Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - July 16, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Crockett's Victory GardenThe late James Underwood Crockett made an important point in his July entry in Crockett's Victory Garden (pg 126):

By the time July arrives in the Victory Garden, the soil has been hard at work for four months and it may begin to show some signs of wear. So before I put in any additional crops to fill the vacancies left by harvests, I add nutrients and, if a soil test indicates the need, ground limestone. This is the only way to keep the soil in condition for the intensive production I ask of the Victory Garden.

We'll be harvesting onions, carrots, and garlic this month. In addition, we'll be pulling down our short pea vines after they've dried pods and seed for seed saving. And we'll be clearing our failed planting of sweet corn. All of the ground opened up will need to be fed before we plant or transplant any succession crops, especially in the sweet corn area.

Full load of compostIf you're an organic gardener, adding well rotted manure or compost can add nutrients to the soil, often while improving soil structure. One does need to be careful of the source of the manure or compost, avoiding potential killer compost that contains still active herbicide residue.

Blood and/or bone meal can give ones soil a boost, as can many of the commercial organic fertilizers available. I've found that a bit of soluble seaweed, added either as a liquid or as a powder, can help restore necessary trace elements.

A good article in Mother Earth News by Cheryl Long and Barbara Pleasant, Build Better Garden Soil With Free Organic Fertilizers, gives some excellent suggestions and advice about organic fertilizers.

Buckwheat 17 days after seedingIf a plot will lie fallow for five or six weeks, buckwheat can produce a quick cover/smother crop that will improve almost any soil. We've used buckwheat after sweet corn to help improve soil nutrition and structure in our East Garden plot.

Sadly, all of our finished compost is destined for one of our asparagus patches, and our most recent outside source has dried up. So we'll be adding commercial fertilizer to each harvested area before replanting. Since all of our main garden plots have been heavily mulched with grass clippings this year, they've already received a small organic boost in fertility as the grass clippings decomposed. For now, that will have to do.

From now through July 7 (10 A.M. MST), Hostmonster is offering some very attractive rates for web hosting (12 months - $5.95/month, 24 months - $4.95/month, 36 month - $3.95/month).


Thursday, July 2, 2015 - A Twinge of Conscience

Like lots of folks, we'll have family in over the Fourth of July weekend. As I drove home from the grocery this afternoon after buying supplies for our cookout, I heard on NPR News that the UN's World Food Programme was having to cut back their support for displaced Syrians due to insufficient donations to sustain their current level of support. As I looked at all the groceries I'd laid in and the many goodies for the five of our nine grandchildren who will be with us Saturday, I could only resolve to send a donation today to help save children in need.

There's so much need in the world, and it's tough to discern charities that actually get support to those in need. Our major charity remains the ministry of my niece and nephew, Elisabeth and Wayne Bloomquist, for their ministry in Cambodia. But there are so many other places of incredible need.

I look at Jesus' words and feel terribly inadequate:

"If you want to complete the set," Jesus replied, "Go and sell everything you own and give it to the poor. That way you'll have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me."

Matthew 19:21 (The Kingdom New Testament)

I suspect that many of my readers wrestle with similar issues.

Test Your Hunger IQ

Back to Gardening

Carrots and garlicBig garlicOur rainy weather continues, with another 0.65 inches of precipitation overnight. With more rain on the way later today, I got out early to empty the rain gauge and do some test digs of carrots and garlic. The carrots were all over the place in size and maturity, but the garlic is pretty much ready to dig. I was pleased to see that the new elephant garlic grown from cloves from the Territorial Seed Company had produced the biggest elephant garlic bulbs we've ever grown!

I set aside gardening yesterday, as we took delivery of a new refrigerator. Moving the frozen food to our big freezer in the garage and putting all the other stuff in coolers...and then returning it all and cleaning up the resultant mess in the kitchen pretty well filled my day. Our old fridge had a couple of parts that failed, resulting in a veritable cold swamp in the refrigerator section each time the freezer tried to defrost. Costing out the repair parts plus a service call, I opted for a new fridge, although quite a bit smaller than our old one.

As I cleared out the vegetable trays yesterday, I was again reminded that we grew way too many carrots last year. We still had over ten pounds of carrots stored in green bags. Surprisingly, they were still in pretty good shape, although pretty hairy.

If I get enough carrots when I dig our spring planting this month, I may forgo planting fall carrots this year. I seeded our fall carrots rather late last year (August 1), but we had a late fall and I was able to dig a bumper crop of them on October 25.

If you're wondering, we have a feature story about How We Grow Our Carrots.

Burpee Gardening

Saturday, July 4, 2015 - Independence Day

Our Senior Garden - July 4, 2015We will have family in today for a traditional Fourth of July cookout. I had to smile a little as I did some early preparation, using fresh garlic dug on Thursday and oregano we dried several years ago for a chicken marinade. Then there were the green beans I froze last July, as our canned green beans were used up long ago, seasoned with onions pulled just yesterday. There will be a pot of sweet corn, too, from last summer's bumper crop. I think we're down to just three quarts of it left out in the big freezer. The rest of the menu is pretty much all store bought, as it's been almost thirty years since we raised our own chicken, pork, and beef on the farm.

Onion and carrot rowsOur garden is on hold as things dry out some and I mend a bit. Digging carrots and garlic on Thursday turned out to be something less than a good idea for an Old Guy just seven weeks past total hip replacement surgery. I may have grandkids help with some of the necessary digging this weekend. I did get out this morning and drenched our onions with Serenade biofungicide in an attempt to hold back any black mold that might be developing on the onions. While the mold is usually only on the outer layers of the onion, it still makes using them a bit difficult. The drench may save a bit of time (and onion) later on when we use the onions.

