Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lichens and wetlands

Tuesday evening the sky cleared long enough to see a sunset.  The angle of the sun and the reflected light off the pond brought my attention to the lichens on the red oak in the backyard.  I had never noticed them before.  The oak is an old patriarch – 3 ½ feet diameter.  I got a few more shots of the upper end of the pond, which is marshy, then a shot of the sky at sunset. 

There’s a blue heron that likes to feed in this area.  It’s really skittish and flies off as soon as I walk into the sunroom.   

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm sick and tired of rain

I remember the sun.  It was a bright orb of light in the sky.  It may appear again.  One hopes. 
Harvest for the week:  Bok Choi 9 oz.  Spinach 9 oz.  Lettuce 4 oz.  Soon I’ll have to give some spinach away, for now I’m staying out of the beds and wet grass.  The bok choi was forming a small floret in the center.  I guess it was bolting.  Actually the floret was very tasty, like broccoli.  Which led me to speculate, a dangerous activity – is it a bad thing for cole crops to bolt?  It’s not like spinach, where the flavor goes south.
The brassica bed has two sets of crops 12 days apart.  The broccoli is at the top (north side) of the picture, as it gets taller than the others.  There’s room in the bed for a third set which is ready to go in whenever the weather permits.  Before the fourth set goes in some plants will have to come out.  I expect the kohlrabi and bok choi will do the right thing and mature in two weeks and cede their space to the newcomers. 

I planted potatoes – Pontiac Red and Yukon Gold –last Thursday.  In recent years I also tried out Kennebec and Irish Cobbler, but they don’t do as well as the Reds and Golds.  The three cages shown are 28” diameter.  The bed is 44” wide.  I placed the cages on the north edge of the bed and  planted four reds to a cage about 6” in from the edge.  In the remaining space in front of the cages (south) I planted six Yukon Gold pieces.  That should give easy access to the earlier Yukon Golds, in case I want to filch a few potatoes.  Next year I plan to try some new varieties but this year I’m going to see how the cages work out with varieties I’m familiar with.

Before planting the potatoes they were dusted with sulfur (fungicide).  If the squirrels dig and find a tater the sulfur will likely deter them (it would deter me).  After the potatoes were planted I gave the soil surface a light dusting with sulfur as an additional squirrel deterrent.   I haven’t asked the squirrel how it feels about sulfur dust.  I noticed that it dug in the bed next to where the potatoes were planted but not where the bed was dusted with sulfur, so maybe it stopped the little demon.
Since bed space is limited I use a lot of vertical structure.   Today I put up the cucumber trellis.  It’s one of those duct tape and baling wire contrivances made from the folding tomato trellises that are useless for that purpose.  They were repurposed  for cukes and are near the end of their useful life.  When it comes to functional items I tend to use something until it just can’t be made to work anymore, then I replace it.  I pieced together two sections about 5’ long and 4’ high, hammered in two 8’ fenceposts at the north side of the onion bed and wired the two trellises stacked one above the other to the post for a 5’ wide 7’high trellis.
It's shaping up!

Friday, April 22, 2011

A real long day

Thursday was a nice day between storm systems, the exception to the April rule, so I got busy.  My rain guage showed that we got just under 3 inches of rain from Mon eve through Wed morning.  Wed was cloudy and windy but mostly dry, and by Thursday the ground had dried enough to work in the beds.

This spring I’ve been landscaping the front of the house.  Oh the builder landscaped it allright – put down some edging blocks, stuck some plants into the clay and covered it all with landscape fabric.  Everything except the rhodendron had to go.  Some of the hostas and lillies were moved to the beds next to the deck in back last year. The rhododendron really shouldn’t survive in this area but it’s planted on the south side of the house and enough sunlight is trapped in that spot to get it through the winter.  Since it’s about 5’ tall and looks healthy I decided to leave it.  Who knows it may even flower someday.
Two quarter circle beds that I made on either side of the front porch are mostly finished.  I trucked in a yard of compost and mixed it with the clay by shoveling, hoeing and tilling to get what looks like workable soil.  The beds are fronted by two young pin oak trees so even though they face south they’re shaded much of the day.  I know next to nothing about ornamental plants.  I just go to the nursery and read the labels about size, cold tolerance and shade tolerance.  

