Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

July 16, 2018


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Our Senior Garden - July 1, 2018
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Our East Garden - July 1, 2018
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I started transplants today for our fall broccoli and cauliflower. I also picked a few "spring" peas. That sort of describes the month of July in the garden for us. We're still picking, or at least, cleaning up spring crops while preparing for our fall crops. In between, we'll hopefully be harvesting tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and digging carrots, and garlic.

Part of the changeover to preparing for fall crops was pulling our broccoli and cauliflower plants. There were still a few heads on the plants, but the brassicas have turned bitter in our recent, very hot weather. The tough base of each plant got chopped off and thrown on our burn pile. The tops of the plants that will readily decay went onto our working compost pile. It also got a couple of loads of grass clippings from the field I finished mowing yesterday.

With our mowing finally caught up (for a day or two), I can now move on to trying to rescue the overweeded crops in our main raised garden bed.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018 - Garlic Dug

Our Senior Garden - July 3, 2018Garlic curing on porchIt was very hot and muggy most of the day today, so I stayed inside all afternoon. Around suppertime, a storm front rolled in with thunder but no rain. After supper, outside temperatures had dropped about fifteen degrees, so I hustled outside and dug our garlic.

This year's garlic harvest was much smaller than in past years. Extremely dry weather followed by a wet period when I couldn't weed due to knee problems reduced our harvest. But as I surveyed what I'd dug, we should have plenty of garlic to use for cooking over the next year and for planting next fall. Of course, we do have a row of spring planted elephant garlic that we won't harvest until fall.

I usually cure our garlic on a makeshift drying table in our garage. With the small harvest this year, I'm going to try to cure the garlic on the back porch as I did years ago. Doing so requires moving the garlic to a dry location whenever it's going to rain. Since about half of the garlic dug is softneck garlic, it may get braided to dry. The rest I'll let dry until the roots and tops are dry enough to trim before storage.

I'm a very happy gardener right now. Digging is one thing I simply couldn't do with my knee injury. I didn't go at it too hard this evening, but being able to dig without pain is real encouragement that the knee is finally healing.

Computer Stuff

My office - unusually cleanDuring the hot afternoon, I set our thermostat way down to cool my office and pretty much finished up the computer changeover I started in February. At that time, it was necessary to replace my venerable Mac Mini with the same model, but with a lot less hours on it. I'd had several new parts sitting around that didn't get swapped into my computer setup at that time.

Since I'd chosen to stay with the same model of computer last February, when my 23" Cinema Display failed last week, I decided to stay with the same model of monitor. I was fortunate to find a used one in very good condition from Other World Computing. I have no illusions about old computer equipment lasting forever, but I'm pretty happy at this point with my refreshed setup. At my age, it's a toss-up whether the computer equipment or my aging bones will fail first.

When I installed the new-to-me monitor, I also replaced my old Iogear DVI-KVMP switch with a new one and a powered USB 3 hub. The KVM box allows me to use my keyboard, mouse, and display with my Mac Mini, an old G5 tower, and my Macbook Pro.

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Evaluation

As I dug garlic this evening, I also evaluated what I could save and what I couldn't in our now mostly overgrown main raised garden bed. With a bit of work, our onions will be okay. Our spring carrots may not be able to be saved. And the two rows of green beans that are now full of blooms will take some serious work to save.

I do have some options, though. Since it's too late to start melons, sweet corn, and/or potatoes in our East Garden plot, I could still use some of that ground for some late green beans. With our garlic out, I can go ahead and renovate the soil there for fall carrots as I'd originally planned.

Sitting before a very bright, new-to-me monitor without dust bunnies rhinos under my feet and without any pain in my bum knee, I'm feeling optimistic about the rest of this gardening season.

Burpee Seed Company

Wednesday, July 4, 2018 - Independence Day (U.S.)

I got an early start on gardening this morning. I used our walking tiller to knock down the tall grass and somewhat till some areas of our main raised garden bed. The portions of the bed where our garlic and brassicas had grown tilled fairly well. I'd really loosened the soil digging the garlic last evening, The areas around our green beans, carrots, and onions got cultivated a bit, but the tall grass mainly just wrapped around the tiller's tines. But even that knocked the grass down a bit. The bed still looks pretty rough, but we're on our way to cleaning up the mess.

Rough looking main raied bed

Earlirouge tomato plantsCucumber and parsley transplantsIt's not all bad news in our garden. Our narrow bed of Earlirouge tomatoes is doing well. And after emptying our fifty gallon rain barrel on our Eclipse peas, they're looking okay.

Under our plant lights, our cucumber and parsley transplants are about ready to go outside to harden off. The cukes will follow the peas in one of our narrow raised beds. The parsley will partially fill the area where our brassicas grew.

Saturday, July 7, 2018 - First Tomatoes!

First ripe tomatoes of 2018First ripe tomatoes picked in 2018I picked our first tomatoes this afternoon. The two I picked were on the smallish side, but ripe. Interestingly, the Earlirouges ripened exactly 65 days after transplanting, just as their days-to-maturity figure would suggest.

While I was thrilled to get ripe tomatoes today, especially considering the poor growing conditions we've had so far, I also noticed signs of insect damage and possible disease on some of the tomatoes. I'll need to begin spraying with Serenade and Neem Oil soon.