Garlic ready for diggingBeyond harvesting carrots and garlic, our spring broccoli and cauliflower need to come out and be composted as do the empty sweet corn stalks at the back of our main raised bed. Composting the brassicas requires separating the stems and leaves from the main plant stem and base. The leaves go onto our compost pile while the plant base, which takes a long time to decompose, goes into a wash I'm filling. The sweet corn stalks have to be chopped with a corn knife before going into the compost pile, or they too would take forever to break down.

Once we get the spring crops out, we'll be able to renovate the soil a bit with fertilizer and lime and get some late crops such as green beans and kale planted.

Hanging baskets and hummingbird feeder under back porch roofAs I walked in from the garden today, I had to snap a shot of our hanging basket plants along the porch. They're all doing quite well right now. The hummingbirds at the feeder occasionally take a sip from the blooms, although they're mostly focused on the homemade nectar in the feeders. We mix sugar with water in a 1:4 ratio for the nectar. Right now, I'm having to refill the three feeders we have hanging twice a day.

I noticed yesterday that we'd lost several of our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber transplants. No obvious reason for the loss (bugs, disease) was apparent. I only had one replacement plant left, but I popped it into the ground today. Even with the losses, we should have plenty of the long, thin cucumbers for table use, canning as bread and butter pickles, and seed saving (and sharing).

Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plants

Sunday, July 5, 2015 - Garlic Dug!

Our Senior Garden - July 5, 2015Garlic drying on groundOur garlic is now all dug, lying on the ground to let the garden soil clinging to the roots dry a bit before brushing it off. I dug about half of the garlic, but had to ask for help to finish up. My wife Annie then dug and lifted with the garden fork while I grubbed the garlics out of the ground.

So far, it appears that we've had a wonderful harvest of garlic. There were some bulbs whose stem had begun to rot and broke off. Others had broken wrappers (outer skin). Those bulbs almost certainly wouldn't cure properly, but should still be good for making garlic powder.

Once I brush the soil off the garlic bulbs and roots, they'll go onto a makeshift 4' x 8' table in the garage to cure for a couple of weeks. The garlic I dug last week is already drying on that table with a fan blowing across it to speed the process.

We planted our garlic last fall on October 28. We used some of our saved elephant garlic for this crop, but it was completely outperformed by some new, purchased elephant garlic from Territorial Seed and Sow True Seed. For standard garlic, we used all newly purchased garlic, as our saved garlic seemed to have lost its vigor over the years. The standards included Inchelium Red, German Red, German White, Softneck Silver White, Purple Glazer, and Chesnock Red.

Most seed houses are now just beginning to open up their garlic offerings for this fall. We ordered most of ours last year in mid-July, as sellers quickly sell out of the most popular varieties.

We have what I think (hope?) is a good how-to on Growing Garlic. I've also found the information on the Boundary Garlic Farm site to be incredibly helpful with questions about harvesting and curing garlic.

A Bit of a Test

Today's fun and games in the garden were a bit of a test for my new hip. My leg is already beginning to ache a bit even though I took a mild painkiller before and after the digging. If it gets too bad, I have a couple of heavy hitter painkillers left, but don't really like using them. I'm sorta looney tunes when on them with pupils the size of pinheads! Maybe I'll just resort to my favorite bottom shelf scotch whiskey.

But it's nice, even with a bit of pain here and there, to be able to do just a bit of normal gardening again. I still must walk with a cane, but can take a few steps without one every now and then. I think full recovery is just a matter of patience. I do my exercises, walk a lot, and days like today, push the envelope a bit. We'll see if I can make it out of bed tomorrow morning! Hmm

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - Cool and Rainy

Our Senior Garden - July 8, 2015I'm writing today's posting with a heating pad on a sore leg and a blanket over me to stay warm. Don't feel sorry for me though, as the leg pain was self inflicted doing something pleasant that I wanted to get done. The cool house is by choice, as it's nice to have some fresh air flowing through open windows, even if it is only 65° F here at noon.

Garlic curing on table in garageI began my gardening day moving and turning the garlic that is curing on a makeshift table in our garage. The garlic appears to be drying down nicely, but I wanted to move it around a bit to ensure even drying. I also sorted out a number of garlic bulbs with bad wrappers that won't cure or store well and eventually will be dried and ground for garlic powder.

Flowers along edge of cucumber bedThe sore leg is the result of working on my knees for a while this morning. With a light mist falling, I decided it might be an ideal time to get some flowers transplanted along the sides of our bed of trellised cucumbers and caged tomatoes. The cool weather plus rain predicted to last all day should allow the plants to get a much better start than they would get if transplanted in our traditionally hot, dry July weather.

I transplanted impatiens along what will be the shady side of the trellis once the cucumber vines put on a little more growth. On the south facing, sunny side, I put in petunias, marigolds, and vinca. If I can keep the cucumbers growing between the double trellis, the flowers should do well. Also, there are several snapdragons growing inside the trellises that I put in when I originally transplanted the cucumbers.

I had a bare spot where one or two cucumber plants failed, so I seeded some more Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers there. To make sure I wouldn't have to fight weeds where I seeded, I first spread some sterile potting mix over the soil, spread the seeds, and covered them with more sterile soil. Obviously, I didn't have to water in the fresh seed with all the rain we're getting today.

Tomato, cucumber, and now flower bed

With all the rain we've had over the last two weeks, area farmers are beginning to worry about yield losses in low lying fields where the crops have had standing water around them for almost a week. There's a lot of sick looking corn and soybeans in the fields around us, and we're on high ground.

