for tilling, as it would get buried from such an action. So I resorted once again to my scuffle hoe.

I first hoed down the sides of the corn rows (in sections), getting as close to the corn plants as possible without cutting them off or disturbing them too much. In some of the interior rows, I could hoe between the corn plants, as I leave more space between plants in the interior rows which receive less light than the edge rows. But for the most part, I hoed the sides of the corn rows and then went back and hoed loose soil into the rows, burying the seedling weeds I hadn't hoed out or hand pulled.

I didn't worry too much about the centers of the aisles between the corn rows. We may have several dry, sunny days ahead of us. If so, I should be able to rototill the aisles and throw a bit more loose dirt into the rows of corn. And if it stays too wet, I'll just have to go back with the scuffle hoe again to clean the centers.

The job of hoeing seven, forty foot rows ended up taking almost two hours. I was fortunate that it was partly cloudy and rather cool this morning. But by the time I was finished, I was soaked with sweat and totally worn out.

Sweet corn patch - June 12, 2014

Weedy sweet corn patchCart of sweet cornOne might wonder why I'm being so freaky about weeds in our sweet corn. One answer is that we've had grass weeds pretty well overtake our sweet corn for several years. Last year, wet conditions prevented tilling, and I mulched with grass clippings to hold back weeds. It didn't work. I was surprised that we still got any sweet corn at all.

As it turned out, we had one of the best crops we've had. That's not saying much, though, as we've been plagued with poor seed germination, wind damage, corn smut, and critters feasting on our sweet corn and plants over the years. Our family joke about the East Garden is that if you'd go out there at midnight, you might find lots of deer and raccoons wearing party hats and blowing noisemakers as they feast on our sweet corn (and melons too, in the case of the raccoons).

A second reason I'm trying really hard to keep our sweet corn patch as weed free as possible is simply pride. I started growing sweet corn as a kid in our back yard in Indianapolis. When I was farming, two to four acres of our tillable ground were devoted to sweet corn for roadside sales each year. We kept those corn patches clean, although a fifty horsepower tractor and a four row cultivator helped in that effort. So I've been a bit embarrassed at the appearance of our sweet corn patch in recent years and resolved to do better this year at staying up with the weeds.

Charity: Water

Sunday, June 15, 2014 - Father's Day

We're now halfway through June and are enjoying a wonderful gardening season so far. The weather has been cool (highs in the 70s) and sunny with a light breeze for several days. Rather than launching any major garden projects during this time, I've sorta taken it easy, picking peas, cutting brassicas, pulling a few weeds, and mulching a bit. Sitting on the back porch with a glass of iced tea, enjoying looking out over the garden and fields, has also figured nicely into that downtime.

Howden pumpkin startsCompost heapI started a pot of Howden pumpkin seed a week or so ago in a pot on the back porch. The plants are now up. As soon as they put on their first true leaves and harden up a bit, I'll want to get them transplanted. The area where they'll go is about half covered with last winter's compost heap. The pile never heated up the way it should, so I'm slowly rolling it over to make room for the pumpkins. As I turn the compost, I'm working in fresh kitchen scraps, garden weeds and spent plants, grass clippings, and some fertilizer and lime. Since shoveling and using a garden fork are things my bad leg doesn't like, it's slow going. I'm being sensible, turning just a bit of the pile each day. The spot should be ready when the transplants are ready to go in.

Transplants 1 Porch plants, transplants, and Daisy

All of our transplants are now lining our back porch, as I moved them there to mow around our cold frame. I may just leave them there, as it's time to put away the cold frame until fall. Most of what is left are herbs and flowers, with just a few vegetable transplants.

CauliflowerAfter picking a few peas this morning, I checked our brassicas and found a couple of heads of cauliflower ready to cut. We had one large head of Amazing and a smaller head of the reddish, open pollinated Violet of Sicily. I also was able to cut several broccoli sideshoots, which will go along well with steamed cauliflower.

When I cut cauliflower (or pull broccoli plants), only the leaves from the plant go into our compost pile. The base or stem of the plants are too fibrous to break down quickly, so they all go in a wash I'm filling in the field (along with used cat litter and anything else I can find to throw into the hole).

When I got out to the compost pile with the leaves, I passed our surprisingly good looking rows of potatoes. We've not had very good success with our potatoes the last few years, but are off to a great start this year.

