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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday May 15

The asparagus, now in its 4th year, has been producing at a trickle, as in one shoot at a time.  A few days ago I was able to pick a decent batch of asparagus.  I also harvested about half a pound of spinach, which shows no signs of bolting (yet). 

To see what other people are getting from their gardens, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Planning for the summer crops - where to put them

Every year I plan out the garden design on a scale drawing of the beds.  And every year the design is changed when it's time to plant.  This year is no exception.  The trickiest bed is the large 250 square foot 'squash' bed, which has about half the total garden space.  This year it gets winter squash, tomatoes, and sweet corn.  No potatoes or sweet potatoes this year because I'm tired of giving the voles another buffet. 

The large bed strategy goes something like this:  Seed a cover crop of field peas in March.  As the peas grow they will 'fix' nitrogen in the soil as well as provide forage for the rabbits. In mid-May, clear out small circles every 4-5 feet and sow a few squash seeds.  As the season moves into summer, the peas succumb to the heat, clearing the way for the squash. 

Sounds like a great plan, except for one problem.  Much of the compost that was spread on top of the seeds was not finished compost, and it contained untold numbers of a weed whose identity is unknown to me.  It's crowding out the field peas in places and will take over if it is not dug under:

Of course the parts of the bed that will be planted in tomatoes and sweet corn have to be turned under anyway, but I was hoping to leave the rest of the bed under field peas as long as possible, since it's such good rabbit food.  The west end of the bed where the peas are not infested with weeds is also the area where I planned to put sweet corn.  So I've changed plans and will dig up the south side of the bed for the corn patch, where the weeds are at their worst, even though the corn will shade the squash somewhat.  I'll clear out spots in the rest of the bed for squash, but will leave the cover crop in place for another week before digging it under.

The north end of the bed will get three cages of paste tomatoes.  Two Plum Regal plants were ready to go in a cage, the remaining seedlings need a few more days in the pots.  That's Lavendar Touch eggplant between the two cages.  This is the first time I've grown determinate tomatoes.  From what I've read, they tend to set fruit all at once, perfect for canning sauces.

Pole beans were planted along the east side of the bed.  I set up a 9 foot trellis and planted half the row in Fortex, and the other half in Musica, a new one for me. 

With the previous year's problems with leaf blight, it's a new strategy for tomatoes this year.  The paste tomatoes that are determinate will grow in the old 2 foot wide cages with two plants per cage, as was shown above.  For the indeterminate tomatoes, I bought a roll of 5 foot remesh and made 18 inch diameter cages - thin and tall.  Each cage will get one plant.  I'm hoping this method will improve air circulation around each tomato plant. 

Yesterday I installed 5 cages in a 12 foot bed.  The cages are suspended about 10 inches above the ground on the hooks of the fence posts.  That will give the plants lots of vertical space to grow in.  Today I plan to transplant the tomatoes and peppers into the bed, but this is what it looks like now.

I began preparing this bed a few days ago, when I turned it under with a shovel.  Several cups of 8-8-8 fertilizer were spread over the bed, and two wheelbarrow loads of compost were spread on top.  Then it was tilled over with the mini-cultivator to dig in the amendments and break up any weed roots.

I noticed that of the two bags of fertilizer on hand, one had a substantial amount of calcium (9%), and the other had none.  Interesting.  The fertilizer with calcium was used here, in hopes of preventing blossom end rot. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Monday May 8

The rains have finally ended, and this will be third consecutive day with abundant sunshine.  According to my rain guage, about 7 inches of rain fell over a period of eight days.  That's a lot of rain, but people to the west, in Illinois and Missouri, got it much worse.  It never rained hard, thankfully, and my pond was in no danger of overtopping the levee, but the accumulation did cause some flooding around here, and the bridge I normally take to get to Bloomington is still closed.

I picked the first 'solid' food yesterday, as opposed to leafy greens, a Kolibri kohlrabi, weighing in at 12 ounces.  The rabbits were most appreciative of the leaves.  I haven't decided whether to slice it for snacking or dice it up and fry it like hash browns.   If it's mild, I like kohlrabi best raw. 

So far I've harvested about 3 pounds of spinach and 2 pounds of lettuce, both overwintered.  The lettuce in the Earthbox has been a real disappointment.  I pulled out the original planting and put in some new starts, but they are doing no better.  I have to conclude that it's the Miracle-Gro potting mix, although most of the seedlings that have been started in it have done fine.

