Thursday, August 23, 2018

Japanese Honeysuckle, or The Invasive from Hell

I haven't posted much lately since there hasn't been much reason to post.  Tomatoes succumbed to blight, a product of the sustained wet, overcast weather, and they have all been removed.  It's also been a bad year for snap beans.  First rabbits, then Japanese beetles, then lately bean beetles, have all taken their toll.  I've been working on the lot adjacent to my property, and one project is the suppression of the Japanese honeysuckle which has taken over a large area across the pond, where it forms a dense mat that has crowded out nearly everything else.  In this picture, some of the honeysuckle is dying or dead from applications of glyphosate.

If it was just another weed I really wouldn't care.  When I moved here 10 years ago the lot was an overgrown pasture, with weeds taller than I am, with some saplings growing among the weeds.  Since then the trees have established themselves on most of the lot and many of them have reached a nice size.  But where the honeysuckle has taken over the trees are small and stunted looking.

Japanese honeysuckle will circle around a small tree and literally strangle it.  The vines are very tough and prevent the tree from growing.  The vines were embedded in the trunk of this small dogwood.  I removed them but I don't think it will make it, the damage is too great and the leaves are looking droopy.

The first thing I did was remove any dead trees or saplings that looked like they had no chance of making it.  I cut down the trees with a chain saw or loppers, then tried to pull out as much honeysuckle as I could along with the tree.  Fortunately the vine uproots well, at least the smaller ones.

The next step was to pick the trees that looked like they could be saved and clear them of the vines.  Then I lopped off the lower branches so the vines would not have an easy way up, and pulled up as much honeysuckle as I could around the tree, which is hard work, to say the least.

The next step was to spray glyphosate (Roundup) on the areas that I had cleared.  I used a generic product which does not have any additional chemicals, since I want to avoid any residual effects.  Glyphosate itself is derived from the amino acid glycine, and it decomposes quickly upon exposure to air and sunlight.  After the initial clearing around the trees I kept expanding the area to be cleared, once I realized that the best approach was to kill as much of the honeysuckle as possible.  In this photo there is still a lot of honeysuckle that is not quite dead.

When at least some of the honeysuckle has been pulled up, the remaining vines died quickly from the glyphosate.  Sprays have been less effective on healthy plants that weren't assualted.  Yesterday I went over the area with a brush cutter to knock the remaining vines back some more. The mats of dead vines also present a fire hazard in dry weather, and I've been taking large balls of uprooted vines to a burn spot and burning them.

This is the view from the deck at the area that's been cleared, cut and sprayed.  Next week I plan to make one more application of glyphosate, then in a few weeks I will dig up some saplings from the woods next to my house and transplant them into this area.  The best weapon against this plant is shade.  Once the trees are large enough to throw some shade, growth of the honeysuckle is slowed substantially.  Until then, it's a battle.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Monday August 6

A lot of plants aren't doing so great this year, like green beans.  Between the rabbits and the Japanese beetles, the beans are having a rough go of it.  But the Green Tiger zucchini is doing great, in fact I've had to throw a few oversize squash into the compost bin.  Just can't keep up, and it's only one plant.  Eggplant and okra aren't all that healthy this year, but I'm still getting enough to make an omelette every few days.  Eggplant in eggs.  Who knew?

This area got 3 to 4 days of rain/drizzle/cloudy weather, and blight spread through the tomatoes like wild fire.  I removed the Big Beef and Granny Smith (no great loss) tomato plants and trimmed the rest aggressively.  Even the Mountain Magic and Plum Regal plants, which are blight resistant, look bad.  I don't know how much longer tomatoes will be available.

Today I made the second batch of salsa this year.  I picked about 15 pounds of Plum Regal and Health Kick tomatoes.  The Plum Regal seem like they never want to ripen, and they retain a substantial green core that has to be dug out, or more accurately, I prefer to dig out, since I'm picky about my salsa.  I prefer the Health Kick tomatoes for flavor and quality, and they don't seem to have blight any worse than the Plum Regal.

The sweet peppers, Carmen and Senise, were roasted on the grill for the salsa.  After removing the skin and seeds, the peppers are blended into the tomato base.

Heat came from Bulgarian Carrot and Chenzo peppers.  I used more this time, as the last batch was deemed insufficiently hot.  The Bulgarian Carrot peppers have a fantastic flavor if I can get past the heat.  The one knock on them is that they have a tough skin.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Monday July 30

Harvests of okra, eggplant and beans have been trickling in.  I usually eat the small Mountain Magic tomatoes on the spot so they never get their picture taken.  What I'm showing here are the ingredients for a batch of salsa.  First, about 9 pounds of Health Kick sauce tomatoes.  I'm really liking these tomatoes, they are productive and early.