For us in our limited Senior Garden this year, the very wet weather is merely an inconvenience. We have corn stalks and brassicas that need to come out of the garden and be composted. Then we can renovate the soil and replant with green beans, kale, fall carrots, spinach, and Sugar Snap peas. We'll also be transplanting fall broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce. But all that has to wait for the rain to stop and the ground to dry out a bit.

I really don't want to jinx us by hoping the rain will stop, as we're getting into what is traditionally a dry period for us. We usually have little to no rain from mid-July through almost all of August, sometimes stretching into September. Getting direct seeded succession crops going requires a good bit of watering, something our somewhat puny well doesn't support in dry years. With all the rain, the groundwater shouldn't be as depleted as it usually is through late summer.

And in reference to a comment I made in Sunday's posting, I did make it out of bed Monday morning after digging garlic on Sunday. My hip was just fine, but it seemed all the rest of my joints and muscles were screaming in protest. As the day wore on and I loosened up, I found that I was having my best day yet for hip mobility. When cleaning up some stuff on the back porch, I found myself at the bottom of the steps without my cane! So, I just climbed the steps without it, a bit of a first in my hip rehabilitation. I'm hoping to be able to just carry the cane around with me as a sort of security blanket in the near future.


Amazon - Off Clip OnI should add that working outside has been really unpleasant of late due to insects. Gnats, mosquitos, and black flies have all flourished with our recent rains. In most years, the black flies are gone by July, but not this year according to an article in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. I worked in a long sleeved shirt this morning, not for the usual UV protection, but to help keep the bugs off. A hat also helps, although the gnats seem to love my ears. My Off! Clip On Mosquito Repellent helps a little, but the bugs are really, really, really bad this year.

Metofluthrin is the active ingredient in the clip-on. It's a pyrethroid that I wonder at times what it's doing to my body. But it seems to work, and at my age, there are probably a thousand other things I use that are more dangerous to my health.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Seeding fall lettuceAlibris: Books, Music, & MoviesWe have yet another rainy day here today, adding .55 inches of rain to bring our monthly precipitation total to 2.57 inches. Even with wet ground and standing water, I'm not ready to begin complaining yet. Our usual mid-July through August mini-drought may yet strike, so I'm happy to get all the rain we can get at this time.

Looking back about a year ago on this blog, I saw that I'd used a similar day to start the first of our fall lettuce transplants. Lettuce is one of those crops that we can sometimes grow late into the fall. Anything seeded today will mature fairly early, so I didn't seed a lot and will need to start more transplants in a couple of weeks.

I seeded just twelve cells, including some Crispino, Skyphos, Winter Density, Defender, Coastal Star, Nancy, Pandero, and Nevada today. That planting is pretty heavy on the romaines that we like, although there are some head and softhead varieties included. I also try to make sure that we have some red lettuces to go with the greens to add some color to the garden plot and salad bowl.

Mountain Valley Seeds

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Our Senior Garden - July 14, 2015Cleared and replanted raised bedI'm getting started clearing our spring crops. I took out our narrow raised bed of spring broccoli and cauliflower plants this afternoon. That involved pulling the plants and cutting off the thick, woody base of each to be discarded in a wash, while the more tender leaves went onto our working compost pile.

Rather than do our usual soil renovation of tilling in lime, fertilizer, and if I'm lucky enough to have any available, compost, I raked off the remaining grass clipping mulch and worked buckwheat seed into the soil surface. I had diddled our fall garden plan last week to allow such a planting, moving our planned fall spinach, carrots, and lettuce to another area. The buckwheat should smother any weeds that emerge in the bed and will provide a good turndown crop in about four to six weeks.

Shelling peas for seedWhile I'd like to just pull all of our late pea vines, the Eclipse and Encore peas still have lots of green pea pods maturing on the vines. I picked the brown, dried pea pods from our half row of Eclipse peas on Sunday, but will have to wait a bit for the last of the Eclipse and Encore peas to fully mature before picking them for seed and pulling the vines. I did, however, shell the Eclipse peas to allow them to dry better. I ran out of energy before I got to picking the mature Encore peas for seed.

With our garlic already out of the ground, we have corn stalks to get out of the garden and carrots and onions to harvest before we can begin renovating our main raised garden bed.

Garden Tip (or something really stupid I did that you might want to avoid doing)

Several weeks ago, I decided to add a precautionary drench of Serenade biofungicide to our onion plants to help prevent black mold. Since I had a bucket of Serenade already mixed with starter fertilizer left over from our planting of cucumbers, I just used that mix for the drench. But when I did a test dig of the carrots on Sunday, I was dismayed at how hairy they were. Many of the carrots were covered with new, tiny, white roots. This was something I'd not experienced in the past.

When I researched hairy carrots online, I found that such extra, unwanted growth can be caused by soil that is too fertile. Our carrots grow in a double row just inside our double rows of onions...which I had drenched with Serenade...and liquid fertilizer.


Raised Beds

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Corn stalks to be removed

Corn stalks in truck
Corn stalks chopped

Today's gardening task was getting the sweet corn stalks out of our garden and composted. That job, much like removing our brassica plants yesterday, became possible with a change in pain medications on Monday that allows me to push through such jobs, walk a little without the assistance of a cane or walker, and add another set of rehab exercises each day.

Where I could, I pulled the corn stalks, but mostly just chopped them off at the base with a corn knife. Once I had several stalks out, I moved them to the bed of the truck and chopped them up a bit. Such chopping allows the stalks to break down more quickly in the compost pile. Even with the chopping, adding the corn stalks to our existing, working compost pile pretty well guarantees it won't be ready for use until next spring, as the stalks still break down pretty slowly.

