Sunday, August 2, 2020

Summer Burn-out

This summer has been a hot one.  Around our area in western NY the average July temperature is the mid to upper 70s.  That'd be around 25*C for those of you using celsius.  This year we are always in the high 80s (30*C).  That can increase your garden fatigue.  I usually begin next year's garden plan in August when I am tired and unusually realistic and sick of zucchini.  I started next year's plan mid-July!  This year's plan was pretty darn good, but it did create a glut of work now and then.  And that is what I try to avoid.

The garden still looks healthy and tidy and the daily and weekly chores are manageable, but I have reached to part of the growing season where I wonder "what was I thinking?!?"  This is the time of year when a lot of gardeners feel overwhelmed.  In my case, it is usually more about the food than the work.  And of course, like most of us, I planted a little extra.  I now have a virtually unlimited supply of cauliflower, zucchini, and cucumber.  Corn to follow.  Tomatoes are looking like a bumper crop (if they ever start to ripen).  Thank goodness we survived the onslaught of peas and lettuce!  

Pineapple Tomatoes

Besides mapping out next year's beds and making shopping lists for seeds, I keep a list of observational dos and don'ts:
  • Don't: plant more than six cucumber vines at a time.
  • Do: buy two gallons of fertilizer
You get the idea.  The Garden Plan tends to ebb and flow over the years.  You will have a disappointing year for something so next year you over compensate and plant too much.  A lot of this is driven by sloppy shopping.  So I am very specific when I draw up my layout and lists.  But I am sure I will buy SOMETHING that isn't in the plan.  And it will happen in January when my immunity to bad choices is most compromised by glossy catalogs.

Next year:

Fewer Cauliflower plants and only Flame Star (unless I find a source for Mulberry)
Its not so much that the bed was over-crowded, because it did fine, but we just don't use that many cauliflower.  I am tempted to leave them to grow as large as possible when I should be employing the same strategy as zucchini and picking them small.  The deep purple Graffiti cauliflower were a lot of fun to grow, but the orange Flame Star is still our favorite so I'll stick with that.

Cue Ball Zucchini

Only two Clue Ball summer squash and only two plants of that.
The "single serving" size of the round Cue Ball squash is perfect for me.  And the size of the slices are easy to flip on the grill.  So now I have all of this "extra" regular zucchini.  A person can only eat so many zoodles.  And I still have some shredded zucchini in the freezer from last year for making bread.

Two spare cucumber plants planted late at the end of the bean row
Will extend the season when the main rows burn out

Fewer slicing cucumbers and no pickling cucumbers.
A dozen pints of dill and a dozen pints of sweet just lasted us two years.  So when my pickling escapades are done for the season, we will have enough pickles to get us to 2022.  And each year I get better and better at growing slicing cucumbers and I'm going to have to learn to scale back production!  I could easily grow cukes by the bushel.  I used to be that way with bush beans but I've learned to moderate.

Try Pole Beans from a different source.
I still like the idea of having yellow and purple pole beans because I want to be able to see the beans against the foliage and have them more at eye level to avoid crouching down to pick.  But I still haven't found the right varieties.  I've tried before with Renee's Tri-color Pole Beans.  The vines were great but the beans themselves were ho-hum.  This year, I like the beans but the vines are absolutely pitiful.  I've tried them in a second bed hoping completely different growing conditions will do the trick, but if not, I will try the same varieties next year from a different source.  These came from Territorial and I don't have any history with them so it is possible the seeds aren't the very best.  I can get both Carminat and Monte Gusto from either Johnny's or Burpee's, and Johnny's and Burpee's seeds have never disappointed me yet. I like to try new sources as much as new varieties, but sometimes the old favorites are the best.

Things to remember when critiquing your garden during July Overwhelm:

Potatoes Flop Over
This is an ugly time of year for potato plants.  They inevitably flop over and turn brown, dying off as they complete their life cycle.  That's really hard to watch especially when they have been so beautiful up to now.  But it will be one less thing to water!  The grow bags were high maintenance through that hot dry period, and the Sweet Potatoes still are.

Tomatoes get bacterial disease
Certain varieties are more resistant, and containers are easier to keep healthy than in the ground, but there will come a day when your tomato plants will have to be pruned a bit.  This time the first to show signs is the store bought Pineapple plant.  Again- really hard to watch when they have been so beautiful up to now.