That's not enough tomatoes to make 7 pints of salsa, what my canner will hold, so I picked about 5 pounds of Big Beef tomatoes.  I probably won't grow Big Beef next year.  It has excellent flavor, but the variety seems more susceptible than most to blight, always a problem here.

I like to fire-roast sweet peppers and add the pulp to the salsa.  These are Carmen on the right and a new variety for me, Italian Senise peppers.  I got the plants at May's greenhouse in Bloomington.  It's a very productive pepper and I like it a lot.

Finally, time to bring on the heat.  The small red peppers are Chenzo, the orange peppers are Bulgarian Carrot.  The Chenzo peppers are supposed to come in at 50,000 Scoville units, and I'm not going to test that rating out.  The Bulgarian Carrot is supposed to be a bit milder, but still much hotter than a Jalapeno.  I approached this cautiously, not wanting to make the salsa overly hot, but I think it could have been a little hotter.  Next time I'll add more heat.

The Chenzo plants would do well in a pot.  They are very ornamental, with small leaves, purple stems and a compact shape.  I'll have to try overwintering the plant indoors.  To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Digging up the potatoes

Last year I did not grow potatoes.  The rodents had chewed up so many of them the year before that it seemed wise to take a break from growing them.  I grew sweet corn instead, which I'm not growing this year.  Sweet corn is a pain, and I can buy good sweet corn anywhere around here. 

I planted the potatoes at one end of the squash bed.  Not much, just two rows of Red Pontiac and one row of Kennebec.   I probably could have left them grow another week, but the winter squash is demanding more space, and anyway I was worred that if the voles were active then they would do more damage than the potatoes would grow in that time.

After they were dug up and put in buckets the ground was lightly hoed and raked.  I wasn't real fussy because the squash were going to be trained over this patch of ground.  It looks like the squash are chomping at the bit to expand territory.  In fact I had to pull vines off the potatoes before digging them up.  It's looking like it will be a fantastic year for winter squash.

I attached a trellis to the two corner posts and carefully laid the squash vines over the ground.  They look a little ragged because their stems have been turned but in a week's time they should completely cover this area. 

As for the potatoes - no rodent damage!  These are some of the nicest potatoes I've ever grown.  The Kennebecs weighed 13 pounds.  Assuming that the Red Pontiacs weighed at least twice that much, I call it a 40 pound potato harvest.  Can't wait to make a green bean and potato stew.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday July 16

Harvests are definitely picking up here.  The Green Tiger zucchini finally made a squash that did not rot, and once the first one was ready they just kept coming.  The zucchini, eggplant and okra went into a stir fry, also the Health Kick sauce tomato.  This is the first time growing this tomato, and it's a winner, productive, tasty, and early.

A few days later, another squash, another Health Kick tomato, a Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper and a few Provider bush beans.

Later in the week I pulled up the onions and put them on a screen to dry.  Most of the onions are Pontiac, a storage onion from Johnny's, with a few Ruby Ring and red cippolini onions.  The Ruby Ring seed was 4 years old, proven that onion seed can last a while if kept in the refrigerator.   The onions are small this year.  Normally I would expect 25 pounds of onion from a 4' x 6' patch, but I doubt if there is half of that amount this year.

Over the weekend, more cucumbers.  They look like they are about done from fungal disease, but still keep sending new shoots and producing a few more cucumbers.  I think cucumbers are the most variable producers of any vegetable, you never know if it will be a glut or nothing from one year to the next.  Also, another zucchini.  Time to grate and freeze.

Sunday, at long last, a nice picking of Provider bush beans, over a pound.  The pole beans are not looking good this year.  After the initial decimation by the rabbits, I had to buy Kentucky Wonder beans off the rack at the lumber store to replace the Fortex beans that were lost to the bunnies, and they just aren't doing that well.  It looks like the bean production will come mostly from planting of bush beans.

To see what other growers are getting out of their gardens, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday July 9

Despite the poor weather at the start of the season, it's shaping up to be a good year for summer crops.  Tomatoes and peppers are looking great, as well as the winter squash.  After harvesting the last broccoli and cabbage, I decided to pull up the two remaining cauliflower, even though they will be ready in about 10 days.  I need that space for shell beans. 

Speaking of beans, the first Musica pole beans were picked a few days ago.  It's unusual to get pole beans before the first bush beans but these beans were from a few plants that were not eaten by the rabbits.  The remaining beans are all from a second planting, and the first Provider bush beans should be ready for planting later this week.  There's also more Vertina picklers and the first tomatoes - Mountain Magic.  I've been pulling up the red cippolini onions on an as needed basis, and this one was needed for some green bean stew.

