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Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday, June 19

More cole crops this week, and some hot weather crops are almost ready.   I picked 3 heads of broccoli that added up to 2 pounds.  The smallest head is Green Magic broccoli, a very early variety. 

The Green Magic heads are smaller than in years past.  It's been a very good early variety and I'll continue to grow it.  The other 2 heads are from a new variety for me, Imperial.  It's about 10 days later than Green Magic.


Nice, well-formed heads.  I think I'll grow it again.

This is Minuteman cauliflower, another first.  The survival rate of these plants was not very good.  I set out a Minuteman and a Snow Crown in each set of cole crops, hoping to make a side by side comparison,  but this is the first Minuteman to make it.  It's a little later than Snow Crown, and makes a nice head, at almost a pound.

I also picked a 19 oz kohlrabi, not shown. 

Some Vertina pickling cucumbers are almost ready to pick.  The first ones will be turned into refrigerator pickles, as I want pickles ASAP.  Later I'll try fermenting some.  They are smaller than Calypso and should fit nicely into pint canning jars.

And the summer squash will begin producing very soon. The first ones will probably not mature since there were no male flowers on the plant when they were set.  For weeks this plant was very small, looking like it wouldn't amount to anything.  Then in what seemed the space of a week, it's growth exploded.  Suddenly it's covering over half of a 4 x 8 foot bed.   Good thing the garlic is coming out soon.

The winter squash have been problematic this year.  This is the second buttercup squash to rot at the base of the stem.

For the most part the garden is doing great so far this year, especially tomatoes and peppers.  To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Early summer successes, setbacks and failures

This is a critical time of the year in the garden.  Summer crops are growing fast, developing the root systems, vascular structure and foliage that enables them to capture sunlight and turn that energy into things that we can eat.   It's inevitable that microbes and insects will attack the plants, although that isn't much of a problem yet.  Plants that have established themselves well, and are healthy, are better able to fend off disease pressure with their own chemical response, or by simply outgrowing the damage caused by the pathogen. 

Getting the plants off to a good start this year means regular watering.  After the sustained rains of late May, this area has gone through nearly two weeks of dry, nearly cloudless weather, and the last few days have been hot, drying the soil even more.  Last week I began watering every second morning, using an electric pump to pull water from the pond.   Everything, including the flower beds and dry areas of the lawn, gets a soaking.  Some plants are looking great and others, not so great, but I'm hoping that by the end of the month that most everything will be growing well.  There will always be some failures, that's a given, but I'll make my best effort to give the plants a chance at success.  So here's the early summer tour:

The brassica bed is nearly finished.  There's some cabbages and broccoli yet to be picked.  This bed got 3 successive sets of seedlings, spaced 2 weeks apart.  It's funny how they all end up maturing in the space of a few weeks.  In a few days I'll plant another summer squash at one end of the bed, as a backup to the first plant, just in case it is felled by the borer.  I may plant a few rows of bush beans, too, since the pole beans always seem to have a production lag in late summer.

Speaking of summer squash, this one, the only squash in the garden, finally started to grow, and by that I mean squash growth, doubling in size every few days.  The Millionaire okra plants in the foreground are showing some growth now but are still behind the pace.  As seedlings the leaves were yellow, which may be the cursed potting mix again.  Okra has always grown like a weed in these beds, but these okra just seemed to sit there.  It got to the point where I planted okra seeds between each plant, just in case these would not grow.  Some plants will never do well if they do not get a good start.

Then there's cucumbers, in this case Vertina pickling cucumbers, a new one for me.  The 4 plants look very vigourous, but I don't know if they can support as many cukes as their flowers will make.  Until a week ago I was picking off all the flowers to get the plants established.   Now they are covered in flowers and small cukes.  I expect the first picklers in a little over a week. 

While the pickllng cucumbers are doing great, the lone Diva slicer hasn't fared as well.  None of the seeds planted indoors germinated.  Then I direct seeded a plant outdoors.  It was doing well, although behind it's Vertina neighbors, until a windy day last week broke it's stem.  I seeded more in it's place but so far nothing.  I only need one plant for slicing but less than one is unacceptable.

The Pontiac onions in the same bed got off to a rocky start after transplanting but have hit their stride.  They look like they will size up nicely.  I let dill grow in the spaces where the seedlings did not survive.  I always worry about not having enough dill to make pickles.

