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A Year in Our Garden - 2013 - Page 2
December 30, 2013


Tomato cages wired to t-postsRed Candy tomatoWith May 1 being our average frost free date in this area, I began the month by putting in our first two tomato plants. I'd reserved space at either end of our pea planting in a narrow raised bed for the tomatoes. I did this so that I could anchor the tomato cages to the T-posts at the ends of the pea trellis, as our tomato cages can get top heavy and blow over in the wind.

I put a Red Candy grape tomato plant one one end, as we always plant one grape tomato at the end of a row for easy access by grandchildren. I put a hybrid, determinate Bella Rosa tomato variety at the other end. Since the raised bed has excellent soil, I only added a little fertilizer to the planting, along with some calcitic lime to prevent blossom end rot.

Since we were going to be growing a lot of open pollinated tomatoes isolated around the property for seed production (along with canning and table use), I only allotted room for the two tomato plants in our main garden area.

Our asparagus patchAsparagus on scaleOur two patches of asparagus produced a little over three pounds of spears on May 1! I had wondered earlier this season about how well our thick asparagus spears would cook up. I checked a couple of Garden Web postings (1, 2) on the subject and also ran across one funny, but slightly off color forum thread of guys talking about their thick spears.

The consistent answer, borne out by our experience with tender, tasty, thick asparagus spears, is to count your blessings if your asparagus comes up thick. It's a healthy sign for the roots, and makes for very good eating.

More Brassicas

On May 3, I got into our still very muddy East Garden to transplant another row of brassicas. When I did our early April planting of brassicas, many of our broccoli plants were too small to set out. Knowing I had space reserved in the East Garden, I planted the main garden heavy to cauliflower. So the East Garden planting was mainly Premium Crop, Goliath, and Belstar broccoli, along with a few Amazing and Fremont cauliflower, and two Churchill brussels sprouts plants to filled the 30' row.

Transplanting broccoliI basically mudded the transplants into the ground, having to add only a little water to the planting holes. I was pretty liberal with lime and fertilizer, as our East Garden isn't very good soil. Our April planting of brassicas in our main garden is a pretty safe crop. May plantings are a bit riskier, as an early, warm summer can cause brassicas to turn bitter and hot tasting and to bolt. But with the space and transplants on hand, such a planting is a reasonable risk.

Planting Sweet Peppers

Transplanting peppersRegular rains kept soil conditions quite wet, but on May 8 after yet another overnight rain, I was able to transplant bell pepper plants into our main raised garden bed today by using "walking boards." Walking boards are simply lumber laid to walk on that spread ones weight over a larger area, hopefully preventing too much soil compaction.

Before beginning the planting, I had to scuffle hoe the area a bit to remove seedling weeds that had sprouted.

The soil in the center of our main raised garden bed is a fairly heavy loam from the addition of lots of compost, composted manure, peat moss, and whatever else I could find to help break up the heavy clay. The garden bed was originally a sloping and somewhat erosion prone area that we terraced on two sides a number of years ago to stop the erosion. Later, I went ahead and enclosed the other two sides of the 16' x 24' bed, making a rather large raised bed that may not have been one of my best decisions. But it does allow one to build up quality soil over the years.

I dug holes about eight inches deep with a standard garden trowel for the plants, adding and working in a bit of lime and 12-12-12 fertilizer around the outside of the hole and deep into the hole. While I watered the holes with our usual dilute starter fertilizer, it also had a bit of soluble seaweed powder added in. Our pepper plants used to bloom and then die each year until we began adding a bit of soluble seaweed around them. There must be some trace element in Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed that our soil was lacking. Now, it's just become part of our planting routine.

Since cutworms seem to love our peppers as much as we do, I employed coffee cup cutworm collars once again. The pepper plants are really pretty well hardened off and possibly could go without the collars, but we really had a bad experience one year when I didn't use them. The collars come off in a week or two when I add cages around the peppers.

Six pepper plants pretty well filled a fifteen foot row. That's a generous spacing, but we've found that when we cage our peppers and give them lots of room, they reward us with a bountiful harvest. The planting included Ace (2) and Red Knight, both excellent producers for us in the past, Mecate and Sunray yellow peppers, and a Sweet Chocolate pepper, something we've not tried before.

