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The Old Guy's Garden Record

May 15, 2018


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Our Senior Garden - May 1, 2018
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After an April riddled with frosty mornings, it appears that we'll jump right into summer weather starting today, May 1. Our extended weather forecast calls for days in the 70s and 80s.

We may be able to till parts of our raised garden beds and our East Garden plot in the next few days. And then we start planting like mad. We have cabbage, lettuce, onions, peppers, spinach, and tomatoes to transplant into our raised beds with beans, carrots, peas, and more spinach to direct seed.

In our large East Garden plot, we'll transplant melons, squash, tomatoes and peppers and direct seed sweet corn.

I have seed potatoes on hand and sweet potato slips ordered, but I'm wondering if I can do them with the condition of my knees. Digging is one of those chores I don't do well anymore. (Check with my wife for the full list of things I don't do well now. grin It's getting to be a long list.)

And all of that planting doesn't include all the flowers and herbs we have to put in.

When mowing yesterday, I noticed that one of the sage plants we use as corner and halfway markers in our East Garden had died. I have a bunch of sage transplants to use as replacements, but none of them are very robust. I decided several years ago to use sage to somewhat permanently mark the boundaries of our East Garden because sage is a hardy perennial. I also hoped its smell might help deter deer. The sage has worked well for marking the East Garden, although I've had to replace a plant or two each season. The local deer have been totally unimpressed with the sage.

I made another application of Thuricide (BT) on our brassicas today. It's been a little over ten days since I made the first application. While I haven't seen any of the white cabbage moths or brown cabbage loopers that lay eggs on brassicas, I did notice several small yellow moths when mowing the field yesterday.

Something else to remember is that bugs will gladly infest and dine on transplants under a cold frame or on a porch. Our leftover broccoli and cauliflower along with our cabbage and Brussels sprouts transplants also got coated with the biological. Several years ago, we had cucumber beetles attack our melon and squash transplants under the cold frame. We lost a good many plants before I got that one under control.

Later - Tilling

Narrow bed "forked," but yet tilledNarrow bed tilled and rakedI pulled the T-posts from our failed planting of early peas and worked up the raised bed today. I went over the bed first turning the soil with a heavy garden fork. Then I rototilled the bed and sprinkled some Bonide Repels All over it to keep our dogs from digging there again. We have rain predicted in the next few days. I'll let the bed get rained on before re-seeding it to supersweet peas.

With the tiller out and running well, I also turned over another narrow raised bed and the unplanted portions of our main raised bed. The soil turned over easily, as our raised beds have lots of organic matter in them. I did, however, turn up some heavy clay soil when working with the garden fork.

Raised beds tilled and raked

With the raised beds tilled, we should be ready to do some planting soon. I checked the soil temperature today. It was 52° F, warm enough to transplant tomatoes and peppers or direct seed beans. But...

...I still have our East Garden plot to till tomorrow. With rain predicted for Wednesday, I need to get that tilling done while the ground is dry enough to work. Then I'll start planting.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018 - Not the Day I Had Planned

Apple trees in bloomTwo pounds of asparagusThe high points of my day today were seeing our apple trees in bloom and picking two pounds of asparagus. After that, I should have crawled back in bed and slept until the end of the week.

I'd planned to till our East Garden today, as we have rain predicted for the next few days. Even though I was stiff and sore from using the walking tiller yesterday, I wrestled the mower deck from our lawn tractor and installed the pull-type tiller. When I got to the field, it tilled about five feet of ground before breaking! A half hour or so of teardown revealed a broken part that I can't fix myself.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

Thursday, May 3, 2018 - Tech Day

Replacing laptop batteryCloseup of open Macbook ProWe have rain and some pretty strong winds here today. That made it a good day to stay inside and catch up on a tech job that needed doing.

My 2011 Macbook Pro's battery needed to be replaced. It had gotten to the point where I could only use the laptop for two or three hours before the battery required recharging. So I'd ordered a new battery from our main Mac part supplier, Other World Computing. When the new battery came in, I just let it sit until I had a day free to do the installation and battery calibration.

While newer Macs are pretty much sealed shut and not upgradable, I've been inside this Macbook Pro before to upgrade its RAM and hard drive. So today's venture wasn't intimidating, but I still relied on OWC's excellent installation video to do the job. It only took a few minutes, although the battery calibration will take hours for charging, draining, and then recharging the battery to ensure its best performance.

