Sunday, August 31, 2014

The New Deck 1

Originally I planned to add onto the small deck off the sunroom, approximately tripling its size.  After pouring some of the footers I took a closer look at the construction of the original deck and was appalled.  I realized what I probably knew all along, that the existing deck would have to come out and the entire deck built anew. 

First the floor boards were removed.  This was actually the most time-consuming part of the deconstruction because I want to re-use the boards.  The boards were fastened with gun nails, which are coated in a glue that binds to the wood very strongly.  It took about 4 hours to pull off all the boards and remove the nails.  That left the frame and posts.

The band joist was removed with a few well-placed swings of the sledgehammer and a bit of prying with the crowbar.

The rest of the frame came off very easily because the construction was subpar (I'm being generous here).  Ledger boards - the framing member attached to the house wall - should be fastened to the house with galvanized lag screws into the house sill joist.  This ledger board was fastened with 3" common nails, just long enough to go through the vinyl siding, a foam insulating board and into the plywood cladding.  I pulled them off without any prying tools, just grabbed them and pulled.  It did not take long to get to this:

I could go on about the code violations that took place on this deck.  The other major no-no is never attach a ledger board to the vinyl siding.  A section of siding must be removed and the ledger board attached directly to the wall, then flashed.  I'm amazed that the deck held together as long as it did.

Saturday it was raining lightly much of the day and I did not want to start framing with wet wood.  I cleaned up the area, cut down the old posts and removed siding.  Today I bought the necessary hardware - joist hangars, galvanized lag screws and carriage bolts, galvanized flashing - and can begin the framing when the weather improves.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Winter squash

Well they grow in the summer but they keep through the winter, so the name makes sense I guess.  It looks like a good year for winter squash.  I grew two plants each of Metro Butternut, Teksukabotu and Honey Bear Acorn.  The Butternut and Teksukabotu plants each set 3 squashes each, for a total of 12 squash.  The remaining Acorn has 4 squash (the other was lost to the borer).  Yesterday I removed the dead and dying foliage, leaving a somewhat bare patch.

About a week ago I noticed that the plants had started growing again and setting new squash.  The same thing happened 4 years ago.  Why?   My theory is this:  It was a good year for squash.  Until recently the plants had put their energy into developing the squash that were set in early summer.  Now that those squash are fully ripened they can put their energy into setting new squash.  The Teksukabotu is doing this:
And the Butternut is too:

Much of the new growth is happening on the back side of the trellis, where I have to train the vines to allow access to the okra plants.

The big question is this - will the fruits mature in time before the first frost?  I guess that depends on when the first frost takes place.  Mid-October is typical around here.  If it's early October they probably won't ripen in time.  At any rate there's nothing to lose by letting them ripen, at least the squash that have already been pollinated.  I will cull any that are setting now so the plants can feed their energy into the ones already set.  But first I'll let them flower to feed the bees.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday August 25

It's been a slow week compared to recent weeks.  For days there was hardly any sunshine, just lots of rain and clouds, and the plants did not produce much.  Today there is ample sun and photosynthesis should be underway once again.  I got one squash, which is the last one from the plant, now in the compost bin, and a few beans.

Some okra and one small eggplant.  The okra are Red Burgundy, Millionaire, and Silver Queen.  Both okra and eggplant have been slow this year.  They like it hot.

What I did get was enough salsa ingredients.  Well almost enough - I had to buy two pounds of Roma tomatoes and some Jalapenos to make a batch.  All I can say is it's a good thing that most of the tomatoes came out of the garden because the supermarket tomatoes have no flavor.  These are the Pompeii tomatoes.  They were combined with the store-bought and some Carmello slicing tomatoes.

Now I'm going to show off.  There is nothing like a variety of peppers that are ripe and red.  From left to right the plants are Ancho, Joe Parker New Mexico, and Marconi.  There's a few ripe Serranos higher up.