Within a couple of weeks, almost all of the pepper plants mysteriously disappeared. It later turned out that a warren of rabbits had moved into the area. I fortunately had enough pepper transplants left over to replace the plants lost, but it set back our pepper harvest by about a month.

Senior Garden at 7pm
Senior Garden around 8:30pm

May 9 - More Heavy Rain

Heavy, intense storms produced standing water once again in our garden plots on May 9. The images at right taken just a few hours apart show the result of the storms. While slightly better than dealing with the drought conditions of the previous year, the rains and standing water would extract a heavy toll on our garden harvests later in the season.

May 16, 2013 - Melons Finally Going In

First melon rowsAfter all sorts of weather delays, I finally got some of our melons transplanted May 15-16. I put in one row of six plants one day and another row the next. The way I plant our melons takes a bit of time, but allows us to grow good cantaloupe and watermelon on heavy clay soil. I won't reproduce how I do it here, as I gave step-by-step directions in a posting last year. Possibly needless to say, but I will, we give each melon hill a very deluxe hole to grow in. About the only difference in planting this year is that I didn't have to add as much water to each planting hole as I did in the near desert conditions of 2012.

Amazon - Off Clip OnThe transplanting experience was a miserable because of all the black flies present. I tried using some spray insect repellent, which only worked for about five minutes. On the second day of transplanting , I grabbed an Off! Clip On Mosquito Repellent dispenser that I'd picked up the previous fall. It had just sat atop our microwave oven all winter, along with all the clutter of papers, rubber bands, nuts and bolts, and other stuff that lands there. While it was a different day with different weather conditions, the clip on thingie actually kept the black flies out of my face while working!

It wasn't until May 24 that I was able to complete our melon planting on an absolutely perfect spring day. I got out early when it was still quite cool (upper 40's) to finish up the transplanting. By mid-afternoon, things had warmed up a bit, the black flies had found me, and it was time to quit. But I got the last two rows in our melon area pretty well planted. In all, we had 8 cantaloupe, 10 watermelon, 2 yellow squash, and 2+ honeydew planted. The "2+" on the honeydew is because my Boule D'or transplants died once again this year under the cold frame, so I just direct seeded a hill of them. Our melon varieties for this year included (links are to the seed supplier's page for the variety):

Cantaloupe Watermelon Honeydew
Pride of Wisconsin
Roadside Hybrid
Sarah's Choice
Sugar Cube (2)
Ali Baba
Crimson Sweet (2)
Farmers Wonderful (2) (seedless)
Kleckley Sweets
Moon & Stars (2)
Trillion (seedless)
Boule D'or
Tam Dew

Avatar, Charentais, and Pride of Wisconsin are varieties we'd not grown before. Almost all of the others are old favorites for us. The lone exception is the Boule D'or honeydew. We tried it last year, but lost the plant in the drought just as it was ripening fruit. This year, our transplants to puppy abuse and another for unknown reasons. Since this variety was highly recommended by the seed supplier, I direct seeded a hill of them.

Melon patch in East Garden

I always get excited about planting a variety of melons. Some do better some years than others, but we've found a number of good varieties that we really like and for the most part, are well adapted to our gardening conditions. The small Sugar Cube hybrid cantaloupes have become a favorite with us, family, and neighbors. In good years, it's also hard to beat an Athena melon for flavor. The Roadside Hybrid variety also can produce excellent melons. The last two years, ours have had problems: vines dying two years ago and bacterial rind necrosis last year. But the heavily ribbed melon is quite flavorful in good years.

Our watermelons are all old open pollinated varieties, except for two hybrid, seedless varieties that taste and look much like Crimson Sweets. After laying off a year growing them, I decided to try one of our old favorites again, Kleckley Sweets. They're a late ripening melon with exceptional flavor. Their thin rinds make them iffy for market growers, so you won't see much of them at market garden stores. I left them out last year, as they seem to be a favorite of our neighborhood raccoons!