Corn smutThe sweet corn, of course, hadn't produced any edible ears (for us), as deer had nipped all the ears off the plants just as the ears appeared and began to silk. But I was pleasantly surprised to find only one outbreak of corn smut as I cleaned up the sweet corn area. The sweet corn variety, Who Gets Kissed, is supposed to have some resistance to smut bred in. I carefully moved the smut to a trash can. It appeared not to have matured enough to have shed any spores yet that can last in the soil for years.

Plot cleared and rakedWhen I'd removed all the corn stalks from the garden patch, I raked off the surface trash and mulch as best I could. With the base of some corn plants still in the ground, the raking was difficult and certainly didn't completely clean the soil surface.

When the soil is dry enough, the area will get a good shot of lime and fertilizer before being planted with fall brassicas, kale, and Sugar Snap peas. We're getting a little close on available growing days for the peas, but then, we may have another late first frost this year.

Current working compost pileI ended up making two trips to the compost pile with small loads of corn stalks. Since I've been laid up for some time recovering from hip surgery, this pile has not been seriously turned since April. It will take a long time to decompose without being aerated or fertilized, but hopefully, I've got time.

Our old, supposedly finished compost pile is now covered with weeds and plants since it didn't get used promptly, wasn't turned, and had viable seeds in it. One of our granddaughters proudly brought two yellow squash up to the back porch a couple of weeks ago that she'd picked from a vine growing on the pile.

And after again mentioning the deer that got our sweet corn, I saw one nibbling on the field corn at the back of the yard a few minutes ago when I took our "daily" splash shot that appears at the top of this page. The young doe looked quite healthy and well fed.

Deer at back of yard

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Friday, July 17, 2015 - Our First Tomatoes!

Our Senior Garden - July 17, 2015Water CharityIt's always a treat for me when our first tomatoes of the season ripen. I'd noticed a tomato showing some red coloring yesterday while looking at the garden. But this morning, I saw a ripe, groundfall tomato, another ripe one on the vine, and several more ripening elsewhere on the vines when I took a close look.

Our tomatoes are beginning to ripen about two weeks earlier than last year, as I got ours planted pretty early. But despite the early planting, the plants still took far longer than their days-to-maturity figures to ripen their first fruits. Tomatoes transplanted early into cool ground tend to just sit and wait for the ground to warm up.

The tomatoes I brought in today are both Earlirouges, an open pollinated variety we're trying to help preserve. They produce a lot of small to medium sized (2-4") tomatoes that are an ideal size for canning whole. But the variety also is delicious and has the deep red interiors of the related variety we also work (most years) to preserve, Moira.

Tomatoes ripening on vine Groundfall tomato plus ripening on vine Tomatoes with ruler for size reference

Our Mountain Fresh and Mountain Merit tomato plants at either end of our cucumber row were transplanted a couple of weeks before the Earlirouges. They're both longer season varieties and aren't showing any red on their fruit as yet. Hopefully, that will give us somewhat of a staggered harvest for fresh use. Of course, I do hope we'll get a whole bunch of ripe tomatoes at once sometime in the next month for canning.

Mountain Merit on left, cucumbers center, Mountain Fresh on right

We usually celebrate our first ripe tomato of the season by having bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for supper. But we're going to have wall-to-wall grandkids this weekend, so I may just cheat a bit and gobble down the small tomato when I get done writing this posting. Grin

Cucumber blooms

Red onions
Yellow onions

When I went outside to get the shot of the Merit tomatoes and cucumbers above, my day got turned upside down. I thought I wasn't going to be doing much gardening today. But after grabbing shots of the tomatoes and of the cucumber blooms, I decided to check on our Red Creole onions that mature fairly early.

It turned out that most of our onions needed to be pulled. Some were mature and others were simply getting overgrown by grass weeds. So I ended up pulling all of our onions other that the Walla Wallas which will require about two more weeks to mature.

I'd planned to just let the onions sit and dry a day or so on the lawn, but dark storm clouds began rolling in about the time I finished. So...the onions all got gathered up and moved to our back porch to dry there for a few days. Normally, they'd go to the drying table in our garage, but it's still covered with our bumper crop of garlic that is slowly drying and curing.

Even with severe weed pressure that I couldn't stay up with because of my hip, we seem to have gotten a nice crop of onions again this year. While there certainly aren't as many as last year when we trialed several new varieties, we should have enough to last us all winter if they cure and store well.

I also took out the last of the Eclipse and Encore peas for seed today. There wasn't much seed left, as many of the pods had shattered. But what I got today, along with what I'd picked a few days ago, will give us enough for planting next year.

Clearing sections of our current garden will make way for the brassica and lettuce transplants growing under plant lights in our basement. I start them there, as the basement usually runs a bit cooler than outdoors, something both the brassicas and lettuce like.

It's sorta hard to believe it's almost time to get our fall crops planted!

Fall lettuce and brassica transplants growing under lights

Monday, July 20, 2015

Our Senior Garden - July 20, 2015Buckwheat upWe keep getting missed by the heavy thundershowers that have recently passed just north and south of us. While that may portend the beginning of our annual mid-July through August dry spell, it also has allowed the soil in our main raised garden bed to dry out enough for tilling. Interestingly, the buckwheat I sowed last week into one of our narrow raised beds has begun to germinate with nothing more than the morning dew and what little moisture that was already present in the soil. That's not a freak occurrence, as we've seen it happen here before, most notably during the drought of 2012. Buckwheat seems to need only a bare minimum of soil moisture to germinate. Obviously, to grow a good cover crop of it, it will need a good rain here and there.

