Sunday, June 26, 2016

June Is Boring

Quick Question:  Will 2 packs of lettuce feed two people?   Mmmm.. yep.
These are now mostly ornamental.  Zucchini and weed potatoes in the background.
June in the garden is boring. Really it is.  All I have to do is weed and water. It has been exceptionally hot and dry so there has been a lot of watering and not much weeding.

We've eaten strawberries and lettuce until we are tired of strawberries and lettuce.  But of course there is a lot more lettuce.  Rows and rows of lettuce.  It is so cheap and they put so many seeds in a packet a person could easily go over board on lettuce. cucumber trellis gets two thumbs up
 The first planting of cucumbers is beginning to bloom and still no sign of the cucumber beetles.  I'm really tired of cucumber beetles since they killed the cantaloupes last year so good riddance.

The second planting of cucumbers is seeded

The pepper bed is thriving

Tomatoes are doing well.
I planted bush beans along them and those are just popping up today,
Cherry tomatoes are setting fruit

I only did potatoes in containers this year.
They appear to be a success,

And because June is so boring we've planted other things to take care of.
A whiskey barrel and the useless wheel barrow has replaced our dying birch tree.

We got tired of taking care of the perennials on two sides of the house so we dug them out and found them a new home.  Then we replaced them with six hundred ground cover plants.  That was a long day.  But they look very nice and we will not have to mulch around them or dead-head them or cut them back in the fall.

So that's about it.  Weed and water.  Lots of watering....

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Settling the Score

Cat: 2
Traps: 2
Chipmunks: ZERO

As my long-term followers know, Chipmunks and Beetles are my arch enemies.  My husband is particularly good at killing Chippies.  And I have a long history of Chippy-angst.  Usually we can get them by setting rat traps along the foundation where they run, unbaited, catching them unaware.  If we can kill as many as 6 Chipmunks within a week, then we are blessed with more than our fair share and some need to go.  And over the years we have had high head counts on more than one occasion.  Well, they're back.

We have been in all out war with them for several weeks.  They're everywhere!  In the strawberry cages, under the rail road ties, up in the vinyl siding corners, digging in the landscape.  We've identified most of their holes and are in the process of foaming them up.  Whenever I find a hole, I tape it up or put a brick over it to cut off their escape routes and funnel them into our traps which we set around blind corners.

Even the cat has finally gotten into the act.  Mitey Mite is 16 years old and hasn't caught anything in over 10 years.  But this year we have so many darn Chipmunks that two of them have accidentally run around the corner and smack into her face.  At least that's what we guess happened since her hunting skills since her two miraculous catches have been very disappointing.  Very disappointing indeed.  The Chipmunk can be 3 feet from her looking at her and we can be pointing and she will be looking at us.

Us:  "Mitey!  Chippy!"
Mitey:  "Huh?"

And then the Chippy will "CHIP!" and run and Mitey will run right to where she saw it last.  And her eyes aren't all that good.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


So it worked.  I grew Strawberries.  Not that is any great accomplishment, I've grown Strawberries before.  It's just that sometimes it seems like you are chasing an impossible dream.  Sure things are growing.  You have more lettuce than you know what to do with and the tomatoes are making progress but the things you've got your heart set Cantaloupes....are looking like a failure.  Again.  Even after all these years I wait in suspense to see how things will turn out.  Because despite the fact that I've proven I can pretty much grow and store a year's supply of fruits and vegetables, I always suspect crop failure may be lurking on the horizon.

When we chose the spot for the strawberry bed,
  Tim thought up some excellent cages
to protect them from rabbits and deer.

I used to have a nice strawberry bed.  For two or three years I picked strawberries until they lost their allure.  I froze strawberries and made jam and bread and honestly got a bit tired of strawberries.  The crop doesn't always arrive when picking and storing is convenient.  But then for two years it quit on me. The plants burned out.  I didn't get a handful of berries.  I got frustrated.  I began to long for gallons of strawberries, more strawberries than I would know what to do with.  An excess of strawberries.  Enough strawberries to be ... well...inconvenient,

So I formed "The Plan".  You know, the plan to grown the biggest, best, most of whatever you can't get enough of.  And it worked.  I bought new plants and I fed them super grow tonic (Blood Meal) and I battled the Chipmunks for the berries (how do those little fff-Suckers get into the berry cage?) and what I thought were slugs but turned out to be tiny little green centimeter worms (smaller than inch worms) that haven't been identified yet and which I do not yet know how to kill...