Having lost several of our melon transplants under the cold frame, I had room in the melon section for a couple of yellow squash. Slick Pik is a hybrid we really like. We also tried an open pollinated variety this year that turned out to be a miserable failure. Yellow squash are extremely productive for a time, but when they're done, they're done. Making timely succession plantings can assure one of a steady supply of delicious yellow squash for the summer.

Sadly, yellow squash (and all squash) are vegetables that I haven't yet mastered growing organically. Each year we face an onslaught of squash bugs. Pyrethrin will knock them down for a while, but it seems I can only get lasting control from rather nasty insecticides such as Sevin. Since I really like yellow squash and have a full bottle of liquid Sevin, I may just have to burn in organic gardeners' hell for my non-organic growing techniques with squash.

Amazon - Clan Macgregor Scotch WhiskeyNote: If this section seems a little "off," the day I originally wrote it, I once again twisted whatever is wrong with my left leg while working in the melon patch. A hot bath and a couple aspirin didn't give me much relief, so I got well into a bottle of bottom shelf cheap scotch whisky, which relieved the pain, but probably did nothing good for my writing ability.

Having written and possibly offended readers with the note above, one may wonder why we grow so many melons for just two of us, now that our kids are grown and away. When our East Garden ground became available a few years ago, I decided to try growing melons on it. I think it was sort of a deal with the Lord. "Let me grow good melons, and I'll give a bunch to the needy." (Now I've probably offended everyone I didn't offend with the reference to an excellent, bottom shelf Scotch!)

Melons on truck

But we've been growing fair to great melons now for several years, and hauling small loads of excess produce to a mission, some old folks in a home, and to my wife's coworkers. We never, ever charge for our excess produce. The Lord has given us time and health to grow such crops, so we're paid in full already.

The mission is The Light House Mission in Terre Haute. From their web site:

The Light House Mission is a non-profit organization whose mission is to minister the love of Jesus Christ to the Least, the Last, and the Lost of our Community through the provision of assistance in the areas of guidance, counseling, education, job training, shelter, food, clothing, health care and independent living communities.

My wife, Annie, knows the founder of the mission. They're good folks doing the Lord's work.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Matthew 25: 35-36, 40 (ESV)

Light House Mission

Good News - Bad News

Lettuce patchDog damageAs May wore on, things got about as green as one will ever see them around here. With all the rain, the grass was a lush green and the trees along the fields around us had all leafed out.

The rain slowed down much of our gardening, but also greatly benefitted our early plantings. Our lovely patch of spring lettuce began maturing all at once despite the varied varieties. While we could, we enjoyed daily salads, sandwiches with heaps of lettuce, and dishes such as Texas Nachos. (I still need to write down and add Texas Nachos to our online recipes, as it's really an easy dish to prepare.) A small, early head of broccoli matured (and was devoured) on May 23. And one variety of our early planted peas came into full bloom and started putting on pods.

On the negative side, half of our seemingly jinxed crop of onions and a lot of our carrots got dug up by a stray dog that adopted us last winter. I spent the better part of one afternoon cleaning up the damage as best as I could.

While the sad tale of our onions (and now carrots) gets even worse later in the summer, there is at least a happy ending for the carrots. Stay tuned.

Tomatoes and Peppers

Tomato cages and plantsEarliest Red Sweet pepper plantTowards the end of the month, after getting our melon rows in, we planted open pollinated tomatoes at one end of the melon rows and open pollinated peppers at the opposite ends. The tomato plants were Moiras, a variety no longer available from commercial vendors in the U.S., but an excellent canning and slicing tomato. The peppers were Earliest Red Sweets, a variety we first grew, I think, in the 1980s. Putting them in our East Garden, which is over a hundred yards away from any other tomato or pepper planting, eliminates any chance of cross-pollination with other varieties (well, almost, anyway) and ensures purity of seed.

We grow and save seed from several open pollinated vegetable varieties, offering seed to other Seed Savers Exchange members via the Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook. If you're even slightly interested in open pollinated and heirloom vegetable varieties, the Seed Savers Exchange is a great place to start your journey of growing (and possibly preserving) old varieties of vegetables.

