Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

August 15, 2017

Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - The Race Is On

Main garden - August 1, 2017
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East Garden - August 1, 2017
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We're in our usual race to beat the first frost of fall with our garden crops. Based on the last few years, we have something in the range of 65-90 days left of frost free growing season.

For our all season crops such as tomatoes and peppers, the first frost isn't a biggie, other than ending those plants productivity. But in terms of succession crops we've planted and are still planting, it makes a big difference.

I've already blown it on growing a fall crop of lima beans. The seed I have to plant is rated at 75 days-to-maturity. Adding about ten days to that figure to allow for the shorter days in fall, and we're right up against or possibly past our first frost of October. I left our short peas in the ground too long this year for seed saving, not remembering that I was going to use the same trellis for the butter beans. And, I did the same dumb thing last year! Aren't we supposed to gain wisdom with old age?

Crockett's Victory GardenOur fall kale and carrots were seeded on Sunday and should have plenty of time to mature. Kale, like most brassicas, can stand a bit of frost. The late James Underwood Crockett wrote that frost improved the taste of kale.

Corn trash tilled inI have broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage transplants growing in deep sixpack inserts on the back porch. They'll hopefully go into our East Garden plot sometime this week. I tilled under some weeds and the sweet corn roots this morning, but the area will need one more tilling before I begin transplanting.

The area saved for lima beans will probably go to another planting of green beans which generally begin to bear pods in around 50 days. Crockett says fall beans are often more tender than summer grown beans.

I also have some very tiny lettuce plants getting going under plant lights in the basement. While we may be a bit behind with the lettuce, it's one crop you can successfully cover with a floating row cover to get past a mild (down to 28° F) frost. And since we often take some of our lettuce as baby lettuce at around 30 days from transplanting, we should be okay there.

Our second planting of buckwheat I mentioned yesterday is now in full bloom. I noticed more butterflies visiting the blooms this morning than honeybees.

Buckwheat in bloom

I'll let the buckwheat bloom for a few more days before cutting and turning it under.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Potatoes dryingWe received a half inch of rain overnight, so most areas of our garden were too wet to mess with today. I did dig half of our row of Red Pontiac potatoes. The wet ground may have made the digging a bit easier. It certainly made a muddy mess of this senior gardener.

I usually let our potatoes cure on our makeshift drying table in the garage. With this bunch, I rinsed off what mud I could and then dried them a bit on the kitchen counter. I moved the larger potatoes to a wire shelf in our basement to cure. Smaller potatoes got green bagged and saved for use as new potatoes.

Overall, we got about thirteen pounds of potatoes. I saved a nice one for a baked potato for supper tonight.

Processing sweet cornTomato and cucumber seed fermenting, tomato seed drying jarLast night, I worked on freezing the last of our early sweet corn. The ears weren't the largest or prettiest one might find, but after cutting out bad spots and such, they made three quarts frozen.

I started our first batch of saved Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed this morning. Saving Cucumber Seed is a lot like Saving Tomato Seed. While it's possible to harvest and just rinse cucumber seed clean for saving, I prefer to let the seed ferment with its gel for a few days like one does when saving tomato seed. The fermentation can kill off some harmful bacteria and also loosens the gel coating around each seed.

The photo at right shows both tomato and cucumber seeds fermenting in jars. The smaller jar has tomato seed in it with some powdered milk in a t-shirt scrap absorbing moisture from the seed.

While out digging potatoes and dumping compost and used cat litter, I grabbed a shot of our East Garden from the East. That 40' x 80' half of the garden plot is rotated out this season and is in its second planting of buckwheat. We rotate the East Garden 90° each year so each quarter of it gets gardened for two years before resting for two years.

East Garden and buckwheat

I promise not to write about buckwheat every day this month, but it's impressive how fast the cover/smother crop grows.

Thursday, August 3, 2017 - Kale Up

Kale up
Digging potatoes

Raised bed planted to kaleWhen I went out to water our rows of newly seeded kale and carrots this morning, I got a pleasant surprise. Kale plants were just barely visible at the edge of the 2x4s I'd covered the rows with. Some of the plants had gotten a little leggy (too tall) from seeking light, but should be okay. The carrots, of course, will take a little more time to germinate.

More Potatoes

I dug the second half of our row of Red Pontiac potatoes this morning. While the digging produced twenty-two more pounds of red potatoes, there was serious insect damage to about six pounds of them. All in all, we got almost thirty pounds of good potatoes from the row.

Digging does some good for the ground, as I go a full foot deep with my heavy garden fork when digging and lifting the potato plants. In the process, the soil gets mixed a good bit. While grubbing by hand for a few potatoes, I realized that I was working in loose soil a full foot below the soil surface. Our East Garden has a nasty plow pan of hard clay soil four to eight inches down in some areas.

The potato vines all got composted. They wouldn't add much organic material to the soil if tilled in. By composting them, there's less chance of carrying over any disease that might be present in the vines.

This harvest is a bit of a first for this season. The potato row will sit idle for the rest of the season, as I have no succession crop planned for the space. I suspect that our row of sweet potatoes will gladly vine over the ground.