Soil heavily fertilized and limedWhile I still need to pull our short trellis where our Eclipse and Encore peas grew, dig our spring carrots, and bring in our Walla Walla onions, the far end of our main raised bed was ready for tilling this morning. Since it had grown an intensive planting of sweet corn and will be planted to peas and brassicas, the area got a heavy dose of commercial 12-12-12 fertilizer and enough hydrated lime to bring the soil pH back up to around 6.8-7.0. If I'd had any on hand, I would have also tilled in some compost and peat moss. Alas, we're out of both of those excellent soil amendments right now.

The decision to till today was pushed by a weather forecast that includes a fair to good chance for showers tonight. The carrots really should have come in first, but I've already just about ruined that crop by inadvertently adding fertilizer to it that has produced lots of extra roots growing off the carrots. And sadly, while I can walk behind a rototiller, I can't do much digging yet.

Section tilled

I'd like the area tilled this morning to get rained on before tilling it again before planting. The ground is still pretty rough, as I only made two passes over it with the tiller. And yes, that's my cane hanging off the tiller handle in the shot above. While I can walk behind the tiller, I still need a cane to get around the rest of the time as my new hip settles in and I rehab the muscles the surgeons cut through to implant the new device.

BTW: I found a video from OrthoIndy showing them doing a Total Hip Replacement, but only weeks after I'd had the surgery. I'm actually glad I hadn't seen it before the surgery, as it's pretty graphic...and gross. But now some nine weeks after the procedure, I rototilled this morning with lots less pain than I would have had before the surgery (Relax sweetie, it's a two or three on pain level, not a seven!). After watching it, I found myself asking, "They did that to me?"

I still have some very old flower transplants on the back porch that I'll use to add some varied color around the edges of our main raised bed if the plants haven't been stunted by staying so long in fourpacks. I also need to replant our Gloriosa Daisies, as one of our dogs laid on the planting along the east side of our house, pretty well doing in the lovely perennials.

Having once again "pushed the envelope" this morning, I'm going to take a pain pill, do my rehab exercises, and take it easy the rest of the day. I hope you can do the same if you're so inclined (the relaxing part, not the drugs and exercises Grin).

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

We were treated to quite a sunset tonight.

Sunset - July 21, 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Our Senior Garden - July 22, 2015Slim carrot harvestOur spring carrots came out today. Unlike the bumper crops we've grown the last two years, this harvest was pretty slim (just five pounds of good carrots). My addition of fertilizer to the carrots late in the growing season had produced lots of new roots growing on the roots along with some white bulbous growths. Having been fooled by some baby carrots I test dug, I delayed digging our crop and suffered about a 50% loss in mature carrots due to rot. And of course, the carrots along with our onions had been somewhat overgrown with weeds when I was unable to get out and weed the patch as I recovered from hip surgery.

The good news is that we got enough good carrots to last us until our fall carrots come in and likely well beyond. Our fall planting will be pretty limited, as I cut it back in our plans in favor of more fall lettuce. But in all likelihood, we'll have enough carrots to last us through the winter.

Even though many of our Walla Walla onions could have used a couple of more weeks in the ground to grow to full size, I took them out today as well. They were growing in the same weedy bed as the carrots, and I want to get that area renovated for fall planting as soon as possible. The Walla Wallas will get used up pretty quickly in canned bread and butter pickles, canned green beans, and our recipe for Portuguese Kale Soup. That's good as the variety only stores well for a couple of months or so.

In what has been a pretty big day of gardening in which I forgot to take any photographs (since corrected), I got our garlic trimmed, bagged, and stored. We put up ten pounds of elephant garlic and five pounds of standard garlic. We also have another five pounds of garlic culls that have bad bulb wrappers or are showing some signs of decay. They'll be processed for garlic powder.

The table where the garlic had been curing immediately got covered with the red and yellow storage onions I pulled last week. They'll need to dry and cure for a couple of weeks before being stored.


After supper this evening, I mentioned to my wife, Annie, that I hadn't yet picked tomatoes today. She kindly offered to do the picking, giving her a chance to get outside and do a bit of gardening. While we've picked a dozen or so tomatoes so far, what Annie got today from just four Earlirouge plants was pretty amazing.

Earlirouge Tomatoes

We'd not grown the Earlirouge variety on really good soil until this year. In previous years, the Earlirouge plants were in remote isolation plots or our East Garden, both with less than ideal soil. The response to good soil this year confirms our investment in time in growing the excellent open pollinated, semi-determinate variety. We share seed of the Earlirouge (and the related Moira and Quinte) variety via the Seed Savers Exchange.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Getting ready to can tomatoesSeven quarts of whole tomatoes cannedI canned some of the tomatoes Annie picked last evening. We got seven quarts of canned, whole tomatoes from the picking and still had a couple dozen tomatoes left over (not enough for another canner load).

Annie had also taken some tomatoes to work with her for her co-workers. We're hearing from lots of folks that their tomatoes got drowned out in the heavy rains some areas have gotten this spring and summer. We've been fortunate to have adequate rainfall without too much standing water. The areas I've been clearing in our main raised bed the last week or so are now getting pretty dry!

I used our pressure canner as a water bath canner for the tomatoes today, just leaving the pressure cap off while the quarts boiled for 45 minutes. As usual, I checked the Ball Blue Book to make sure of the proper canning time. I also did a cold pack instead of our usual hot pack for the tomatoes. That saved putting the skinned tomatoes into a separate pot to heat. I just popped the whole tomatoes into canning jars as I got them skinned, pressing them down with a wooden spoon to release enough juice to cover them.