By the end of May, we were cutting heads of broccoli and picking lots of lettuce. All of the hard work of the preceding months began to bear fruit (or vegetables).

Lettuce patch Nancy Barbados
Skyphos Red Lollo

June and July

Lettuce & Broccoli
Pea bed
Damaged bed Replanted bed

June began for us with more heavy rain, but also a nice harvest of lettuce, broccoli, and peas. With things heating up, our lettuce was soon to go to seed, so we picked pretty heavily.

Even though the ground was thoroughly wet, I was able to transplant the remaining onion plants I had on hand into our puppy damaged plot of onions and carrots. While I could clean up the carrot planting a bit, there was nothing to be done for the carrots the dogs had destroyed.

In addition to the damage done by two of our dogs to our garden, we also began having rabbit damage in May and June. Rabbits ate a couple of celery plants to the ground, but the plants recovered fairly well. Later on, the rabbits became even more of a problem in our garden.

Mulched melon rowWe had to work around wet soil conditions again in June to finish up our first plantings and some succession plantings. The frequent rains insured that we had plenty of grass clippings to use as mulch, but also insured that weeds flourished when not pulled or mulched. I ended up resorting to spraying the aisles between our melon rows with roundup to hold back weeds until I could completely mulch the rows.

We avoid using herbicides in our garden plots other than occasional rescue sprays in our East Garden plot. Even when I was farming, I used a thin band of Lasso granular in our plantings of sweet corn, field corn, and soybeans, relying more on a very old four-row cultivator to keep our fields clean. Since the fields that abut our property are always planted to roundup ready corn or beans, we do spray liberally with roundup when weeds begin to become a problem in the edge rows (where the farmer doesn't spray as heavily).

New plot by barnQuintes and Feher OzonsWith our East Garden entirely too wet to work, I shifted to getting a couple of isolation plots planted June 9 and 12. We transplanted Earlirouge tomatoes, Alma paprika peppers, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers back by the barn, as we planned to save seed from all three crops. At the back of "our yard," actually on the farm owner's property, we transplanted Quinte tomatoes and Feher Ozon paprika peppers.

The soil by the barn was a bit rocky, but actually had a nice layer of topsoil. The ground at the back of our yard was heavy clay, devoid of any topsoil. I find it amazing that Bonnie's Asparagus, pictured at right, survived for over twenty years without any care, and is now thriving with just a bit of TLC from us over the last three years. While the barn planting produced good crops for the table and seed, the plot at the back of the yard just barely matured crops before the first frost in October.

Planting potatoesMulched melon patchThe ground dried out just enough in mid-June that I was able to till the unplanted portions of our East Garden and get our potatoes, sweet potatoes, a planting of Eclipse peas for seed, and our sweet corn planted. The soil was really a little wet to turn, but with the frequent rains we were having and the lateness of the season, it was till and plant then or wait until next year for the crops. By June 19, I finally had our melons in the East Garden mulched and the rest completely planted.

By that time, our lettuce was done for the year. The area was cleared, limed, fertilized, hoed, and replanted to green beans.

Seeded bean rows

Standing water in main gardenDigging garlicAfter a couple of days, we began to have torrential rains again. We received almost five inches of rain in two days, completely flooding our usually dry raised beds, drowning out the planting of green beans, and throwing many of our existing crops into danger of rot from all the water.

As June turned into July, getting our garlic and carrots harvested before they rotted in the ground became a priority. The garlic seemed to have suffered more from my leaving its winter mulch on too long than from the flooding. Of course, the garlic grew in the best drained part of the raised bed.

Rather than dry and cure the garlic on our back porch as I'd done in the past, I set up a full sheet of plywood in the garage to spread out and thoroughly dry and cure the garlic. I let it sit for weeks before sorting and bagging the best of what turned out to be an excellent harvest. We had a lot of culls however, garlic heads with outer damage and such. I ended up peeling, dehydrating, and grinding the culls for garlic powder. BTW: The aroma of dehydrating garlic is pretty strong. I eventually had to turn off our air conditioner, open all the windows in the house, and turn on several fans to clear the lingering odor!