Potatoes in bloom

The Red Pontiacs now have lots of blooms on the plants, with the Kennebecs just starting to bloom. Generally, when potatoes bloom, it's just about the right time to dig some new potatoes (small, early potatoes with very thin, tender skins). Cooked up with fresh peas, new potatoes in butter make a great treat from the garden.

David's Cookies

Monday, June 16, 2014 - Larger Than Expected Surprise

Potato row

Digging potatoes
First potatoes of the season

My game plan for today was to dig some new potatoes before moving on to some other gardening tasks. Being a bit cautious about the possibility of bringing disease into our potatoes, I carefully washed some compost residue off our garden fork before getting started. As I walked to our East Garden, it began to sprinkle just a bit. As I started to dig a hill of Red Pontiac potatoes, the sprinkle turned into a shower.

Since I was only going to dig one hill of small, new potatoes, I used my sun shirt to protect my camera from the rain and proceeded with the digging. I was a little surprised when I lifted a baseball sized spud from under the plant. When I got the full plant dug up, it produced four good sized red potatoes along with just two of the expected small, new potatoes!

I planted our potatoes on April 24 this year.. I guess I waited too long to dig new potatoes.

Getting Ready for a Succession Planting

JLP Cucumber TransplantsAround sunset last night, I moved a couple of fourpacks of cucumbers to four inch pots. I'm not sure why I seeded the Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers in fourpacks, as I know they quickly outgrow the available root space in the 2" x 2" cells. But I got them uppotted in the cool evening air and hope that one extra transplanting won't shock them too much.

The cucumber plants will eventually go between the double trellises in our main raised garden bed. Our early peas, which currently occupy the trellises, will be done bearing soon. Having the cuke transplants ready to go will allow me to pull the pea vines, work the soil up a little, and move on to a succession planting with plenty of time for the cucumbers to mature.

The rain continued to tease all day, sprinkling a bit with other periods of bright sun. We need another good rain, as when I stole a few carrots from the end of a row for our dinner, the soil beneath the mulch was fairly dry. But out flowers seem to love the mix of sunshine and light showers.

Flowers edging main bed Flowers at end of narrow bed

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I used my gardening time this morning to put in our front flowerbeds. Doing so this late in the season may tell you how focused I've been on our vegetable garden plots (or...how lazy I've been Grin). I'd started pulling weeds in the beds last weekend, only to discover that using a scuffle hoe was effective and a whole lot easier. I scuffled again this morning to catch the weeds I'd missed.

Front flowerbeds

Left bedRight bedThen it was just a matter of deciding where to plug in the dianthus, impatiens, and alyssum transplants I'd grown. My choice of plants for the beds is always limited, as it's a north facing bed and is shaded by the house and porch most of the day. I'd hoped to have a nice variety of bicolored dianthus for the bed this year, but Tux, our tuxedo cat, took care of the plants grown from commercial seed on his way to a pot of catnip I'd foolishly left on the bottom shelf of our plant rack. The dianthus I transplanted today were all open pollinated ones from saved seed, which seem to go to mostly solid red blooms.

While I've used a variety of commercial wood mulches in the beds over the years, I chose to go with grass clipping mulch to hold back weeds and hold in moisture this year. The wood mulches are a mess after the first year and often seem to have their own crop of weed seed included. I mulched as I planted today, leaving a heavy layer at the back of the beds where only weeds seem to be able to survive. I also applied a fairly heavy layer of Shot-Gun Animal Repellent, as our dogs love to lay on fresh grass clippings.

Vegetable gardening today was limited to picking a few peas, cutting a head of cauliflower and a few broccoli sideshoots from our main garden, and cutting two heads of broccoli from our East Garden. It's really nice that we're to the point where there's usually something to pick in the garden each day.

Broccoli, cauliflower, and peas

While my plan for new potatoes and peas yesterday crashed and burned because I'd waited too long to dig new potatoes, we ended up having pork roast last night with potatoes, carrots, and onion from this year's garden. I also threw in some garlic from last year's garden.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Senior Garden - June 18, 2014Trellis upI finally had to do a job this morning that I'd been putting off for a week. I put up the trellis for our short peas in the East Garden. The row of peas is about 36' long, and my longest length of trellis netting was 30', requiring spicing together two old lengths of trellis netting to make the run. The Eclipse and Encore peas growing in the row really only need about a three foot high trellis. But rather than cut up good, albeit used, netting, I strung the full five foot high netting down the line. Maybe it will get in the deer and raccoons' way on their trips to sample our sweet corn and melons.