This bed got a hodgepodge of plants.  It got the last set of cole crops.  For some reason they are doing better in this bed than in the main brassica bed.  The broccoli and cauliflower are ready to harvest.   At the other end are 2 rows of Provider bush beans, to give me beans until the pole beans produce, and in the center some Javelin parsnips.


Then there's the main course, the top of the billing so to speak.  I'm speaking about tomatoes and peppers of course.  The last 2 years the tomatoes have been decimated by early blight, septoria leaf spot, or something else.  It always started at the bottom and worked its way to the top of the plant.

So far the tomato plants are looking fantastic, growing fast with no sign of any disease.  I've sprayed them twice with Mancozeb fungicide, and I'm growing them differently this year, using 5 foot tall cages made from remesh.  The cages are a smaller diameter, only 19 inches, than the old 2 foot diameter cages, and get one plant per cage.  With taller thinner cages the plants should get more airflow around the foliage.   The hot dry weather may be a benefit for the tomatoes.  When I water them I try to avoid wetting the foliage.

From left to right are 2 Mountain Magic plants, supposed to be blight resistant.  In the center, and the tallest plant for now, a Black Plum, then a Better Boy, and a Pink Girl.  I've already suckered them several times.  I want plenty of air space around the lower part of the plant.  I expect they will be to the top of their cages in July. 

The other (north) side of the bed has peppers, and they are also doing fantastic (knock on wood).  There is an eggplant at each end.  I planted the peppers much closer this year.  Remarkably, the eggplants were initially hit by flea beetles but they seem to have gone away.

This is a shot of the big bed.  In the foreground are 3 cages of determinate sauce tomatoes (the old, 2 foot cages).  On the trellis, the Musica beans are way ahead of the Fortex beans, and are already to the top of the trellis.  In the center of the bed is a patch of sweet corn, with winter squash growing at various points around the bed.

This is my first time growing determinate tomatoes.   I've read that you don't need to sucker them, but I've found it necessary to do some careful removal of suckers.  The plants just get too full at the base otherwise.  There are 2 plants in each cage, 2 cages of Plum Regal, a blight resistant hybrid, and a cage of Roma VF.   Determinate tomatoes are supposed to produce most of their crop over a period of a few weeks, which is great for canning.  I'm hoping for lots and lots of paste tomatoes this year.

I planted an eggplant between 2 of the cages.  Seeing how vigorous the plants are now, I'm not sure that was such a good idea, but there's no way I'm taking it out now. 

Happy gardening, all!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday June 12

The food of the week is cole crops, because they constitute all of the harvest.  I picked two small heads of broccoli, most likely Green Magic, totaling 12 ounces.  The broccoli are not so nice this year.  First something ate small circular holes in the leaves, then they got hit with cabbage worms, which shred the leaves.  A spraying of Bt ended the cabbage worm infestation, but the damage was done and the heads are smallish.   The other thing not shown is a Grand Duke kohlrabi, just over a pound, which I sliced up and dipped into ranch dressing for snacks.

Cabbage is looking better than the broccoli, although the heads are not huge.  The cabbage on the left is Point One, a caraflex cabbage, a first for me, and on the right is Golden Acre, an old variety.   They added up to just over 2 pounds of cabbage.  The Point One makes a very dense head, which tends to keep the cabbage worms out.  It also has a nice flavor.  I'll be growing it again.

Both heads went into my first attempt at making kraut.  I think I see some bubbles forming. . .

Also the first cauliflower, Snow Crown, weighing half a pound. 

To see what other gardeners are getting this time of year, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

How do you know that the summer season is here?

Well the obvious answer is when it gets hot, but anymore that's not such a good guide.  Some might say that it's when the tomatoes go in the ground, but there's still some cool late spring weather likely.  This weekend I did a number of tasks which tell me that the summer season is definitely all in.

I set up the pump and watered the garden from the pond, a routine summer task.  Yes we had an inordinate amount of rain in late May, but it's amazing what a week of near-cloudless, sunny, dry weather will do.  Saturday morning the garden got a good soaking.  It takes about 10 minutes to set up the equipment and the same amount of time to dismantle it, so I usually try to water for at least 30 minutes and usually go for 40 minutes.  That's a  pass over the vegetable beds, then a pass over the flower beds, then another pass over the vegetable beds.

The extra pepper, eggplant and tomato seedlings (I always start an excess, just in case)  were dumped into the compost bin.  All the solanacae in the beds appear to be growing well, and there was no longer any need for backup plants.