Light House Mission

Friday, July 24, 2015

Our Senior Garden - July 24, 2015Soaking pea seedWe're clearly into our annual summer dry spell now. Our extended weather forecast doesn't have anything better than a 30% chance of a thundershower in the next ten days. Such weather makes planting ones fall garden more than a little bit challenging. And it's one time that raised garden beds that tend to dry out quicker than standard garden beds a bit of a disadvantage.

Since we're getting really close to the limit on growing days for Sugar Snapicon peas, I started our fall planting with them today. They're rated somewhere in the 64-70 range for days to maturity from seeding. Adding a couple of weeks to allow for the shortening day length of late summer days, we'll have to be a little bit lucky to get a good crop before our first frost. But we like Sugar Snaps, so it's worth the gamble.

Since I don't like bending to pick much of anything, we grow the original, tall variety of Sugar Snaps. I started the planting by soaking the seed for about an hour. Soaking it much longer might have produced something only useful for split pea soup.

Furrow watered and seededWhile the seed was soaking, I got started pounding in T-posts for the trellis the peas would need for vining. Once I had the three posts in the ground, I dug a furrow about four inches wide and two or three inches deep. The furrow received two five gallon buckets of water to help with the germination. Before seeding, I also sprinkled some granular soil inoculant in the furrow to help the peas fix nitrogen on their roots.

Peas planted, tellised, and mulchedOnce the seed was in the ground and covered with a couple of inches of soil, I tamped the soil with my rake head to ensure good seed to soil contact. Then it was time to get the trellis netting up. I'd waited to pull our short trellis that had supported our Eclipse and Encore peas until today so that I could use the two wires from it for stringing the new, taller trellis. And I was fortunate to have a new package of Dalen Garden Trellis Netting on hand so I didn't have to fight untangling old netting I had stored.

When I got done hanging the trellis, I had to laugh. In the short time since I'd tightened the top wire, a new wire at that, it had begun to stretch and sag in the warmth of the sun. Rather than tighten it today, I'll wait until it stretches a bit more to tighten it.

The final step in the planting was to spread grass clipping mulch up to the edges of the planted row. What little soil moisture there is, I want to keep in the ground. I have some rather sad looking marigold transplants on the porch that would make a nice edging by the peas, but I was worn out by the time I got the trellis hung and the mulching done.

About That Buckwheat

The buckwheat I planted July 14 into one of our narrow raised beds didn't come up as well as I though it had. Several bare spots required reseeding, and I've been watering the patch the last several days. There's still lots of time for the buckwheat to make a good cover/smother crop to be turned down by fall. Buckwheat matures in just four to six weeks after planting. I tend to let the crop grow a little longer than one should for optimal turndown value as I like to give the bees a special treat.


Our cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes got a good spray of Serenade biofungicide today. I'd noticed a cucumber leaf that had what appeared to be powdery mildew on it yesterday. Serenade seems to help suppress that disease. And when I'd canned tomatoes, I'd noticed just a few fruits that appeared diseased, so the tomato and pepper row got a good dousing today as well. Apparently the soil drench of Serenade I'd applied at planting wasn't enough to hold off the soil borne diseases. If the infections appear to spread, I'll resort to the much stronger (and definitely not organic) Fungo-nil.

Sam’s Club

Sunday, July 26, 2015

North end of bed tilledSouth end of main raised bedOur main raised garden bed is now ready for fall planting. The season long row of tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the bed is bordered on either side by freshly tilled ground that is planting ready. A row of Sugar Snap peas already is seeded at the south end of the bed. Now, it's just a matter of seeding our kale, green beans, and spinach, and transplanting broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce.

We need a good rain before we start seeding and transplanting our "fall garden," though. Fortunately, as I write, there's a nice line of showers just over the state line that appears to be headed our way.

Walla Walla onions and friendsEarlirouge tomato plants bearing heavilyOur small planting of Walla Walla onions yielded about seven pounds of various sized bulbs. After just a couple of days curing in the sun, they were ready to be trimmed and bagged yesterday. Our storage onions are still curing in the garage, but appear to be just a couple of days away from being dry enough to bag and store in the basement.

Our Earlirouge tomato plants are in full production now, bearing lots of lovely tomatoes. Our hybrid Mountain Merit tomato plant at one end of our cucumber row is bearing, but is also showing signs of anthracnose, a soil borne tomato disease. The Mountain Fresh plant at the other end of the row looks healthy, but has yet to produce a ripe tomato.

Immature JLP cucumber on vineWe're just beginning to pick a few Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. I had cucumbers with ranch dressing yesterday as a bit of a treat. I've slowed down the cucumbers a bit, as I've been picking the female blooms off the plants that came from Reimer Seeds, although the cukes shown above left are from the Reimer vines. Their strain of JLPs are shorter, greener, and have more spines than our strain. But they also have added some vigor to our strain of JLP cucumbers, which is what we needed.

Cucumber blossomsHaving satisfied my initial craving for fresh, sliced cucumbers, I'll begin to concentrate on finding long, straight cukes to allow to mature completely on the vine for seed saving. I'm not hand pollinating the cucumbers, but from our results over the last two years, bees seem to be doing a good job of crossing the two strains for us.

A half dozen or so readers requested free JLP seed from us this year. A major seed house also requested and received a large sample of our JLP seed. Along with Reimer Seeds offering their strain of the variety, I feel a lot better these days knowing that several others are developing the variety and saving seed from it.

And if you couldn't tell already, I just like taking pictures of cucumber vines and cucumbers. The deep green of the leaves contrasts well with the plentiful, brilliant, yellow cucumber blossoms.