We'll be breaking with our usual tradition of having bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches when we pick our first tomatoes. Annie's best friend and a granddaughter are visiting this weekend, so I already had a turkey breast roast in the oven when I discovered the ripe tomatoes. Ah, but for lunch tomorrow...

Slow Progress, But Progress None the Less

Onion row weeded on one side onlyAmazonI spent a couple hours Friday morning working on my hands and knees (protected with heavy knee pads) weeding in our main raised bed. I got one side of our onions weeded, although the bone dry ground made it hard not to pull the onions as I zapped the tall grass weeds with my CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator.

Giving my healing knees a rest, I mowed grass both yesterday and today. While our garden crops are suffering from a lack of rainfall right now, our grass keeps growing like crazy. After just a few days, I had to mow the mostly unplanted East Garden plot again. The grass in it was three times taller than the grass in the surrounding field. I guess that says something good about all the inputs and turndown crops we've done in the plot.

I'm pretty sure we'll save our onion crop in our main raised bed, but it's still touch and go with the carrots and green beans there. Fortunately, I already have the ground cleared for our fall carrots. And if the green beans fail, I'll try again in the East Garden where we have lots of unused space.

As I walked past our herb garden today, I once again said to myself, "I need to cut back the oregano." It's overgrown the thyme and dianthus near it and is even threatening the sage. But the blooms are pretty and bees seem to love them. So the blooming oregano remains, at least for now.

Oregno in bloom Vinca and geranium Main raised bed

At one corner of our main raised bed, a vinca and a geranium are in full bloom. I've been negligent about getting flowers planted this season, but am enjoying the ones we have.

And finally, our main bed viewed from south to north looks pretty good. It's hard to see the tall grass around the green beans from that vantage point. But I also have the end of the bed tilled in preparation for a fall crop of carrots.

Target

Monday, July 9, 2018

Weather Underground Extened ForecastWal-Mart.com USA, LLCOur daily high temperatures are back up into the 90s. Getting any necessary gardening done early in the day before it gets too hot has become a must.

Most of what I'm doing now in the garden is just maintenance. The soil in our raised beds is powdery dry, so there's a lot of watering to be done. Our elephant garlic, tomatoes, and peppers all got a good watering yesterday, which involves a lot of hand pumping from the shallow well I plumbed several years ago. Looking at our current extended forecast, I'll be doing a lot more pumping and watering for a while.

Besides watering, our tomatoes and peppers got sprayed with Serenade and Neem Oil. The few tomatoes (now 8) I've picked so far have a few signs of insect damage, but little to indicate disease.

Pumpkin and butternut vines

On a spray kick, our pumpkin and butternut vines were next. Since it was daylight hours when bees might be present, I sprayed with Serenade and Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew, both organic products. On my way back to the house, I also sprayed our Granny Smith apple tree with the mix.icon The apple tree also got a good watering, as it's not looking very good right now.

About half of field I mowedSwitching sprayers, I sprayed an out of control flowerbed with Roundup. The bed was totally beyond hand weeding.

After a hydration break, I mowed the one acre field next to us. With that bit of mowing, I think I've finally caught up on mowing. We'd gotten way behind on mowing when our old John Deere X500 began running on one cylinder instead of two. It turned out that it had a bad solenoid and a burnt valve or two. Instead of repairing the worn out mower, I decided to order a newer version of the mower, but had to wait over two weeks for it to arrive. The dealership only stocked higher end models with power steering I don't need or want at an extra 2K! The new mower is supposed to be compatible with our John Deere 30 inch tiller, but I haven't yet tried mounting it.

After bouncing around the rough field yesterday, I'm sorta taking it easy today.

MTD

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

If you hadn't heard about it, Seed Savers Exchange co-founder Kent Whealy passed away in April. I found word of it last week on another site, but eventually found minor links to his passing on some of SSE's lower level pages linking to a carefully worded message about his passing. SSE's leadership apparently still lacks the class to acknowledge the death and contributions of their co-founder on their home page.

If you hadn't guessed already, I'm lapsing my membership and all support of the Seed Savers Exchange when it comes due next month due to their current direction and stuff like minimizing their founder's passing. They should be ashamed.

Pretty evening sky

We had one of those incredible evening skies today that makes you stop and stare. I grabbed my backup, backup camera to snap a shot of it, but the picture really doesn't do justice to the incredible majesty of the evening sky.

Garden Tower Project

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Tomatoes in bucketNow that we're picking a good many tomatoes, something has become obvious to me that I missed earlier. Tomatoes (and peppers) are often plagued early in the harvest season with blossom end rot, a condition associated with lack of calcium and water uptake into the plants. During a so far somewhat unusual growing season, we've not seen any blossom end rot in our tomatoes. Our peppers are running a good bit behind our tomatoes, so we don't know about them yet.

The one change we made in planting our tomatoes this year was to skip adding lime to the planting holes to provide calcium and use ground egg shells instead. I'd read about using egg shells for calcium several years ago and took it a step further. We save our egg shells, washing, drying, and crunching them into a freezer bag for storage in our freezer. When we get enough egg shells saved, I use an old coffee grinder to reduce the egg shells to a powder and store it dry until needed for planting.

I think this is the second season we've used ground egg shell, and I used a lot more of it this year than last. But it seems to have worked this year for us in preventing blossom end rot. Of course, the absence of blossom end rot for one year could just be a fluke. But I'm encouraged.