Today's take of potatoes Potato row cleared Insect damaged potatoes

From what I could find online, the potato tuber moth may be responsible for the damaged potatoes. This kind of damage was something new for us this year.

Burpee Herb Seeds & Plants

Friday, August 4, 2017

Our Senior Garden - August 4, 2017Nice view on a lovely dayOther than applying one last spray of Not Tonight Deer on our nearly mature full season sweet corn this evening, I didn't do much gardening today. But it was still a glorious day with a strong breeze and temperatures in the 70s. I spent a good bit of the afternoon riding around on our lawn mower, totally enjoying the job in the pleasant weather.

When done mowing, I sat on the back porch for a half hour or so enjoying the view. The skies were blue, hummingbirds were visiting the feeder in front of me, the grass was mowed, and I had no imperative gardening chores to complete

We had chicken and noodles for supper tonight, a favorite of a visiting granddaughter. There were also sugar snap peas, which said granddaughter helped pick. But the star of the meal was the watermelon cubes I'd cut almost a week ago. I'd picked a thirty pound melon and cut as much of it as I could store into cubes. I've been impressed with the Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelons we've gotten this year. They have great flavor and no mature seeds (although a lot of little white ones). We still have lots more watermelon varieties ripening, so our taste trials will pleasantly continue.


Sunday, August 6, 2017 - Cool Weather and Watermelons

Twenty pound Farmers Wonderful watermelon
Cut Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon

Kale mulchedWe're enjoying our third straight day with temperatures getting no higher than the upper 70s. We've had light rain on and off, but not enough to really register in the rain gauge.

Between showers, I mulched our kale bed, both the established and newly emerged plants. I think the rain we had last week plus the cool temperatures helped get the kale up and going. We often have trouble getting kale to germinate well in August.

I later picked two watermelon and several cantaloupe. We got our first, ripe Blacktail Mountain watermelon today. We didn't get to sample it, as it went to a nice lady who was adopting one of our many kittens. We have two or three more Blacktail Mountains almost ripe on the vine.

The second melon was a seedless Farmers Wonderful. The melon rind looks like a Crimson Sweet, but of course, the flesh is nearly seedless. This melon split as soon as I started to cut it, a sure sign of ripeness. I cut both halves of the melon into cubes. We'll eat one half while the rest will go to work with my wife as a treat for the folks in her office.

Apparently, we had enough really hot weather earlier for our watermelons to develop their sweetness before our current cool spell set in. Our melon vines are still blooming and setting new fruit, so we may have an extended picking season through August and possibly into September.


Our row of double trellised Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers are doing incredibly well. I knew I needed to pick today, as I could see the top trellis wires seriously sagging from the weight they were supporting. Sure enough, when I picked, there were lots of long and mostly straight cucumbers. I didn't pick all that I could have. I left several of the better looking cucumbers on the vine to ripen for seed saving.

Healthy row of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plants Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers Cucumber seed drying

By sheer chance, our first batch of saved Japanese Long Pickling seed was ready to be rinsed and dried today. The seed and the surrounding goo from the cucumbers had been in a jar fermenting for four days. After a good bit of rinsing, the seed came clean with the remaining pieces of cucumber flesh floating off. I also started a germination test with ten of the seeds, as we need to know if this is a viable batch of seed for sharing with others.

String Trimmer

Buckwheat partially cutWalmart iconI bought a string trimmer last week, as we've done without one for several years. Rather than investing in a name brand unit, I bought the cheapest gas modelicon our local Walmart had in stock. I simply needed to cut our buckwheat plants in preparation of turning down the cover/smother crop. Having used the unit last evening (and now read the reviews of it), I see why it was so cheap. The short shaft left me shake 'n baked with grass clippings, but the trimmer did its job.

Since I'd let the buckwheat get very tall, I had to cut it from the top down, making about three sweeps to get all of the plants. I cheated on my usual seeding rate for buckwheat this time and paid the price. Where my seeding was thin, there was heavy grass growing underneath the buckwheat that the trimmer struggled to cut. But by essentially chopping the buckwheat instead of mowing it down, I got an even cover of small pieces of buckwheat over the ground. In the past when I've mowed the buckwheat before tilling it under, the buckwheat stuck to the mower deck or came out in clumps.

I only got about a third of the buckwheat cut before losing the light. Today, it was too wet to attempt cutting it. When things dry out a bit (not predicted until Tuesday), I'll finish cutting the rest of the buckwheat. I'll let it dry a day or two before using our pull-type rototiller to turn it under.

I'll let the buckwheat patch sit for a week or two, tilling it when I can for weed control. When I re-seed it for a final crop this season, I'll spread the usual five pounds of seed I use to get a thick cover of buckwheat that smothers any grass and weeds germinating under it. I had cut back my seeding rate for this second crop, using only three pounds of seed. I think I saved about three bucks on seed and probably made the tilling a whole lot more difficult.