As to computer upgradeability, my lovely wife, Annie, who is a real-for-true computer tech, ran into a laptop this week that had its solid state drive soldered to the motherboard. Such stuff thwarts ones ability to repair or upgrade computers. One of the reasons I use older computers to write and maintain Senior Gardening is their repairability and upgradeability.

Saturday, May 5, 2018 - Tomatoes

With our unusual spring, I've had to adjust my garden plan and planting a good bit. Instead of trying to plant our onions, carrots, and lettuce in some muddy soil, I moved on to planting tomatoes and peppers into easily accessible raised beds.

Yesterday, I transplanted six Earlirouge tomatoes into a narrow raised bed. The three foot wide bed had enough space for the caged tomatoes and a row of spinach.

Earlirouge tomatoes planted

Since I'd tilled the bed a few days ago, I rather easily dug deep holes for the tomato plants with a wide garden trowel. I worked a little balanced fertilizer and some ground egg shell into the bottom of each hole. Then I watered the holes with a starter solution that contained dilute Quick Start, a little Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed Powder, and some Serenade biofungicide. The tomatoes went into the holes and were backfilled with the soil dug previously. I was careful to make a small trough in the soil around each plant to hold water.

I went ahead and caged the tomatoes, as the cages deter critter damage. We've had hungry deer bite off unprotected tomato plants in the past! I also mulched the tomatoes with grass clippings. Since we live in a area subject to some very strong winds, I anchored our tomato cages in pairs to T-posts. Before we did so, we had tomato cages top heavy with fruit blown over in summer storms, sometimes uprooting the tomato plant.

Since our tomato cages are 22-24" in diameter, planting the tomatoes along the south edge of the narrow raised bed left just enough room for a row of spinach down the south side of the bed. I transplanted seven Abundant Bloomsdale spinach plants down the row and direct seeded more of the same variety to fill out the row.

I also transplanted geraniums at the corners of the bed. Sadly, when I watered the spinach seed a few hours after planting, I found that one of our dogs (I think - could have been a cat) had broken off one of the geraniums!

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Peppers

Today, I transplanted seven Earliest Red Sweet bell peppers along the southern edge of our large raised bed. This was another planting I could do without having to step into the bed.

I first spaced out my pepper cages to mark where I wanted to plant and dug a small hole in the soil at the center of each cage. After moving the cages out of the way, I deepened each hole and sprinkled some balanced fertilizer, ground egg shell, and lime into each hole. I used my wide trowel to work these into the base of each hole.

Holes dug Closeup of hole Row of peppers transplanted

I used only ground egg shell around our tomatoes yesterday to help prevent blossom end rot. Today, I used both ground egg shell and calcitic lime around the peppers, as they like a bit sweeter soil than do tomato plants.

Each planting hole got filled with about the same starter solution I used yesterday for our tomatoes. The one difference was that today's mix contained a good bit more Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed Powder, as that product seems to contain whatever trace element our soil lacks to grow good peppers.

After the starter solution had soaked into the soil a bit, I put the pepper plants in the holes and backfilled with the dirt I'd dug from the holes. I formed a small, shallow trough around each plant and filled it with water. Something I omitted for this planting was cutworm collars. Cutworms can decimate young peppers, but I think we should be okay, as our peppers seem to have fairly tough stems. If not, I have a few replacement plants left over.

Peppers mulched

The final steps of the planting were placing the pepper cages over the plants and mulching. The grass clippings I used had sat and cured for a week, so there was no danger of burning the plants with the clippings heating up. I mulched right up under the plant leaves. While mulching, I spread clippings, especially clippings that had matted a bit, down the aisle between the peppers and our brassicas. Matted clippings are especially good at holding back weeds. This task required stepping into the raised bed, but only in the aisle between the plantings.

Peas

Row seededWhen I finished mulching the peppers, my knees and hips were burning, reminding me of how out of shape I have gotten over the winter. But a short break with a heating pad quickly rejuvenated me.

I moved on to planting peas in the narrow raised bed where our March planted early peas failed. Since acknowledging that disaster, I have treated several mole tunnels with mole bombs, deep dug the bed with a garden fork, and thoroughly tilled it. If I haven't killed off most of the moles, at least I've made life miserable for them.

I made a wide furrow for the peas, about twelve inches wide and an inch or two deep. I offset the furrow just off the center of the bed.

Although I'd previously spread granular soil inoculant in the bed in March, I added a bit more today. The inoculant helps the pea plants fix nitrogen from the air in nodules on their roots. I decided not to re-fertilize the bed, as I'd worked a good bit of it in during the March planting. While some of the nitrogen in the applied fertilizer may have leached out of the soil, the other elements (phosphorus and potassium) should have remained. I can always go back and add a liquid nitrogen fertilizer if needed.