Although most of the seedlings have done well, the true leaves on the okra seedlings are not very green.  The pepper plants behind them look perfectly healthy.

Next year I should buy a bag of ProMix.  I like the Miracle Gro because the fertilizer is mixed in, but this is very frustrating.  Seems like they are constantly changing their formulation.

I had to put a makeshift fence around the raspberry patch.  The rabbits are just not going to let the raspberries grow up unless they are kept out.

The Earliglow strawberries are growing well in the pallet planter.  The conventional wisdom says you should snip off any blooms the first year, but that's not going to happen. I want to try some of these berries soon.  Anyway, strawberries grow like weeds.

And the apple trees are looking very healthy this year.  I cut off the leader on the Golden Delicious (the tree on the left) this winter and it's developing a nice shape.  Too bad most of the buds were frozen and not many apples were set.

With a promising 10-day forecast, I plan to move all of the seedlings into the coldframe shortly and turn off the lights for another year.  It won't be long before the warm weather plants go in the beds and there is a lot of work to be done first.  To see what other people are getting from their gardens, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

It's not summer yet

It looked, for awhile, like this may be one of those years when summer begins in May, followed by extreme heat in the summer months.  It may still get very hot this summer, but so far the month of May has been cooler than April and very very wet, with the 10 day forecast maintaining that pattern.

Not much grows when there's no sunlight.  We got over 4 inches of rain over a period of 3 days.  The last two days brought relief and sunshine.  The pond water is no longer rushing through the overflow pipe like a firehose.   The relief won't last, though, as another massive weather system is due to arrive shortly, bringing another 3 inches of rain tonight and tomorrow.  There will be some flooding.

This post isn't about much except walking around the place and taking stock. 

The cattails have mostly greened up.  A few weeks ago I posted a photo of brown cattails.  Somehow the old blades just seems to disappear as the new growth crowds out the old. 

The shade bed behind the back deck gets nicer with every passing year.  The hostas are looking very healthy this year.  The columbine is in full bloom.

In the vegetable garden, the chive is in blossom.  The sage behind it has even produced a few flowers for the first time. 

The brassica bed is planted full, although the plants haven't done much lately with the overcast sky.  The one broccoli plant doesn't look like it will make it, so I'll seed some dill in that spot.  There's been no shortage of volunteer dill, as it approaches weed status, and I've been pulling most of it up.  I've found that most of the early dill is too early for making pickles, so it might as well come out.  Last year I let two dill plants grow to maturity and they grew taller than I am, so there is plenty of dill seed on hand.  What I want for pickles is the dill leaf, or 'dill weed,' and also the flower, which has its own unique flavor.  I'll seed a new small patch every week now so a continuous supply is assured.

The beds are finally taking shape around the front porch, which are shaded by two pin oaks.  The Britt Marie Crawford ligularia is looking better than ever.  It's taken it long enough to reach this stage, but it got a rough start in the heat wave of 2012.  This is my favorite plant.  On its right is a baneberry, new this year.  This is the third plant in that spot, maybe it will be charmed.  The daylilies at the edge get just enough sun to flower.

The robins built a nest on top of the electric meter box.  The nest fell off so I put one of the ledge boxes above it.  They built a new nest on the roof of the box.  Not quite what I had in mind but it's what they wanted.

On the other side of the porch I planted another ligularia a month ago.  It's already sent up some new leaves.  That's a wood poppy in front of it, also new this year, and a giant astilbe on the right.

This hosta is simply gorgeous. 

A walk around the place isn't complete without mentioning the equipment necessary to keep the property in shape.  This year I've had to do a lot of badly needed maintenance on the power equipment.  I went over the brush cutter last winter, removed the motor, changed the oil, adjusted the valves and replaced filters and spark plugs.  After putting it back together, it ran great, but when I started it up a few weeks ago for some real work it sputtered and died.  After doing a carburetor rebuild (the kit is $50, for small parts and new gaskets) the motor fired right up last night and now runs great. 