Yesterday I picked another Swing slicer and a Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper.  The pepper plants are loaded with peppers this year.  I'm really liking this cucumber, it's as good as Diva, and very healthy.  The pickling cucumbers, sad to say, don't look like they are going to last much longer. 

The beets were pulled up.  They look pretty lame, but I'll try them on the grill.  At least the cage over the bed kept the bunnies from getting them.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Monday July 2

A bit more this week.  Garlic is out and drying in the pole barn.   In its place I seeded another Green Tiger summer squash.  I still haven't gotten the first summer squash from the plant that was seeded in May.  Most summer squash don't last the season, and I like to plant a new one every month or so. 

Late last week I harvested more cucumbers, both picklers and a slicer,  the first eggplant and a few okra.

Still no beans, as the rabbits leveled the first seeding.  They have been a real problem this year, and are still nibbling on the beans in spite of Neem oil sprays.  Since they also got the lettuce in the Earthbox, I raised the stand about a foot and a half above ground level.  Then I seeded okra at each end of the Earthbox.  It's Jambalya, a smallish okra that should do well in a container.  Now let's see them reach that.

The last of the cabbage was picked over the weekend, Point One and Gonzalez.  Also a small head of broccoli.  I had my first success with making sauerkraut and I'll make another batch from this cabbage.  Until this my fermenting attempts have always failed, even after adding starter culture.  This time I added some yogurt water and the cabbage started bubbling the first day.  It's delicious, very sour with a fresh cabbage taste.  I never knew what I was missing.

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

Monday, June 25, 2018


Most of the summer crops are still in a holding pattern, but I did get cucumbers.  Last week I picked enough Vertina picklers to make a jar of refrigerator pickles.  There's enough volunteer dill in the beds, maybe too much, to make lots of pickles as long as the vines stay healthy.  I used fresh dill, including the flower, dill seeds, mustard seeds, coriander and peppercorns in a 50/50 mix of Bragg's vinegar and water, with some salt.  Refrigerator pickles are quick and easy, and they are always good and crunchy.

Later in the week I picked the first slicing cucumber, Swing.  This is the first time I've grown it, having grown Diva for years.  Like Diva, it's an all female cucumber, very robust and disease resistant.  It's got good flavor too, a winner for sure.  There happened to be a bottle of beer nearby and I set it next to the cuke for a size comparison.

Not shown are two small heads of Gonzalez cabbage, which were shredded for sauerkraut.  It's been bubbling away for almost a week and appears to be about ready.  This may be my first successful fermentation, keeping my fingers crossed.  To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Emerald ash borer

There are a lot of ash trees on my property and I've always been concerned that the emerald ash borer would reach this area.  A few years ago I read that it was identified in Morgan-Monroe state forest, about 25 miles from here.  I had hoped that it would take it a while to make the jump over farmland to this area, which is about 50% forested.  Maybe I just haven't noticed the damage, but recently it became very evident.  It's here.

There are two kinds of ash trees around my house.  A large white ash tree grows between the house and the pond.  The rest of the ash trees are green ash, a smaller ash tree that is definitely another species (I compared the leaves and twigs a few years ago and there are, even to my eye, obvious differences).  To me, the green ash is the perfect yard tree, nice shape, not messy, and it doesn't get as large as the white ash.  This one, about 40 feet tall, is in the driveway circle.

These trees are also in a buffer area between the yard and the woods, an area that I mow with a brush cutter about once a month.  Four of the five trees are green ash.  There are several more small to medium ash trees growing at the edge of the woods.

Three of these trees look fairly healthy, although I have no doubt that they have already been infested.  One of the trees is near its end.  The crown is nearly barren, there is woodpecker damage to the bark everywhere, and the base of the tree is sending up shoots because its vascular system is too damaged to move nutrients higher in the tree.

A closer look shows the bark stripped off by woodpeckers trying to get at the borers, and the telltale D-shaped exit hole where the adult beetle emerges from the tree.

Yesterday I cut down a green ash that was a few feet in the woods.  It took all day to fell it, carefully remove the poison ivy from the trunk, remove the limbs, cut it up into logs, then split, move and stack the logs.  On the positive side I got a face cord of wood from one tree, which I will burn this winter.  The adults have already emerged from the trees and larva are actively feeding in the phloem at this time, so cutting the trees should kill most of the larva.  I expect to cut several more trees in the coming week, including the one in the photo above. 

