Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday August 30

It’s been an unusual growing season to say the least.  In early July I was getting ripe tomatoes, green beans, squash and peppers from the garden.  With the exception of a few peppers I haven’t gotten any of those for a few weeks.   There may not be any more squash, but there’s lots of tomatoes, peppers and beans that should be ready in a week or two.   Still and all, in midsummer you really expect to have these things without interruption.
The one exception to the scarcity is the cucumber, and there’s few things better than cucumbers on a hot day, unless it’s cucumbers and tomatoes.  The Diva plant has been growing fast and producing well.  After the four seeds started indoors did not germinate (that after the germination tests were 100%) I planted the remaining two or three seeds directly in the bed.  This is the only one that germinated and it was behind some broccoli plants.  Eventually it got to the trellis and took off. 
I got a  cauliflower, the first one I’ve grown.   A little soft but OK.  Considering the weather I’ll take it. 

The blue potatoes were dug up.  They are shaped like Russet potatoes but are more like waxy potatoes.  The blue is on the inside and they are delicious.  Yields weren’t as good as the Reds though, a little over 5 lbs.
Totals for the week:  Cucumber 2 lb 6 oz, Potato 5 lb 1 oz, eggplant 4 oz, okra 3 oz, cauliflower 8 oz, pepper 2 oz, and scallions 1 oz.  Totals are summarized in a spreadsheet in the 2012 tab.    

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quick Tour July 26

At this point the name of the game is keep the plants alive.  Most of the work in the yard consists of watering.  So far I have watered about two days out of three, usually in the evening.  Watering in the evening gives more time for the water to percolate into the soil without any direct sun to pull water the wrong way.  The sustained watering campaign has paid off as most of the vegetable plants look healthy now.  Production is mostly on hold -  I’ve picked only a few peppers and no squash, beans or tomatoes for several weeks.

The only reliably producing green vegetable right now is the cucumber.   The Diva plant thrives in this heat.  I counted five cukes that will be ready to pick shortly.  Last year I lost all the cucurbits except the butternut to bacterial wilt.   After a year without them it’s good to have that fresh snap of a cold cucumber back, especially when I’m not getting much of anything else. 

Except for the lone Rosa Bianca eggplant, everything in the solanacae bed looks well.  There haven’t been any tomatoes since mid July after the extended hot spell (four or five consecutive days over 100 F) and an early bout with blossom end rot.  The Supersonic tomato is loaded with green tomatoes right now and the Black Krim has a few of its own.  The pepper plants are also doing well.  The Carmen and Ancho pepper plants are nearly as tall as the tomato plants, and the Carmen has lots of green peppers.  It looks like the Ancho pepper plant will produce a lot of peppers in a burst, which is fine since I’ll dry most of them.  It looks like things are on track for some salsa in August. 

The parsnip and okra are doing well.  I know okra is a true hot weather plant, but the parsnip (Lancer) doesn’t mind the heat a bit.  When the okra really starts producing I plan to pickle some of it.  The potato bed in the background has one cage of Red Pontiacs remaining.  I just dug up the blue potatoes a few days ago.  It will get a planting of beans.  Beans are the one vegetable I can eat anytime, and they are good frozen.   

The small patch of beans at the end of the bed has made just a few beans.  I noticed a cottontail around it a few days ago and it’s made some trips back since then.  It hasn’t eaten any beans closer to the house.  I’ll have to put the cages back over those beds tonight. 

The squash have taken a beating since they wilted in the last heat wave.  I pulled out the Honey Bear Acorn and Cocozelle plants.  Another Cocozelle was seeded about two weeks ago and it is growing fast.  The Butternut has partially recovered and if we can just avoid any more one hundred degree weather like yesterday it may snap out of it.  It’s setting new vines and has set a number of butternuts.