My strawberries can't wait to get out of strawberry jail

So strawberries are on the menu.  Unlike most everyone else, I am not really into strawberry short cake.  And strawberry jam, while delicious, is pretty easy to come by.  But what I AM really into is fresh strawberries on salads.  And strawberry vinaigrette.  And Tim is into strawberry bread.  Which really isn't bread.  Let's face it folks, any one who has made both cake and actual bread knows that strawberry/banana/zucchini "bread" is cake.  Really.  Its cake disguised as bread.  But I like cake.  And it freezes well, so that is good for long term strawberry storage

Source and Recipe
So why would someone with a blog about tomatoes prefer strawberries on salad?  It's hard to say.  But I do.  Tomatoes are great of course, but they need salt, I guess, and I truly do not feel that they add much to a garden salad.  But some Sungold cherry tomatoes and sliced cucumbers with Italian dressing and maybe some chick peas... now that's a good salad .  But my very favorite garden salad contains spinach, strawberries, mushrooms and garden peas.  With balsamic vinaigrette.  Even I find that combination a little curious.  But it's true.  If you want to be really bold, sprinkle some feta cheese on that.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette Source and Recipe

So it worked.  I grew strawberries.  And now I am going to enjoy my strawberries.  And hope the cantaloupes work out just as well.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Abandoning Your Garden

It seems to happen at least once a year.  Your garden plans are running along smoothly and then you have to leave town.  Whether its for work, or a family emergency or (gasp) a vacation  (Do gardeners take summer vacations?) you have to be away for a few days and leave your garden to survive on its own or entrust its care to a virtual stranger.  Heaven forbid it happen the week your first tomatoes are expected to ripen.  Here are some tips for abandoning your garden and not losing everything:

Make it simple: Most gardeners tend to scatter their plants around.  Besides the established garden you may have planters or hanging baskets out and about.  Don't make your caretaker wander around and find them because something may be missed.  And you don't want to make things so complicated that your helper won't want to help you out next time.  Move as many as you can to a centralized location where they will be protected from wildlife and within reach of a hose.  Place more difficult planters in partial shade so they are not stressed by the heat and irregular watering.  If you are looking for one more reason to put in a drip irrigation system, here it is.  But even those need to be checked on now and then.

Get everything into a central location and put
shade loving plants in a sheltered spot.
Putting everything safely in a fenced area will prevent your helper having
to deal with a big mess.  When the cats away, the mice will play!
Do it Now: Get as many plants into the ground or larger containers where they will not dry out as quickly.  If you are waiting to see if something will survive or not - just go ahead and kill it.  I always do plant euthanasia when I'm abandoning my garden or seed bed so my helper does not feel responsible for the death of a struggling plant.  Plus you don't want to waste their valuable time on a bunch of plants you are going to throw out next week.  If something is scraggly and you're thinking of pinching it back, now is a good time so it won't be accidentally broken off either while being moved to your central location, or accidentally while watering..

Sometimes seedlings will survive better in the ground but if you suspect
they may go into transplant shock, or if very hot dry weather is forecast, it may be best
to wait and keep them in a shady place where they will not need water rescue several times a day.

Wait for It:  Some things are better left until later.  For instance your war on bugs and slugs.  Don't expect your helper to come in the evening and set out a dozen trays of beer or first thing in the morning and flick beetles into soapy water for half an hour.  Sometimes there are transplants that need some coddling for the first few days.  Make sure you know the forecast, and wait to put those in the ground because it is unlikely someone will be around to water 3 times a day.  They may be better off set in the shade under a bench.  On the other hand, if the forecast is rain and over cast for the next few days, it may be your best opportunity to get them in while the weather is mild,

Putting out trays of beer is a very efficient way of trapping and killing slugs.
But if left unattended, they also attract raccoons.  You don't need a bunch of drunken raccoons
rampaging through your garden while you are away.
Leave a List:  Verbal instructions only get you so far.  As with everything else in life - get it in writing.  Make a list of any outlying plantings that need attention and can't be moved,  Write down the location of any crops that may need harvesting.  Don't just say "help yourself to zucchini" when what you really mean is "keep an eye on those buggers and don't let them grow to the size of caveman clubs"  On the other hand, some people have no self-control and cannot be given free rein.  Be specific about the harvest unless you are OK with the chance of coming home to every carrot being pulled or every basil plant shorn to the ground.