Last weekend a foundation bed was laid out along the front by cutting a groove with a spade along a string.  Today I set in the edging blocks – what a job.  The only way I can make a nice line of edgers is by trial and error – set a block in the groove, sight it, remove the block, add or remove some dirt, repeat until good enough.  An iterative process that continues until a block is close enough to acceptable appearance and/or my patience wears out.  It’s the kind of job that was not so bad when I was 30 but now that I’m over 60 it’s a little more wearing.
I also planted the potatoes and onions, and set up a trellis for the cucumbers.  But that’s for another blog.  Today I do nothing.   Just too sore.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tunneling rodents and taters in cages

Well I got something besides spinach (1 lb, 1 oz) this time – lettuce (8 oz).  I don’t even try to figure out what kind of lettuce I’m eating.  I just plant mixtures of looseleaf, romaine and butterhead lettuces and mix together whatever is available.

These baby bok choi will be ready soon.  They were the first set of brassicas to get set out in the greenhouse bed, now the greens bed.  A really nice looking plant.

After planting 6 rows of parsnip and putting a cage over the bed to keep out the squirrels, a mole made its pophole in the bed.  It amazes me that an animal that weighs a couple of ounces can bring up several pounds of dense clay from underground.   Since I had just mixed some clove/garlic/ pepper oil in a pump sprayer I sprayed a good amount down the mole hole then packed the clay into the hole.  Your move, mole. 

There was enough finished compost in the bin for three wheelbarrow loads.   Two of the loads went into the potato/summer squash bed and one load went into the onion/leek/celery/whatever bed.  The remaining contents in the bin were oak leaves that I shredded in March.  Not enough water was added when I put the leaves into the bin and they haven’t decomposed much.  I decided to restack the bin much as I did a few weeks ago.  That way I could aerate, mix, then water the leaves as they were shoveled over.  A little more blood meal was added to boost the nitrogen.  They’ll have to be ready for prime time in about 3 weeks.
I’m going to grow the potatoes in cages this year.  Every year it seems the potato stems get so spindly they fall over then disease sets in.  I figured if they were caged they’d get better aeration.  A Google search showed that it’s been tried (not surprising).  The cages are 4’x8’ remesh.  These were rusty so I applied rust inhibitor.  The remesh I bought three years ago has no rust – must have been galvanized.  I hung the cages on 5’ or 6’ fence posts.  The bottom of the cage is about 6 inches above the ground so I can plant the taters and add mulch later.  Since the cages don't take the width of the bed I think I'll plant some taters in front of the cages and tie them to the cages.       

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fish, Country Eggs, and Chlorophyll

It really seems like spring is here for sure.  As I get older it gets a little harder to get rid of that nagging uncertainty that winter may have one last curtain call.  But yes I’m sure now that no more fires need to be lit in the woodstove, the heavy coats can be put away.  The weather system passed through yesterday and left an inch of rain.  Today was virtually cloudless, about 60 for a high and very windy.  This is the time of year in Southern Indiana when everything seems to become a neon green.   I walked out on the deck this afternoon and the catfish acted like they had too much coffee, or maybe they were just glad to see me.  The light was just right so I took more pictures.  Now I’m licking my chops thinking about a catfish dinner.

I got some eggs today from a neighbor down the road.  Got me thinking that country eggs sure don’t look like city eggs, unless you go to a farmer’s market.  All different kinds here, and boy are they good, with yolks that stand proud.