Potato Salad

Those six pounds of cull potatoes I mentioned last week got turned into some fairly good mustard potato salad on Saturday. It took a lot of peeling and trimming, but once the bad spots, which ran shallower than I expected, were cut out, these were pretty good potatoes. I have the smallest potatoes we harvested stored in a green bag. The bulk of the harvest is curing on a wire rack in our basement.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - Pickle Relish

Canned sweet pickle relishComposite Raised BedsWith lots of nice cucumbers on hand, I made them into pickle relish yesterday. Sixteen or seventeen long, but thin cucumbers yielded a little over nine pints of canned sweet relish.

Since this was my first try at canning pickle relish, I followed a pretty good recipe I found online. If I had it to do over again, I'd ignore the recipe's direction to peel the cucumbers. Our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers have fairly tender skins that would have added some desired crunchiness and dark green color to our relish. This batch was also heavily colored with red from a lot of Earliest Red Sweet peppers that I used.

While the recipe suggests using a food processor to chop the cucumbers, onions, and peppers, I found our food processor made the mix a little mushier than I'd like. Part way through cutting up the cucumbers, I attempted to switch to my mother's old food grinder that we've used for years to make ham salad. It made a chunkier mix, but the threads holding the handle firm have failed. I had to give up and finish the job with the food processor.

The end product had a good flavor, but a bit different than our favorite commercial brand, Vlasicicon. While looking at the ingredients in commercial sweet relishes, I was dismayed at the number of artificial colors and preservatives used in someicon. It made me glad we have a good sweet relish recipe now.

Sweet Corn and Hummingbirds

Our main season sweet corn is pretty nasty. It developed during a dry spell. The dry weather stress stunted the corn, especially our main season varieties. They're producing multiple ears low on the stalk, often at ground level. Pollination of the ears has been poor.

I'd picked a little over a dozen pretty scrappy ears of corn for supper tonight. While I was shucking the corn on the back porch, hummingbirds were swarming around the feeder a few feet in front and above me.

Canon T5i with 15-85mm lensI realized all the fuss by the tiny birds was because both of our feeders were empty. I started to refill and hang both feeders. Instead, I mischieviously hung only one refilled feeder...and got out my Canon T5i camera. Unlike its predicessor, a Canon Digital Rebel XSi which still serves as a backup, the T5i has a movie mode I'd not previously used.

I used the camera manual to figure out how to take a movie with the camera. I was pleased to see that it took movies in HD 1080 with autofocus and auto exposure control. I got a fairly good video of the hummingbirds clustering around the feeder on my first try. I need to remember not to move the camera when filming, but other than that, making the movie and uploading it to YouTube was a breeze. After filming a bit of their feeding frenzy, I hung the second feeder.

The sweet corn got cut off the cobs for supper. Even though the ears looked pretty sad, the cut corn tasted great. Of course, its flavor may have been enhanced by the steak, potato salad, and watermelon also on my plate.

Habitat for Humanity

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 - Seed Saving

Tomato seed germination testJars of seed getting some extra drying with powdered milkI have a number of batches of saved vegetable seed in various stages of drying, all the way up to already being in frozen storage. There's a large, paper shopping bag full of spinach stems hanging in the garage. I bang it around a bit to loosen the seed whenever I think of it. Jars of saved seed with a teaspoon of powdered milk in cheesecloth to help the seed dry are frequently on our kitchen counter.

One part of the seed saving process is making sure ones seed is viable. To find out in most cases, a simple germination test gives the answer.

I opened up and "read" our first completed germination test for Earlirouge tomato seed today. Five days ago, I'd placed ten tomato seeds on a wet coffee filter, folded it over them, enclosed them in a freezer bag, and set them aside. Today, nine of the ten seeds had clearly sprouted, with the tenth just barely showing a nubbin of a sprout. I counted it as nine out of ten, yielding an excellent germination rate of 90%.

Not all of our germination tests are so successful. Ten seeds is a very small sample to test, but it gives us some assurance that our seed is good (or bad). As the seed ages in storage, germination rates will certainly decrease. But then, our current start of Earlirouges came from some seed I'd saved and had in frozen storage since 1988!

Deer and Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato plants nibbled by deerOur partially nibbled row of sweet potatoesTwo days ago I saw some familiar damage. The tops of many of our sweet potato plants had been nipped off. Things are dry enough that there were no incriminating deer tracks, but from years past, I know the pattern. Interestingly, the deer had only grazed about two-thirds of the row. I think the ungrazed end of the row had caught some of our homemade Not Tonight Deer spray that I apply to our sweet corn.

Tuesday evening, I cut a bar of Irish Spring soap and spread the pieces around the sweet potato row. No more damage was evident today, but that could be just a fluke. The deer may have nibbled elsewhere last night.

Mild browsing such as we experienced doesn't seem to hurt the sweet potato plants too much. They regrow with a vigor. We've been tossing their runners back over the row for weeks now to keep them off our nearby pea trellis.