I've been a bit less careful with this row of peas than I was with last year's row of Eclipse peas, when I thought I was saving a variety headed for extinction. Eclipse pea seed isn't readily available, but that's because Seminis/Monsanto aren't producing the patented variety anymore. While I can't sell Eclipse seed, I can grow and save as much as I can use, and I'm really looking forward to freezing some of the supersweet peas this year.

The Encore variety, another patent protected variety (PVP) which figured into the Eclipse variety's parentage, is also a very sweet pea, although not quite as sweet as Eclipse, but much easier to germinate. We have an incredible stand of Encore so far, as I dumped an half pound bag of seed I'd soaked along a 16-20' section of the row.

I started the job in the morning, thinking it would only take an hour to do. I hadn't figured on all the weeding I found it necessary to do before stringing the trellis. I worked on it until just after noon, leaving the job half done when it began getting really hot outside. I got back to it around 8 P.M. and finished just at sunset.

East Garden at sunset

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Senior Garden - June 19, 2014

The East Garden - June 19, 2014
Today's harvest

I picked a few peas and cut several broccoli sideshoots in our main garden this morning, but the main action for the day was to come in our East Garden.

I'd noticed yesterday that several of our broccoli plants in the East Garden were putting on nice heads and made a mental note to check them each morning. With the heat we're having, broccoli can quickly go to seed and/or get bitter if allowed to get even slightly overripe. And sometimes, it's just too hot for it, and it gets bitter from the heat anyway.

Broccoli row in East GardenWhen I checked the broccoli this morning, I was surprised to see that we had four, large heads ready to cut. Part of my surprise was due to the fact that our East Garden really doesn't have all that good of soil. But the row of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage apparently benefitted from being planted where we'd turned under a lot of grass clippings and buckwheat last fall. The rest of my wonder was due to the broccoli still being sweet (I nipped a bit of it in the field.) despite the upper 80 to low 90 degree high temperatures we're experiencing.

An unexpected bonus to the broccoli was five yellow squash ready to be picked. I'd picked several undersized squash in the last week. Now, both our Slick Pik and Saffroniconicon yellow squash plants are bearing. I was pleased to see good fruit on the Saffron plant, as we'd been hunting for a good, open pollinated yellow squash to go along with the hybrid Slick Pik (which could disappear from seed listings at any time, as hybrids often do).

We're to the point now that I'm checking those plants and our butternut squash daily for signs of squash bugs and/or powdery mildew. We'll almost certainly see both in the near future.

Of course, not everything in the East Garden and the field around it is sweetness and light. I had to replace the two Moira tomato plants I put in an isolation plot way too close to the woods. They and several paprika pepper plants around them got nipped by something. Several of the nipped Paprika Supreme plants have put on new leaves, so all may not be lost.

I also had to put down a heavy layer of Bobbex repellent on the peas I trellised last evening, as I noticed deer prints in the soil around our meager stand of Eclipse peas. It seems the deer like the Eclipse shoots better than they do the Encore peas further down the row that suffered little to no damage.

And after all of that, I finally got to the main event of my gardening morning. While we really need a good rain, I'd been sorta hoping the rain would hold off long enough for the soil in our sweet corn patch to dry out enough to be rototilled. While much of our area had scattered but heavy popup thundershowers yesterday, we got missed. So this morning, the soil in our corn patch was perfect for tilling.

Before tilling After tilling

I put down a fairly heavy layer of 12-12-12 fertilizer beside each row of sweet corn before tilling. Since the shield on one side of my tiller has broken off, I tilled with the open side closest to the sweet corn, throwing as much soil as I could into the row to suppress weeds.

Today's tilling was gratifying. It's one we've missed in the last several years when our sweet corn patch was too wet at this point to till. I'd still like to get one more pass through the patch with the tiller in a week or so, but also can hold off weeds with the scuffle hoe if things get wet again.

With this tilling out of the way, all we have to worry about in the sweet corn patch is getting enough rain, keeping the deer and raccoons out of it, cutting out any corn smut that might appear, hoping it doesn't all get blown down in a strong storm... Yeah, there's still a lot that can go wrong before we have roasting ears on the table for supper.