The tulip poplars are under a lot of stress.  Most of them leafed out too early in the warm spring then lost all their foliage to a hard freeze.  Then the tulip scale set in and sucked away more energy (and made a mess in the process).  Add to that the heat and drought and many of them are not looking well.  I consider tulip poplar almost a weed tree anyway so I won’t get too upset if I lose this one inside the driveway.  

I’ve been watering the brownest patches of lawn just to save it.  If the turf dies completely then weeds will take over.  So far the grass still has a few blades of green in it so it should recover with some rain.  It got me thinking about how I maintain the lawn.  Right now I close mow about 12,000 sq feet of lawn regularly and high mow another 8,000 sq feet with the brush cutter about four times a year.  I asked myself why I am cutting (or was cutting since the grass hasn’t been cut since early June) all that expanse of lawn when it’s not used for anything. 

I decided that the next time I mow, and who knows when that will be, I will make a diagonal cut across the large rectangle of lawn in the picture and mow inside the cut.  In other words the triangle close to the woods will then be high cut and the triangle close to the house will be close cut.  That should transfer several thousand sq feet to the high cut category, saving me time and fuel.  You might notice that the high cut grass is in much better shape than the lawn.
The expanded high cut area will have the potential to be used for animals.  Right now I’m looking into raising pastured rabbits in this area. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monday July 23, 2012

Go to to see what people around the world have gotten from their vegetable gardens this week.
The shortage of green vegetables continues.  There’s a lot of green tomatoes on the vine, but it’s going to be a few more weeks before any are ripe.  The pepper plants are healthy and full of green peppers, in fact the ancho pepper plant is as large as the Black Krim tomato plant.  They should start producing any time now.  A new summer squash (Cocozelle) is growing fast.  I just hope it doesn’t get whatever did in the last plant. 
The second patch of beans, Roma II, are diseased.  I should rip them out because it doesn’t look like they are going to amount to . . . a hill of beans.  This is the first time I have planted this variety, an F1 from Parks.  Maybe it was the heat.  The next batch of beans, Provider, look fine, but it will be another week or two before those beans are ready.
The cucumbers have been providing a steady supply and the okra is producing more all the  time as the plants become small trees.  Last year the cucumbers succumbed to bacterial wilt after I got two or three cukes.  This year the Diva is growing like it’s on steroids, and will soon start producing heavily.  The Picolino (from Pinetree) is not nearly as vigorous but has been providing small cukes for several weeks.  In fact the Diva was seeded a week after the Picolino was set out as a seedling and the Diva is now many times larger.   The cuke on the right is a Diva, the two smaller ones are Picolino.   

I had to compare the two.  Diva is an excellent cucumber, fresh tasting and crisp.  But the Picolino has it beat.  It’s much better.  Too bad it doesn’t do as well in the heat.   

I dug up a cage of Red Pontiac potatoes.  Adding in the two potatoes that I pulled from the same cage last week, the yield for this cage was 8 lbs, 11 oz.  That’s from five pieces.  If I had maintained adequate water while the plants were growing I think the yield could have been better.  I’ll dig up the cage of blue potatoes later this week.  

This is the last broccoli, a Gypsy.  Not much of a head and half of it was underripe, but after the heat wave I’m not complaining.  It was still good to eat.  I picked one of the cabbages that had been barely growing for months - I think they were planted in April.  It had a baseball sized head.  To say that it was inedible is too kind.  The remaining cabbages were allocated to the compost bin.  More evidence that most cabbage crops have to grow quickly without interruptions or they will not be good.  

This butternut squash was pulled off the vine and chewed by an animal.  Squirrel?  I tend to attribute any animal damage in the garden to squirrels unless I can prove otherwise.  I'm convinced they are vindictive little animals.   

For the week, cucumber 23 oz, okra 6 oz, scallions 4 oz, broccoli 8 oz, pepper 1 oz, red potatoes  7 lb 12 oz, and fish filets 18 oz. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mobile Garden Tool Rack

I’ve wanted to build some kind of rack that holds the garden tools – shovels, hoes, rakes, stakes – and can be moved around.  For years the garden tools have leaned against the house.  Now that I have put flower beds along the sunroom and moved the compost bin to the gable end of the house the tool clutter has gotten even worse. 