Cucumber Vine Damage

Main raised bedOur wonderful wide row of cucumber plants showed their first serious insect damage today. Several vines in the center of the planting had collapsed. A close inspection revealed one cluster of squash bug eggs, but I didn't see any squash bugs. When I sprayed the vines with Eight, I observed lots of cucumber beetles flying off the plants. Had it just been cucumber beetles, I would have sprayed with the organic, Neem Oil, which is pretty effective against cucumber beetles. But with squash bugs possible, I had to go with a heavy hitter insecticide. Possibly to make myself feel better, I added some organic Copper Fungicide to the spray to protect against powdery mildew. I did the spray in the late afternoon when most of the cucumber blooms weren't open. I'm hoping I didn't do in too many of the bumblebees that seem to be doing most of the pollination of our cucumbers this year.

We've already canned bread and butter pickles and pickle relish from our cucumber row this year. I also have one batch of saved cucumber seed drying, whose germination test is showing good results after two days. I had left a good many good looking cucumbers on the vine at my last picking to be used for seed saving. If we get past this insect invasion, I hope to save more Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed and also make some sweet, dill pickle slices for canning. But once the bugs find your cucumber vines, it's hard to keep them clean.


I had a hot dog with relish for supper tonight. The relish I made on Monday turned out to be far tastier than I'd hoped.

A Nice View

As I came in from working in our East Garden this afternoon, I took a few minutes to sit in the shade (where there was a pleasant breeze) and enjoy the view of our East Garden. I'd gotten pretty hot and tired scuffle hoeing and hand weeding our pea row and working our compost piles.

East Garden - August 9, 2017

I keep an old plastic lawn chair in the garage for such occasions. I sat and admired the beauty of our row of zinnias and our remaining, still uncut buckwheat in full bloom. Since my camera was in the nearby garden cart, I grabbed a shot of the view.

Even with all the aches and pains of old age in retirement, we sometimes forget to gaze upon the beauty around us and enjoy the moment. Gardening friend Marcus Blanton recently reminded me in an email that it doesn't all have to be done today. And for that matter, if it doesn't ever get done, does it really matter in the bigger scheme of things?

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Thursday, August 10, 2017 - Compost Pile

Compost for Bonnie's AsparagusComposting and mulching peasI'd put off screening our finished compost pile until today. All the bending and shoveling hurts my back. But it was finally time to feed Bonnie's Asparagus Patch some much needed organic nutrition. The first cartload of compost, about three cubic feet of it, went on her asparagus patch. Our raised bed of asparagus got a heavy coating of compost in January.

A second cart of compost went on parts of a row of peas in the East Garden. I've found that an application of compost, potting soil, or commercial garden soil at the base of the peas makes for a better crop in the East Garden's clay soil.

I've let part of the pea row get weedy again. Fortunately, I'd started some peas in deep sixpack inserts. I'll clear out the weeds and transplant peas into that part of the row and then compost and mulch them.

By mid-afternoon, it got too hot to keep working. There are still two to three more cartfuls of compost yet to be screened. Besides the pea row, I'll probably use the last of the compost for our fall brassicas. The screened out, undigested material went onto our working compost pile. I use an old piece of half inch hardware cloth stretched over our garden cart to do the screening.

Some Late Evening Thoughts

Bagged garlicIf you're planning on planting garlic for the first time this fall, be sure to get your order for garlic placed soon. Most of the better outlets for garlic begin to sell out of preferred varieties this month, even though planting doesn't occur until fall. We've had good results with garlic ordered from Territorial Seed Company, Sow True Seed, Botanical Interests, and Burpeeicon. Once you get started growing garlic, you shouldn't have to buy new sets every year, as your saved garlic can be planted. We last ordered garlic in 2014. Our how-to, Growing Garlic, may be helpful to first time garlic growers.

For folks with home flocks, now is the time to begin keeping a light on your hens at least fourteen hours a day. Hens' laying is somewhat stimulated by the length of daylight each day. Go below fourteen hours or so, and your hens may reduce their production or stop laying entirely (and molt).

After spreading compost on an asparagus patch today, I thought I might add here that preparing ones ground in the fall for a spring planting is beneficial. It gives soil amendments added to the bed all winter to work and also allows the ground to settle. I tell how we started and grow our asparagus in another how-to, Growing Asparagus.

Freshly picked asparagus

Sorry, but I couldn't resist throwing in the photo above. It sorta makes ones mouth water for a good mess of asparagus.

Sam’s Club

Friday, August 11, 2017 - Fall Brassicas

Transplanting broccoliCompost in each planting holeI transplanted our fall brassicas this morning. It's a bit late to be doing so, and we'll need to be a little lucky to beat the first frost. I had been waiting, hoping to till the area for the brassicas one more time. Instead, I just raked out the sweet corn roots from the previous crop and had at it.

I did some things a little different than our usual procedure described in our how-to, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower. I omitted our paper cup cutworm collars. While they protect young plants from cutworms, they also restrict lateral root growth. These transplants had pretty tough stems, and I haven't seen a cutworm (or earthworm) in our East Garden for some time.

We often add lots of peat moss to planting holes in our East Garden. I didn't have any peat on hand, but still haven't exhausted our finished compost pile. So each planting hole got a full shovelful of compost plus a little 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer and a healthy sprinkle of lime worked into the soil. The transplants were watered in with our customary starter mix of half strength Quick Start and a bit of Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed Powder.