Maverick Red geraniums, Merit tomatoes, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Striped cucumber beetle on cucumber leafStriped cucumber beetlesWhat I mistook for powdery mildew on our cucumbers last Friday turned out to be the first damage from striped cucumber beetles. When I looked today, the damage had become fairly extensive, with 15-20% of the leaves on our cucumber vines showing damage.

The cucumber vines will recover from the feeding damage, but cucumber beetles, both spotted and striped, can also carry plant diseases. Our melon crop last year was limited by diseases brought in by spotted cucumber beetles early in the season. The diseases persisted long after we'd wiped out the bugs.

Facing both insect and potential disease damage today, I chose to spray with liquid Sevin to vanquish the striped cucumber beetles and Fungonil to protect the plants from disease. The Fungonil was necessary, as the Sevin probably would negate the positive effects of the spray of Serenade biofungicide I applied last week. As I sprayed, swarms of striped cucumber beetles emerged from the leaves. I should have been more vigilant last week in inspecting the leaf damage. Had I been, I might have gotten by with a milder, organic product such as Insecticidal Soap or Pyrethrin instead of the Sevin. As it is, I'll have to watch for re-infestation from cucumber beetle eggs hatching, but the Sevin should give us 3-5 days of protection.

Planting on Hold

Our Senior Garden - July 28, 2015It's dry here. Heavy, frequent thunderstorms in our area have passed just north and south of us, missing us each time. A couple of nights ago, I thought I could hear the rain just south of us (which was clearly visible on weather radar), but we didn't get a drop. I did mow and rake around our raised garden beds today so that I'd have grass clipping mulch on hand for our succession plantings. I also wanted to get the reddish-brown grass clippings up off the ground, as they were really messing up the color balance on our splash shots of the garden taken from our sunroom window.

With our current dry soil conditions, succession plantings are on hold for the time being. I'm already watering our row of Sugar Snap peas each day until they germinate and emerge from the soil. I dug a bit in the row today and found seed germinating, but it hadn't as yet pushed up through the soil surface.

Tomato seed fermentingOnce the peas emerge, I can take a chance on seeding or transplanting something else, but really can't water all that much due to our puny well. We have kale, green beans, carrots, and spinach to direct seed and broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce waiting to transplant. If I get adventurous, I might risk using the soil soaker hose before seeding something like green beans. But I also grew possibly the world's most expensive crop of green beans several years ago when I ran our well dry using the soil soaker. I burnt up an expensive well pump as it pumped air instead of the water that cools its motor.

Seed Saving

Current Growing Garden SeedsWe have tomato seed and slurry fermenting in a canning jar on the kitchen counter. I found six or eight perfect Earlirouge tomatoes over the last few days I wanted to save seed from. I've described the seed saving process in some detail in Saving Tomato Seed. (I also cleaned up some grammatical errors and broken links in the feature story last night.)

I also froze packages of Eclipse and Encore saved pea seed yesterday. I held out ten seeds of each variety, using them to begin germination tests for the seed.

I still find Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds to be about the best, simple guide for seed saving one could use. It's nicely priced as well, running just $2.95 from Johnny's Selected Seeds. For quick, free, online seed saving info, the Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook is an excellent reference.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I went to the garden last evening to get a shot of our bug damaged cucumber vines, but the camera lens immediately fogged up from being cooled by air conditioning inside the house and the high humidity outside. So when I went out to pick (cucumbers and tomatoes) this morning, I grabbed a shot.

Bug damaged cucumber vines

The vine damage is limited, and the plants will recover. I didn't see any striped cucumber beetles on the vines this morning.

I picked a few Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers this morning, but only from the vines that came from the seed from Reimer Seeds. I left all the cukes produced by our strain of plants, which hopefully were somewhat pollinated by the more vigorous Reimer plants, to ripen for seed. Our strain produces longer, and I think, better tasting cucumbers. But having faced inbreeding depression a few years ago, our strain needed a little "new blood."

Narrow bed of buckwheat and geraniumsCart with JLP cucumbers and Earlirouge tomatoesNext to the narrow bed of cucumbers is our narrow bed of buckwheat and geraniums. When I pulled our brassica plants from the bed, I immediately seeded it to buckwheat. While I had to water the bed a little to get a few bare spots to fill in, we should now get a great cover/smother crop of buckwheat to turn down in a few weeks.

The big harvest of the day was once again Earlirouge tomatoes. The four open pollinated, semi-determinate plants have again amazed me with the bounty of tomatoes they've produced. Even with what I picked this morning, we should get at least one more major picking from the plants, based on what tomatoes I see ripening on the vines.

I again was able to find a half dozen or so of what I considered perfect tomatoes for seed saving. They'll get processed later today. The rest of the tomatoes will be canned whole. I'm picking tomatoes for seed saving based on no signs of disease or insect damage (which can look a lot alike, sometimes), tomato size (larger being better until they begin to be ribbed like beefsteak tomatoes), lack of cracking around the stem, and deep red coloring.

Bagging onions in the garageAfter cooling off from the 100+ heat index outside, I made another trip out, this time to the garage to trim and bag our onions. I think it was even hotter in the garage than out in the garden. But I got our red and yellow storage onions trimmed, bagged, and moved to their permanent storage area in our basement.

We ended up storing about five pounds of red onions and a little over twelve pounds of yellow onions. Along with the five or six pounds of Walla Walla sweet onions I brought in this week, we should have plenty of onions on hand for winter use. As the Walla Wallas don't store well, they'll get used up first.