The tree that really worries me is the large white ash behind the house.  It's over two feet in diameter and felling it is beyond my capabilities, so I'm looking at some expense here.  Still it looks healthy so far.  It's thicker bark may slow the beetles somewhat.  I've read that treatments are effective but a tree must be re-treated every year.  I'm leaning more toward removal, since there is a very nice black gum tree just a few feet from this ash, which is on the left in this picture.  Before this tree can be dropped, I will have to remove the raised bed frames.  A winter job for sure.

It's a shame this had to happen, but it's something that looked inevitable, a matter of when not if.  The woodlot has a number of American elms growing in it.  They get large enough to reproduce, but never survive to any size, another iconic tree, along with the chestnut,  that's been mostly lost to an imported biological agent.  Asian ashes have evolved mechanisms to fight off the borer, and one can only hope that a few resistant trees will survive and reproduce here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday June 18

It seems like this area went from winter to summer without stopping for spring.  Yesterday I was reading an article in the Bloomington paper that noted that April was the 3rd coldest April on record while May was the hottest May on record.  That's quite an abrupt transition.  It's been a real heat wave for several days.  I took this picture at sunset on Saturday evening, while it was still nearly 90 degrees.  The sky was mostly cloudless but this one cloud boiled up like a storm cloud. Nothing ever came of it.

The weather has had it's effect on the vegetable garden for sure.  I usually begin harvesting cole crops in May, but this year I picked the first cabbage a week ago.  The cutworms did not help in that regard.  Yesterday I picked the first broccoli and kohlrabi.  The kohlrabi should have been picked earlier.   

At least the summer crops are moving right along.  This slicing cucumber should be ready in a few days, and it looks like enough pickling cucumbers will be ready shortly to make a quart of refrigerator pickles. 

An unidentified bug has been attacking the cucumbers and causing the growing tips to turn brown.  Fortunately the plants are healthy enough to start new vines and I'm hoping the bugs can be kept under control.  The first Japanese beetles appeared yesterday.  I was hoping that the hard winter had killed most of them, but they seem to be abundant. 

The tomatoes are looking good, with no sign of disease to this point.  I planted two determinate sauce tomatoes - Health Kick and Plum Regal.  I didn't think a tomato could be more vigorous than Plum Regal but Health Kick is actually setting more tomatoes. 

To see what other growers are harvesting, head on over to have a look.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Pest control and prevention

Early in the growing season, it's critical to establish some sort of spraying program to control insects and fungal infestations.   Cultural methods for protection - rotation, removal of debris, pruning - are also critical and something that is done year 'round, but that is for another post.  Here are the chemicals that I use that I consider safe when used properly and get the job done.  

Thuricide, or Bt, is a bacterium that targets caterpillars only.  I've found it to be the best control of the cabbage worm.  I also spray it on the stems of squash plants to prevent the vine borer, which is a moth. Once a caterpillar comes into contact with Bt it stops feeding and dies within a day or two.  The cabbage worms had already done some damage to the cole crops by the time I sprayed them with Bt, but I haven't seen any further damage.  I just try to avoid using it on a brassica shortly before harvest.

The first sets of brassicas that I planted were mowed down by the cutworms.  That's another control that I will have to develop next year.  I've read that Bt sprayed on corn flakes around the base of the plants will stop them but haven't tried that yet.

Last year my two apple trees were beset by some sort of scale and aphids at the same time.  I found that a combination of insecticidal soap and Neem extract was very effective in killing them, or any small soft-bodied insect such as thrips.  I use 2.5 oz of soap and 1 oz of Neem per gallon of water, first adding the soap since it helps disperse the oil.  The soap kills by dessicating, or sucking the water out of the insect, while the Neem disrupts cell membranes.  It may not kill a full grown squash bug but it will make them come to the top of the leaf where they can be picked off.   As an added bonus, I've found that Neem is effective in controlling powdery mildew on squash.

I noticed that a commercial maker of pesticides is using the same combination, with added pyrethrins, as an organic insecticide.  I tried adding some pyrethrins to the first mix that I prepared and can say that it is deadly to flea beetles, but the pyrethrins may not have been necessary.  It's important to avoid pyrethrins in the morning when bees are about.   I also used this combination on the cucumber vines which were under attack by a bug that looks like a squash bug but has a harder shell (bugs are actually an insect family that has mouthparts that penetrate a leaf and suck the juices from the plant).  It killed the bugs but I'm concerned that they may have already transferred a fungus or bacterium into the plants.  The growing tips look bad.