Our carrots were a disaster to harvest. I usually loosen the soil beside a row of carrots with a garden fork and then gently lift the carrots out of the ground by their tops. This year, when I lifted the green carrot tops, I often only got an inch or so of carrot with the rest having rotted off. The repeated heavy rains and standing water in our main raised bed had done its damage. And of course, there wasn't a full row of carrots to dig, as our dogs had destroyed almost half of the row earlier in the spring. But we did get some good carrots, just not a lot. Sadly, what we did harvest began to rot rather quickly in storage, so we quickly tried to put them to good use.

Cauliflower and broccoli Tendersweet cabbage Cauliflower, carrots, and yellow squash Grilling veggies

I also resolved at that point to grow a crop of fall carrots for the first time in my life.

The Mesh Basket with Lid iconAnnie got at Sam's Club turned out to be an excellent tool. It was much easier to use than my previous flat grill cover, and cleaned up quite easily.

We ended up having to push more green bean seed into the ground to get our green beans going, but that worked out in the end pretty well.

Somewhat cleaned up corn rowsNot Tonight Deer!The neighborhood deer finally found our emerging sweet corn early in July and topped it all. I wondered if the crop was ruined, but went ahead and began spraying it with a product I found on the Heirloom Seeds site, Not Tonight, Deer! It proved quite effective in deterring the deer, but when I went to reorder more of it, I found it unavailable, as the manufacturer had gone out of business! I still have the product package because I thought the artwork on it was pretty creative.

The sweet corn quickly began to recover from its "pruning," something that can happen if the deer don't get the developing tassels. Even when the tassels of a plant have been nipped, sweet corn can still produce ears. It just needs pollen from other plants' tassels to pollinate.

Renovating Soil

When I dug our garlic, I had left the end of our main raised bed in pretty rough condition. There were huge clumps of heavy soil and lots of grass clipping mulch. At the time, I was sort of hoping that the mess would get rained on, which would have evened out the soil a bit, but it didn't.

When storm clouds rolled a few days later, I renovated the end of our main raised bed, starting to get it ready for our first fall crop of carrots. Since the soil seemed quite heavy when I dug our garlic, I incorporated two large bales of peat moss into the soil. I also gave it liberal amounts of 5-24-24 commercial fertilizer and ground limestone.

Rough bed Peat tilled in Planting carrots

Debbie Meyer Green BagsTen days later (July 21), after another thorough tilling and a good rain, I seeded a double row of carrots and a single row of kale in the moist soil. I went with the same Mokum, Laguna, and Adelaide varieties I'd planted in the spring, but replaced the baby carrot varieties I'd used in the spring with Scarlet Nantesicon. I hadn't grown Scarlet Nantes in years, but had an unopened freebie packet that was getting old enough that I had to use it or lose it. The Mokum and Laguna varieties have grown well and stored quite well for us over the winter in Debbie Meyer Green Bags in the refrigerator. Adelaide was something new for us this year, and most of them in our spring planting perished in our doggie/carrot disaster.

Crockett's Victory GardenWhile we usually just grow Vates (also called Dwarf Blue Curled or Dwarf Blue Scotch) for kale, I decided to try some Lacinatoicon and Red Ursaicon kale this year to add some variety to our planting. Most of the kale we grow ends up in Portuguese Kale Soup, a delicious home soup concoction whose recipe originally came from Crockett's Victory Gardenicon.

I'm frequently amused to realize that an awful lot of what I pass along here originally came from either the PBS show, Crockett's Victory Garden, or the companion book(s). Portuguese Kale Soup is just a tangential entry in Crockett's Victory Garden, but has become a family favorite. Walking boards are a very simple way, again from Crockett, to prevent soil compaction in ones flower beds and garden plots. Since I'd just worked a bunch of peat moss into our main raised bed with the rototiller, and we'd had a heavy rain, stepping into the freshly tilled soil without walking boards to spread my considerable, but currently diminishing, weight would have seriously compacted the soil.

