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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Monday April 3

Well it's about time.  This weekend I picked some overwintered lettuce.  I was a little concerned that it would be strong tasting but it is fine, and much better than lettuce from the store.  The hard freeze in mid-March set it back some but it seems to have recovered fine.

There's going to be lots of spinach.  This is just the start.  I'll have to either give some away or attempt to freeze it. 

The lettuce in the coldframe is coming along but it's going to be at least a week before it's ready to pick.  The onions and brassicas are about ready for transplanting.  I may do that today if the rains hold off a bit.

Now that the strawberries are out of the perennial garden, replaced by a rhubarb plant, there's room for more herbs.  Anise hyssop, French tarragon and rosemary were added.  The Greek oregano plant was pulled out and replaced with another plant, this time 'hot and spicy' oregano.  Actually I thought I was getting Greek oregano.  Should have checked the label.  At any rate it smells like the same thing.  Parsley was planted near the rhubarb, but as the rhubarb grows the parsley will likely need to be planted somewhere else next year.  And the thyme took a severe hit from the hard freeze a few weeks ago.  It's just not coming back and will probably have to be replaced. 

Lastly I put Earliglow strawberry plants in the pallet planter.  These are June bearers.  I tried the everbearing type for a few years and found that they bore most of their crop in June.  After that the berries came in at a trickle, were poor quality, and the birds got most of them.   Another case where something sounds better than it actually is.

To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to