Label Things:  Leaving a detailed list will not be enough if your helper doesn't know the difference between a bean plant and a beet.  If your helper is not a gardener themselves, don't be surprised if they are not experts at plant identification.  Remember, there are people left in the world who do not know that potatoes grow underground or that asparagus turns into a fern.  I rarely take the time to label my garden anymore so all my nifty markers end up sitting in the shed.

Photo Source:  Gardener's Edge 
With a little planning and experience, you can prep your garden for some away.  Each time it happens you will figure out more clever tricks so your plants and your garden-sitter will be none the worse for the experience.  Be sure to send them home with a little something from the garden.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Strawberry Problem

Last spring I ordered two dozen Honeoye Strawberry plants.  I had pulled out the old ever bearing odds and ends.  I'd decided I'd rather have a mass of strawberries in June.  Or did I say a Mess of Strawberries?   The first year you should pinch off the blooms and runners so the plant can put more energy into establishing roots.  I did not.  I enjoyed the light crop of new berries.

The strawberry patch last August after Renovation
Last August, I "renovated" the bed which involves trimming back the foliage and runners and organizing what is left into neat rows.  I suppose at this point I should add that before I planted my new plants, I amended the bed with compost and blood meal.  

And now look.

The strawberry patch is literally bursting at the seams.
The plants are loaded with berries and they simply cannot contain themselves. 
I'm looking forward to seeing some red berries

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Start of Gardening "Summer"

At the end of May I try to strike a balance between taking my time and enjoying the process, and hurrying up so I don't have to wait forever for my results.  The plants have their own agenda.  I seeded 5 lettuce mixes.  The Johnny's Seed All Star Gourmet Lettuce Mix germinated almost immediately.  I already have two seedings weeks apart planted.  I had one whole flat of baby romaine refuse to sprout so I tossed the remaining seed packet and put the soil back in the tub.  I need willing participation from my plants.

Lettuce and Cucumbers  I'm trying
cucumber trellis instead of the vertical pea fence I usually use.
Two weeks ago we had snow and spent a day huddled around a brush fire trying to keep warm while we made progress on outside work.  Yesterday it was 92.7 degrees here in the shade and we were praying for rain.  We spent some time under a patio umbrella sipping tea and there was an occasional cool breeze but mostly there was sun and heat.  None of this week's forecast pop-up thunderstorms have materialized.  While we are enjoying the beautiful weather, the base soil in my raised beds is cracking and we desperately need rain.  I am already tired of watering and the plants know the difference.  They respond so much better to real rain than to fake rain. I don't know if it is the vibration, duration or chemical composition but they can tell the difference just as sure as I can tell between wine and grape juice.

We had retreated to the house and turned on the air conditioning when finally we heard it on the windows.  Big luscious drops of rain.  We opened the tops of the windows and hung out them peering at the sky and willing the clouds not to clear.  We got half an inch of rain which we desperately needed with the wind whipping from every direction at once.  At one point the seed tag flags we have on the top wire of the garden fence were pointing inwards at a sharp angle on all four sides which was just weird.  After the rain we had a summer-like sauna.  I went out and did my planned planted anyway because 80 degrees is better than 90.

My cucumbers, melons and zuchini are also bull-headed this year.  Out of several dozen pots I have half a dozen seedlings.  I bought a pack of Marketmore cucumbers just to give me a head start and I might try direct sowing more cantaloupes.  Thanks to yesterday's 90 degree weather and real rain I have a few more beginning to pop today.

My tomatoes are in gallon pots under the shade cloth on the right
 My new favorite veggie is bell peppers.  I eat several a week.  Mostly just sliced fresh with basil pesto hummus, but also in salads and omelettes.  I've planted most of one bed in just peppers with room for two over-flow tomato plants at the end.

I skipped the peas this spring and it its too early for bush beans so the only thing really left to do right now is to transplant my tomatoes.  Today I did an hour of sweaty work filling 9 Rubbermaid tubs with soil for the potatoes and wash tub planters.  I start with pure compost at the bottom as filler, top it with some complete fertilizer and put a thick layer of Moisture Control potting soil on the top to regulate moisture and provide nutrients.  I also filled four large planter pots for annuals on the decks.