Here's a shot from another angle.  On the left is a Bullhorn pepper.

These are the peppers that were picked for the salsa. The two peppers on the right are Bullhorn, the other three are Marconi.  I grilled the sweet peppers, deskinned and deseeded them and blended them with the tomatoes.  I found that the Bullhorns deskin easily while the Marconis are difficult.  Both taste great, sweet and rich.

This is the result - 7 pints canned with a 1/2 pint for the refrigerator.

Not such a great week, still 12 pounds came out of the garden, over 220 pounds for the year, over 30 pounds more than last year at this point.  To see what other people grow head on over to

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Late season care and maintenance

Just a short post on goings on in the late August vegetable garden.  I really need to start the plan for next years garden real soon.  It doesn't have to be detailed, just a general guide to where things will go next year.  Mainly I need to decide which bed will get the overwintered spinach and where the garlic will be planted.  I also need to keep track of which beds are amended with compost every year, something I have been lax about.  I know which beds NEED to be amended, for sure.

I decided to pull out the lone summer squash plant and let the sweet potatoes take over the bed.  I've certainly harvested enough squash from it, and I'd rather get more sweet potatoes from the space that will keep over the winter than get more squash that I'm already tired of.  It's been cloudy for nearly a week and the most recent squash rotted on the plant.

The bare soil in the back bed that grew potatoes really should be seeded in a fall cover crop. The seed that I have on hand will make plants that do not winter kill, and I've found the densely matted root system that the grasses make isn't worth the hassle.  From what I've been reading, a combination of buckwheat and cowpeas (a nitrogen-fixing legume) sound like a good combination.  Next year.

To the compost bin for the squash, except I don't want to add any more material to the existing pile because I want the compost to finish and be ready to add to some beds this fall.  There's a huge zucchini in the pile that weighed about 3 pounds (it got away from me) and was tossed and chopped up.  It's covered with fuzzy white mold.
Getting back to the new pile, it's as simple as taking off the top module and setting it to one side.  The chopped up squash plant went in there.  From now on any food scraps or plant debris goes into the new pile.
Once the compost in the larger bin is added to the beds I can consolidate the modules into one bin.

A young squash plant is growing in another bed.  It may or may not mature in time to grow some squash before frost.  That's a cauliflower growing in the center, the last of the brassicas.  It was planted with a broccoli and cabbage that have long since been harvested.  It's a Burpee's variety called Summer Harvest.  Two years ago I planted this variety and it did the same thing - hung around all summer then made a nice head in late August.  And that was a record breaking hot summer.  On the right is the last patch of bush beans.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Now it's a project

For years I've thought about expanding the back porch deck.  It's small, too small to do much of anything although that is where the grill is. So I decided to go ahead with it.  I drew up some plans, bought the lumber, and started on the concrete footers.  It was going to be done right too - no dropping treated posts in a hole and filling in with concrete - I calculated the diameter of the base necessary for each footer, poured in concrete to make an 8 inch thick pad, set in the sonotubes and filled them up, then set in the anchor bolts.

I was thinking about how I would make quick work of this, that is until I removed the stairs to the existing deck and looked at its construction more closely.  The deck's attachment to the house is completely unsatisfactory (I'm being charitable here) and will cause problems later if left as it is.  I don't want to attach an addition to an existing deck that is unsound.  It has to come out.  Good thing it's not much of a deck, it's the upper deck in the picture just off the back door.  I'll have to be careful not to damage the wood, and two more footers need to be poured.  And I thought I was finished with the digging!

Once the upper deck is finished it will roughly triple its area.  It will be a nice place to grill or for company.  I'm also hoping that some of the more skittish water birds, like the wood ducks, won't notice me if I sit quietly on the deck.