Peas seeded liberallyThen I liberally spread Eclipse and Encore seed down the furrow. Both pea varieties are supersweets and are notorious for their poor germination. Our saved seed tested at 100 and 90% last fall. We'll see how they germinate in the real world. Note that seed for these two varieties is no longer commercially available. And, I can't share seed, as the the varieties are patent protected. Please, don't even ask.

Before covering the seed with soil, I very gently tamped it into the soil with the head of my garden hoe. I also sprinkled some water on the seed. After covering the seed with soil, I again gently tamped the soil, hoping to get good seed-to-soil contact.

While working on this posting, I ran across a good article on peas from the San Francisco Chronicle: Depth & Spacing to Plant Peas. Our Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas might also prove helpful.

Elephant Garlic

I mentioned above offsetting the pea furrow in the bed a bit. I did so to allow room for a row of spring planted elephant garlic. Most of our fall planted garlic is doing well, except for the elephant garlic. Only five of about twenty cloves planted last fall have produced plants. If those plants all produce well, we'll only have enough elephant garlic for planting this fall.

I've not grown spring planted garlic in the past, so this planting is an experiment. I didn't do anything different than normal, other than possibly getting the cloves in a bit closer to the soil surface than I do in the fall. While the nearby peas will be done in several months, the garlic can remain to mature all season. We'll replace the peas with vining cucumbers, but with a trellis, there should be plenty of room in the bed for both.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Blooms on young apple treeVetch before mowingI expected our newly planted Stayman Winesap apple tree to leaf out, but never thought about it putting out blooms. At the very top of the tree, a cluster of blooms have opened over the last few days. While the blooms are pretty, we won't let the tree bear fruit this year.

Another surprise was that the hairy winter vetch cover crop I'd left unmowed in our East Garden shot up to over a foot tall in the last week. While I didn't mention it in my tale of woe about our broken pull-type tiller, I also broke part of the lift mechanism on our lawn tractor. Fortunately, I was able to do a workaround to remount the mower deck and mow our lawn yesterday and today. The tall vetch also got mowed. Had I let it get any taller and thicker, it would have taken a sickle bar mower or bush hog to fell it.

On a break from mowing yesterday, I used up the last of our saved grass clippings to mulch our garlic. I'd held off mulching it, as there were few weeds coming up in the planting. Of course, after moving the last of the saved grass clipping which our dogs love to sleep on, I found two of our dogs last evening laying on the mulch I'd previously laid between our rows of cauliflower and peppers. At least they didn't lay on any plants. And, I ran the lawnsweeper today to give the dogs the soft beds they seem to crave.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018 - Spraying Apple Trees

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Our Senior Garden - May 10, 2018Almost all of the blossoms on our apple trees have closed. Blossom drop is when the codling moth lays its eggs on the leaves of apple trees. When the eggs hatch, the larva bore into the apples to feed, eventually producing worms in the apples. So whether using an organic product such as Captain Jack's Deadbug Brewicon or a chemical cocktail such as the Bonide Fruit Tree Sprayicon that I used today, this is one of the most important sprays of the season. Another spray in about ten days is also critical in controlling the moths and their larva, as the moths lay their eggs over a period of several weeks.

With no wind to deal with this morning, I was able to spray all four of our apple trees without any drift of the spray (back down on me). Sometimes in windy weather, it's difficult to reach the top of the trees with the sprayer.

As usual when doing this kind of spray, I wore a hat, glasses, a dust mask, gloves, and a long sleeved shirt. I also showered immediately after spraying and washed the clothes I was wearing.

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Some further reading on keeping bugs out of apples:

While it's a little hard to see them all, I took a photo this morning to show our current apple trees.

Our four apple trees labeled

As I've noted here before, the volunteer tree grew where we used to dump cull apples from our old Stayman Winesap tree that succumbed to fire blight several years ago. It produces small apples with a delightful flavor that is a like a Red Delicious with a Stayman Winesap attitude.

The "dwarf' "Stayman Winesap" appears not to be so dwarf and has as yet to produce any good apples. It had four yellow apples on it last year that rotted before ripening.

Our Granny Smith tree has produced large, beautiful apples in the past. Having unsuccessfully experimented with growing apples on it organically, its apples have had lots of worms over the last few years.

The small, new tree in the foreground of the photo is a standard Stayman Winesap that surprised me by blooming its first year in the ground.