In writing a still unpublished how-to about growing tomatoes, I ran across an excellent University of California Cooperative Extension Service article by Cindy Fake, Managing Blossom End Rot in Tomatoes and Peppers. It explains in layman's terms that blossom end rot is not only a calcium problem, but also a problem caused by variable soil moisture conditions. If you grow tomatoes and peppers and fight blossom end rot each season, this article may have some answers for you about controlling blossom end rot.

Due to a number of things, my wife, Annie, and I didn't get to enjoy our traditional BLT feast celebrating our first tomatoes until this evening. Fortunately, a local discount grocery had bacon on sale, and we greatly enjoyed bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for supper this evening. I sliced way too many tomatoes for the sandwiches and ended up devouring the unused tomato slices after finishing off my sandwich.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Thursday, July 12, 2018 - Pump Maintenance

Damaged leather cup beside new onePitcher pump on stand over shallow wellToday's tasks included taking out the last of our pea plants and shelling the usable peas. I also picked tomatoes. But the big item of the afternoon turned out to be changing the top leather of the pitcher pump on our shallow well.

I'd realized that we were either very low on water or there was a problem with the well pump. Since I couldn't do anything about the water level of the well, I chose to change the leathers on the pump. I'd replaced the flat, lower leather last summer, so I started with the top leather cup this time.

Large Jaw Vise-GripAs soon as I got the top of the pump apart, it was obvious that the leather cup was torn. Then, the only hard part was getting the cup leather holder undone, as it was tightly screwed on and too big in diameter for a pair of pliers. It turned out that I had just the right tool to undo the large ring, a tool I'd only used once or twice in the last twenty years.

With the top leather replaced, the pump once again drew water easily, so I didn't have to replace the lower, flat leather.

I proceeded to do a lot of watering, mostly of our porch plants and flats of transplants not yet used. I also did a foliar feeding of our elephant garlic. Some browning out of the leaves was likely due to lack of soil moisture, but lack of nitrogen in the soil can also cause such flashing. So the garlic plants, especially their leaves, got a good dose of liquid 12-4-8 fertilizericon. I refilled my sprinkling can two more times to wash any fertilizer that hit the ground well into the soil.

Getting Ready for Cucumbers

With our peas out of the way, I was eager to move on to planting a succession crop of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. We have over a dozen very healthy looking JLP transplants on our back steps.

I waited until around eight o'clock to get started on the cucumber area. I first raked out that part of the bed, having decided against tilling it again. I'd dug the bed with a garden fork to 10-12" deep and tilled it before planting our short peas.

With the elephant garlic running down one side of the bed, I had to adjust my usual placement of T-posts to hold the double trellis that will support the cucumber vines. Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers will grow well on the ground, but the cukes curl terribly that way. Grown on a trellis, there's less curl and also less rot of the fruit.

T-posts driven for trellis and ground ready for planting

It took almost an hour to get supplies assembled, the T-posts driven, and everything put away for the night. As I write tonight, my shoulders are very sore from driving just six T-posts! I hope to hang one trellis tomorrow morning and begin transplanting cucumbers and snapdragons in the evening. Transplanting during the heat of the day, especially in hot, dry weather such as we're currently experiencing, lessens the chances of survival of the transplants. The second trellis will go up after the transplanting is done.

We use a double trellis for our tall peas and cucumbers because of the strong winds we often have here. The wind can blow the vines right off the trellis netting. But grown between two trellises spaced 12-16" apart, the vines resist wind damage much better.

Charity: Water

Friday, July 13, 2018

One trellis upNylon Trellis NettingI hung one of the two trellises to surround our cucumbers this morning. I use plastic coated metal clothesline wire from which to hang Dalen Trellis Netting. The netting I used this morning is two years old, so this will probably be its last use. I still have a torn spot or two in it to repair. The second trellis will go up after I transplant the cucumbers.

I stretched out my clothesline wire along the T-posts to let it relax a bit. After weaving the first wire through the netting and hanging it, I added bottom and middle wires. By the time I was done with those wires, the first strung top wire had expanded in the heat of the sun enough that I stretched out another six inches of wire when tightening it!

It was noon when I finished the trellis and far too hot to do any transplanting. Over the next few days, I'll transplant cucumber plants down the center between the trellises with snapdragons at the ends of the rows. With a slight chance of rain early next week, I'm a bit worried about getting this planting going. I'm also a little concerned about whatever got into the soil in this bed that caused our peas to germinate poorly. But...

...I'm really thrilled to be able to do some gardening again. I still have to be extremely careful about working on my knees, but the torn meniscus cartilages seem to be healing well.

REI

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Cucumbers transplanted

Cucumber plants between double trellisI transplanted our cucumbers this morning while it was relatively cool. I put in around a dozen Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plants and several snapdragons. I also popped in a couple of marigolds that were hiding in the flat with the snapdragons. I was too dopey to notice until I stepped back to look at my work.

A healthy cucumber plantI didn't put down any solid fertilizer or lime as I transplanted. I did use lots and lots (20-25 gallons) of water with a bit of Quick Start fertilizer and some Serenade biofungicide. The purpose of the starter fertilizer is obvious, but the biofungicide as a soil drench helps prevent powdery mildew and other fungal diseases.

I also haven't mulched the planting, as there's hardly any moisture in the soil to hold in. We may get some rain in the next few days, and I plan to mulch with grass clippings after that.