On another note the pond is the weediest it has ever been.  Usually the aquatic vegetation is mostly gone by the start of July but not this year.  This happened after the fish kill this winter, which I think is not a coincidence.  Losing all the fish in even a small body of water completely upsets the balance.  There is essentially no apex predator at the top of the food chain.  It's heartening to see the sunfish and largemouth bass that I stocked this spring as fingerlings growing so quickly.  Some of the bluegill are even showing some spawning behavior. 

This is the upper end of the pond.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday August 18

Finally a little relief.  I picked just one squash this week from the lone summer squash plant.  Bean harvests have slowed down also.  I picked a few more Provider bush beans from the patch that has been producing a second harvest.  Then I sent the plants to the compost bin - they had lots of rust and other ailments at this point - small wonder since they bore twice.  The Fortex pole beans have also slowed down.  These plants are beset with Harlequin bugs, at least that's what I think they are, and many of the beans are deformed. 

Still, I got a bit of many things.  Three large Diva cucumbers, some tomatoes, beans, one squash, a few okra.  This pic was this mornings harvest:

I collected the garlic drying in the pole barn rafters - a little under two pounds, about twice last year's harvest:

A total of just over 15 pounds for the week:

I was beginning to worry about the pepper harvest.  I plan to make one more batch of salsa and some chili powder.  But with the rainy mild weather we've been having I was concerned that the peppers may not ripen.  Well now the Marconi, Bullhorn and Ancho peppers are developing a bright red color, and the Joe Parker chilis are showing some red.  The sweet peppers will be grilled, deskinned and deseeded for the next batch of salsa.  I've found that mixing sweet pepper pulp into the tomato base makes a fine salsa. There are even a few bright red serranos on the tallest plant.  More tomatoes should be ready in a few days:

I found a black swallow tail caterpillar on the parnip.  If it was on the parsley I would have picked it off, but decided to leave it on this plant.  How much can it eat?  And they are a terrific butterfly, beautiful coloration and a strong flyer.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday August 11, 2014

Again another very productive week from the beds.  No surprise, it's August, but this is an exceptional year.  The mild temperatures have slowed some of the hot weather vegetables but everything else has more than taken up the slack.  A few Silver Queen okra are starting to develop, as shown here with the ubiquitous summer squash:

The summer squash plant hit a new peak this week, over 8 pounds of squash.  I grated up a good bit of it and put two cup portions into freezer bags.  I don't have the equipement to blanch/steam the grated squash so I'll probably need to use it in the next few months.  As if I didn't have enough squash someone left two yellow crooknecks on my front porch.  You'd think they could leave a calling card so I can return the favor.  Squash dumpers!

Also lots more beans.  Roma II, Provider and Fortex left to right in the picture.  The Tribute strawberries I planted this spring are bearing enough to provide a nice snack a few times a week, and they are delicious.  I didn't expect much the first year so this is a nice bonus.

More beans, squash and a few carrots.  Nearly 6 pounds of beans were picked:

Tomatoes early in the week:
I picked the first Marconi sweet peppers on Saturday, as well as Jalapeno and Serrano peppers.  The Diva cucumbers are showing signs of disease pressure.  The blemishes are only skin deep however:

With the tomatoes picked earlier I had the makings for a batch of salsa.  I canned 7 pints with an additional pint for the refrigerator.  I've got to say, canning salsa is a LOT of work - deskinning tomatoes, blending, fine chopping onions, peppers, parsley, cilantro (and somewhat painful when dicing the Serranos) then the final boil in the jars. It helps to have a very sharp knife.

And of course the potatoes, shown in the previous post - 27 and 1/2 pounds.  Combined with the Irish Cobblers dug up last week I got nearly 40 pounds of potatoes this year, not quite as much as last year.

All in all a good week, 54 pounds out of the garden, and 193 pounds for the year so far.  To see what other people are growing head on over to


Friday, August 8, 2014

Time to harvest potatoes

So when should a plant, or part of a plant be removed?  Is a leaf that is faded, yellow or showing signs of disease actually doing photosynthesis anymore?  Or is it really doing nothing but shading parts of the plant that are actually working and incubating microorganisms that will spread to other plants?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I think that a leaf that is not a healthy green is probably not doing much to contribute energy to the plant.