The tomato plants were suckered.  At first I just wanted to remove the leaves that were touching the ground, open up some space at the bottom of the plants so air could move freely and make it more difficult for fungi to lurk in the damp.  Then I noticed that the plants really needed suckering.  I don't remove all suckers, the plant would just go vertical, but I remove many of them.  Any sucker that doesn't have a clear path to space and sunshine is gone, especially suckers that come up from the bottom.  Those suckers will get leggy and thin and not be strong enough to support any tomatoes.  Some suckers quickly develop into a solid main branch.  This one on the Black Plum plant is as large as the main stem, and since it's very solid, it will stay (the sucker is actually the branch on the right).

I removed the last of the flowers from the cucumber vines.  I don't want the cucumber plants to put their energy into cucumbers until they have developed ample mass to support them.  It looks like they have reached that point, so, in a few weeks - cucumbers.

Lastly, it was time to weed.  Probably the most odious task, and one I don't have much patience for, but it had to be done.  The purslane was about to cover the Solanacae bed, and after the watering the day before, it was easy enough to pull out.  Same with the parsnip patch.  It will take another weeding, but soon the plants will throw enough shade to at least slow the weeds down.  I drew the line with the cole crops.  They'll be out soon enough and the beds can be hoed over.

On a related note, the potatoes in burlap bags experiment moves forward.  The plants were tall enough that I could stuff straw into the bags and roll up the sides about a foot.   If all goes according to plan, the plants will produce more potatoes in the straw.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday, Memorial Day, May 29

It's been my custom to take a quick photo tour of the vegetable beds on Memorial Day.  The end of May is a great time to do this, with the main crops off to a start and great expectations for a good growing season.  This is also Harvest Monday, where you can see what kind of goodies gardeners everywhere are growing at Our Happy Acres, so here's my contribution.

Actually not very much.  I picked 2 kohlrabi, totaling 27 ounces.  What's left of the spinach was showing signs of bolting, so out it came.  I also got a bit more of the overwintered lettuce, which, thanks to mild weather, has not bolted.  From the Earthbox, which normally gives me about 5 pounds of lettuce, nothing.  Next year, a better potting mix will be used.  Also, one last spear of asparagus was harvested.  It's time to let it grow.

I might as well show the bed where this came from, the 'overwinter bed,' which is covered by a plastic greenhouse through the winter.  There's still some lettuce left.  Very small seedlings that have been waiting in the shadow of the bigger plants begin to grow once they get adequate sunlight.  There's a summer squash in the center of the bed where the overwintered spinach used to grow.  On the north side of the bed are 4 Millionaire okra plants.  There's garlic at one end and bunching onion at the other end.

The bed behind this one has onion, carrot, and cucumber.  It did have 2 rows of beets but no more.  I suspect wild rabbits.  Usually they don't have the nerve to get this close to the house but the thought of beet greens must overcome all fears.  The Vertina pickling cucumbers are growing with vigor.  So far I've been removing any cucumbers that form so the plants will put their energy into establishing foliage.  There's also a Diva slicing cucumber at one end that is quite a bit behind the others.

The Solanacae crops are coming right along.  The north side of the bed has 5 skinny (19 inch diameter) and tall (5 feet) tomato cages, each with one plant.  There's 2 Mountain Magic, and 1 each of Black Plum, Better Boy and Pink Girl, all indeterminate tomatoes.  There's a Bride eggplant at one end and a Lavendar Touch eggplant at the other.  In between are peppers:  2 each of Bastan and Mosquitero ancho, Magyar paprika, and Jalapeno.  There's one each of Bulgarian Carrot, Fish, Mama Mia Giallo, Carmen, and Jimmy Nardello.

This morning I noticed that the Jimmy Nardello had already formed up a pepper.  I'm still removing any peppers that form so the plants can establish themselves, but in this case I'll make an exception.  Same with the Jalapeno peppers, they can start producing peppers since it's a vigorous plant and the peppers are small.

The squash bed has 3 cages of determinate sauce tomatoes.  These cages are wider (2 feet) and not as tall as the cages for the indeterminate plants, with 2 plants in each cage.  There are 2 cages of Plum Regal, a supposedly blight resistant hybrid paste tomato, and one cage of Roma VF.  There's another eggplant between two of the cages.  There's space between all cages to allow for better air circulation, and to help prevent blight from spreading cage to cage.