All good things come to an end (cauliflower)
It is hard to say good bye to a spring crop.  And these were so much fun to watch.  I am used to the dying back of pea plants, and I've even come to accept the aging of tomato and potatoes, but I am still coming to terms with the bare spots in my cauliflower bed.  I've found the best way to harvest cauliflower is with a large by-pass lopper tool.  I cut the plant down to the ground and remove it out into the open where I can lop it a second time to remove the head.

Sometimes a little Ugly is OK (Brussels Sprouts)
The Agfabric did a fine job of keeping the insects out of the cole crops.  But yes, now and then one does get through.  You just have to pay attention and pick them off before it gets too bad.  And fortunately I am finding the worms one or two at a time, not dozens at a time like last year.

But not everything is on its way out.  The Sweet Corn will be ready in a few days.
This is the bed of corn that blew down in the rain.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Mid-Summer Landscape Maintenance

The Tiger Lilies are done blooming, leaving 5 foot+ bare stems.  Option 1 is to go around with a pruner and prune out the stems.  Some years I do this mid-bloom and then again at the end.  Option 2 takes two people, and the same amount of time, but we use the KombiSystem power scythe and cut them to the ground.  In a couple of weeks they will be up 6 or more inches and be fresh and green again until frost.  At that point they are much easier to cut a second time because no stems.

That's quite a pile of foliage!  Something we don't want to waste.
Last fall we scored a new old chipper shredder and shredded all of our landscape waste.  Below is the composted result of that episode.  It spent the winter in a large drain tube cooking and for the past couple months I've been moving it back and forth from that damp spot, keeping it working.  Its almost ready to use, but needs sifting.  

At first we fought with the chipper and finally worked out that we could feed sheaves of lilies with the ends tidied up into the side chute and with no output screen it worked fine.  But it refused to accept a "wad" of anything through the hopper.  Once we figured out what would work, we made great progress.  The chipper supposedly reduces the waste in a 10 to 1 ratio, but I would say its more like 5 to 1.  Either way, its shredded to a consistency that will be easy to compost and turn,

Friday, July 31, 2020

Pickle Day 2020

The best thing about being a dedicated Blogger is that you can go back and look at past pickle days to formulate a plan in your head and get all of the right supplies ready.  When I got up today my enthusiasm, on a scale of 1 to 10, was about a "2".  By the time breakfast was through I had worked myself up to a "3".  Well, I thought, at least things are improving.

I went back to a few blogs to wrap my head around the logistics of all the pots and pans and boiling water, and assembled my supplies.  My level of enthusiasm had skyrocketed to about "7".  It helps that my husband was looking forward to it and ready to help.  He is always intrigued by the process, and his job is to man the turkey fryer in the driveway where we do the hot water bath processing.  

Using a turkey fryer outside is convenient because a lot of the heat and steam is outside, and the turkey fryer itself is much deeper so you can easily fill the water over the top of the jars.  Many gallons of water in a canner are not easy to get to a rolling boil on a standard stovetop.  On a propane turkey fryer it is a piece of cake.  It also has a very sturdy basket which works a lot better than your typical canner basket.

Cucumbers were sliced, water was boiled and jars were stuffed.  This was probably the nicest day I've ever spent making pickles.  For starters, it was about 80 degrees out and clear.  I don't know why but Pickle Day always seems to fall in the middle of a massive heat wave, so this was an exception.   I made 14 pints of dill using Mrs Wages Kosher Dill mix.  I had more cucumbers than that, so I scraped up the few remaining pint jars I had and mixed up some Bread and Butter pickles using Ball's Flex Batch mix.  I didn't really need to make Bread and Butter because we still have enough, but it made a lot more sense than more Dill.  All but one jar sealed, and that is in the fridge.  
When it was all over I thought "wow, that was easy!"

Here are links to my previous pickle fun:

Monday, July 27, 2020

Nothing to do?

I have to say the absolute BEST gardening day is waking up on a Saturday morning thinking "There is nothing on my gardening to-do list!  
Maybe I'll just sit and enjoy looking at it."
So we made Bloody Marys, put up the patio umbrella, and sat at the end of the horseshoe/corn hole "pits" and admired the garden.  Of course you know that something gets done.  You just can't look at it and not see something that needs to be taken care of.

First you pick everything that has to be picked.  Next thing you know you are watering the sweet potatoes and dead-heading the Portulaca.  But not having it on a list makes it so much better.