Now all I have to do is mow, freeze broccoli, cauliflower, and peas, and maybe even get our fall brassicas seeded. It feels good to be busy!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Senior Garden - June 22, 2014Japanese Long Pickling cucumber tranplantsI've been away from our garden for a couple of days attending a family reunion in Murrayville, Illinois. While I drove through some pretty heavy rain to and from the reunion, we didn't get any precipitation here on the Senior Garden. When I checked our rows of green beans this morning, the plants did have beans on them, but the pods were limp from the heat and dry weather!

I got started this morning pulling our tall pea vines off our double trellis and composting them. Once the vines were removed, I tightened the clothesline wire the string trellis hangs on, as it had gotten droopy in the heat. I also hiked up the bottom of one side of the trellis to make cleaning up and renovating the area a bit easier.

Trellis hiked up for renovation

I'd hoped to transplant Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers between the trellises this morning. The transplants appear to have leapt up several inches in the days I was away and may be too big to survive transplanting. As it was, I ran out of time before it got too hot for tranplanting. The cucumber plants will have to wait until this evening or tomorrow morning to go into the ground. And then, I'll just have to hope it rains soon.

Later

Transplanting cucumbersDuring the hot hours of the day, I worked on our shaded back porch uppotting some parsley plants I've not gotten in the ground yet. The plants were root bound, and I was going to lose them if I didn't move them to larger pots.

I moved to cooler quarters inside to start our fall brassicas. Since we've already frozen a good bit of broccoli and cauliflower, I only seeded four fourpacks (16 cells total). Eight broccoli and and eight cauliflower plants will pretty well fill the area I have saved for them in our main raised bed.

About 8:30 P.M., taking advantage of one of the longest days of the year (in hours of daylight) and slightly cooling temperatures, I began transplanting our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. The soil in the raised bed was incredibly dry, so I ended up using about fifteen gallons of water to transplant just eight plants along the twelve foot row. By transplanting late in the day, the plants have the overnight hours to begin adapting to their new conditions before enduring another hot day.

I had taken a tray of impatiens and snapdragons to transplant outside the double trellis, but ran out of time as sundown and mosquitos closed in. The snapdragons will join several I transplanted earlier this season on the south side of the trellis. The impatiens will go on what will be the shaded north side of the trellis.

Mulched cucumber bed

Even though I had more transplanting to do, I went ahead and laid several inches of dry, grass clipping mulch around the cukes and in the bed to hold in soil moisture. I'll have to pull back the mulch when I put in the snaps and impatiens.

For readers interested in photography, the shot of the mulched cucumber bed was taken at 9:34 P.M. (EDT) at 1/13 second and f/8 and an ISO of 800. While I used to take sharp handheld images at 1/4 second with a heavy, Mamiya RB-67 when I was younger, stronger, and had a steadier hand, I have to attribute the sharp image above at the slow shutter speed to the amazing image stabilization incorporated in today's modern lenses.

Sam’s Club

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - Rain!

Rain gauge showing 3.1 inchesSquash bug eggsWe received a bit over three inches of rain in the last 24 hours. That's definitely the soaking rain we needed, as places in our garden plots were getting very dry. The soil where I planted cucumbers Sunday night was bone dry down to six or eight inches deep. An adjoining raised bed, however, proved to be quite moist when I dug a couple of garlic yesterday whose stalks had toppled over. The difference probably is due to the garlic bed having received a lot of organic matter last fall and this spring, while the pea/cucumber bed didn't.

As expected, our first sign of squash bugs has appeared on a leaf of one of our yellow squash plants. A cluster of the telltale eggs let me know that it was time to begin spraying the squash, melons, and cucumbers for bugs. While I've tried some organic controls in the past with mixed results, I've found that a spray or two of Sevin pretty well takes care of the squash bug problem.

Pumpkins transplanted
Cukes attaching tendrils

Between showers this afternoon, I transplanted our pumpkins into the area previously occupied by our current compost pile and also put in another yellow squash plant. The Howden pumpkin transplants had gotten quite big in the last few days. I put on my farm boots and waded through several inches of water in places to get to the new pumpkin patch. The pumpkins got our usual deluxe hole of added peat moss, fertilizer, and lime mixed deeply into the soil, but it wasn't pretty, as everything was mud.