I did all the transplanting from one side of the bed, as I'd put up a trellis on the other side. I was able to lean some of the taller cucumber plants against the trellis netting. After planting, I put up the second trellis to enclose the cucumber plants. That should encourage the cucumber vines to grow upward on the trellis netting and produce mostly straight cucumbers.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Cucumber plant tendril attached to nettingCanned tomatoesWe lucked out on the weather today. I worried that a really hot day might do in some of the cucumber plants I put in yesterday. But we have a cooler day today with just a bit of light rain this morning. The cucumber plants look great. Some of them are already attaching tendrils to the trellis netting.

Last evening, my wife, Annie, picked tomatoes. Our Earlirouge plants are producing lots of smaller than usual fruit. I washed the tomatoes last night and canned them today. I was pleasantly surprised when we ended up with five quarts of whole tomatoes in the canner.

Rukaten Camera

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - We're Losing Our Main Apple Tree

Dying Granny Smith apple treeOur Granny Smith apple tree was filled with small apples and looked pretty good a month ago. With the onset of our dry weather, the tree now looks as if it is dying. I've sprayed it for insects and watered it liberally, but at this point, the tree is just barely hanging on.

While I haven't detected any blackened branches typical of fire blight, I went ahead and sprayed the tree on Monday with Fire Blight Spray. (The active ingredient in Fire Blight Spray is the antibiotic, streptomycin.) The tree has leaves and small branches dying and fruit shriveling.

This tree survived a previous fire blight infection that took our standard Stayman Winesap tree years ago. At that time, I went against the standard wisdom of not pruning fire blight in the summer and butchered the Granny Smith. I was able to save the tree with the heavy pruning and liberal use of the fire blight spray, but it took several years before the tree began to produce good apples again. With the mini-drought we're currently experiencing, the tree is weakened and appears to be succumbing to something, if not fire blight.

When I sprayed, I first sprayed the new Stayman Winesap tree I planted this spring. Then I moved on to another (supposedly) Stayman Winesap I'd planted several years ago. Since fire blight is often fatal to apple trees, it was important to me to first protect our healthy apple trees. Then, I thoroughly sprayed the poor Granny Smith, hoping for a miracle.

We'll see.

I did order some apple tree understock this year. Unfortunately, none of the grafts I did took. But the dwarfing understock is supposed to be fire blight resistant. I'll heel in the understock somewhere and try my hand at grafting again next spring.

Garlic and Onions

Onions curing on back porchI trimmed the tops and roots from our garlic today and bagged and stored the garlic in the basement. I needed to get a spot cleared on our back porch where I could cure our onions. With the garlic out of the way, I had room for the onions I pulled yesterday. Many of the onions had already begun to dry down in the garden.

Our onion harvest this year was reduced, as I only got half of our onions transplanted before my knees gave out. These yellow onions are Milestone hybrids and the open pollinated Clear Dawn variety, developed out of the Copra hybrid line. Both varieties store fairly well.

Another Round of Spraying

While I recently sprayed our butternut squash and pumpkin vines with Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew, I sprayed the vines again last evening with Eight (same chemical as Sevin). Since squash bugs often hide in mulch, I've also been spraying the grass clipping mulch I use to hold in soil moisture and hold back weeds around these crops. I haven't seen any squash bug eggs on the undersides of the leaves of our squash and pumpkins, a sure sign of trouble, but continue with preventative sprays to try and get a good crop.

Fall Garden

We're getting really close on days before a first frost to start our fall garden. While our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers are in and doing well (with daily waterings), I still need to get our fall carrots planted before we run out of days-to-maturity. My first seeding of fall brassicas failed miserably, but a replanting is now up and doing well under our plant lights. And of course, I'll be seeding kale soon for a fall harvest.

Garlic Orders

If you're planning on planting garlic this fall, now is the time to place your order for garlic bulbs. Sellers often run out of preferred varieties fairly quickly.

Fruit Bouquets

Friday, July 20, 2018 - Lots of Tomatoes

Earlirouge tomatoes

I picked tomatoes early this morning. After rinsing the tomatoes, I took another look at the six Earlirouge plants we're currently picking from. They were filled with nearly ripe tomatoes, so I'm going to hold off on canning for another day or so.

Lots more tomatoes ripening on the plants
Closeup of lots of tomatoes

We're still getting a lot of small tomatoes, but with some recent watering, we're also beginning to get some normal sized ones. Earlirouges don't typically produce beefsteak tomatoes, although I've had a sport or two over the years.

We continue to experience damage in the tomatoes, probably from stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs feeding on the tomatoes. From an excellent article by Tony Glover, White Spots under Tomato Skin, I learned that the white spots in our tomato flesh were caused by the insects injecting a toxin (harmless to humans) while feeding which kills the tomato flesh.

Obviously, getting rid of the bugs should solve the problem. I began my war on stink bugs using neem oil with a bit of Serenade biofungicide mixed in for good measure. That has cut down, but not eliminated the bug damage. My next spraying, after we pick again, will be with pyrethrin, a considerably stronger product, but still considered organic.

Most articles on the subject of white flesh in tomatoes note that keeping grass and weeds mowed or pulled cuts down hiding spots for the bugs that cause the damage. Since I was laid up with bad knees at the same time our mower was down, the increased insect activity we're seeing this year is probably understandable. I'm slowly getting caught up on mowing and weeding.

Tomatoes and peppers in our East Garden plotI found it interesting that the web pages I read on the subject consistently recommended using neem oil, insecticidal soap, and pyrethrin for insect control, omitting any true pesticides. I'd guess that a good shot of Sevin, Malathion, or whatever you might have in your chemical cabinet might also do the job, although each has a waiting period before picking of five days or so.