Repotted Wizard Mix Coleus

I planned the contents of my planters over the winter, but two weeks ago I had an inspiration which changed my entire plan.  I'll show you when I get them potted up because I have a lot of plants still to buy.  But the main theme is Coleus.  I picked up 6 cell packs and repotted them in 4 inch pots to hold them.  It is nearly impossible to keep annuals in cell packs moist enough and they always get root bound.  By the time I get home in the evening they are dry and wilting.  I can get a 4 pack for $1.89 plus tax, or I could by larger specimens in 4 inch pots for $3.99.  But guess what?  Repotted with room to grow, in the weeks it takes me to get the pots ready and get time to put it together, the little guys will flourish and grow to the size they are selling in 4" pots. Only I've spent $1.89 not $15.96  o it pays to think ahead.

The herb corner is looking lush.  There are two young toads living in here.
I have yet to get pictures of them.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Flea Market Finds and more old marshmallows

It's Flea Market Season again!  We can go junk hunting out of doors in the sunshine!  Flea markets are a great place to gather inexpensive equipment for the garden.  I know a lot of people like to use flea market finds to decorate their gardens with repurposed furniture and windows and brightly painted junk.  Those folks have a Website and even an annual Publication.  But as I've mentioned, I don't like clutter for the sake of decorating in my garden.  So I use flea markets as a source for useful items.  I prefer these well worn antiques over shiney brite new items for a few reasons.
  1. They were very likely made in America
  2. They are very likely less expensive than new, store bought plastic versions
  3.  If they have lasted more than 50 years in good condition, it is very unlikely that I am going to wear them out.
  4.  I can scatter them all over the yard and they look like garden decor
Take for instance, old metal watering cans.  In all my gardening life I have never gone to the hardware store (or WalMart) and bought a new plastic watering can.  There are still some very well made metal watering cans out there but they are pricey.  I like the vintage galvanized look and I can usually find them for about $15-20.  I have half a dozen and I have them scattered all over.  I hate being on my way to work or dinner and seeing a pot that needs water rescue and having to put it off until I get back.  If I remember.  Having a full watering can nearby lets me rescue the plant and still be on time.  The last thing I do in the evening gardening routine is refill all the cans and place them back at their posts.

My favorite can has the best handle design
This rare little 1 gallon Savory can is
perfect for a spot with only one pot.
Old kitchen items are easy to find and cheap.  Measuring cups, funnels, scoops, scales.... they all have their place in my garden shed.  Measuring cups are useful for measuring soil amendments or solutions.  I put soapy water in mine and flick bad bugs into it.  I have a large, "Hoosier" style range shaker of salt for melting slugs.  If you needs to dust your plants with a powder, an old fashioned flour sifter works well.  Scoops are necessary for soil bins or spreading fertilizer or oyster shells and feed scoops are fairly easy to find.

You can never have too many old Pyrex or Anchor Hocking measuring cups.

This green and white kettle was the first one booted out to the garden
because the color really didn't fit in my collection
I collect cream and green granite ware.  And one thing I like about my collection is that there are a lot of useful pieces in it.  Preserving kettles, with their wire bale handles, make great weed pans.  They hold up to the weather and they are attractive. More so anyway than a plastic trug and they sure won't blow away.  Again, I have them placed strategically around the property.  It's nice to pull a weed and have a place nearby to drop it until I can take the time to haul a batch of them off for proper disposal.

Scales are important if  you want to quantify your
harvest or record the heaviest tomato of the year.
 Large grain sifters make short work of sifting compost.  I use mine to scoop right out of the pile and the shake it out over the wheel barrow and toss the larger pieces right back into the pile.  I have a smaller (modern) metal one that hangs on the side of the compost bin all summer, but for larger projects, the old grain sifter works much better in volume.

One thing you can find in abundance at flea markets or auctions are unique planters.  Wash tubs, pails, crates, chicken feeders.  A friend of ours has a greenhouse and she will plant flowers in just about anything.  One of her cutest planter ideas was a pair of children's boots.  Old chairs missing cane seats or wheel barrows are great for adding height or getting planters up and off a surface that you don't want to discolor with a dirty pot or constant dampness. You can buy reproduction wash tubs but Tim found my first set at an estate auction for $7 and the other was at an antique mall for less than $25.  Besides being planters, I leave one tub open to use as a sink for rinsing vegetables.

One open wash tub serves as a wash station in the middle of the garden
Anything you can drill a drain hole in can be turned into a planter.
Like this beat up old roaster
Because it has a lid, I have a matched pair.
It was too beat up to be "collectible" but perfect for the garden.