Yellow squashA pot of yellow squash plants went into a spot in our East Garden where a hill of cantaloupe had died out. Adding a new yellow squash plant about once a month ensures we have a steady supply of the delicious squash all summer. Our two mature yellow squash plants are producing heavily now, but will wear out soon.

The cucumbers I transplanted on Sunday are already sending out tendrils to anchor the vines to the trellis. If the double trellis works as I hope, it should help keep the Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers off the ground, preventing both curling of the fruit and rot.

We allowed our JLPs to cross-pollinate last year with some plants we grew from JLP seed from Reimer Seeds. Our strain was from one lone seed I got to germinate years ago, and appeared to be losing some of its vigor and disease resistance due to inbreeding depression. The plants grown from the Reimer seed appeared to be true to variety, so I'm hoping our strain has been revitalized by the possible cross.

Busy Week(s) Ahead

Sometimes things sort of creep up on you in the garden. While we've been picking stuff out of the garden for some time, I realized over the weekend that my mind was still in planting and nurturing mode, rather than in harvesting and storing mode. While we have some minor planting to be done before getting into succession (or second) crops, it appears that the next week or two will be harvesting, storing, and canning time.

Green beansJaune Paille Des Vertus onions bulbingDigging up the two garlic whose tops had fallen over told me it would soon be time to dig and cure the rest. I've been stealing carrots from the ends of the rows for several weeks, and the bulk of them are probably ready to dig any time now. When I last checked our green beans, there were already enough mature pods to justify a first picking. The only thing that has held me back is that picking beans from damp plants is a good way to spread plant disease.

Most of our onions are beginning to bulb. Having planted thirteen different varieties of onions this year, there will be some differences in when they mature. But with today's rain and hot weather returning in a few days, they'll quickly grow in size before the tops begin falling over in a few weeks.

I purposely planted far more onions than we can use this year. Seed for two of our favorite, hybrid storage onion varieties is getting hard to find. I decided to try a number of new-to-us varieties, mostly open pollinated, so that we'd be prepared for when seed for our favorite hybrid storage varieties disappears from the marketplace.

As for the trials, all thirteen varieties are doing smashingly well. I guess it's a good year for onions. That doesn't tell me much, however, about how the varieties will do under lesser growing conditions.

Note: The onions bulbing image above right is of the Jaune Paille Des Vertus variety. I think the variety description from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is well worth sharing here:

Introduced about 1793, this old onion is now hard to find. It is also called Brown Spanish by [the] French seed house Vilmorin; in 1885 they said, "The winter supply of Paris and of a great part of Europe consists chiefly of this variety, which may be often seen hanging up in dwelling-houses in long hanks formed by interlacing and plaiting the withered leaves together." The roots are flattened and 3-4 inches across; the skin is a brownish yellow and the flesh is flavorful. This antique is known for its keeping qualities that made it a standard in Europe for over 200 years.

This heirloom variety may or may not be the answer for our future storage onion needs, but you may be able to tell that I'm having lots of fun testing out new varieties.

About All That Rain

Having substantially raised the soil level in our raised garden beds this spring and also improved the drainage around them, we're not seeing any standing water there from today's heavy rain. Our East Garden is another matter altogether.

Some of our sweet corn got blown over by the storm, although corn can usually right itself if not plastered flat into the mud. Some rows have standing water in them, partially because I lowered the soil level in the aisles between the corn rows by throwing soil into the corn rows.

Corn blown over Standing water in sweet corn Wet melon patch Standing water in pea row

While the images above may not be what you'd want to see in your garden, the only one that really bothers me is the standing water in the row of new peas (at far right). And as long as the water drains before the sun gets on the pea row, the new pea plants should be okay. And as dry as it has been, I really don't expect to see any standing water tomorrow morning...as long as it doesn't rain some more this evening. We really needed this rain.

Weekly Deals from Ritz Camera

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 - Oops!

Onions

Raised Beds in the Senior Garden
Pea row dried out

The onions I identified yesterday as Jaune Paille Des Vertus, weren't! When I walked our garden this morning with a chart of what I planted where, I realized that I was a couple of rows off in identifying the onions. But when I looked at my chart, the onions I photographed were, according to my garden record, supposed to be Red Zeppelins. And on down the row, there certainly were some red onions, but the ones at the end were definitely something else that I didn't record properly. I'd guess they'll cook up just fine, though. mixed

The standing water in our row of late, short peas had soaked into the ground before the sun got on the plants this morning. The peas and a lot of weeds still in the row looked pretty good.