The tomatoes and peppers I planted in our East Garden were almost overgrown with weeds in my down time. I began mowing as close to the cages as possible last week and took our weed eater to the weeds today. (Thank goodness I drained the fuel tank last fall and let the weedeater run out of gas. Two cycle engines often fail when fuel left in them over the winter jells and messes up the carburetor.) I pulled a few weeds in the cages until my right knee rudely reminded me that I had failed to put on my knee pads. Since it was getting really hot outside, I just called it a day at that point. But I'm not ready to give up on this planting as yet.

Gloxinias

Gloxinias in bloom on dining room tableDustlike gloxinia seed in paper bowlOur gloxinias have been slow to bloom this year, possibly due to some neglect on my part. We had one spectacular plant with pink blooms that I hand pollinated for seed production. One bloom began to shed seed this week, although you have to look closely to see the tiny seeds.

I occasionally update our blog page on growing gloxinias. For folks fortunate to have gloxinia plants (They're getting hard to find.), I have a page on saving gloxinia seed from pollination to seed collection. There's also a page of just gloxinia photos.

Gloxinias are easy to grow. If you can grow good African violets, you should do well with gloxinias! While gloxinia seed is often available on eBay and Amazon, Stokes Seeds carries the reliable Empress variety which produces wonderful blooms.

Apple Tree Update

Fire Blight SprayAmazonOur Granny Smith apple tree is hanging on, possibly because of the application of Fire Blight Spray that I gave it. Then again, it may have done little good.

But Mississippi gardening buddy, Marcus Blanton, sent me something he planned to try in combatting fire blight and other fruit tree diseases. It's a product named Pentra-Bark, "a wetting agent, designed for improving penetration through bark or water based basal applications." It apparently carries whatever fungicide or insecticide mixed with it and applied to the base of a tree through the bark so that it can spread throughout the tree. Since we certainly won't be eating any apples of the tree this year, I may even try some insecticide with the Pentra-Bark.

This product sounds almost too good to be true. But with our Granny Smith tree clearly dying, I'm willing to gamble a few bucks on something that may help.

Habitat for Humanity

Saturday, July 21, 2018 - Canning Tomatoes

Two buckets of ripe tomatoesTomatoes and onionsIt was cool and cloudy with a strong breeze this morning. I wandered out to the garden with an 8 quart pail to mess around picking a few tomatoes. I ended up pretty much filling both our 8 and 12 quart buckets with ripe tomatoes! Combined with the tomatoes I'd picked yesterday, it made enough to be worth canning.

Note: The bunch of Behrens galvanized steel buckets Annie gave me for my birthday a few years ago have become almost indispensable. I use the 8 and 12 quart buckets for picking, while the 5 quart bucket is a fixture under our shallow well pump.

Before bringing the tomatoes inside, I took a few minutes to collect the onions that had been curing on the edge of the porch and move them to our glider. With rain possible, I didn't want the onions getting wet.

Ball Blue Book to PreservingI can our tomatoes whole according to the directions in our old copy of the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving. It's an excellent guide for all kinds of preserving. For those wanting a quick reference, the directions are available online, although they've changed the directions to include more Ball preservation products.

Supplies gathered and washedAfter rinsing all of the tomatoes, I gathered my canning supplies and washed the jars, lids, and rings in hot water. I left several of the jars filled with hot water in the kitchen sink, as filling cool jars with hot tomatoes is an invitation for jar breakage.

One of the reasons we like the Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte tomato varieties is that they are just about perfect for canning. The varieties have great tomato flavor and ripen large quantities of tomatoes at the same time. The tomatoes have deep red interiors and are just the right size to squish whole into a regular mouth canning jar.

Coring tomatoesOne of the more tedious parts of canning tomatoes is coring, cutting off the blossom end, and cutting out any bad spots on the tomatoes. Then the tomatoes go into nearly boiling water until their skins begin to peel. I move them to cold water to thermal shock the skins off and pop them into a hot canning jar.

Instead of using citric acid or lemon juice (the changes Ball added to the online directions), we fill our jars with whole tomatoes which give off enough juice to fill the jars. We do add a teaspoon of canning salt per quart.

We can our quarts of tomatoes the recommended 45 minutes in a boiling water bath. Sadly, there's not room in our pressure canner for a jar rack that keeps the jars off the bottom of the canner. The rack can prevent jar breakage...something we experienced today. I use the pressure canner not under pressure for the canning, as I've been too cheap to buy another water bath canner after our last one rusted out many years ago.

Eleven quarts cannedBroken canning jarWe ended up with ten quarts of whole tomatoes canned today. We should have gotten thirteen quarts, but a jar in each batch broke at the base, and one jar didn't seal. The lack of a rack, temperature imbalances, or just plain old jars could all be causes for the breakage. The unsealed jar went into the fridge to make spaghetti sauce.

Having lost two jars to breakage is more than I've lost in years. So I did a little research on the web and found some good articles on the subject:

Cluster of Earlirouge tomatoesOur Earlirouge tomatoes - AFTER today's pickingAll of the tomatoes canned today were from our six Earlirouge tomato plants in our main garden. We have some other tomato varieties planted in our East Garden plot that I put in before my knees gave out. Even though I didn't get all the tomatoes planted that I wanted, we should have lots of tomatoes all season long for fresh use, canning, and sharing.