I’m beginning to believe that I’m getting a handle on the landscaping projects.  Last week a yard of compost was mixed into the flower beds in front of the house and this week I planted some eonymus, cotoneaster, and guara.  A few more hostas should fill the beds out.  The house was built 5 years ago and the builder did such a pathetic  job of landscaping that everything had to be torn out and redone.  Tomorrow I pick up a yard of dirt/compost mix to fill in some low areas and topdress some bare areas for reseeding.  I generally work at it until I reach the pre-back spasm condition.  Then it’s Miller time.   Cheers!  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Some greens, cole crops, parsnip, and watering seedlings

Again, only spinach, 1 pound, but bok choi and lettuce are not far away.  One spinach plant (double choice hybrid) showed some damage on the growing tips.  That may be a result of a recent warm spell when the temperature inside the greenhouse reached 83 degrees.  It seemed that the greenhouse was no longer serving any purpose, so I removed it and put one of my homemade 4’x8’ cages over the bed.  I built two of these cages three years ago out of concern for the abundant rabbit population, not wanting to offer them a buffet of greens. Rabbits haven’t been a big problem in the garden, at least they don’t touch the brassicas, but why tempt them?

This year I’m starting sets of cole crops on a 12 day cycle.   Usually 4-6 plants are seeded, selecting from broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage, bok choi, and cauliflower.  The first set was set into the greenhouse bed on Feb 19.  In the pic above there are 2 kohlrabi and 3 baby bok choi mixed with the lettuce and spinach (and yes that's my shadow in the picture).   The second set went into the brassica bed a few weeks later and is doing well, actually not far behind the first set.  The third set will go into the same bed after the storms pass through today.  The fourth set is not yet showing true leaves.  Seeds for the fifth set will be planted tomorrow.  Because bed space is not large I usually set out just one broccoli per set and plant it north of the other plants.  I find broccoli is something of a space hog for what you get from it.  I’ve been planting a variety called Major (Pinetree seeds) but the next set I'll plant Gypsy, a more heat tolerant variety of broccoli.  The previous two years I grew Green Gonzales cabbage from Johnny’s.  The smallish head has excellent flavor, nutty and sweet, but this year the seeds did not germinate.  Yes I should do some viability tests but end up using trial and error.   I bought Burpee’s Earliana cabbage at Lowe’s to replace it.  I really like kohlrabi, raw or cooked, and the starchy bulb provides relief from the leafy greens mostly available in early spring.  I also seed some radish at the ends of the squash beds but am not a big fan. 
It was time to plant parsnip.  Every year I plant more, this year about 6 feet of bed, and even thought about planting the entire bed but saved some room for a few rutabaga plants.  Not only does it have great flavor, although some would not agree, but the tap roots go deep, break up the soil and pull up nutrients.  I scraped out about a two inch wide row to what looked like ½” deep and planted the seeds in a stagger fashion.   After the rows were seeded I put the other cage over this bed.  Last year squirrels kept digging in the bed before the parsnip came up, which can take 2-3 weeks .  They destroyed a lot of seedlings.   I’m starting to believe that squirrels do this just to torment humans but have no proof.  

The self-watering seed trays have worked better than expected.  They can go a minimum of a week without watering, and the capillary mat gives the cells sufficient water without saturating the soil in the cells.  I discussed this setup in one of my first posts (Feb 18) but don’t think anyone read it at the time.  Three ½” PVC pieces are attached to the bottom of the tray with hex head screws from the top.  The end edges of the tray are slit with a knife and the ends of a capillary mat are pushed through the cut and folded underneath the tray.  This tray is then set into a solid flat (first make sure this flat doesn’t leak).  Water is added into the top flat (it will percolated into the reservoir flat) until some standing water is just visible in the upper flat.  The mat will get some algal growth after awhile but that doesn’t seem to matter.  Below is a pic of a flat I recently built.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spring has sprung

