Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday June 18

It seems like this area went from winter to summer without stopping for spring.  Yesterday I was reading an article in the Bloomington paper that noted that April was the 3rd coldest April on record while May was the hottest May on record.  That's quite an abrupt transition.  It's been a real heat wave for several days.  I took this picture at sunset on Saturday evening, while it was still nearly 90 degrees.  The sky was mostly cloudless but this one cloud boiled up like a storm cloud. Nothing ever came of it.

The weather has had it's effect on the vegetable garden for sure.  I usually begin harvesting cole crops in May, but this year I picked the first cabbage a week ago.  The cutworms did not help in that regard.  Yesterday I picked the first broccoli and kohlrabi.  The kohlrabi should have been picked earlier.   

At least the summer crops are moving right along.  This slicing cucumber should be ready in a few days, and it looks like enough pickling cucumbers will be ready shortly to make a quart of refrigerator pickles. 

An unidentified bug has been attacking the cucumbers and causing the growing tips to turn brown.  Fortunately the plants are healthy enough to start new vines and I'm hoping the bugs can be kept under control.  The first Japanese beetles appeared yesterday.  I was hoping that the hard winter had killed most of them, but they seem to be abundant. 

The tomatoes are looking good, with no sign of disease to this point.  I planted two determinate sauce tomatoes - Health Kick and Plum Regal.  I didn't think a tomato could be more vigorous than Plum Regal but Health Kick is actually setting more tomatoes. 

To see what other growers are harvesting, head on over to have a look.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Pest control and prevention

Early in the growing season, it's critical to establish some sort of spraying program to control insects and fungal infestations.   Cultural methods for protection - rotation, removal of debris, pruning - are also critical and something that is done year 'round, but that is for another post.  Here are the chemicals that I use that I consider safe when used properly and get the job done.  

Thuricide, or Bt, is a bacterium that targets caterpillars only.  I've found it to be the best control of the cabbage worm.  I also spray it on the stems of squash plants to prevent the vine borer, which is a moth. Once a caterpillar comes into contact with Bt it stops feeding and dies within a day or two.  The cabbage worms had already done some damage to the cole crops by the time I sprayed them with Bt, but I haven't seen any further damage.  I just try to avoid using it on a brassica shortly before harvest.

The first sets of brassicas that I planted were mowed down by the cutworms.  That's another control that I will have to develop next year.  I've read that Bt sprayed on corn flakes around the base of the plants will stop them but haven't tried that yet.

Last year my two apple trees were beset by some sort of scale and aphids at the same time.  I found that a combination of insecticidal soap and Neem extract was very effective in killing them, or any small soft-bodied insect such as thrips.  I use 2.5 oz of soap and 1 oz of Neem per gallon of water, first adding the soap since it helps disperse the oil.  The soap kills by dessicating, or sucking the water out of the insect, while the Neem disrupts cell membranes.  It may not kill a full grown squash bug but it will make them come to the top of the leaf where they can be picked off.   As an added bonus, I've found that Neem is effective in controlling powdery mildew on squash.

I noticed that a commercial maker of pesticides is using the same combination, with added pyrethrins, as an organic insecticide.  I tried adding some pyrethrins to the first mix that I prepared and can say that it is deadly to flea beetles, but the pyrethrins may not have been necessary.  It's important to avoid pyrethrins in the morning when bees are about.   I also used this combination on the cucumber vines which were under attack by a bug that looks like a squash bug but has a harder shell (bugs are actually an insect family that has mouthparts that penetrate a leaf and suck the juices from the plant).  It killed the bugs but I'm concerned that they may have already transferred a fungus or bacterium into the plants.  The growing tips look bad.

The newest addition for fungal control is Liqui-Cop, for liquid copper.   This is basically copper in a chemical form that is soluble in water, specifically copper diammonia diacetate complex, which sounds more exotic than it is.  An alternative soluble copper is copper octanoate, or copper soap, which is found at Lowe's.  I went with the Liqui-Cop, which I bought online, because it appears to be more effective.  It's easy to mix and use.   At a copper equivalent of 8%, the amount of copper in a gallon of mix at 4 teaspoons per gallon is actually very small.

The Liqui-Cop is mainly for the tomatoes, where it is supposed to be effective against bacterial spot, bacterial speck, early blight and late blight.  As a preventive I have been spraying the tomatoes weekly, as well as the cucumbers, raspberries, and potatoes.  So far the tomatoes look good, about 4 feet tall, but it's really too early to tell if it works.