Our Earlirouge plants are still filled with nearly ripe tomatoes. I'll probably use the best of the next picking for seed saving. I have lots of Earlirouge seed from previous years' crops, but try to save some seed each year. Doing so also allows me to be pretty free with sharing seed with others.

Some nice folks at the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative are trialing our strain of Earlirouge tomatoes this year. Hopefully, they'll like the results enough to commercially offer the variety sometime in the future.

Required Disclosure Statement

Some of our text links go to the sites of our Senior Gardening Advertisers. Clicking through one of our ads or text links and making a purchase will produce a small commission for us from the sale.

Sunday, July 22, 2018 - Planting Fall Carrots

Carrots seeded and some sad looking onion transplantsLike almost everything else this season, I'm a bit late in planting our fall carrots. Our incredibly dry soil conditions, plus needing to water our newly transplanted cucumbers each day, and a good dose of laziness all greatly contributed to the tardy planting.

Having thoroughly rototilled the area to be planted weeks ago, it only needed to be raked out before planting.

I used a one inch board to scrape out two very shallow furrows spaced four inches apart for the seed. The close planting is something I often do and will allow me to keep the furrows covered with a couple of eight inch boards to hold in moisture and suppress weeds until the carrot seed germinates.

Not wanting to stress my brain too much, I planted the carrot varieties in alphabetical order so I could remember what I put where until I got inside to record the planting. I used all shorter days-to-maturity varieties, as we only have 70 to 90 days left in our growing season. I seeded Laguna, Mokumicon, Naval, Nelson, Scarlet Nantes, and Yaya. Other than the Scarlet Nantes, all of the carrot varieties planted are hybrids, although most are Nantes types.

On a bit of a lark, I left room in the planting area for some onions plants I'd been torturing on the back porch for months. The onions were ones I didn't get transplanted in April after my knee problems began. Surprisingly, some of the onions had survived, so I transplanted them down the edge of the raised bed.

As I was seeding and transplanting, there was a touch of moisture in the air at times, but no rain.

What to do with that jar of canned tomatoes that didn't seal?

Basil, parsley, and oregano added to tomatoes
Onion, garlic, carrots, and peppers sautéing in pan
Ground beef added to pan to brown
Ingredients combined, thickened, ready to serve over spaghetti noodles

We had one jar of the tomatoes we canned yesterday that didn't seal. That stuff happens sometimes. I put the jar in the refrigerator overnight with plans for it today. I knew I still had two jars of canned whole tomatoes from last summer in our downstairs pantry, so those tomatoes along with the contents of the unsealed jar got boiled down today to make spaghetti sauce.

I often boil a couple of quarts of canned tomatoes for spaghetti sauce. Sometimes I go totally homemade with our own herbs and spices, and other times I'll add a jar of Hunt's or Prego spaghetti sauce to add spices. With three quarts of tomatoes to boil down, today's batch was homemade.

My first step in making the spaghetti sauce was to pour the three quarts into what we call Grandma's pot. It's a gallon or so aluminum pot my mother gave me that I think she got from her mother. Annie says she remembers her mother making breakfast oatmeal in a similar pot. It took several hours for the tomatoes to break down and for much of the liquid to boil off. As the pot bubbled, I add dried basil and parsley from previous years' gardens and fresh oregano I snipped this morning.

As the tomatoes cooked down, I sautéed onions, garlic, carrots, and some chopped red and green bell peppers (in honor of our first picking of them today). After a few minutes, I added ground beef to brown with the other stuff. I also sprinkled ground red and black pepper over the mix. I had previously added canning salt to the mix, crushing it into the chopped garlic.

After combining the ground beef mix and the tomatoes, I let the sauce continue to simmer for a bit. Then I mixed some corn starch in beef broth to thicken the sauce a bit. And that was it.

Spaghetti dinner (actually fettuccine)

I froze most of the leftover sauce as canning stuff with meat in it requires very long times (90 minutes plus) in the pressure canner.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - Saving Tomato Seed

I began saving Earlirouge tomato seed this morning. The process involves getting the tomato seed and the gel that surrounds the seed out of the tomatoes and into a jar for a fermentation step. After 3-4 days of fermentation, the seed pretty easily separates from any gel or tomato flesh that was previously around it. Several days of air drying completes the process.

Getting started - assembling materials Cutting tomato to reveal seed cavities Seed and gel in jar to ferment

That's the short version of how to save tomato seed. I do step-by-step instructions on the process in our how-to feature story, Saving Tomato Seed.

Kale

We grow our kale as a fall crop each year to make Portuguese Kale Soup when lots of other vegetables used in the soup are ready for harvest. That "lots of other vegetables" part won't be a factor this year with our reduced garden. But we'll still want kale for table use and a batch of kale soup, even if we have to use some store bought vegetables to make it.

During our annual mini-drought, it's hard to get direct seeded crops like kale to germinate well. Even though I've had lousy results trying to transplant kale in the past, I started kale plants inside yesterday. While I was at it, I also started some basil, as I'd let our transplants cook in the sun on the back porch before getting them into the ground. I may yet try direct seeding some kale in a week or so, but with just 0.17 inches of rain so far this month, I really don't need anything else I have to water daily.

Squash Bugs

Squash bugSquash bug eggsIt happens every year. Eventually, no matter how hard we try to prevent them, squash bugs appear on our squash and pumpkin vines.