Personal note: I'm writing a lot about apples and other stuff instead of gardening as my bum knee has prevented me from doing some of the gardening I so love to do. The knee is very slowly improving, but I still can't do any work that requires being on my knees.

Black Flies

Sweet potato plantsAs I was hand pumping water from our shallow well this morning, it was obvious that black flies have returned. The tiny insects can make working outside pretty miserable. I often wear an Off! Clip On Mosquito Repellent dispenser to minimize the flies' annoyance factor, but also wonder about what stuff I'm breathing in from it!

Sweet Potato Plants Arrive

After writing this posting, I checked the mail and found that our sweet potato plants had arrived. The folks at George's Plant Farm delayed shipping the slips due to the unseasonable cold weather we had in late April. The slips look about as good as any I've received by mail, but we're not even close to being ready to put them into the ground. So I grabbed some deep sixpacks and a tray and popped the plants into the sixpacks with some potting mix. I did the same thing with some rather sick looking slips we received last year and it revitalized them.

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NALC Food DriveFriday, May 11, 2018 - Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive

The NALC Stamp Out Hunger National Food Drive is tomorrow. Letter carriers across the nation will pick up non-perishable food items left by ones mailbox for distribution through local food banks. This event is the largest one-day food drive in the nation.

As I rummaged through our various pantries for items to donate, I had to remember not to include items in glass jars. I also checked expiration and/or best by dates and ended up feeding some really old stuff to our dogs! If they can handle regularly eating old deer parts they find, some six month old SpaghettiOs won't hurt them.

Saturday, May 12, 2018 - Onions

I got our yellow storage onions planted last evening. Working as the sun set, our rows of Clear Dawn and Milestone transplants just filled a fifteen foot double row. Since I'm still having knee problems, I did the transplanting sitting, rather than on my knees, scooting down the row on my butt.

Clear Dawn is unusual as it was developed from the now discontinued Copra hybrid. The open pollinated variety produces nice sized onions that store fairly well. Milestone seed is sometimes offered as a sweet onion, although we use and treat them as storage onions. They produce fairly large, yellow onions with good flavor that store well into the spring.

Carrots - Lettuce

Sun Devil lettuce transplanted at corners of raised bedLettuce transplantedToday, I planted a short, double row of carrots. Since we always seem to have lots of spring carrots leftover when we bring in our fall carrots, I cut back our planting this spring. I used to plant a fifteen foot double row of carrots each spring. Last year, I cut the planting to an eight foot double row. This year, I planted a six foot double row to Laguna, Mokumicon, Nelson, Scarlet Nantes, and Yaya. I also spread a bit of radish seed down the rows. The radishes will come out fairly early, but will serve to break the soil surface and also mark the rows.

I usually lay a walking board over our planted carrot rows to hold in soil moisture and hold back weeds. With a bit of extra space for this years planting, I gave the double rows a couple of extra inches between them, making them wider than our walking boards. So I'll need to water the carrot planting on days it doesn't rain and manually pick out weeds.

After seeding the carrots, I transplanted lettuce. I put in Sun Devil head lettuce at the corners of one of our narrow raised beds instead of the usual flowers that go there. I wanted a spot where I could leave the lettuce as long as it takes for it to go to seed, as we're almost out of Sun Devil lettuce seed that is no longer commercially available.

Walmart iconIn the rest of the bed of onions and carrots, I transplanted fifteen lettuce plants. Going into the ground this late, we may not get much from them, but we have the best lettuce transplants this year we've ever grown. Transplanted varieties included Crispino, Nancy, Skyphos, Jericho, Coastal Star, Better Devil, Pandero, and Nevada.

We also have a Jericho romaine lettuce and a Barbados summer crisp co-planted at the ends of our broccoli row that are just about ready to pick.

I still have a double row of Rossa di Milano, Southport White Globe, and Walla Wallas onions to complete our usual onion, lettuce, and carrot intensive planting. But it was time to quit for today, despite some nice protection from some cheap knee padsicon I picked up at Walmart. I also have lots of flower transplants to put in to replace row marker stakes.

Our planting of onions, lettuce, and carrots are going in about a month late. That shouldn't hurt the onions and carrots too much, but with the lettuce, we'll take whatever we can get before hot weather makes it bolt. That's just part of gardening.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018 - Mother's Day

Our Senior Garden - May 13, 2018Mother's Day and anniversary flowersWe had a gorgeous Mother's Day today. Temperatures were in the 80s all afternoon with a pleasant breeze.