All you have to do is find the right size pot
Now about those old marshmallows...remember when I bought the old five pound Campfire Marshmallow tin at the local auction? I used it as the base of a winter centerpiece and now I've sort of begun to collect them.  I really like old advertising tins, but I've never really succumbed to collecting them until now.  There are plenty of brands of marshmallow tins out there but there is something about the red and white Campfire tin that I just love.  I picked up a second one last summer and then this weekend at the Automotive Flea Market:

It was a beautiful sunny day to spend at the big annual Automotive Flea Market.  I was specifically looking for a 1940-50s radiator filler water can.  You see I have those large pots with the "self watering" reservoir that has to be filled by a 2 inch spout.  Regular watering cans with sprinkler heads are about useless for that even with the sprinkler off, and I don't necessarily want to keep the pots within reach of the hose, so the goose neck of those old radiator fillers is just the ticket.

Meet "Radiator Charlie" named after the guy who developed the most popular
strain of Mortgage Lifter tomatoes.  Radiator Charlie still needs cosmetic work and another bath.
And some Bon Ami.
 So I was on a mission, but at the first stall right inside the gate I found something I didn't even know I wanted.  Didn't even know existed.  A mini, 12 ounce, Campfire marshmallow tin!  If there is anything more fun than collecting old junk, it's collecting old junk in miniature.  I picked it out of the pile and asked the Junk Man how much,

"Believe it or not thirty five dollars.  My wife doesn't want me to sell it."
Well, I guess not.  Even he sounded a bit skeptical about the price. I put it down and continued on my way, but I was stewing.  I had no intention of leaving that flea market without that can.  But 9:30 am on the first day of a flea market is not the best time for dickering.  Junk Men are holding out for a better price and hassling them early in the morning just makes them more stubborn and convinced they have a desirable item.  They don't get desperate for cash until after lunch with the prospect of packing up all the junk and taking it back home.  Since I'd never seen that size before I knew it was relatively rare and therefore, worth a little more than the common size in comparable condition.  But this was not exactly a retail situation.

Hours passed and we covered the miles.  I had been back by his stall hauling junk back to the truck so I knew it was still there.  All the time my approach was rolling over in the back of my mind.  Later in the afternoon, emboldened by a trip to the beer tent and other successful negotiations, I made my approach.

I knew how much I would pay ($25) and where I needed to start to get there.  You always have to start lower and do the math so when you and your opponent meet in the middle you will be at the price you want.  Every Junk Man has wiggle room on more valuable items and they expect to negotiate.  That's what flea markets are about,  I had my first offer in my right pocket, and my dickering money in my left pocket.  One rule of dickering is have your cash in exact change.  Never peel your smaller bills out of a roll of large bills.  That only insults - and causes cash regret - in your dickering opponent.

I swept up to the stall, scooped up my can and faced the junk man.  I just held it up and wiggled it a bit.
"Thirty five"  I could already tell he was on the defensive and back on his heels.
"Twenty.  I know your wife doesn't want you to sell it, but you brought it here to sell anyway."  I raised my eyebrows. "Didn't you?"
"OK Thirty".  I could see him squirm a bit uncomfortably and absolutely believed he was under orders regarding the dirty little ole tin can that he would happily part with if not for.....
"How many women do you think are walking around here wanting to buy an eighty year old empty marshmallow can?" I asked  "I'm your gal.  Twenty Five"
"You'd be surprised.... tell you what...."  He took the can from me and turned around.  Now I was in for a surprise.  He opened the side door of the old blue Chevy van that made up the back wall of his booth and stuck his head and the can inside.  I could see in the gloom, a figure slumped in an old aluminum folding chair.  Who in their right mind spends a lovely day like that shut in an old van?  The Junk Man himself was missing his top four front teeth so if he was keeping her hidden away she must be a real beaut.  I had not believed that he had plucked this can, with the oily dirty lid that was beginning to grow fur, off of his wife's treasure shelf right up until that point.  Now I did.
"Twenty Five for this?" he held the can out towards the gloomy slump.  A full ten second count elapsed before the slump uttered  "Yerrrsss."  The Junk Man and I exhaled.  She was willing to part with it,

I handed over my cash and claimed my prize.  The Junk Man, freed from the constraints and marital pressure of the pricey marshmallow tin, relaxed and smiled a toothless smile,   A successful day.  I got what I came for and found a rare treasure.  Now that I have three marshmallow tins it is officially a collection.  And therefore I must get more.  ... and ads for them, and the recipe booklet.  I will become a Campfire Marshmallow exs-purt. There are worse vices.