One pesticide not shown is a deer and rabbit repellent.  The bunnies have been a real problem this year.  They ate most of the bean seedlings, some of the carrots, then got into the Earthbox and ate the lettuce.  I reseeded the beans and once up, applied the repellent.  The first ingredient is putrefied egg whites, and it smells kind of bad.  It seems to work though and may keep them off the beans until they are big enough to be unpalatable. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

New developments

Well, it's official.  I bought the property adjacent to mine.  The guy who wanted to put in three trailers on the lot put it up for sale after losing his petition for a zoning variance.  I felt I had to do something to protect my pond, since a part of the pond lies in the adjoining lot.  If a new owner was to graze horses or cattle close to the pond, or even worse, allow animals to access the pond, it would be infested with slimy algae. The yellow tape marks the old property line.

Now I'm waiting on a survey to divide the property.  I'm keeping only a hundred feet swath that adjoins my property while my neighbor on the other side of the lot will buy the remainder from me.  I am in the process of clearing the corner so I can put in some more garden and also some fruit trees.  The garden will grow squash and sweet corn.  I'll buy a gas powered pump for watering.  Once this area is cleared I'll lay down a sheet mulch to get it ready for next year.

The lot has been in the procession of succession from pasture to woods since I moved here ten years ago.  It's probably about 3/4 tulip poplar, with some oak, maple, cherry, walnut and other more desirable trees making up the remainder.  I plan to selectively remove many of the tulip poplar, which is almost a weed in my view, to make room for the other trees.

It's hard to believe that the garden is mostly in.  It's hard to remember if we even had a spring, and it's certainly summer now.  About a week ago I dug up the two beds that get solanacae.  The beds had a cover crop of oats and field peas that was seeded in March.  The ground was nice and loamy, easy to turn over.

The roots of the field peas were covered with nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

After turning over with a shovel the beds were tilled with the little mini-cultivator.  I hope the day comes when this isn't necessary, but there are still some clods of clay in the soil that need breaking up.  The tomato cages were installed on fence posts and the tomato seedlings were set in, along with peppers and eggplant.  Fast forward to now, and they are  looking pretty good.

While the indeterminate tomatoes are grown in narrow 16 inch cages that are 5 feet tall, actually taller because they are hung on the fence posts a foot above the ground, the determinate sauce tomatoes are grown in wide 22 inch cages that are 4 feet tall.  The unplanted spaces will get Bride eggplant, which germinated a week later than the other eggplant and isn't quite ready to be put into the bed.

After losing most of the brassicas to cutworms, the last set of seedlings escaped their onslaught.  Maybe the repeated sprays of Bt got the little devils.  Better late than never.  Since the remainder of this bed will not get brassicas, I seeded bush beans and carrots in the open space.

Cucumbers were set out.  There's one Swing cucumber, a new one for me, for slicing, and four pickling cucumbers, Calypso and Vertina.  The cutworms got many of the onions as well but they have recovered much better than the cole crops.

The big bed also had a cover of oats and peas.  I tilled up small patches and seeded squash in each patch.  There's a pole bean trellis in back.  The squash should have no problem growing over the top of the cover crop, which will wilt in the summer's heat.

While I was finishing up the garden work last weekend, the neighbor's son stopped by and did some fishing. He got several nice bass.

The robins made a nest in the strawberry planter, and every time I walk out to the garden she flies off in a commotion.  Guess we will have to co-exist.

And the front of the house is still a work in progress, with new edging around the flower beds waiting on when I get the time.  I had hoped to have this finished last fall, then broke my foot.  I was amazed that all the plants returned after the trampling some of them got while the porch was being rebuilt.  The rhododendron, which has never looked healthy, will be removed, after it has flowered of course, and replaced with a shade-tolerant hydrangea.  As a final touch I'm refinishing the cedar rocking chair which will take its rightful place on the porch. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Mid-spring update, May 3

Yesterday's weather was mid-80's in the afternoon, with little shade because the trees hadn't leafed out.  I think yesterday's warm weather jumped started the leaves, because they are unfurling at a rapid pace now, and things are moving along at a good pace in the vegetable garden too.  The rhubarb, planted last year, is sizing up nicely.  I know that you are supposed to cut off the flowers but I want to see what they look like.

These asparagus shoots, over a foot tall, got away from me.  Still, only a few inches at the bottom was woody.  Four of the six plants are producing now, and I'm waiting on shoots from the other two. Hope they did not die over the winter.

Moved out of the coldframe over a week ago, the Earthbox lettuce is practically popping out of the container.  I plant the lettuce thick, so when one plant is cut a neighbor quickly takes its place.  The lettuce this year is growing in ProMix, so much better than the lettuce that did not even grow last year in a name brand potting mix which shall not be named.  I need to do another picking to make room for some summer lettuce (Pinetree's year-round mix).

With nothing even close to a frost in the forecast, the tomatoes were moved out to the coldframe to join the peppers.  With abundant natural light they are really growing strong, and should be more than ready for planting in about a week. 