I checked on the internet and found a standard design, basically a square rack that didn’t look like it could be adapted to move easily.  I saw a similar rack at Lowe’s holding a bunch of shovels.  It’s sturdy but not what I want.  I came up with a rough design of a cart with trapezoidal sides and wheels so the cart could be tilted back and rolled. 
Designing a cart is not so easy as it may seem.  I can design a shed in detail, since the height of benches and doors is standard.  But a cart that rolls is different.  I don’t know what lengths and angles of the frame will make a cart that can be moved easily and feels right.  That takes some trial and error.  So I came up with a rough sketch then designed it as it was built. 

This is a prototype that has to be good enough for my own use.  I wanted to built it as much as possible from scrap materials on hand.  I also wanted the cart to be as light as possible but structurally sound.  That means not using heavier wood than necessary.  For the framing I settled on deck flooring ripped on the table saw into two equal pieces, and I just happened to have some deck flooring in the lumber pile.  This gave framing wood about one and one-eighth inch thick by two and three-quarter inches wide. 

I started by building a bottom frame, just a rectangle extended at one end for the wheels.  I notched the upright posts where they attach to the frame to make it look less bulky.  Everything is put together with screws.  Screws are not only stronger fasterners than nails, but can be removed easily with a cordless drill if things need changing at a later time. 

Here’s where the guesswork as to “feel” entered in.  The upper members of the side frames were attached to make a trapezoid.  Since a handle will be attached at the upper end of the sidearms I had to experiment a little with the angles and heights of attachment to get what I thought would be an ergonomically comfortable shape.  I left the pieces extra long so they could be trimmed back later if needed. 

The trapezoid shape on the sides puts the handle at a comfortable height while the rack itself should be tall enough in back for large tools and short enough in front for smaller tools and stakes.  Unlike a rectangle which can be racked into a parallelogram a trapezoid resists racking, although not as well as a triangle.  That means the sides shouldn’t need additional bracing.
The next picture jumps ahead after a number of steps were completed.  (It was really hot and I couldn’t motivate myself to stop and take pictures).  The upper crossmembers were attached to give the basic frame.  A dowel was screwed to the upper arms as a temporary handle.  And the crosshatching was put in the upper frame to give slots for individual tools.  

The next day I looked at this and decided it was all wrong.  The upper frame should match the footprint of the lower frame.  The notched uprights had to go.  First I moved the crossmembers of the bottom frame inside the uprights.  Then I unscrewed each upright, cut off the notch and put an angle cut on the top to match the angle of the upper frame.  The upright post was then reattached to the top and bottom frames.  The bottom frame was raised a few inches at the front so the upright protruded several inches below the frame.  This way the cart rests on the wheels and the front uprights.  Getting close!   

You can also see that a temporary diagonal brace was put on the back face of the cart.  This rectangular face was large enough to go out of square so it had to be locked into square.  Wheels were attached using ½ inch bolts.   Dividers were set in the upper and lower frames to separate tools.

The cart was taking shape, but the next morning I looked at it and thought it was too bulky.  The front uprights on the outside just weren’t right.  I removed them and put them inside the frame.  After that a piece of plywood was put on the back face to replace the temporary brace.   Plywood was attached to the bottom of the lower frame as a floor for the tools.  The floor slopes toward the back and has weep holes in the frame to drain water.   I think the cart looks a lot leaner now.
It was getting near completion, but the finish work in a project always seems to drag on.  At one point I thought it was close enough.  I loaded it with the tools and found it need a few more tweaks.  The small pitchfork had a handle grip that would not fit between the dividers.  This is the almost finished cart, with the handle attached. 