Combining Mother's Day with our wedding anniversary tomorrow, I got Annie some flowers. A second bouquet from one of our daughters made for a beautiful display on our kitchen counter.

Being a bit gimpy from yesterday's gardening chores, I limited my gardening to watering stuff we have planted already. Our new apple tree and direct seedings of peas and carrots got a good drench.

With just 0.38 inches of rainfall so far this month, the soil is getting pretty dry in places. Our main raised bed didn't seem too dry several inches down when I was transplanting lettuce yesterday, but our narrow beds have gotten quite dry. Our next good chance for rain isn't until mid-week, so I'll be pumping a good bit of water for several more days.

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Friday, May 18, 2018 - Butternuts and Pumpkins

Grass clippings for mulchRevised 2018 East Garden PlanI lost all of our butternut squash and pumpkins last year to squash bugs. The volume of bugs overwhelmed my efforts at spraying the plants to control the pests. Sadly, I only have myself to blame for the lost crops. I had decided to leave heavy grass clipping mulch on the ground over the winter around the planting areas for the butternuts and pumpkins. Squash bugs or their eggs that had survived my eradication efforts overwintered in the mulch, hatching out early in a volume I couldn't control.

I transplanted our butternuts and direct seeded our pumpkins today. Breaking with my previous practice, I did the plantings in a "rotated out" section of our East Garden plot instead of on the sites of old compost piles as we've done in the past. Doing so will lesson the effect of rotating out the ground for two consecutive years, but also places our hills in an area with much better sunlight and slightly better soil.

I'd closely mowed the planting area two times to kill down the hairy winter vetch cover crop that had been growing there. I also dumped all of the grass clippings I collected yesterday in the area.

With the dry spell we've had, the ground was extremely hard and difficult to dig. I eventually was able to dig two planting holes about eighteen inches in circumference and almost a foot deep. I worked some lime and balanced fertilizer into the holes with a garden fork before watering each hole with about four gallons of water.

Hole dug and backfilled with improved soil Hole backfilled and watered Butternut transplants squished in

The first hole got some peat moss and compost mixed into the native soil before I put in our pot of Waltham Butternut squash transplants. For the pumpkins, I replaced the dug soil with some bagged topsoil I'd sterilized to kill any weed seed in it. I direct seeded Howden pumpkin seed into that hole.

When done planting, I spread grass clipping mulch all around the plantings. The butternuts and all of the mulch were sprayed with liquid Eight (Carbaryl). Because both butternut and pumpkin vines spread so rapidly, I decided to still mulch the plants and try to stay ahead of the inevitable invasion of squash bugs with repeated spray treatments. Having not given the squash bugs a head start of overwintering in mulch, I'm hoping to hold back weeds (and retain soil moisture) with the mulch and keep the bugs under control with regular sprayings.

Butternuts and pumpkins started and mulched

The image above of our transplanted butternuts is a bit interesting. It turns out that hairy winter vetch when mowed to death turns red. In the background, the vetch I mowed just two days ago has rebounded and needs to be mowed again soon.

Still Waiting for Rain

Our current dry spell allowed me to spend three days tending to our lawn, two mowing and one raking. But it hasn't done much good for our garden. I continue to water direct seeded rows, but hadn't put anything new into the ground until today due to the dry soil conditions.

As of suppertime today, we've had a light sprinkle of rain that didn't even register in our rain gauge. Hopefully, we'll get some good rain overnight or in the next few days.

Grafting

I've not done much grafting, but in a moment of possible foolishness a week or so ago, I ordered some semi-dwarfing understock, grafting wax, and a grafting tool. Since my attempts at rooting cuttings from our volunteer apple tree have all failed, I thought I'd try grafting scions onto rootstock. Of course, this is a job that should have been done when the tree supplying the scions is dormant or nearly so.

If the whole experiment fails, I should be able to heel in the understock and try again next March.

A Heavy Heart and a Bad Knee

My choice of starting butternuts and pumpkins today was a bit out of self preservation. My bum knee prevented doing some other chores that really need doing. But watching the events in Santa Fe, Texas, today with tears in my eyes, I had to get out and do something.

We must do something about gun violence in this country. I'm not wise enough to know the answer, but the folks we send to Washington should be doing more than sending "thoughts and prayers" to people who have just lost their children.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018 - Rain, Broccoli, and Lettuce

First broccoliJericho lettuceWe finally got a little rain overnight. I emptied 0.2 inches out of our rain gauge this morning, bringing our monthly total to 0.58". That was enough to make the soil surface look dark, germinate weed seed, but not do much for our existing crops. We may get a bit more rain in the next few days, but I'll probably need to continue watering.