Under the LED lights, a few of the tomato plants were starting to show signs of leaf burn as they grew taller and closer to the lights.  As with the lettuce, I think this is a problem with the two UV LED's in each unit.  Since the individual reflectors do not spread the light out very much, a seedling that grows directly under a UV LED could get too much of this high energy light.  It's not that much damage, and the plants have easily outgrown the damage now that they are outdoors, but still, it's a concern and a fundamental flaw in the design.

Under the lights, okra, eggplant, cucumber and one Basil plant remain, as well as some flower seeds that haven't germinated yet.   The Bride eggplant took nearly ten days longer to germinate than the Lavendar Touch eggplant, but it'll get there.  The okra and cucumber look small, but they come on really fast, so they should be ready in less than two weeks.

Oh, the cutworms ravaged the cole crops once again, after I had planted a new set of them to replace the previous plants lost to the cutworms.  They spared most of the cabbage, seeming to prefer broccoli and kohlrabi.  I guess they win this round, but I'd like to think that the leaves sprayed with Bt did a number on them.  There's one more set of cole crops in the coldframe which will be ready for planting in about a week, and I'm still hoping that one or two broccoli plants survive.

Next year will require more drastic measures. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday April 30

It's the last day of April and some goodies are appearing.  Some of the asparagus plants have been sending up spears, and I'm more than happy to take them.  Fresh asparagus and home grown lettuce make for a nice salad.

I've been pilfering spinach leaves every few days, but later in the week picked a small head of spinach.  It went into an omelette of spinach, baby bella mushrooms and fontina cheese.  Not bad.

Now for the bad news.  The cutworms got into the brassica bed and did some major damage, about half the plants destroyed, all but one broccoli, all of the cauliflower and many of the kohlrabi.  They even hit the onions, but the onions look like they will recover.  Usually I spray Bt around the young plants as a preventive, but forgot to get some when I was at May's greenhouse two weeks ago.  I picked some up yesterday, and today planted a new set of brassicas to replace the ones that were destroyed by the cursed cutworms, then sprayed the stems and the soil around the plants liberally with Bt.

Things are starting to move along now, and according to the 10 day forecast it looks like there is little chance of another frost until fall.  I moved the tomato plants out to the coldframe to join the peppers.  Actually I'm mostly caught up until the warm weather crops go in, which leaves time to work on the many other projects that are ongoing. To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

It's like a storm has passed

I've lived in this place for ten years now.  Six acres in the country, with a pond, woods and a pasture.  The most notable feature of this property is the pond, built by damning a ravine.  It's a 1/2 acre jewel, deeper than most farm ponds.  When I moved here I realized that the best way to maintain the pond was to NOT maintain most of the shoreline - just let it go wild.  It's a superb wildlife habitat.  This morning I watched from the sunroom as a pair of wood ducks flew in and paid a visit.  In the evening the frogs can get so loud that, standing on the back deck, my ears start to roar.  For a farm pond, the water is fairly clear with only occasional blooms of algae.  That's because there is no nutrient runoff into the pond, from grazing animals or fertilizers.

It always concerned me that the property line barely contains the pond on the north side, on the left in the picture above.  In fact there is at most ten feet of my property on the north side of the pond.  Still, the lot on the other side of the pond had stood vacant for many years, owned by an elderly couple in Chicago who had no plans for it.  Two years ago, both of them had passed and the lot was given to their nephew, who promptly put it up for sale.  In 2017, a young couple bought it and began making a rudimentary drive to the center of the lot, where they cleared an small area where they intended to build a house.

They were nice people, I was told, and their intended building site was screened by trees from my house.   I hoped that they would be receptive to my concerns for the pond, and agree to leave a buffer strip along the edge of their property to protect the pond.  In return, I would offer them fishing privileges from the levee.  Unfortunately, they ran into some problems and had to put the lot up for sale.

In late January, I found out that the lot had a new owner.  There was an unusual spell of warm weather then, and leaving the house that day I saw that the front part of the lot, overgrown with small trees and bushes, was being cleared.  Since I couldn't see if they were staying on their side of the line, I stopped the car and walked over to have a look.  That's when I saw that they had cleared into my property by as much as 75 feet.  This picture was taken a few days later, after I had put up a temporary fence to mark the property line.  His lot is to the right of the fence.

Just to explain, the flat land in the left of the picture is pasture.  I let the sloped ground go wild, as a wetland and wildlife habitat.  It's the watershed that feeds the pond, which is behind the tree line.  The new owner couldn't be bothered to find out where lines are, he just told his workers to clear off all the overgrown area, including what was on my property.

I talked to the workers, who said they were only following orders.  They told me that the owner was deaf and communication was difficult.  Still, they were clearing on a line toward my house.  They had to know they were trespassing.  Then they told me that he intended to put three trailers on the lot.  For a few seconds I was stunned.  It was like getting hit with a shock wave.  I shook my head and said "No.  That's not going to happen" and walked away. 