Despite my regular spray schedule, I saw the signs of squash bug damage on our vines two days ago. There were lots of leaves that had yellowed, well beyond daytime wilt that we're seeing all across our garden plots in our current dry spell. Inspecting the vines, I found several squash bug egg clusters on the underside of leaves. What I haven't yet seen were any actual squash bugs, hence, the old photo of a squash bug at left.

I did find it interesting that something killed one bunch of baby or hatching squash bug eggs in the photo at right. Unfortunately, there's another cluster of very normal looking squash bug eggs in the lower right part of the picture. I had been alternating sprays of Eight and Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew every five days, although I sprayed two days in a row after finding the first eggs on a leaf.

Pumpkin (foreground) and butternut vines Closeup of drought and squash bug damage

We have lots of nearly mature butternut squash on the vines and one huge pumpkin. But with the dry weather and the insect invasion, I'm wondering if I can keep these crops going. We simply need a good rain, but there's none in the forecast.

Apple Tree

Sick Granny Smith apple treeI'm sorry if I'm sounding a little whiny, but it's been one of those years so far this gardening season. First, my knee problems knocked out any chance for many of our usual crops, and now, the dry weather is threatening everything we're growing. I mention this, as I really think what weakened our Granny Smith apple tree was the extremely dry weather. It seemed to be doing okay until the drought set in.

Now, there's nearly nothing green on it, other than the small apples that are regularly dropping off the tree. But I did find some new leaf growth today on the tree when I was spraying it with Pentra-Bark mixed with Fire Blight Spray. I'm not even sure if fire blight is what is taking the tree, but I'd previously sprayed with fungicides and fruit tree spray, so a desperation bark spray of streptomycin is about all I've got left in my toolbox of remedies.

An email from Mississippi gardening buddy Marcus Blanton, the same one who told me about Pentra-Bark, informed me that the Granny Smith apple variety is one of the most susceptible varieties to fire blight. A quick check of a couple (1, 2) of Purdue Extension articles confirmed Marcus's info. Sadly, I hadn't done my research when I planted the Granny Smith, just a few years before fire blight took our standard Stayman Winesap. Unfortunately, the documents report that my favorite apple variety, Stayman Winesaps, are also fairly susceptible to fire blight.

Oh, my!

But...I'm doing a bit of gardening each day, am fully retired from any remunerative work, get to sleep late when I want, am happily married, and have six wonderful children and ten grandchildren. So...life's pretty good right now.

Sam’s Club

Thursday, July 26, 2018 - Onions

Our Senior Garden - July 26, 2018Our 2018 onions bagged for storageI trimmed and bagged onions this evening. They had been curing, first on our back porch, and later on the glider on the porch for several weeks. I took the time to grab our postage scale and found we had just over eleven pounds of small to medium yellow storage onions. Considering that I only got half of our onions transplanted in April, and then they grew in weeds, I was pretty happy with the harvest. Of course, if you costed out our inputs and compared them to the cost of grocery onions, we took a bath. But the onions are now hanging in their bags in our basement, keeping the nearby bags of garlic company. The onion varieties are Milestone and Clear Dawn. Both varieties store fairly well into late winter.

We actually got some rain this afternoon. A storm blew in, and it began to rain quite hard for a few minutes. But that was about it. I emptied 0.20 inches of precipitation from our rain gauge.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Monday, July 30, 2018

We're getting a break from the hot and dry weather we've had much of this month. It's raining today and is cool enough that our house windows are open and the air conditioning turned off. The amount of rainfall we're receiving certainly isn't a drought breaker, but even several tenths of an inch of precipitation is welcome.

Nationally, the western United States is plagued with wildfires and the east coast has been inundated with heavy rains. For our part, we've slipped into the "Abnormally Dry" classification by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Drought Information
U.S. Drought Monitor
United States Weekly Drought Monitor
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook
United States Monthly Drought Outlook
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
United States Seasonal Drought Outlook
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Weekly Drought Monitor

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader

Tomato Seed Done

Rinsed tomato seed
Seed drying on coffee filter

Peppers, tomatoes, and some fermented tomato seedOur saved Earlirouge tomato seed was done with its fermentation step yesterday. Fermenting the seed mixture can kill off some disease organisms and helps remove pieces of tomato flesh attached to the seed. After rinsing the seed four or five times in the fermentation jar, all of the tomato pieces had detached from the seed and rinsed off.

For most folks, just drying the seed for several days is the next step. Since we share a lot of seed with other gardeners, we add the additional step of hot water treating the seed to further protect against seed borne diseases. That process which I describe fully in Saving Tomato Seed involves holding the seed in 122° F water for 25 minutes.

I'll dry the tomato seed for several days before storing it for future use. I first dump the strained seed onto a coffee filter on a paper plate to dry. After a day or so, I scrape the seed off the coffee filter onto the paper plate to dry further. Moving the seed is somewhat necessary, as the seed tends to stick to the coffee filter (or even worse to a paper towel). When I pulled the coffee filter and brushed the seed onto the paper plate for more drying, I also sorted out ten seeds for a germination test, something essential if you're going to share seeds with others.

Frozen pepper stripsThe peppers and tomatoes shown above left went to work with my wife, Annie, today for her co-workers. A much larger bunch of peppers with small bad spots got washed, seeded, and split into strips and frozen.