Our widespread use of grass clippings for mulch also came from a Crockett tip. Likewise, narrow spacing for intensive plantings of carrots and onions were another Crockett idea, if not original from him, new to me, years and years ago on his show.

Pulled onionsTen Pound CantaloupeThe few remaining onions that had survived the ravages of our pets and flooding came out in late July. We'd started using our onions as soon as they began to bulb, which also lessened the harvest. As with our carrots that grew beside the onions, there was lots of rot, along with mold problems particular to onions. All of our storage onions were rather small, but we dried and stored about fifteen pounds of them. We got almost as much in Exhibition and Walla Walla sweet onions. Neither of those varieties store well, so it was a race to use them before they spoiled.

We also began picking cantaloupe just after mid-July. One Avatar melon weighed in at 10 pounds, 10 ounces! While we got several Avatars from our one hill of them, the new variety produced a bit and then the vines died. We'll definitely be trying the variety again next year.

We wound up the month of July transplanting our fall broccoli and cauliflower into our main raised garden bed. The timing of the planting was optimal for producing a great fall crop of brassicas. But..


Our main garden plots in our back yard looked great at the beginning of August.

Bonnie's asparagus and isolation planting Main raised bed Narrow raised bed

Petra and rabbitBut rabbits found our freshly transplanted fall brassicas and ate most of them off to the ground. While brassicas will occasionally regrow after such damage, I went ahead and used my leftover transplants to fill in the bed as best I could. Where I didn't have plants, I direct seeded.

In a week, the rabbits returned, delivering what seemed to be a knockout blow to our hopes for any cauliflower and broccoli in September and October. I again direct seeded the bare holes in the mulch, hoping for a late fall.

In a few days, I did have the satisfaction of seeing that Petra, one of our many dogs, may have helped with the rabbit problem.

While our regular rains left us in August, the month quickly turned into a blur of harvesting, canning, freezing, drying and using fresh the incredible bounty from our garden plots.

Cart full of melons Bella Rosa tomato Yellow squash Ace pepper plant
Strike green beans Sweet Corn Grape Tomatoes

If the color and bounty of our vegetables dazzled us, our flowers bedazzled us.

Butterfly on zinnia Maverick Red geranium bloom Bug on pea blossom White vinca

Horizon Salmon blooms

Dried garlic in dehydratorGrinder and finished garlic powderBesides our usual harvesting and putting things by, there was also time to experiment a bit. Since we had lots and lots of cull garlic cloves, I peeled what seemed like thousands of them before slicing them in a food processor and drying the gooey mess in our dehydrator.

After three days of grinding and dehydrating garlic, the house was filled with the pungent odor of garlic. Fortunately, a summer storm occurred, allowing us to turn off the air conditioner, open the windows, and air out the house while the last of the garlic dried.

I discovered early the morning I was going to grind our dried garlic chips that someone (moi?) had ground coffee in the coffee grinder usually reserved for grinding food crops such as paprika peppers. After a good bit of work and a cleansing batch of dry oatmeal, the grinder was finally clean and made short work of grinding all the garlic. We didn't get a lot of garlic powder, but it truly was a learning experience.

Dried ERS pepper seed
Dried JPL cucumber seed
ERS Germination Test JLP germination test
ERS Germ Test JLP Germ Test

We also stayed very busy in August saving, drying, testing, and storing seed from our open pollinated tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.

Two big seed saving events were good seed crops of both Earlirouge tomatoes and the supersweet Eclipse pea variety. Both have disappeared from commercial seed catalogs with only a very few folks preserving seed from the varieties.

I got incredibly wound up about the whole deal and wrote a separate feature story about each success:

  • Working to Save a Pea Variety - Sad, it turned out that Eclipse is a patented variety!
  • Earlirouge Tomatoes

There was lots more going on for us during August, but who wants to read about weeds, machinery breakdowns, and the like. Our cover crop of alfalfa in the rotated out part of the East Garden gave up the ghost during our August mini-drought and had to be replaced with a planting of buckwheat. And we began to see powdery mildew, squash bugs, and cucumber beetles perform their evil in our crops.

I think I'd rather remember the incredible harvests and the summer flowers.

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