Besides checking the pea row on my morning garden walk today, I wanted to make sure our green beans were ready for a first picking today. It turned out that while there are some mature beans, I may be better off waiting a day or two for the pods to plump a bit more before picking. (My wonderful wife, Annie, prefers "beany" green beans.)

So if things dry out, today may be mowing day. Of course, I could just get lazy and enjoy looking at our lovely garden!

Potato plantsWhen I'd tried to dig new potatoes last week, I noticed some yellowing and blackening at the tips and edges of a few potato leaves. Such damage could be age, insect damage, or the first signs of blight. With the great start we've gotten on our potatoes this year, I kept a close eye on them. When the damage seemed to spread this week, I sprayed them heavily with a mixture of Fungonil fungicide and liquid Sevin insecticide.

I really don't like going to my chemical "heavy hitters" at the first sign of insect or disease damage. While our garden certainly isn't organic, we try to use organic methods and biologicals such as Serenade biofungicide and Thuricide (BT) for disease and insect control whenever possible. But when I planted our potatoes, I'd used Serenade as a soil drench at the labeled rates for its sister product, Serenade Soil. So I was pretty well out of organic options for the potatoes.

When I sprayed, insects flew everywhere, so we may luck out on this one. If the problem is blight, fungicides may hold it off for a while, but we've not had much luck going that route in the past. The best defence against blight is using certified disease free seed potatoes and planting on clean ground (ground not infected with blight in the past). One can also do preventative sprays with copper based fungicides, but I thought we had that one covered with the Serenade drench.

I saw no new damage in the potatoes this morning, but I'll probably need to spray again. If the problem is from insect damage, I may be able to back off to more organic insect controls such as insecticidal soap or pyrethrin.

Photography Note

Since switching to a Canon digital SLR camera five years ago, I've been mostly satisfied using my Canon Digital Rebel XSi. One area I haven't liked about the camera was the color saturation it produced in its pictures. Compared to my old Nikon point-and-shoot camera (which only works in the fully automatic image mode because Nikon refused to properly repair or replace it under warranty), the Canon's images often looked a bit washed out.

When I was dancing between the raindrops (and outright downpours) yesterday getting images of our pumpkins and such, I grabbed the old Nikon because I didn't want to get the Canon wet. Once again, I was impressed with the color saturation it produced, although at times the saturation is a good deal more than than the eye sees.

Squash blossoms Hummingbirds photographed through kitchen window

Finally getting a clue after five years of using the XSi, I dug out its manual and found out how to increase its color saturation level. Today's photos were all taken with the Canon with its color saturation settings bumped up a notch. I may bump it up another click, but really don't want to be sharing images whose rich color only exists inside the camera.

And having just washed the kitchen windows yesterday, I had to include a shot of "our hummingbirds" at the feeder taken through the kitchen window.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Senior Garden - June 26, 2014Pea rowThe long row of Eclipse and Encore peas I seeded on May 31 were ready today for a thorough weeding. I'd previously pulled a few weeds here and there as I reseeded some of the row, but today spent an hour and a half pulling weeds and putting in a few snapdragons along the trellised row.

The close end of the row pictured at right is planted to Eclipse peas. The far end is planted to Encore. Both varieties are very sweet peas. I did have to reseed a few bare spots in the Eclipse planting once again.

The center of the row was seeded with some Eclipse/Encore crossed pea seed I'd saved in 2009. Very little of it came up, so I scratched in some Mohon's Pole Beans in that area.

I'd planned to put up a separate trellis for Dennis Mohon's family heirloom beans in one of our isolation plots, but never got around to doing it. Since this planting is going in pretty late, I'm pretty sure our kidney beans in the same garden plot will be done blooming by the time the Mohon Beans start to bloom and won't cross-pollinate with them. I should be able to save seed from the planting as well as take some for table use.

Funny Follow-up to Image Color Saturation Issues

I wrote yesterday about finding the way to bump up the color saturation of images taken with my my Canon Digital Rebel XSi. This morning, I went ahead and bumped up the color saturation setting a second notch on the camera.