When emptying the rain gauge, I noticed that one of our cauliflower plants was going to seed. Closer inspection of the brassicas revealed several broccoli ready to cut. Some of the heads were small, but considering the fluctuating temperatures and varying rainfall we've had, I'm not surprised. The Jericho lettuce I put at the end of the broccoli row was also ready to cut. It hadn't formed a true head and was difficult to clean. But the leaves were sweet and made a good salad for supper.

Peas and Garlic

Weedy garlic and pea bedOur narrow raised bed of peas and garlic was becoming a mess. We're still having trouble getting a stand of one of the two pea varieties planted there. Lots of small weeds had germinated. The good news with the bed is that the elephant garlic I put in has mostly come up. Our fall planting of elephant garlic has pretty much failed, so this spring planting was a desperation planting to ensure we'd have sets to plant this fall.

Bed weeded, re-seeded, and mulchedCleaning up the seedling weeds at this point was pretty easy. I mostly used my soil scratcher to disrupt the weeds, but still hand pulled some larger ones. Completely removing the weeds wasn't necessary, as I mulched the garlic after cultivating/weeding around them.

Still trying to get a good stand of Eclipse peas, I soaked the seed to be planted for several hours. (Acadia Farms has a good posting on Soaking Seeds on the Local Harvest site.) Soaking pea seed is an iffy proposition. Soak the seed too long, and it's only good for making split pea soup. Not soaking it long enough doesn't allow the seed to absorb enough water for the seed to swell and speed germination. And of course, once the seed is soaked, it's tender and much more prone to damage from rough handling.

With the pea bed lightly cultivated and mulched on either side, I spread the seed down half the bed in a four to six inch wide band. I didn't make a furrow for the seed. Instead, it went on top of the soil. I then covered it with some commercial topsoil leftover from from my apple grafting project. I gave the freshly planted seed a good sprinkling of water, something I'll need to do daily until the seed germinates or we get a good rain.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

I got our pull-type rototiller back from the shop on Monday. While I really wanted to turn over our East Garden plot that day, I knew I had a day or so of mowing to do before I could drop out the mower deck and mount the tiller on our lawn tractor.

East Garden plot tilled

With my mowing caught up by midday today, I tilled the half of our East Garden plot that we'll plant this year. With our lack of rain, the soil was rock hard and will require at least one more pass (probably two) before it is planting ready. But the tiller worked well despite the bouncing around the hard soil gave it.

While this was the first major repair of the now six year old tiller, I'm more worried about our X-500 lawn tractor that pulls it. This tiller only fits John Deere 300 and 500 series lawn tractors, and ours is beginning to show its age. While both units have served us well, I think buying a tiller that fits on any tractor or lawn tractor might be the way to go when we finally retire these units.

While I tilled today, we're still on hold on doing any more plantings. Once we get the East Garden ready, I'll transplant tomatoes, peppers, melons, and squash into it. When we do those plantings, the planting holes always get gallons of water. But with the soil so dry, direct seeded crops such as green beans and sweet corn will just have to wait.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018 - One Step Forward, and a Whole Bunch Back

I tilled most of the East Garden today, but it's still pretty rough. During the tilling, the lawn tractor's engine started missing out. Oh my!

East Garden plot tilled (again)

That was the bad news, but I've got the patch worked up enough that I think I can finish up the planting areas with our old walking tiller.

Fruit Bouquets

Saturday, May 26, 2018 - A Day Off

Tomatoes and peppers in East GardenI'm taking today off from gardening. Having spent two days tilling our East Garden plot, and then planting tomatoes and peppers in some very hard, dry ground yesterday, my body screamed, "No more" this morning. But I do feel really good about getting a few tomatoes and peppers into the ground.

We already have six very healthy Earlirouge tomatoes in our main garden, but the East Garden is where I have space to try lots of varieties. I transplanted two each of Bellstar, Crimson Sprinter, Bella Rosa, and Dixie Red down the edge of the East Garden plot yesterday. Bellstar is paste tomato developed by Jack Metcalf, who developed the Earlirouge, Moire, and Quite slicing/canning tomato varieties we really like. Crimson Sprinter has some of the same heritage as the Metcalf releases and has rave reviews from those who grow it.

I'm especially excited to try the Dixie Red hybrid that was recommended to me by Mississippi gardening friend, Marcus Blanton. Like me, Marcus really likes Bella Rosa tomatoes, but found the related Dixie Red to be possibly a bit better tasting.