Grass is riz.  I wonder where the flowers is. 
The fish in the pond came back about a week ago.  I was concerned that last summer’s severe drought might have wiped out the fish population, but they made it through the drought and the winter and are back in numbers.  The pic above shows some channel catfish enjoying a meal of dry dog food that was spoiled by flour moths.  Most of the channel cats look like they are about two pounds.  I’m not seeing the larger cats from last year but the fish here will grow quickly and be eatin’ size before long.  There's also bluegill and bass.  I feed the bluegill leftover bread while the catfish are occupied with their food.  I’m looking forward to some catfish chowder.
Lots of things are happening in the great outdoors.  And yes there are some flowers, mostly on trees.  The grass is fully greened up and will need mowing next week.  There are still large dead areas in the yard because of last year’s drought, and I’m spot seeding around the yard.  A mulching kit was installed on the garden tractor to grind up the grass and leaves more thoroughly.
The landscape timbers that formed the terraced shade garden behind the deck were in an advanced stage of rot.   They were removed and replaced with 4x4 pressure treated AC2 lumber.  The root system in the beds held the soil in place while the timbers were pulled out and the new timbers installed.  Still it was a two long days of work, but I'm happy with the results.  Treated landscape timbers are “treated to refusal” which means they are soaked in the treatment solution until they don’t take up any more preservative.  They don’t last.  Pressure treated lumber is first put in a vacuum chamber, then the treatment solution is forced in with pressure.  They have sufficient preservative and should last a long time.  CCA (chromated copper arsenic) treatment is not used as a preservative anymore.  Now its micronized copper and quaternary amines.  The copper is a naturally occuring soil element and quats are essentially nontoxic and will decompose if they leach into soil.  Better living through chemistry.

I planted these beds last year.  Most of the plants in the lower bed are hostas.  I’m still waiting to see how many plants made it over the winter.  A few of them are showing some buds.  The bed above it is planted with Japanese spurge. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yet more spinach (not complaining though)

The overwintered spinach in the coldframe, is still producing  – 12 oz this time – in fact it’s about ready to produce a lot more soon.   Lettuce is not quite ready to pick, maybe in another week.  The coldframe is actually a plastic greenhouse called a Flowerhouse I put over a 4’x8’ raised bed.  I’ve been monitoring the temperature in the greenhouse bed with a remote temperature sensor shaded by a board in order to get a handle on the environment inside.  First, when the sun comes out the space heats up really FAST.  There are 4 zippered vents about a foot square each.  If the outside temperature is below 60 F on a sunny day they will keep the temperature in the low 70’s.  We’ve had a few sunny days recently with highs in the upper 70’s when it’s necessary to unzip the sides of the greenhouse and open it up, otherwise the air at ground level will get over 80 F. 

On an overcast day the greenhouse is 10-20 degrees warmer than the outside temperature.  Once the sun goes down the temperature inside quickly falls to the outside temperature.   During the winter I think the greenhouse warms the soil inside and that is a big benefit.   At this point with the hard freezes just about over it’s time to remove the greenhouse.  I was going to take it off this weekend but decided to wait until the storm system passed through today just in case we got some hail (we got a little, about ½ inch in size). 

On Friday I planted the second set of brassicas in their bed after hoeing in the compost.  If timing is everything I’ll need to work at this.  That evening we got a  brief strong storm with some hard gusts, then a hard freeze that night.  Saturday was cloudless and very windy, not good conditions for new plants.  I scattered straw around them to give some shade.  Sunday was even windier and the high was almost 80.  Looks like they made it. 
I set up a trellis for the sugar snap peas on one side of the brassica bed.  I like to use metal fence posts to support trellises and cages.  There are two kinds, one is solid metal and the other is a pressed metal.  I like the second, cheaper kind because it has hooks every few inches that can hold the trellis.  Once the hook is pressed shut with a pair of pliers the trellis is really secure.  For the pea trellis I used 6’ posts hammered into the soil up to the top of the flange, which leaves about 5' of post above ground.  Then I secured the trellis to some hooks in the post and also tied it to the post with wire.  Hammering the posts into the ground is not much trouble.  Removing them can be a little more challenging, but adding some water around the base usually helps to get them out.  I’ve gotten in the habit of suspending the trellis or cage above the ground so I can reach underneath it for maintenance.  The sugar snaps will have no trouble finding the first rung of the trellis.