This is essentially a large (44") mower, towed behind the garden tractor, that will cut through rough growth.  It's absolutely necessary to keep the rough grass on the outlying areas and the levee under control.  With the machinery working, I feel like I'm ready for summer.  Time to cut the lawn (with the mower, not with this) before the rains begin.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Things that aren't working

Any growing season has some things that just don't work out.  That's to be expected.  You learn to take them in stride because the successes outnumber the failures.   The growing season is just beginning but already I'm seeing a lot of plants doing well.  The overwintered spinach and lettuce have been producing consistently, garlic is looking great, the strawberries in the pallet planter are growing, asparagus is sending up shoots, and most of the seedlings are off to a good start.

That said, there will always be some failures, and that's what this post is about.  First off, the apple trees.  Like much of the country, here in the midwest we got a very early warm spell followed by a hard freeze.  The buds on the Fuji tree survived and flowered.  The Golden Delicious buds did not and the tree managed just a few flowers on one branch.  Without cross-pollination, it's unlikely that there will be any apples coming to fruit.  Nothing I can do about that.

It's still too early for insect or fungal infestations.  Most of the damage being caused is from animals with fur.  A mole made its pophole right in the middle of the parsnip planting.  That I could live with, but then a neighbor's dog decided to investigate:

The raspberry plants had not been doing much, and now I know why.  This looks like the work of the cottontail.   The rabbits that I raise love any bramble, so these domestic berry plants with fuzz-like thorns must be especially appealing to their wild cousins.  The raspberry patch is the farthest bed from the house and they must feel safe enough to raid it.  I'm hoping that as other tempting plants become available the bunnies will move on to greener pastures.

I'm growing a new variety of onion this year, Pontiac.  The seedlings did not transplant well, leaving a lot of gaps in the patch.  If it turns out to be a good onion I will probably grow it again next year.  I'll have to seed more though in order to have spares for the ones that don't make it.  Still I expect to get a decent crop of onions, just not as much as I hoped for.

Growing lettuce in a self-watering container has always given me lots of lettuce, until this year.  The lettuce never looked right, and after I moved the Earthbox out of the coldframe it worsened.  Last week I pulled all of it out.  The lettuce never established a root system of any consequence.  In the past the roots would completely fill the box.  Another set of seedlings went into one side of the SWC, and the other side was seeded directly.  Was it the potting mix?  Everything else has done well in this mix.  I guess I'll never know.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spring into summer

It's definitely spring.  Most days it's pleasant to be outdoors, and things are greening up rapidly.  Last week I re-stained the deck after applying a bleach cleaner to remove the mildew.  I knew there was a short window before the trees began dropping loads of pollen and catkins everywhere, and I just got it done in time.  Now the pond is covered with an oily sheen from all the tree 'crud' falling into the water.

The Paw Paw trees that I wrote a post about last fall are blooming now.  The flowers are pollinated by flies, not bees, and have no odor that I can detect.  From what I've read, a low percentage of flowers are successfully pollinated.  Some commercial growers hang pieces of rotting meat in their groves to attract flies.  There are hundreds of flowers, maybe I'll get a few ripe paw paw fruits.

What's this?  Could it be, is it, asparagus? Yes, it is.  I've already picked a few spears, which went into a salad. 

Potatoes were planted in burlap bags, Kennebec and Yukon Gold.  The growing medium is a mix of soil and rabbit poop compost.  I have some doubts about this system, mainly that it will dry out too quickly.  There is a plan B:  put both bags in a plastic tub.  That system may rot the burlap very quickly.  For now I'll monitor the moisture levels and see how long it takes for the potting mix to dry out.

May's greenhouse finally got its peppers out on the racks.  From what I can gather from a conversation with an employee, there was a mechanical problem in one of their greenhouses that caused the loss of a lot of peppers.  I seed a few varieties myself and buy the rest at May's, since they sell them for a dollar a pot and grow nearly 60 varieties.  The seedlings were brought home, repotted into larger Jiffy cup pots and put in the coldframe.