When I took the "splash shot" for the top of this page (and posting), the color saturation in the full sunlight shot was much improved. Later, when I took the shot above right of the pea row, the sun had drifted behind some clouds, creating the ideal cloudy bright conditions outdoor photographers love. But when I started to process the photo a few minutes ago, the image was terribly oversaturated. I ended up having to Photoshop out a ton of color saturation from the photo to make it look natural!

Hot and Humid

While I was weeding the pea row, the sun was fully out, and I came in at around 1:30 P.M. absolutely soaked in sweat. I pretty quickly decided picking our green beans and mowing the lawn could wait until at least this evening, if not tomorrow. That's tough for me to do. After six years of retirement, I find I'm still establishing artificial and often unreasonable goals and expectations that really are no longer necessary. But for today, at least, I'm going to sit on the back porch, have a glass of iced tea, and enjoy looking at our garden and watching the hummingbirds at our feeders.

We use two Birdscapes 279 Deluxe Rose Petal 12-ounce Glass Hummingbird Feeders. At this time of year, I generally have to fill both feeders each day, as the hummingbirds have already had their first clutch of eggs hatch out and the birds leave the nest. The Birdscapes feeders work pretty well for us as long as I carefully wash out the feeding holes each time I fill them. A weak spot in the construction of the feeders is the perches. If you drop or bang the feeder, the perches easily break off.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Having gotten most of our mowing and raking done yesterday, I was able to return my attention to some lovely green beans in our main garden this morning. Only the southernmost row of Provider, Contender, and Strike was ready to pick, as those varieties are a few days earlier than the other row of Bush Blue Lake, Burpee Stringless Green Pod, and Maxibel. A none too thorough picking of the one row yielded 4-5 gallons of raw picked beans that canned out to six quarts.

Green bean rows

Isolation plotMain garden viewed from southHaving lots of flower transplants left on our back porch, I later put in some petunias, geraniums, and daisies around the isolation plot of tomatoes and paprika peppers at the back of the lot. The cluster of petunias came from a hanging basket that was so root bound that I have been having to water it every day. The gloriosa daisies were supposed to go along the east side of our house, but that bed is still full of weeds. Since some of the daisies were dying in their pots, I thought I'd better get them into the ground somewhere.

On the way back to the house, I couldn't help but take a few shots of the main garden bed. After we harvest beans, carrots, and onions from it, it probably won't look as nice until about this time next summer.

Onions and carrots More onions and bell pepper plants

Monday, June 30, 2014 - June Wrap-up

Precipitation (Inches)1
  2014 2013 2012 2011 Ave.2
Jan. 2.51 6.33 3.20 0.84 2.48
Feb. 2.05 2.24 1.10 2.28 2.41
March 1.66 2.28 1.52 3.79 3.44
April 8.88 8.75 3.80 11.51 3.61
May 3.67 10.35 1.19 3.38 4.35
June 6.51 12.18 0.15 5.53 4.13
Totals3 25.28 42.13 10.96 27.33 20.42

1Data from Kinmerom2 and MSULI3 weather stations, and our own rain gauge during non-freezing weather
2 Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN
3 to date for 2014, through complete months, 2011-2013 and average

June, 2014, animated GIFFor a good bit of this month, it appeared we might be once again facing a dry gardening season. Heavy rains on June 24 (3.1 inches in 24 hours) broke a dry spell that actually had allowed us to do some critical tilling of our sweet corn in the East Garden, but also diminished some of our harvests.

Most heavily impacted by the dry spell were our early, tall peas that didn't seem to have enough moisture to fill out all the peas in their long pods. We got some nice peas, but not what we should have. But the day after I pulled the pea vines from some bone dry soil, I moved to another raised bed to dig a couple of early maturing garlics. The soil in that bed was still quite moist! The difference between the two raised beds was that the garlic bed had received generous amounts of organic material in the form of compost and peat moss, while the pea bed had not. So even though our pea harvest was somewhat disappointing, I got a good reminder about why keeping high levels of organic material in ones soil is important.

The June dry spell gave us a chance to thoroughly cultivate our sweet corn this year, something wet ground has prevented in the last few years. I kept our sweet corn rows fairly clear of weeds with a scuffle hoe until the ground dried enough to permit rototilling. Then I laid a fairly heavy layer of 12-12-12 along the sides of the corn rows and tilled, throwing as much soil as possible into the rows.