It started to rain a little as I plopped the last cauliflower into its hole, so I didn't get the job completely done. I still need to mulch the plants and add some critter deterrent to the area.

Fall brassicas transplanted

For broccoli, I put in Premium Crop, Goliath, Umpqua, and Green Magic. I separated the broccoli varieties with cabbages (Alcosa, Super Red 80, and Tendersweet). The cauliflowers were Amazing, Fremont, and Violet of Sicily. Since the Violet of Sicily variety is prone to clubroot, those plants got a good dose of lime in their planting holes.

Sierra Trading Post

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fall brassicas mulchedEclipse and Encore peasYesterday turned out to be one of those brutal, all-day gardening days. I'd gotten our recently transplanted brassicas mulched late Friday evening. That was a good thing, as the plants looked pretty sickly in the sun yesterday afternoon when I watered them again.

I started out the day screening another cart of compost for our row of peas in the East Garden. Half of the row is planted to Sugar Snap peas and the the other half to Eclipse and Encore shelling peas.

Despite my best efforts, part of the row had been overgrown by grass weeds. So I did the hands and knees bit pulling grass weeds, while trying not to uproot too many pea plants. I actually did a pretty good job of weeding.

With the weeds out of the way, I transplanted a bunch more Eclipse and Encore pea plants into the row to fill in open spots. The area got a liberal application of compost, although I lacked any grass clippings to complete the necessary mulching. The whole row got a good watering, as our soil is pretty dry these days. With any luck, this row of peas should produce a good harvest for the freezer, plus some saved landrace seed for future plantings.

I moved on to harvesting what I could from our stunted rows of main season sweet corn. I chopped down the stalks as I harvested, leaving the stalks stacked in piles in the garden. Most of the ears of corn were low on the stalks, a result of little to no rain when the plants were deciding what kind of harvest to put on. I picked a lot of small ears of corn that normally would have been culls, as this has been a tough season for us with sweet corn.

Corn out

Corn eaten by dogsI ended up freezing ten pints of sweet corn from the picking. Our total of about ten quarts of sweet corn frozen this year is a far cry from other years when we put up 24-25 quarts of frozen sweet corn. But after two years of getting virtually no sweet corn due to critter damage, I'm a pretty happy gardener.

I didn't finish processing the sweet corn until late Saturday night, so I'm also a pretty tired (and sore) gardener today. When I finished freezing the corn, I just dumped all the corn cobs on top of the husks and silks in our garden cart and left it until this morning. Overnight, our dogs apparently thought it was a food service cart, as there were corn cobs all around the cart.


I received a somewhat surprising email yesterday from Amazon informing me that the eclipse glasses I'd bought might not be safe to use for viewing the upcoming August 21 total solar eclipse. The suspect glasses will go in the trash, as seeing an eclipse isn't worth possibly losing my sight. And like last night's Perseid meteor shower, we may have cloudy skies on the 21st, although I guess it will get pretty dark for a few hours that day from the eclipse.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 - Interesting Sight

Black snake subduing its dinner in our gardenOur main raised garden bedAnnie called me to the garden with some urgency Monday evening with the admonition to bring my camera. Two of our dogs had just raced to our main raised garden bed.

When I got to the bed, I was as surprised as Annie to see a black snake constricted around what appeared to be a small rabbit. Black snakes are fairly common around here, but not usually in the garden, where we more often will see a garter snake lounging under brassica plants.

I didn't know that black snakes constricted their prey! I guess they bite it first and then suffocate it by constriction.

We don't bother the snakes, as they do some good eating critters and bugs. Our dogs aren't so enlightened.

First Kale

Kale rowsCooked kaleWhile our newly planted kale is mostly about an inch tall, the kale I seeded in June produced a good picking yesterday. Our first kale boiled with onions, a bit of garlic, and a few small pieces of bacon (or bacon drippings) is a summer treat that ranks with our first ripe tomato or ear of corn.

Cooking kale takes a bit of time for me. I first had to pick it, but that's not a difficult job. I soaked the kale in salted water to kill off any worms in it, and also to remove any grittiness that sometimes is present in kale. I then watered the kale row and sprayed it and our newly transplanted broccoli and cauliflower with Thuricide.

Rinsing and inspecting each leaf, looking for worms or grass clippings takes some time. I only found three tiny worms on the kale which told me my spray routine with Thuricide had been effective.

I also stem our kale, as I picked a lot of outside, very mature leaves. Once all the kale was in the pot and had boiled down a bit, I added chopped onions, minced garlic, salt, and some small pieces of bacon. With other odd jobs thrown in, all of that took me up to just after noon. Then it was a matter of keeping an eye on the gently boiling pot of kale and enjoying its aroma until supper time.

East Garden

I did a good bit of tilling recently in our East Garden plot. With our late sweet corn out of the way, I mounted the pull-type tiller on our lawn tractor and turned that piece of ground. It still had the roots of the corn plants in it, so it was pretty rough tilling. I also turned down some weeds in the unmulched aisles around our melons, kidney beans, and tomato cages. Despite the dry weather, we have a good many watermelons still ripening on the vines.