I went through the squash patch and removed any foliage I thought was useless.  No point in giving squash bugs more cover or shading out new growth.

After a rain shower last night this morning seemed like a good time to harvest the Red Pontiac potatoes.  I feel like the decontruction process has begun, and it wasn't that long ago that I was building up structures for the plants.  The potato foliage was mostly infected with fungi and there was no sign of any new growth - there was no point in waiting any longer. 

I devised a plan of sorts.  Cut off the stems a few inches above the soil, rake up and remove the several inches of shredded leaves covering the bed and put it all in the compost bin.  Then pull up the potatoes.  I tried raking up the leaves but some of the spuds were just below the leaves and I was concerned they would be damaged by the rake. 

So I set about pulling the potatoes up, grasping the stems and tugging gently.  This method worked well with the row of Irish Cobblers a few weeks ago and it worked well with these potatoes.  It looks like the leaf mold makes a fine potato mulch, blocking nearly all the light and keeping the soil underneath nice and friable.

Once I had removed as many potatoes as possible by hand I proceeded to rake up the leaf mold and take it to the compost bin.  Soon I'll start a new compost pile and try to encourage this pile to finish out before it gets cold.  Then I can amend some beds before winter.

I was able to get about three-fourths of the potatoes by hand.  To get the remaining potatoes the soil was turned over with a spade.  It's actually much easier to spade over when most of the potatoes have already been taken out, and no spud was sliced by the shovel.  Here's the haul, 27 and 1/2 pounds.  Some of the potatoes are well over a pound. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday August 4

All in all, it was a very productive week from the vegetable beds.  The pace looks to be well ahead of last year.   This was a diverse harvest.  Of course there was a lot of summer squash.  Did I say that squash production was slowing down?  The lone plant (Cocozelle) was just taking a breather.  I've cut off excess leaves, but the squash, they just keep on coming in.  What I like about this variety, in addition to it's good flavor (for a summer squash) is it stays tender even when it gets large, as when I miss a day.  No pics of squash, there's really no point. 

The peppers have been slow to mature this year with the mild summer temperatures.  Last week I picked enough Jalapenos and Serranos to make a batch of salsa, using the Pompeii sauce tomatoes.  I hot canned 4 pints and set another pint in the refrigerator.  This time it was judged sufficiently hot - the Serranos bump up the heat a notch or two.
A few days later I found a tomato hornworm on the Serrano plant.  It seems like these caterpillars spring into life fully formed, and there they are as big as your finger busily defoliating the pepper plant.  I picked that one, tossed it into the pond, then two days later found ANOTHER one on the same plant.  It too went into the pond.  At this point the Serrano plant is more than half defoliated.  Looks like I'll have to buy some hot peppers.

The first eggplant was harvested.

More tomatoes, for the next batch of salsa:

More beans.  The long beans are Fortex. Provider beans are in the lower left and Roma II beans upper left.  I mentioned in an earlier post that the Provider beans, a bush bean, are from plants that had already had a flush of production then stopped, which is usually when I pull them up.  They are producing another flush of beans, which is a real bonus.

The Ruby Ring onions had been sun-drying for about two weeks and looked ready to store.  The tops were cut off and here they are before they were put in mesh bags.  The harvest totalled just over 19 pounds, a bit less than last year but considering that only half as much area was planted in  these onions I'm pleased with the results.  Combined with the four rows of Red Tropea onions the onion harvest is over 24 pounds.

This year I planted them a bit closer together.  Although there are no really large onions they are more consistent in size this year, what I think of as a medium sized onion.  Of all the onions I found only two with any defects at all.  They are all hard as rocks and should keep very well.

The total for the week is just over 40 pounds. 

To see what other people are growing head on over to