A place was made at the front to hold short bamboo stakes.  The back of the cart has a pocket for small tools or gloves.  And yes I used whatever wood I could find.  I had to buy a cedar 1x4 and the bolts for the wheels, that’s it.  The cart tips back easily and feels balanced when I move it.  My main complaint is the lawn mower wheels are too small and tend to catch any stick or bump.   

Here it is loaded up with gardening implements of destruction.  What a relief to get those tools in one spot!  After I use this for awhile I’ll see if any more changes are needed.  Then I plan to build a more finished cart from new wood and see if there is any demand for this kind of product.  With all the measurements at hand, building the second cart will take a fraction of the time it took to make this one.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

I'm gonna miss my tomatoes

The recent heat wave took its toll on vegetable production.  Most of the harvest was the last batch of onions.  That’s over 14 pounds of onions for the year. 

I noticed two Red Pontiac potatoes were exposed on the soil surface so I went ahead and pulled them out.  Nice sized potatoes and I’m hoping that they are all that size when the rest of them are dug up.  

These okra got a little too big and were a little tough.  I always seem to forget to check the okra when I go out into the beds.  The red okra plants started off slow but are really growing now. 

The tomatoes stopped setting during the stretch of 100 degree weather.  To make matters worse the earliest tomatoes on the Supersonic plant had blossom end rot and were discarded.  There was one more ripe Black Krim tomato to pick but a critter got it before me.  Sunday morning it was on the ground, busted open but not eaten.  Bird?  Squirrel?  There won’t be any more tomatoes until August, and my plans for making fresh salsa will have to wait .  At least the Supersonic plant has worked through the blossom end rot episode and has set a lot of fruit now. 
I like the Supersonic tomato.  It has medium sized heart-shaped tomatoes with great flavor.  They almost never split.  It’s full of green tomatoes now (plant on right in picture) while the Black Krim plant looks like it is trying to get a second wind.  The peppers have also put on a growth spurt after the hottest weather was over while the lone eggplant remains puny. 

It’s still hot with most days reaching 90-95 degrees.  Many plants are a little stressed, but not as bad as when temps were over 100.  Since I’ve been pumping water from the pond I’ve brought the moisture levels in the beds back to where they need to be.   I’ve settled into a routine of watering every second evening now.  The pump really moves the water, probably 10 to 15 gallons a minute, so I can water the vegetable beds, flower beds and the driest patches in the lawn, then return and give the vegetable beds a second soaking in about 90 minutes.
The squash suffered the worst setbacks. The last 100 degree day many of the squash leaves turned yellow as if going into shock. The Cocozelle summer squash went into a wilt and did not make it. I pulled it and checked for the borer - nothing. It’s replacement was seeded a few weeks ago and is growing well. The acorn squash still looks rough but has new growth. The butternut lost most of the vines on the trellis and some butternuts. It’s growing new vines and it looks (knock on wood) like it will make it. The butternut has been a bulletproof plant for several years. It never gets the borer and was the only cucurbit to make it through bacterial wilt last year.
Yes there are still some cabbage family plants left.  The Gonzales cabbage have had baseball sized heads for several weeks.  I should pick them but don’t know if they will be edible.  There’s also two cauliflower plants that are actually heading up and two brussells sprouts that are doing well.  The Diva cucumber in the back of the picture thrives in the heat and should start producing soon.  The Picolino cucumber in the forefront does not like the heat and has grown little as of late.  

In the former greens bed there’s a Gyspy broccoli, which is supposed to be heat tolerant, that is making an attempt to produce a head.  There’s also a patch of Provider beans, some Danvers carrots and Parade scallions.

The parsnip and okra have thrived in the heat.  In this bed there’s a row of scallions and two rows of Roma II beans.  The Romas also stalled during the hottest weather but have set a lot of small beans now.  The potatoes in the back bed are nearly finished.