Late corn area tilled Lots of watermelons still on the vines Buckwheat turned under, cut, and still standing

I also turned under the buckwheat I'd cut ten days ago! Since I'd scrimped on seed along the edge of the planting, there was lots of grass to turn under. It took a half hour's work with a sharp carpet cutter to clear the tiller's tines of all the grass wound on them. I finally got back to cutting the buckwheat last evening.

Japanese Long Pickling Cucumbers

Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vinesOur Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines are beginning to look a bit rough. Some vines in the center of the planting have died out, while the leaves of the remaining plants are showing bug damage. I'd previously sprayed the vines with Eight and Copper Fungicide. Seeing some spotted cucumber beetles on the vines today, I sprayed with Neem Oil.

Part of the rough appearance of the vines is that I've let some cucumbers ripen to yellow for seed saving. A bigger part of their poor appearance is that they're producing themselves to death. I picked a bunch of nice cucumbers today while still leaving about ten yellowing ones on the vines.

Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers

I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with all these cucumbers. Sweet dill chips, more sweet relish, or a trip to the local food bank, if I get lazy.

Deal of Week

Thursday, August 17, 2017 - More Pickles

Canned PicklesWatermelon for the food bankWe received a little (0.25") rain overnight. Since I was in the middle of making some hamburger dill pickle slices, I didn't have any outside plans for this morning.

I'd started the dills from a recipe on the Cooking Bride site last night. The cucumbers brine overnight before being pickled in the jar. One of our old, old canning jars broke in the water bath, making quite a mess and reducing our production to five pints. And while I'm eager for a sample, dills take a week or two to properly cure in the jars before they have full flavor. I did get to use up a lot of our saved, dried dill seed for the batch.

Still lousy with nice cucumbers when I finished the dills, I made another batch of bread and butter pickles. I used our usual recipe from Better Homes & Gardens. While the recipe says it makes eight pints, I only got six, possibly because I cut way back on the amount of onions called for in the recipe.

Part way through the whole process, I had to go to the garage for a box of pint jars I never thought I'd need. We'd run our supply low giving away stuff. The jars are ones my mother gave me, but I think they were originally my grandmother's or my aunt's.

WalmartThe last of the Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers went to our local food bank. Later in the day, I drove a few watermelon to the food bank as well. The melons we're getting now don't have the robust watermelon flavor the ones that ripened in July's 90+° heat did. Of course, only 0.75 inches of rainfall so far this month may also have something to do with the lack of flavor in the melons.

iconI would have happily made more sweet relish with our cucumbers today, but our old food grinder finally failed. Making the last batch of relish with a modern food processer proved unsatisfactory, as it ground the cucumbers to mush. So...I ordered a new food grinder today. While I'd haunted second hand and Goodwill stores a bit for a used food grinder, none were available. I chose a Weston Manual Meat Grindericon from Walmart, as they seem to be getting things shipped far quicker than Amazon these days.

Beyond making relish from cucumbers, the new grinder's main job will be grinding ham chunks to make ham salad. We may try it for chicken salad as well, although cutting up the chicken breast parts has worked pretty well for us so far.

To-do List

While my to-do list is long, there are only a couple of urgent gardening items on it. Our spindly fall lettuce transplants on the back porch are beginning to look ready to survive in our garden. And I need to get a row of fall spinach seeded soon. It's a hard crop to get going in the dry days of August, but once up and going, produces a lovely crop right up to the first frost. USA, LLC

Sunday, August 20, 2017

With the heat index running a little over a hundred this afternoon, I called it a day early. I'd been working in our garage that was really hot, even with the big doors open. After unmounting the tiller from our lawn tractor, I reinstalled the mower deck.

When I'd finished the switchover, my clothes were totally soaked with sweat. After getting inside and out of my wet clothes, I decided to stay inside and remember Robin Williams' humorous Adrian Cronauer/Roosevelt E. Roosevelt weather report from the movie, Good Morning, Vietnam and Noel Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishmen. It felt that hot in the garage.


Our second crop of buckwheat is now turned down, although it will take another pass or two to totally incorporate all the buckwheat leaves and stalks. With some of the bloom tips over five feet tall and maturing seed lower on the plants, it was definitely time. With six to eight weeks left in our growing season, there should be time remaining to seed a third crop over the plot. I plan to let this last crop frost kill and fall over to provide some cover for the soil as well as root systems to prevent erosion.

East Garden with buckwheat tilled in

Rototilling yesterday turned the soil in the East Garden to powder, something that can happen when working very dry clay soil. Shortly after I got done cleaning up the tiller, we caught a brief rain shower. I expect the soil surface to crust after the rain, and that may help prevent wind erosion.

Main Garden

Trellises pulled from main bedOur main raised garden bed looks a bit different today, as I spent some time yesterday morning pulling the trellises our first crop of short peas grew on. I was able to save the trellis netting for another use, as it was new this year. I took my time with the job, trying to preserve the netting and especially the lovely snapdragons that were growing along the trellises. With the dry soil, I had to dig out the six T-posts that had supported the trellises.