A chain of phone calls around the neighborhood began.  This is not a fancy neighborhood.  All of the lots are six acres, subdivided from a pasture in the 90's.  Many of the homes are modulars, some of the people are a little messy, but there are no trailers, and every lot has one home per lot.  It was obvious from the start that this guy intended to rent the trailers as a money making venture.  Visions of meth labs, exploding trailers, loud parties and vandalism, a public nuisance, looked like a real possibility.  The value of my house, which I have been working on for ten years, would plummet as a mini-trailer park went in next door.

View from my back porch.

The next day, I was at the county planning commission, asking them to send enforcement out and shut him down.  It took them a few days, and by that time this guy had brought in at least ten truck loads of stone to put in a driveway that went in about fifty feet from the road then split in opposite directions and ended in circular pads.  He was working very fast.  My neighbor north of this lot was practically screaming "Those are trailer pads. He's putting in trailers."

About a week after that all of the adjoining neighbors received a certified letter from the owner notifying us of a hearing for a zoning variance at the end of March.  At least work had stopped in the interim, and one of the enforcement people told me that if he begins digging anything, to notify him immediately.  I sent a letter, the first of several, to everyone in the neighborhod, asking that they all attend the hearing to oppose this.

Who was this guy?  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Had he done this before, buy up a property in a rural county, possibly pay off some officials to get the zoning approval, and put in rental trailers?  I suspected the worst, but thought there was more to it.  It was clear from his application for a variance that he was barely literate.  The reasons he gave for getting a variance were childlike in their simplicity.  And the clerks at the planning commission had to explain to him, with his girlfriend interpreting, that he had to get approval for three septic systems. 

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I could find out more about him.  He lived in a very nice 4-bedroom house in a small town south of Indianapolis, recently remodeled, nice neighborhood,  large lot, mature trees.  The notion that he would move out of that house and live in one of the trailers was laughable.  Then the second bombshell dropped.  He was a registered sex offender.  Actually he was classified as a 'violent sexual predator' who had been released from prison the previous summer after serving five years for child molestation.  It was his second conviction.  The neighborhood's opposition to this guy at this point had galvanized, to say the least.

In March, he and his buddies towed an old, unlicensed RV out to the property where he spent the weekends with his girlfriend.  When the weather was good, he would take a heavy duty mower or a bobcat onto the back part of the lot, where I could see him from my house, and clear off brush.  With that equipment, he couldn't knock down any tree larger than a couple of inches in diameter, but still, there was the anxiety of wondering what he was going to do next to mess up the land.  It had become obvious that he really had no clue what he wanted to do with the land, and understood nothing about managing a property in the country.
Looking at RV from road.

The last weekend he camped there, about two weeks before the hearing, he and his girlfriend walked to the house across the road and knocked on their door.  Interpreting for him, she asked the neighbors how you go about hooking up to the water, sewer and gas lines.  My neighbor was dumbfounded.  There are no lines, she said, this is the country, you have to dig a well and put in a septic system.  He literally had no clue.  This confirmed for me what I had concluded a little earlier, that he was mildly retarded, and did not understand the consequences of his actions.

The hearing took place.  Everyone in the neighborhood, including the farmer who owns hundreds of acres to the west of us, showed up.  I had never met some of my neighbors, until this.  Some of their speeches were very eloquent.  We talked about low flow problems with wells, how the land could not possibly support three septic systems there, about the damage that he had already caused.  He claimed that he wanted to move his 80 year old mother, in poor health, who lived with him in his house in Franklin, into one of the trailers in the middle of nowhere.  I pointed out that the nearest hospital out here was nearly 30 minutes away.  His petition for a zoning variance was unanimously denied.

He hasn't been back since.  The RV still is there, now stuck in the mud, with a generator wrapped in plastic next to it.  Two weeks ago a for sale sign went up on the lot.  My neighbor on the other side agreed that one of us would buy the lot and sell half to the other so this can never happen again, but my neighbor owns his house free and clear and refuses to put it up for collateral for a loan.  I can't afford to make payments on the full lot, so for the time being it sits there like a festering sore.  I don't think it will sell anytime soon, since the driveways that he put in are useless and detract from the value.  It looks bad, but the real nightmare is finally over, I hope.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday April 23

Finally, something to eat from the garden.  I had forgotten just how good fresh lettuce tastes.  Buttery, flavorful - there's just no comparison to supermarket lettuce.  I grow lettuce in an Earthbox, which is in the coldframe right now.  I usually get about 5 pounds of lettuce from an Earthbox before it bolts, and it's very clean.  Last week I got the first picking:

Yesterday, some more:

I don't know what varieties are in this, it's Pinetree lettuce mix, but it's all good.  To see what people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.