For the week:   Tomatoes 15 oz, cucumber 4 oz, eggplant 5 oz, okra 4 oz, onions 6 lb 5 oz, and potatoes 15 oz.   Also catfish filets 9 oz.  For the year 65.8 pounds.  The updated results are in the 2012 tab. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Relief at Last

Finally some relief from the heat on Sunday.  Saturday the temperature reached 106 degrees here in SW Indiana, the third consecutive day of 100+ degree weather, after a week with highs in the upper 90’s.  The weatherman called this an epic heat wave and for once that was not an exaggeration.  The hot weather has taken its toll on the vegetable plants.  The tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash mostly stopped setting blossoms or developing fruits.  I expect some gaps in production soon.  The okra plants thrived in this weather. 

I watered heavily from the pond nearly every day and most of the plants stayed healthy, even though they did not grow much.  Saturday all the squash plants showed a lot of chlorosis (yellowing) of the leaves.  I think this was more a result of the heat shutting down some biochemical processes, not nitrogen deficiency, as this happened suddenly. 
It was a week to get things out of the ground.  I dug up the Yukon Gold potatoes (previous post).  The second batch of onions dried.  I cut off the tops and rubbed off the outer skins.  I pulled up the third and last batch of onions and spread them out on the screen to dry.  That leaves empty bed space of about 25 square feet that I will seed with snap beans shortly.  

I harvested two Italian sweet peppers and some small hot peppers.  I’ve tossed a lot of developing peppers and tomatoes that were burned from the heat or had blossom end rot.  It looks like the tomatoes and peppers are working through the BER, sure hope so.  I think much of the problem was due to inadequate water during the heat wave. 

For the week:   Squash 15 oz, cucumber 10 oz, okra 5 oz, tomatoes 1 lb 10 oz, scallions 3 oz, peppers 9 oz, potatoes 5 lb 4 oz, onions 4 lb 14 oz.   Total 12.8 lb.  For the year 57.7 lb.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

First tomatoes, potatoes

That Black Krim tomato was saying pick me, and that’s what I did on the 4th of July.  I think I timed it about right.  It felt about right, even though it was more of a pale red on the outside.   

This is the tomato sliced into halves.  Gorgeous tomato isn’t it?  For flavor it’s comparable to the Brandywine I grew last year.  Sweet with a hint of tartness, like jam.  The meat is darker than the skin.   

Those green shoulders common on heirloom tomatoes may actually serve a purpose – the chlorophyll at the top of the tomato makes sugars that stay in the tomato.  The sugars serve as a building block for other flavor components.   The green top has been bred out of modern varieties for perfectly uniform looking, but not perfect tasting tomatoes.  Here’s an article about it in ScienceNews:
The cage of Yukon Gold tomatoes was clearly finished.  This morning I removed the cage and support posts and dug up the potatoes.  This variety does not usually give the yields of the Red Pontiacs, which will last for a few more weeks.   I got 5 pounds, 4 oz from five small tubers.  The two red potatoes are from a runner that found it’s way from the adjacent cage of Red Pontiacs.   Now I can make one of my favorite comfort foods – simmered potatoes, green beans, onions and sausage.  

This is the second batch of onions drying out.  There’s one more batch this size still in the beds.  I built a wood frame, about 2’ x 4’ in dimension with ½ inch wire screen where the onions can dry in the sun.   Onions dry quickly in this heat.  By 11 AM today the temperature was above 90 F.  The high on the July 4 was 102, and at 3 PM today it’s 101 according to Intellicast.  Friday and Saturday the predicted highs are 104.   The tomatoes and peppers are not setting many viable fruit now.

Now that I am watering the beds by pumping water from the pond I realize that I had not been putting enough water down on the beds when I watered from the house system.  Digging down into the soil I found it lacking moisture about six to eight inches down.  The plants had been pulling water out of this zone and not enough was trickling down to replace it.  The rule of thumb is an inch of water a week, but  when the daily highs are upper 90’s or more, the sun is blazing in a cloudless sky and there’s also some wind up then the plants probably need two or three inches of water a week.   I’ve been laying down a lot of water almost daily and the plants are responding well.    