This year I'll be growing:
  • Jalapeno.  It may seem like a pedestrian hot pepper, but there's a reason for its popularity:  it's an excellent pepper with thick walls.  Just right for an egg dish, or in salsa. 
  • Fish pepper.  This will be a new one for me.   I'm not growing Serrano this year (too small, difficult to cut up) and Fish is supposed to be about as hot, but larger.  It's also a very striking pepper, starts out pale green when it's used in fish dishes then takes on various hues and stripes as it ripens. 
  • Bulgarian carrot.  After reading some reviews and watching some taste tests on YouTube I decided to try this.  Apparently it can be much hotter than the ratings.  It's supposed to have a fruity, tangy flavor with a slow developing heat. 
  • Bastan ancho, from Johnny's.  Dave at Our Happy Acres grew this last year.  I'm hoping it will mature a little earlier than the ancho I've been growing:
  • Mosquitero ancho.  This is an excellent ancho, but last year it produced a lot of peppers too late to avoid the frost. 
  • Magyar paprika.  I got this from Renee's.  Can't wait to try it.
  • Carmen.  Wonderful tangy sweet pepper.
  • Mama Mia Giallo.  An orange sweet pepper with a bright flavor.
  • Jimmy Nardello.  For snacking and pizza topping. 

A 4' x 12' bed is now fully planted in cole crops.  It looks like the first kohlrabi will be ready in about a week.  There's still one more set of cole crops in the cold frame that will go into another bed. 

Tomato and okra seedlings are growing indoors under the lights.  Cucumbers, Vertina for pickling and Diva for slicing, were seeded two days ago.  All of the hot weather plants that are seeded indoors have been started now.  Squash and beans remain, which will be seeded directly into the beds in mid-May.   What's the state of your garden?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It's looking a lot like Spring, or I'm starting to believe that winter is over

I go through this every year at this time.  I just find it hard to accept that winter is done, and the outside world is once again - well, livable and green.  It's a matter of conditioning I guess.  Expectations are suppressed because winter is, for most of us, a steaming load of crap that has to be endured.  Then when it's finally over, and a month ago it looked like it was over when it was not, that's equally hard to accept, because it may just be a tease.  But I'm finally coming to grips with the reality that it's really getting nice outdoors and will likely stay that way.  I'll be fine, really.   I don't need any pity.

The cattails in the upper end of the pond are showing green shoots.  I imagine in a month or so this will go from brown to green.  Cattails are a recent development in the pond.   The redwing blackbirds gather in them in the evening, with plenty of squabbling and arguments over territory.  I'm hoping that the cattails will expand over the upper end of the pond.  They are very good at filtering out the silt and cleaning the water.

The flower beds are coming to life.  All of the hostas have at the least put up some shoots, although some are far ahead of the others.  After five or six years, this is the first year that the helleboros has flowered.  It nearly died in the front bed and perked up when it was moved to the shade bed behind the back deck.  I'm really liking this plant.

Another project is the bed over the septic tanks.  Last autumn I removed the spirea and carpet juniper because they were getting too large to be near the tanks.  Last week I killed the weeds with Roundup, being careful to avoid spraying the creeping phlox, then added some topsoil.  Today I marked the outlines of the tanks with flags.  I plan to put in perennials outside the footprint of the tanks and plant groundcover directly over the tanks.

The field peas planted as a cover crop in the squash bed have come up, although germination has been spotty so far.  Unfortunately the sugar snap peas planted along the trellis have not come up.  Guess I put too much faith in seeds from 2014.

There are two beds remaining that have not been prepped, actually one because after this picture was taken the front bed was turned over with the shovel.  It will be planted with parsnip and god knows what else in a few days. 

I'm about ready to bail on the thyme.  It has shown a few hints of green in the dead debris but hasn't started to leaf out.  A month ago the plant was greening up then took a hit in the late cold snap.  It just can't seem to recover.

Not so for the Victoria rhubarb.  It was planted a month or so ago and has already put out a new leaf, so I have to assume it is happy in its new location.

The first two sets of brassicas are in the beds and doing well, although in retrospect I could have done better with the spacing.   I set the broccoli on the north side of the bed since it is the tallest plant, with cauliflower and kohlrabi in the middle and cabbage on the south side.  By the time they begin to crowd each other, the kohlrabi will come out.

The third set of brassicas is in the cold frame, and the fourth set is under the lights in the house.  In the back are peppers, left over strawberry plants, onions and a replacement thyme.  The peppers that I started are Magyar paprika (from Renee's), and Mosquitero and Bastan ancho, while the largest is a jalapeno that was bought.  I still have to buy some sweet pepper seedlings.

The earthbox planted with lettuce was taken out of the coldframe and set on a bench that I built recently.  This spot is perfect for lettuce.  When the apple tree leafs out the lettuce will go into shade in late afternoon.  I plan to put two potato sacks on this bench, and the frame will keep the foliage from falling down.

That's it for now.