The newest addition for fungal control is Liqui-Cop, for liquid copper.   This is basically copper in a chemical form that is soluble in water, specifically copper diammonia diacetate complex, which sounds more exotic than it is.  An alternative soluble copper is copper octanoate, or copper soap, which is found at Lowe's.  I went with the Liqui-Cop, which I bought online, because it appears to be more effective.  It's easy to mix and use.   At a copper equivalent of 8%, the amount of copper in a gallon of mix at 4 teaspoons per gallon is actually very small.

The Liqui-Cop is mainly for the tomatoes, where it is supposed to be effective against bacterial spot, bacterial speck, early blight and late blight.  As a preventive I have been spraying the tomatoes weekly, as well as the cucumbers, raspberries, and potatoes.  So far the tomatoes look good, about 4 feet tall, but it's really too early to tell if it works.

One pesticide not shown is a deer and rabbit repellent.  The bunnies have been a real problem this year.  They ate most of the bean seedlings, some of the carrots, then got into the Earthbox and ate the lettuce.  I reseeded the beans and once up, applied the repellent.  The first ingredient is putrefied egg whites, and it smells kind of bad.  It seems to work though and may keep them off the beans until they are big enough to be unpalatable. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

New developments

Well, it's official.  I bought the property adjacent to mine.  The guy who wanted to put in three trailers on the lot put it up for sale after losing his petition for a zoning variance.  I felt I had to do something to protect my pond, since a part of the pond lies in the adjoining lot.  If a new owner was to graze horses or cattle close to the pond, or even worse, allow animals to access the pond, it would be infested with slimy algae. The yellow tape marks the old property line.

Now I'm waiting on a survey to divide the property.  I'm keeping only a hundred feet swath that adjoins my property while my neighbor on the other side of the lot will buy the remainder from me.  I am in the process of clearing the corner so I can put in some more garden and also some fruit trees.  The garden will grow squash and sweet corn.  I'll buy a gas powered pump for watering.  Once this area is cleared I'll lay down a sheet mulch to get it ready for next year.

The lot has been in the procession of succession from pasture to woods since I moved here ten years ago.  It's probably about 3/4 tulip poplar, with some oak, maple, cherry, walnut and other more desirable trees making up the remainder.  I plan to selectively remove many of the tulip poplar, which is almost a weed in my view, to make room for the other trees.

It's hard to believe that the garden is mostly in.  It's hard to remember if we even had a spring, and it's certainly summer now.  About a week ago I dug up the two beds that get solanacae.  The beds had a cover crop of oats and field peas that was seeded in March.  The ground was nice and loamy, easy to turn over.

The roots of the field peas were covered with nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

After turning over with a shovel the beds were tilled with the little mini-cultivator.  I hope the day comes when this isn't necessary, but there are still some clods of clay in the soil that need breaking up.  The tomato cages were installed on fence posts and the tomato seedlings were set in, along with peppers and eggplant.  Fast forward to now, and they are  looking pretty good.

While the indeterminate tomatoes are grown in narrow 16 inch cages that are 5 feet tall, actually taller because they are hung on the fence posts a foot above the ground, the determinate sauce tomatoes are grown in wide 22 inch cages that are 4 feet tall.  The unplanted spaces will get Bride eggplant, which germinated a week later than the other eggplant and isn't quite ready to be put into the bed.

After losing most of the brassicas to cutworms, the last set of seedlings escaped their onslaught.  Maybe the repeated sprays of Bt got the little devils.  Better late than never.  Since the remainder of this bed will not get brassicas, I seeded bush beans and carrots in the open space.

Cucumbers were set out.  There's one Swing cucumber, a new one for me, for slicing, and four pickling cucumbers, Calypso and Vertina.  The cutworms got many of the onions as well but they have recovered much better than the cole crops.

The big bed also had a cover of oats and peas.  I tilled up small patches and seeded squash in each patch.  There's a pole bean trellis in back.  The squash should have no problem growing over the top of the cover crop, which will wilt in the summer's heat.

While I was finishing up the garden work last weekend, the neighbor's son stopped by and did some fishing. He got several nice bass.

The robins made a nest in the strawberry planter, and every time I walk out to the garden she flies off in a commotion.  Guess we will have to co-exist.

And the front of the house is still a work in progress, with new edging around the flower beds waiting on when I get the time.  I had hoped to have this finished last fall, then broke my foot.  I was amazed that all the plants returned after the trampling some of them got while the porch was being rebuilt.  The rhododendron, which has never looked healthy, will be removed, after it has flowered of course, and replaced with a shade-tolerant hydrangea.  As a final touch I'm refinishing the cedar rocking chair which will take its rightful place on the porch.