Sweet corn patch on June 30

With the heavy rain that followed the fertilization and tilling, our sweet corn leapt up about a foot in height almost overnight. Most of it is very close to forming a canopy that will exclude most sunlight from the ground which will diminish weed germination. I'll still need to walk the rows with the scuffle hoe, but we're not going to have sweet corn overgrown with weeds as we have had in the past.

Our asparagus patch
Bonnie's Asparagus Patch and Isolation Plot

We quit harvesting asparagus in late May. In June we watched the asparagus once again fill the beds with its lacy foliage. Both of our asparagus patches required a lot of weeding in June, along with some gentle applications of fertilizer. Both beds will also require rather heavy applications of compost yet this summer to allow the roots to gain the energy for another good spring harvest next year.

Violet of Sicily cauliflowerOur spring brassicas held up well during the early June heat, producing more broccoli and cauliflower than we've cut (and mostly frozen) in years from both a raised bed and another planting in our East Garden. A pleasant surprise this year was the reddish Violet of Sicily cauliflower variety. I planted just a few plants of the variety, but found it produced nice, if somewhat smaller, heads of tasty cauliflower that cooked up to a light green color. While the green color could put one off for cauliflower "mashed potatoes," the taste of the variety is of true cauliflower. It's nice to be able to add the open pollinated cauliflower to our usual white headed varieties, Amazing (OP) and Fremont (Hybd).

Fall brassicas startedWe started our fall broccoli and cauliflower on June 22. Our excellent spring crop allowed me to seed far fewer plants for our fall crop this year, as we have plenty frozen already. I'd guess most of the fall crop, if we avoid the rabbit problems we had last year, will be used fresh as it ripens. (We have a granddaughter who can consume incredible amounts of fresh broccoli with ranch dip!)

Broccoli outI often make the mistake of letting our broccoli stay in the ground too long. While our row of early broccoli was still producing sideshoots, the plants came out yesterday. We still have broccoli plants in our East Garden producing sideshoots. Since I had a small pile of grass clippings beside the bed, I was able to mulch over the bare spots made by the removal of the broccoli plants. That should hold down weeds until I renovate the patch and replant it to something else.

Compost pileCat litter and broccoli stalks fill washThe broccoli leaves from the raised bed planting went on the compost pile. Broccoli and other brassica stems don't break down well in a compost pile unless shredded or thoroughly chopped. Lacking a chipper/shredder and too lazy to chop the stems, I put ours into a wash we've been filling with plant trash and used kitty litter. While rotting broccoli and used cat litter both really stink, the wash is at the edge of the woods, far away from our house. (Note: Our nearest downwind neighbor is over a quarter mile away.) Of course, you don't want to accidentally step into the muck until it's had a few months to set up.

Freezing yellow squashWe've really gotten off to a good start for the gardening season. There have been some setbacks, but it's hard to complain with all the garden bounty we've already harvested. We've enjoyed broccoli, cauliflower, peas, carrots, green beans, lettuce, spinach, onions, garlic, yellow squash, and potatoes from the garden this month. I even got a bag of yellow squash frozen last evening, something I've inexplicably never done before.

The heavy rain we received last week really made our crops look good, but it also helped the heavy layer of grass clipping mulch in our East Garden begin to decay. With weed breakthroughs becoming common, I've begun re-mulching our melons and squash plants. The two giant hills of plants in the photo below are both yellow squash.

East Garden - June 30, 2014

Our alfalfa cover crop on the back half of the East Garden seems to have survived its first mowing and has bounced back nicely. There's a lot of grass in the planting, but also enough alfalfa for us to let it grow all summer. Last year, our alfalfa mostly died out after the first mowing, so I turned it down and grew a dandy turndown crop of buckwheat. Slowly, slowly, the heavy clay soil in the East Garden is improving. I didn't realize how much it had improved until I dug a hole just outside the East Garden for our pumpkins. The soil there was some nasty, greasy, gray clay, other than the inch of new soil/compost on the surface, as we plant our butternut squash and pumpkins outside the East Garden on the previous sites of compost piles.

Most of what we have in the ground now is looking good, although I still worry about disease in our potatoes. As we move into our usual period of drier weather through much of July and August, what rainfall we get will be critical to our full season crops and those we'll be starting to replace what we'll be harvesting in the next week or so. But it's sure nice to have gotten off to such a good start this year.

May, 2014

July, 2014

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