Besides the tomatoes, I put in one each of Ace, New Ace, Red Knight, and Abay sweet bell peppers.icon Last year was the first year we've grown really good tomatoes in our East Garden plot. To date, we've never grown good peppers there, but I'm hopeful.

Planting on a hot day into dry soil is not the way to get ones plants off to a good start. I was simply unwilling to wait any longer to begin planting, as we're already way behind in our garden plantings for this season. But the tradeoff to keep the plants going was digging a deluxe hole for each and copiously watering the planting hole(s).

The holes I dug were about twelve inches deep and eighteen inches in circumference. Down past about six inches, the untilled subsoil was hard clay that had to be broken with a garden fork. I filled the holes with peat moss, lime, ground egg shell, and fertilizer, mixing it with the native soil with my garden fork. The dug soil was retained for a little backfill, but mostly to make troughs around the planting holes to hold in water.

Part of my pain today is from hand pumping nearly a hundred gallons of water from our shallow well for the planting. Each planting hole initially got two to three gallons of our usual starting solution of dilute Quick Start, Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed Powder, and some Serenade biofungicide.

Caged tomatoes and peppersSince our tomato and pepper transplants had gotten really tall, I squished them into the planting holes fairly deep. Then I backfilled with a little soil/peat moss and firmed the plantings as best as I could.

All of the plants got cages. The tomato cages were anchored in pairs to T-posts (which were a devil to drive into the hard, hard ground.) The T-posts prevent the cages from blowing over when top heavy with fruit, something that happens here with the frequent high winds we experience.

I didn't mulch the new plantings simply because I didn't have any grass clipping mulch nearby. But with the dry soil conditions, not many weeds will germinate. And I'd really rather the ground get rained on before mulching.

Healthy tomato transplantHealthy pepper transplantI finished off the planting by top watering each plant with another gallon or so of water. I was pleased today to see that all of the plants looked good.

I still have a good bit more planting to do down the row. We have Moira, Quinte, Better Boyicon, Mountain Fresh Plus, Mountain Merit, Honey Bunch, and Red Pearl tomato transplants to go in. I also have a few more pepper transplants left, although I'm almost out of pepper cages.

With just over a half inch of rain so far this month, there's no way I'll be able to keep everything we have out alive without a good rain soon. I cut two lettuce yesterday, but both turned out to be hot and bitter tasting. I'm guessing the rest of our lettuce may be a loss, and we have several 90+ degree days in our weather forecast with little chance of rain until mid-week next week.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Our Senior Garden - May 27, 2018Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower ProjectIt's a hot, but gorgeous day outside. Being a Hoosier, I'm inside watching the Indy 500. Having grown up in Indy, the Indianapolis 500 is something I try never to miss. Living outside the TV blackout area, we get to see the race even though we're just 90 minutes away from Indianapolis.

As a kid, we used to listen to the race on radio while washing down our screened in patio. It was a family tradition. And, from our home on the near northside of Indy, you could just barely hear the engines when they all fired up at once at the Speedway.

We actually got a little, very little, rain last night. While working on a how-to story about growing tomatoes late last night, I heard a strange, but somewhat familiar sound. It was rain on the flat roof of our sunroom, which is next to my office. I ran downstairs and walked out on our back porch to find that it was raining for the first time in weeks. We'd didn't get much precipitation (0.05"), but at this point, we'll be thankful for whatever we can get.

I picked a bit of spinach today, just in time. Two of the seven plants I'd transplanted were going to seed, but there were still plenty of leaves to pick. We also have some direct seeded spinach that may provide us with some nice greens if the heat doesn't get them.

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Monday, May 28, 2018 - Memorial Day (U.S.) - Green Beans

Planting green beansWith a predicted high temperature of 94° F for this afternoon, I had my gardening done before ten. Spurred on by some really sub-par green beans we had last week, I decided to plant beans this morning and also resolved to pick them early, which I didn't do last year.

My first job this morning was to scuffle hoe the seedling grass weeds that had popped up in our main raised garden bed. There were just enough of them that I took the time to rake them aside.

Then I strung my rows, hoed furrows a couple of inches deep, and sprinkled granular soil inoculant down the rows. I sometimes water the planting furrow and/or soak the seed, but did neither today despite our dry soil conditions. We have heavy rain predicted for tomorrow night and Wednesday, so I'm going to let that do the watering job.