The short pea area was supposed to go to a late crop of lima beans and crowder peas, but I let the peas stay in the ground for seed production too long. On the positive side, I read the germination tests for the saved pea seed today. One sample of ten seeds all germinated, while the other hit 90%.

I may pop some lettuce plants in the area or a few flower transplants that we've been torturing in flats on the back porch since spring. A bit of both might work out nicely.


Grandson Brady and I watered our pea row and our brassicas in the East Garden yesterday morning. With a good seed crop of Eclipse and Encore supersweet pea seed now in cool, dark storage, I'm excited to possibly have some of those varieties for table use and freezing this fall.

Earlier, I'd dumped a lot of water on our cucumber row. The cucumber plants have been day wilting, scaring me that we might not get a good seed crop from them. Even with all the waterings, it's still touch and go as to whether we'll get the cucumber vines through this dry spell.

Shallow well and herb gardenWith far less than an inch of rainfall so far this month, watering has become one of my first morning chores most days. Not everything gets watered every day, but our newest fall plantings get watered at least every other day.

We wouldn't be able to water as much as we have without using our shallow well. I plumbed it last summer with a pitcher pump. Our deep well tends to run out of water pretty quickly at this time of year if one adds garden watering to the normal household demands for water.

Rain barrelI installed a rain barrel last week to help ease our watering problems. It's a bit late in the season for it to do much good this year. And so far, I really don't know how much water it may collect from the roof section it's under. After doing the downspout changes necessary for the rain barrel, I forgot to close the spigot at the bottom of the barrel! But if the barrel doesn't collect sufficient water in its current location, I can always move it to a downspout from our main roof that should provide lots of rainwater.

Prices for rain barrels have gotten a bit crazy recently. Our new rain barrel is a Rain Wizard 50icon from Walmart, although they've bumped their price up about four bucks since we bought ours in July. While Amazon won't let me link to it directly, they appear to have the cheapest Rain Wizard 50 available right now. Follow this link to the Rain Wizard 50 and click on the black model for the best price.

We have a large, in ground cistern that I really should investigate getting online. It's feed and pump lines are damaged, but the cistern still holds water, as we've pumped water in and out of it with an external pump (years ago, though).


My wife, Annie, says she only eats tomatoes in the summertime. She's even been known to post nasty comments on social media about store bought tomatoes. But her view is part of why we garden, as homegrown tomatoes are a summer treat that commercial tomatoes simply cannot match.

Our six Earlirouge tomato plants in our main garden produced heavily and then rested a bit. They're now producing an abundance of medium sized, incredibly flavorful tomatoes again. I made spaghetti sauce today using several of these tomatoes. After browning some ground beef with onion and garlic, I added basil, parsley, and oregano snipped from plants in our garden. Then I skinned the tomatoes and added them with a bit of red and black pepper. Since this was a quickie, I cheated and added a small jar of Prego to add volume to the spaghetti sauce. When I have the time, I use lots of tomatoes to make the sauce totally from scratch. There is something truly special about cooking with stuff from ones own garden.

Earlirouge Tomato Plants

Row of tomato and pepper plants
Ripening tomatoes

Clusters of Earlirouge tomatoesOur Earlirouge plants have been somewhat stunted by the dry weather this summer. Usually, the plants would be growing out the tops of their tomato cages by this time of year. But the compact plants are still producing clusters of good tomatoes. They're also putting on some upward growth, a good sign for a continuing harvest.

I used lots of ground egg shells under and around our tomato plants this year instead of lime to prevent blossom end rot. The egg shells seem to have worked, as we've not lost many tomatoes to the calcium disorder.

Our long row of eleven tomato and nine pepper plants went into our East Garden the week of June 1. For whatever reason, these plants have filled their cages.

I found one early, ripe beefsteak tomato there last week, but birds had gotten to it first. When I went out this evening to get photos of the row, I found some nearly ripe tomatoes. I'm hoping this row of hybrids and some open pollinated favorites will supply us with fresh tomatoes right up until our first frost. We got lucky that way last year, picking our last ripe tomato of 2016 on November 5!

We won't be able to use or can all the tomatoes from seventeen tomato plants, but our local food bank will probably appreciate the fresh produce.

While grabbing shots of our tomato row in the East Garden, it was hard to miss that our long (55') row of kidney beans is beginning to dry down. I suspect the hot, dry weather is responsible for maturing the beans far earlier than their 100 days-to-maturity rating.

Charity: Water

Monday, August 21, 2017 - Eclipse Day...Not!

We live just off the path of totality for today's solar eclipse. Carbondale, Illinois, the area where totality of the eclipse was supposed to be longest, is about 140 miles southwest of us. But as often happens with events such as comets, meteor showers, and eclipses, the weather had something to say about viewing even the partial eclipse here.