While using lots of ground egg shells has seemed to work in preventing blossom end rot on our tomatoes, the same can't be said for our Earliest Red Sweet peppers. Some of the rot can also be attributed to the peppers picked being mostly those touching the ground.

Tomato Purée

Two buckets of tomatoes
Tomatoes washed and cut and beginning to heat up

Our house has been filled with the aroma of tomatoes cooking down. With fifteen quarts of whole tomatoes already canned, I decided to use a couple of buckets of very ripe tomatoes to make some tomato purée. While we have several good outlets for extra produce (my wife's work, an old folks home, and our local food bank), I wasn't sure how much longer the tomatoes would hold without beginning to spoil

Since we process tomatoes for purée in our Squeezo Strainer, coring and peeling the fruit isn't necessary. I wash the tomatoes and remove their green tops, sorting out those tomatoes with a bad spot or two that needs to be cut out. Then I cut the tomatoes in half and heat them in a large pot.

New water bath canner and canned tomato pureeFor us, the messy part of the process is running the tomatoes and juice through our old Squeezo which leaks a bit. After using the Squeezo to separate out the seeds and skins, it was just a matter of boiling down the tomato juice to thicken it.

The two buckets of tomatoes cooked down to six and a half pints of something halfway between tomato sauce and tomato purée. I got tired of minding the pot and was afraid of burning the sauce/purée if I cooked it down any further.

And I did finally break down and bought an inexpensive water bath cannericon. It's far more lightweight than our previous water bath canner, but it should last if I make sure I wash and dry it carefully after every use.

The USDA suggests one can safely "store high acid foods such as tomatoes and other fruit up to 18 months." We tend to get a bit more good storage time from high acid canned vegetables like tomatoes and stuff we add good 5% vinegar to, such as canned pickles and relish.

The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015, is available for free download (in sections) from the National Center for Home Food Preservation site. I found that the PDF sections frequently stalled during loading into a web page. I had to be careful the files were done before transferring them to a permanent folder for future use. Messing with the scroll bar seemed to encourage the browser and server to finish the loads.

Pond

I've written occasionally about "our" pond. It actually sits on the ground owned by the person who owns our East Garden plot. Decaying roots and muskrats pretty well ruined the damn on the old pond, and amazingly, the landowner decided to have the pond redone!

Frozen pond
Pond being reconstructed

I do wonder if the pond renovation may result in some new neighbors, but we'll enjoy the new pond until that happens.

Fun Stuff

Nice pumpkin0Despite the dry weather and onslaught of squash bugs, we have some nice pumpkins growing on our vines in our East Garden. If we can hold off the squash bugs and powdery mildew, a regular problem in our vining crops, we may have some nice pumpkins for our grandkids.

We lost some of our butternut squash vines to dry weather and possibly insects, but have lots of squash maturing. Today's rain may help a bit with both the pumpkins and squash, as they had quit blooming during the dry spell.

While our Granny Smith apple tree still appears to be dying, the "Stayman Winesap" tree next to it is filled with apples. Planted in 2010, the tree put on three apples last season that yellowed and rotted. Whether the semi-dwarf tree is a true Stayman Winesap or some yellow variety, only time will tell. Either way, it certainly has taken a long time to produce fruit.

Stayman Winesap tree...maybe

1800Flowers.com

Tuesday, July 31, 2018 - July Wrap-up

July, 2018, animated GIF of our Senior GardenIt's been a hot and dry July, but we've had some nice results in our garden. We brought in nice crops of garlic and onions, although nothing in quantity like years past. By mid-month, we were canning tomatoes in some volume. I had enough tomatoes to can a batch of tomato purée.

I began the clean-up of the weeds that had taken over our main raised garden bed. I had to leave some of the weeds, as they were in the rows of carrots and green beans. The dry weather actually helped us out with weeding, as there wasn't enough moisture in the soil to germinate weed seed once we got areas weeded.

Towards the end of the month, our Earliest Red Sweet bell pepper plants began to produce. I froze a quart of pepper strips, but we should have lots more peppers in the coming months. ERS peppers produce over a long period of time.

JLP cucumbers bloomingI transplanted Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers into our previously troubled narrow raised bed. Whatever prevented our peas from germinating there hasn't seemed to bother the cucumber plants that have began blooming now after just over two weeks in the ground.

Carrots upI also direct seeded our fall carrots. Doing so starts a daily routine of morning and evening waterings, except when it rains. The carrot seed has been in the ground for a week now, so I'm getting a bit antsy to see some germination soon. (The carrots are up this morning! Yea!)

We continued to fight a losing battle in trying to save our Granny Smith apple tree. Whatever is killing the Granny Smith isn't affecting the other two trees (not counting the volunteer tree just off our property). As a last gasp, I sprayed the tree with Pentra-Bark surfactant with fire blight spray mixed in.

Squash bug eggs became apparent in our butternut and pumpkin vines, but we're not seeing any great population of the bugs. I'm guessing they're hiding in the grass clipping mulch we use to hold back weeds (and hold in soil moisture when there is any).

I saved both gloxinia and tomato seed this month. I'm still hand pollinating our gloxinias that are in bloom in the house in hopes of producing a bit more fresh seed. The tomato seed saved was of the Earlirouge variety, our best multi-purpose tomato.

We started broccoli, cauliflower, kale, basil, lettuce, and spinach inside for our fall garden.

Wow! It's hard to believe I'm writing about our fall garden already!

Rukaten Camera

June, 2018

August, 2018

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