Since I was working with all old bean seed (2014-2015), I spaced the seed an inch or less apart in the row. Bean seed keeps fairly well in frozen storage, but even that has its limits. I planted the seed in a narrow, single row rather than the wide (6-8") row I've used in the past. With increasing age, I find picking a narrow row easier than picking a wide row.

The varieties planted were Burpee's Stringless Green Podicon (50), Contendericon (42-55), Provider (50), Bush Blue Lake (57), Maxibel (61), and Strike (53). I grouped the first three in one row, as they're all early varieties with the longer season beans in the second row. The numbers in parentheses are the varieties' days-to-maturity.

I used a rake to pull an inch or two of soil over the seed and tamped down the rows with the head of my garden hoe. As a final flourish to the planting, I pulled the row marker stakes, replacing them with vincas.

Noticing a white cabbage moth fluttering around our brassicas, I grabbed my biologicals sprayer and gave the broccoli and cauliflower a good shot of Thuricide (BT). I use separate sprayers for biologicals and chemical pesticides to prevent cross contamination. A third sprayer is reserved for use with Roundup.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - Rain at Last

Wundermap - Tropical Storm AlbertoThe remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto are passing over us today bringing some critically needed rain to our garden plots. We haven't had any appreciable precipitation since early May, with our monthly total coming in at 0.63" before today. Up to two inches of rain are predicted before the storm system moves out tomorrow. Then our extended weather forecast returns to the hot and dry conditions we've had most of this month.

Our current plantings will obviously benefit from the rain. We'll have to become vigilant about weeding our unmulched plantings, as the rain will trigger germination of weed seed on and near the soil surface that previously didn't have the soil moisture necessary to germinate.

One area I purposely left unmulched was our recent planting of green beans. I often mulch right up to the rows when starting beans. I decided this year to just weed the beans so I wouldn't have to pick out grass clippings when harvesting and canning our beans. Of course, I'll have to keep the bean rows weeded until the plants canopy, and we'll lose some beans to rot on the ground.

With the heavy rain, I'll also need to spray our brassicas again with Thuricide (BT) to keep the worms out of our broccoli and cauliflower. Our plantings of butternuts and pumpkins will also need to be sprayed, but with something far stronger to keep the squash bugs at bay.

And with the rain, I'll be able to put in our last double row of onions. I've been holding the onion transplants in their tray through our dry spell. Putting them into the ground then would have just made one more thing to water daily to keep them alive...if I could.

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Thursday, May 31, 2018 - May Wrap-up

May, 2018, animated GIF of our Senior GardenIt's been a tough month for gardening. Weather conditions and some physical and mechanical problems took some of the joy out of this month's gardening. But we did get some great asparagus, a little broccoli, and one head of wonderful lettuce that kept us in salads for a week.

Our raised beds that are usually planted, mulched and sometimes producing by the end of April still aren't finished. Part of the delay was working around initially wet ground, followed by hot and dry weather. The other part was due to a knee problem that doesn't seem to want to heal.

Row of spring planted elephant garlicWe had some unusual crop failures. After our early peas failed to germinate, a replanting with later peas only took in half of the row. I'm wondering if I got some herbicide tainted grass clippings on that bed. (We do use a pre emergent herbicide on our gravel driveway.) Some of our broccoli has buttoned, producing small heads way too early. Our fall planting of elephant garlic has turned out to be a bust. But on the brighter side, a rescue planting of elephant garlic cloves is doing really well. I've never grown spring planted garlic, so this could be a learning experience.

I'm not quite sure how well our rows of carrots have come up. I overplanted the carrot seed with radish seed to break the soil crust and mark the rows. We have an extremely healthy crop of radishes coming on, although I'll need to thin or totally pull them to let the carrots grow.

While I kept a very healthy cover crop of hairy winter vetch mowed, our East Garden plot sat virtually untouched until late in the month. I did transplant butternuts and direct seed pumpkins into part of the plot that is rotated out of our normal crops.

Our pull-type tiller broke early in the month. When I got it back, I turned over the East Garden a couple of times, but then the lawn tractor started missing out. Rather than go through another repair sequence, I ordered a new lawn tractor. Our old one was seven years old, so we got our moneys worth out of it.

After working up the East Garden, I put in some tomatoes and peppers down one side of the plot. I didn't get the job done, though, as the ground was just too hard and dry for digging and planting. But June planted tomatoes often bear fruit well into September and October.

We ended up getting a very welcome inch and a half of rain yesterday. We have the possibility of another third of an inch of precipitation late this afternoon.

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