I'd already given up on directly watching the partial eclipse, as the eclipse glasses I bought turned out to be some of the ones Amazon recalled. I watched the eclipse as it occurred on the west coast on TV before heading outside to mow. As the eclipse progressed and it got darker, storm clouds began rolling in from the north. It got so dark that I abandoned mowing after almost running over a fairly large tree limb that had blown down at the back of our yard. At no time was the sun visible through the clouds.

I decided to make the potentially UV free darkness work for me and headed out to our main raised garden bed to transplant fall lettuce. I got about a dozen plants in the ground before it began to rain.

There was no chance of seeing any of the eclipse today, but we did get a half inch of much needed rain.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Friday, August 25, 2017 - Green Beans

Basil blooming by green bean row
Pretty green beans

REII've been babysitting our pressure canner tonight. We did a first picking of green beans today.

Our yield from a fifteen foot row was reduced from our usual production. I'd planted a narrow row instead of our typical wide (4-6") row. The narrow row yields less, but is much easier to keep weeded and to pick.

I also hadn't sprayed our beans this year and paid the price. There was a lot of bug damage to snap out of the beans. But we canned eight pints of beans (all jars now sealed), with another quart of them simmering on the stove with some potatoes and bacon thrown in for a late night snack.

Lovely Days

We've been enjoying some lovely days here of late. High temperatures have been in the upper 70s. We're still woefully short on soil moisture, but the moderate temperatures are helping a bit with that.

I began my gardening day yesterday transplanting some more fall lettuce. Then I exhausted our saved water supply from the last rainfall. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peas got most of the water.

Five hours on the mower pretty well did in the day and my energy. I also got to repair a part that had come loose on the mower deck mount. Years ago when farming, a farming buddy and I used to joke that we wouldn't farm that day so nothing would break. We were both teachers moonlighting as small farmers using antiquated equipment.

While mowing the field, I did take out our pumpkin patch. Squash bugs finally had their way with the vines. I found two small, ripe pumpkins amongst the weeds that had grown up in the area. After a warm winter, the squash bugs have been particularly bad this season.


I've experienced a few minor gardening disappointments in the last few days. We had a bunch of very pretty seedless watermelon that appeared to be ripe. But when I started to cut their stems, I saw that the vines had died and the stems were brown and withered. When I cut open one of the melons, the interior was red and wet, but had none of the watermelon taste one craves in the summer. Six pretty watermelons went on the compost pile, where they may possibly provide some late night entertainment for the raccoons that occasionally raid the pile.

While most of our germination tests of saved seed have gone well, we've also lost several batches of seed. Our first batch of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed germinated at only 50%. Two batches of tomato seed didn't germinate at all! I retested one of the tomato seed batches that had been in the freezer for a week or so, as I wondered if I'd failed to wash off all the gel that surrounds the seed. That gel prevents early germination. The new test isn't looking any better than the old one.

Garden Tower Project Contest

Thursday, August 31, 2017 - August Wrap-up

August, 2017, animated GIF of our Senior GardenEven though August has been a relatively dry month here, we've been blessed with bountiful harvests in our garden plots. We've also gotten most of our fall crops well on their way.

First sweet potatoesWe've enjoyed potatoes, sweet corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, green beans, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, yellow squash, potatoes, a variety of herbs, and even a couple of sweet potatoes from our garden plots this month. Our fall crops of brassicas, carrots, kale, sugar snap and shelling peas, and lettuce are established and on on their way. Only the cauliflower may not mature before frost takes the plants. Of course, there are a couple of late hills of watermelon I direct seeded on a whim that may or may not produce something next month.

Our second planting of buckwheat is turned down, adding organic matter to the rotated out portion of our East Garden plot. I'm waiting for some hairy vetch seed to arrive before reseeding area to a mix of buckwheat and hairy vetch. (We'll see how that experiment turns out.) I plan to let this last seeding to fall over from frost to provide winter cover for the area.

Our late row of tomatoes and peppers are now ripening fruit. Transplanted in early June, they should provide lots of tomatoes and peppers for a variety of uses, hopefully, right up to our first frost.

We canned tomatoes, pickle relish, pickles, and green beans this month. We froze sweet corn and kale. Although we may can more green beans, we're actually pretty well set for winter use with what we've already put up.

Seed saving has been a challenge this season. Several batches of seed simply weren't good when germination tested. I'm looking at how I'm doing things to try and resolve the issue. We have saved some good Earlirouge tomato, Earliest Red Sweet pepper, Eclipse and Encore pea, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed, but not enough of the tomato and cucumber seed to make me feel secure in having enough to plant, share, and provide for future plantings. We have lots of dill and spinach seed, although I'm not sure of the viability of the spinach seed. Last year's crop of Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed had very low germination rates. I still need to winnow and test this year's seed.


Throughout the month, we've enjoyed seeing lots of hummingbirds at our feeders. They seem to swarm the feeders early in the morning and late in the evening. I stay fairly busy mixing nectar for them and filling our feeders two or three times a day.

Typically, activity at the feeders peaks towards the end of August and then suddenly drops off as the tiny birds begin their fall migration south. From the level of nectar in the feeders this morning, I think at least some of the hummingbirds have started their long journey. USA, LLC

July, 2017

September, 2017

Contact Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening



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