I only had to discard about two or three pounds of cull onions that showed signs of spoilage. Of course, some of the stored onions will rot or and sprout over the winter. I'll have to check them and cull out any bad onions every few weeks to make sure one bad onion doesn't make the whole bag spoil.

Our dry weather continues, as showers predicted for last night and this morning missed us again. Pop-up showers are appearing all around our area, so maybe there's some hope we'll catch a shower today or tomorrow. We're getting very close to the point where we won't have enough growing days left in the season to mature fall planted crops, but without a little rain, we won't be able to get the crops started.

Friday, July 31, 2015 - July Wrap-up

July, 2015, Animated GIFI began this month's blog talking about soil renovation coming before the planting of fall, succession crops. At this point, all of our spring crops have been harvested. Our soil renovation, however, was pretty minimal. One narrow raised bed got cleared and planted to a cover crop of buckwheat. Other than our row of tomato and pepper plants in our main raised bed, cleared areas just got lime and some 12-12-12 fertilizer tilled in. Without a good source for compost or well-rotted manure, that had to do. But we'll get another shot at soil renovation this year as we prepare out garden beds for next spring sometime in October or November.

July Harvests

Our sweet corn crop turned out to be a bust, as deer ate all the ears just as they were beginning to silk. Our spring carrot harvest was also disappointing, but that was more of my own doing. I accidentally applied starter fertilizer to the carrots along with the intended organic biofungicide when I was treating the nearby onion rows. The extra fertility induced the carrots to put on lots of extra, white roots and some strange bulbous growths. I also delayed digging the carrots too long, allowing many of them to begin to rot in the ground.

On a more positive note, we brought in one of our best garlic harvests ever. Having planted almost all newly purchased garlic, the plants showed far more vigor than our saved garlic had over the last few years. Our new elephant garlic produced the largest bulbs we've ever grown. Our standard garlics also did well, giving us plenty to store for winter use and for fall planting.

Another good onion harvest this year should keep us supplied throughout most of the winter. After last year's trials of thirteen onion varieties, we cut back to just eight varieties this year. All of them did well!

Growing our Earlirouge tomatoes in good ground for the first time this year has produced incredible harvests, allowing us to can fourteen quarts of whole tomatoes in July. It's still to be seen if the semi-determinate plants continue to produce through the rest of the growing season. They're currently filled with lots more ripening tomatoes.

After enjoying some wonderful Eclipse and Encore peas at the dinner table, we let both varieties mature and dry seed to be saved for future plantings. Seed saving for the two varieties is essential, as neither variety is commercially available anymore. We also began saving seed from our Earlirouge tomato plants, a process I describe in detail in the feature story, Saving Tomato Seed.

Starting the Fall Garden

We actually got our first succession crop started in mid-June. Our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers required a bit of replanting to fill in bare spots in their row this month, though. They have agreeably begun to bear fruit now. We'll be saving seed from the JLPs, but it takes a good bit of time for the cukes to fully mature from the fresh picking stage to where one takes them for seed production (two to three weeks).

Our next succession crop, Sugar Snap peas, went into the ground on July 24. With daily waterings, the peas began to emerge from the soil yesterday and today.

Peas, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower

Caught between dwindling growing days and very dry soil, I went ahead this morning and got back to planting fall crops. I transplanted a few broccoli and cauliflower plants, giving each planting hole gallons of water before putting in the transplant and mulching around them. I omitted our usual paper cup cutworm collars, as the transplants had well developed stems, and I haven't seen a cutworm in our soil of late. I did, however, liberally spread animal repellent to deter any hungry rabbits in the area. Two years ago, rabbits ate every one of our fall brassica transplants!

I also direct seeded kale and green beans. The furrow for the kale was heavily watered before seeding. Vates (also called Dwarf Blue Curled or Dwarf Blue Scotch) is our favorite and best producing (and tasting) kale variety, but I also put in a little Tuscan Baby Leaf, Lacinato, and Red Ursa. I covered the kale seed in the row with a layer of damp peat moss before covering the row with our walking boards to conserve moisture. If it germinates well, the kale should easily mature before a killing frost.

With the beans, it's iffy. But it was go ahead and plant today or simply not have any chance of a crop of green beans this year. I soaked the seed for our three earliest bean varieties, Contender, Provider, and Stringless Green Pod, before planting into a well watered furrow. Seeing that I could just squeeze in another row, I seeded the slightly longer season Strike, Maxibel, and Bush Blue Lake varieties. While I watered the furrow for the seed, that seed didn't get pre-soaked. I'm hoping that with floating row covers and cold frames, we'll be able to at least get a first picking from some of the beans.

I still have spinach and carrots to direct seed, and lettuce to transplant to complete our fall garden. I just ran out of energy today before I ran out of things to do.

Supper Tonight

We had spaghetti for supper tonight. The menu was driven by a jar of whole tomatoes that didn't seal in the canning process and needed to be used as soon as possible. As it turned out, the spaghetti sauce, seasoned with garlic, onions, basil, parsley, and oregano from our garden (and gardens past) was excellent.

Personal Note

I'm now exactly eleven weeks past having total hip replacement surgery. Before the surgery, I had envisioned being able to walk independent of a walker or cane at six or seven weeks. That didn't happen, and I'm just now able to walk a bit without my cane and occasionally work in the garden without it.

Most of the pain I'm currently experiencing isn't from the hip, but from muscles that atrophied before the surgery. So I keep doing my exercises, medicate when absolutely necessary, and head toward full recovery, possibly at the six to twelve month mark that is often mentioned online. Gardening is great therapy, as I must bend and stretch a lot while taking care of our crops. I hope to be able next season to once again have our full garden.

June, 2015

August, 2015

Contact Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening


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