Monday, July 2, 2012

Out with the Old, or The Mayhem continues

Last spring I bought red onion sets from the farm supply store  to fill in after much of the yellow storage onion seed from last year did not germinate.  The recent windy weather broke the spine of many of them and knocked them over.  I pulled up a batch last week and let them dry on the edge of a bed.  Many of them are nice sized bulbs.  Sunday I pulled more up, most of them red onions.  I'll let these dry for a week or so in the abundant sun and heat (actually too abundant). 

Again a diverse harvest.  The first Black Krim tomato is almost ready but not quite.  There’s a little bit of a learning curve for harvesting heirloom tomatoes so I’m checking the plant daily.  For the week:  Beans 19 oz, okra 2 oz, summer squash 19 oz, cucumber 10 oz, kohlrabi 11 oz, and onions 2.5 lb, total for the year 45 lbs.  Also 1.5 lbs of catfish fillets.
It’s kind of early in the season to think of pulling up plantings, but that’s where the garden is at. The first patch of beans was seeded between two potato cages in the trapezoidal bed.  There was space, but little sunlight.   I got a few pickings of beans, and it’s always nice to get early beans, but by now there were only a few new flower buds.  Removing the beans allows more movement of air through the potatoes, which are succumbing slowly to disease.  Except for the blue potatoes on the right.  Into the compost bin the beans went.   

The squash were a hard call.  Saturday afternoon with the temps in the high 90’s I found that the Honeybear Acorn and the Cocozelle squash were badly wilted and many of the leaves were dying.  After dinner I started the pond pump (see last post) and gave them a good soaking.    Overnight we got some rain – the first rain since early May – a whole ¼ inch!  Sunday morning I stumbled out of bed and watered the beds again.   The beds got a good soaking.  Does the Acorn squash in the center look like out of sorts?  To me it does.

By early afternoon these squash were wilted again.  The leaves were an off-color metallic yellowish-green.  They just didn’t look right.  I found that none of the fruits on the Acorn or the Cocozelle were sound.  In fact the Acorn plant had produced  numerous fruit for weeks and not one of them had ever developed.  I’ve found that once a squash gets like this it’s not going to pull out of it.  Game over.  I pulled both plants up and put them in the compost bin.  The Cocozelle is below.  I had already trimmed off half the leaves the previous day.
Actually that’s not the end of the squash, here’s why.  I started three different squash plants indoors – Butternut, Acorn, and Cocozelle.  When I set the seedlings into the beds on May 1, I planted a few seeds of the same cultivars near the transplants.  They were backup plants.  Now all the transplants of each variety have been removed and ceded their squash turf to the backup plants that were direct seeded (the Butternut that was started indoors was pulled over a month ago).  And these plants, although not large, look healthy.  In fact this morning I picked a one pound squash from Cocozelle 2. 

Here’s some possible reasons why the squash started indoors did not make it:   1) The seedlings got a shiver from some cold weather shortly after transplanting and never fully recovered while the nearby seeds were still underground and not affected   2) Direct seeded squash just do better than transplants, or   3)  It’s more complicated, like subtle differences in weather over two weeks and I’ll never know.  It’s probably all of the above.  At any rate I’m rethinking the whole notion of seeding squash indoors.  Next spring I’ll direct seed the squash in stages, about one seeding a week in May and select for the healthiest plants.   
As for the summer squash, I planted a few seeds about a foot away from the remaining plant.  Why not?  This one may succumb to the borer.  It took the first squash plant only seven weeks from seeding to the first fruit.  That’s less time than a snap bean so it’s realistic to expect squash from a plant seeded now.  Seeds are cheap considering the potential yields so it’s well worth the investment. 
And the onions:  the sets were put in March 22.  That’s about 100 days to get nice bulbs.  Could I put in sets of short day onions now and get another batch by the end of September?  If I could find some sets it would be worth a try, but most likely all the stores have discarded their onion sets by now.