OK this just amazes me.  I bought a Victoria rhubarb plant in a quart pot this spring and planted it.  After the recent rains followed by sunshine the plant sort of exploded.  Maybe it was the rabbit poop compost that did it.

Another bed has the last set of cole crops, a patch of parsnip, and two rows of Provider bush beans, which will give me beans until the pole beans get started.

Speaking of pole beans, I noticed this morning that they had just started climbing the twine, and the winter squash has germinated.  That's a cover crop of field peas growing near the beans. 

The Earliglow strawberries are still producing enough berries for a snack every day.  Something ate the leaves on the right side of the planter.  I suspect rabbits but don't know how they reached that high.  It's hard to believe that deer would get this close to the house.  They have to cross the levee or go through the field on the other side, and they've never been willing to do that.  When you garden, the world is full of animal bandits.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday May 22 - First broccoli

Yes I picked the first head of broccoli from the brassica bed yesterday.  First I got a shot of the head on the plant.

This is Green Magic broccoli, very early and forms nice solid heads.  I was dreaming of a one pound head, but it weighed in at nine ounces.  I'll take it.

Also harvested were two Grand Duke kohlrabis.  This one weighed a pound, the other (not shown) was 3/4 pound.  There are many ways to prepare kohlrabi, I've even made a decent soup with it, but I like it best chilled and raw, dipped in some salad dressing or yogurt.

Some of the bunching onions were pulled up to make room for an okra plant.  I'm not really sure how to use these.  This bunch was washed and set in a container of water in the refrigerator.  I like them for a snack.

They say you should pick off any strawberry blossoms the first year so the plants can develop.  But strawberries grow like weeds and I'm not going to wait a year.

The plants have been producing a few berries every day and I wanted to try them.  Earliglow is supposed to be a great tasting June strawberry, and I had to find out if it was true.  They really are delicious, tasting like 'wild' strawberries.

I also picked half a pound of overwintered lettuce and 6 ounces of asparagus.  I don't plan on picking any more this year.  To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Planting the summer crops

Most of the summer crops are in the beds now, with the exception of winter squash.  The solanacae bed has been planted with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil.  First I transplanted one tomato seedling into each of the five cages.   These cages are tall (5') and thin (18").  They get indeterminate tomatoes. Then I set the pots of peppers and eggplant where they go.  A single eggplant was planted at each end, and inside the pepper seedlings were set in ranks of 2 in a stagger pattern.   The eggplant needs a little more space while peppers are OK with some crowding. 

Then it was just a matter of scooping out the soil and setting them in.  There's room for another pepper seedling and I'll pick up another Jalapeno plant today:

The 'greenhouse' bed that grew the overwintered spinach, now gone, got 4 Millionaire okra plants on the north side of the bed.  Summer squash was seeded in the center of the bed, and by the time it gets big the garlic should be out.  While the overwintered spinach has all been harvested, there's still a row of spring-planted spinach, Reflect, that for whatever reason, just isn't growing much, but at least it hasn't bolted.   There's also some overwintered lettuce left and a row of bunching onion.  I pulled up a handful of the onion to make room for the okra, washed it, cut off most of the tops and set them in a container of water in the refrigerator.  They make a refreshing snack.

This bed got 4 Vertina pickling cucumbers on the north side.  There is space for one more cucumber, a Diva slicer, but it's not ready yet.  The first 2 seeds failed to germinate, so I sowed 3 more and one of them came up.  Old seeds.
This bed also gets beets and carrots, which are hard to see in the picture.  In the space of 2 days something mowed down the beets.  This happened last summer and I suspect the wild rabbits.  My domestic rabbits go crazy over beet greens, and their wild cousins must have been willing to take a chance on getting so close to the house just to get these. 

After the extended rains followed by extended sunshine, about 5 cloudless days, the Victoria rhubarb that was planted this spring put on a sudden growth spurt.  Looks like there will be plenty of rhubarb next season.

Potatoes in burlap bags are growing.  I put the bags in a plastic tub to help hold water, and drilled weep holes a bit less than an inch above the bottom so they don't hold too much water, in case we get another deluge.

The big disappointment for the year is definitely the lettuce in the Earthbox.  This is the second planting after the first seedlings were taken out, and a strip of fertilizer was added down the middle.  Usually I get about 5 pounds of lettuce from one SWC, but so far this year, nothing.  It's got to be the potting mix.

For the most part, the garden is off to a good start.  Now I need to think about protecting the plants from pests and disease.