The Okra is just beginning to bloom.
I grow these mostly for their flowers.
I am not too impressed with my pole beans so far so imagine my surprise
when I went to tie them up and found this

The sweet corn is in a reproductive flurry of tassels and pollen

The Brussels Sprouts are just beginning to form
And look at this fancy spider web. The zig-zag stitches up the center are a nice touch.  The next day she had moved the entire web straight up above the door about a foot to a safer location with less traffic and created an exact replica, zig zag stitches and all.

Late July is food time.  Each supper we have something fresh from the garden.  
Only now it is becoming hard to chose.  
Will we eat fresh potato salad made with baby reds?  Or grilled zucchini?  Cole slaw?  
Cucumber salad? Beans? Fried Eggplant? ................

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Flower Stroll

Sunday we got a good rainstorm so last evening I had to do a walk-around and spray the perennials with Repels-All to keep the deer at bay.  It really works, in conjunction with Milorganite, to keep the hosta and day lilies from being eaten down to nothing.  In fact, I was working in the garden when my husband came back and said there was a couple walking past on the road who wanted to know how we kept the deer from eating everything.  So I jotted down what I used and where I get it.  My husband told him "you have to do it almost every night until you get them trained".  
Few people have the dedication it takes to fight determined city deer.

Anyway, everything was so beautiful that as I sprayed, I took pictures.

When we put in the fire pit we relocated two of our outlying whiskey barrel planters over there where they would be enjoyed more often.  Before we relocated them I had planted my spare sweet potato slips in them because I didn't want to spend as much on annuals this year and I didn't want to waste good space on non-food items.  

So when we moved them to a main seating area, I really didn't have anything to plant in them and I'd already finished my main shopping for annuals.  So I put a fountain grass in each one to fill it out.  For awhile it looked like the sweet potatoes weren't going to cooperate, but over the past few weeks they have grown quite a bit.  There are also petunias volunteering from a color scheme I planted three or more years ago.  I have a plan for these planters next year, but my leftover odds and ends turned out pretty well.

Below is one of my two main garden planters of Sweet Potatoes.  
The plants look amazing.  I hope there are tubers under there too and not just plant!

Last fall I spread several hundred milkweed seeds.  This spring I also dug up and relocated several roots from the volunteer plants I can't seem to eradicate from the front landscape bed.  The rooted plants are stunted because milkweed doesn't transplant at all well but are taking hold.  And now I see that I have baby plants started from the seeds.  I hope to get the milkweed established in two or three places and out of the front plantings.  The darn thing spreads on roots like horseradish, and is apparently just as hard to get rid of!

Please excuse the variety of "weeds".  These are in a "naturalized" area.
Sometimes you just have to let nature do its thing.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Harvest Monday - July 20, 2020

I have reached the point in the season of wondering 
"what are we going to do with all this food?"
Of course I would rather eat it all fresh, but that just isn't possible.  Some of it has to be put away.  In the mean time, both the house refrigerator and the one in the garden shed are chock full of broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbages and cucumbers.  Baskets of summer squash clutter the counter, and a basket of new potatoes is tucked into a dark nook.

I think I fulfilled my goal of growing a giant cauliflower.  I only had two white plants survive the nasty spring weather and the first of those has produced.  The second has a small head.
The Graffiti cauliflower has been the most fun.  I enjoyed taking people into my garden and saying "come look at this..."

I put the cauliflower in the steamer for 10 minutes and it held its color.
The leftover water was a deep mallard green.  When you cook purple beans you get water that is lime jell-o green.  This was a deeper color.  Of course you don't want all of your color and nutrients bleaching out, so go gently on the cooking.  It made a nice contrast with the green Vitaverde.
The orange Flame Star takes priority for raw snacks.  The white head will go into the freezer.

Now that I am past the broccoli salad rush, I am on to cole slaw.  The purple Red Acre cabbages are taking a little longer than the Golden Acre, so I am picking them smaller and getting a nice ratio of green to red in my slaw.  I am also pulling Nantes carrots, but they are not pictured because I pull them when I have the slaw half made so they will not lose their crunch.  I started with a traditional recipe, but I'm now using the Dinosaur BBQ recipe which replaces white vinegar and white sugar with cider vinegar and brown sugar.  We ate there once and I really loved their slaw.

Red Acre Cabbage, Dunja Zucchini, Cue Ball zucchini,
Golden Acre cabbage and Cucumbers
I always pick my zucchini really small because it is just me eating them.  But right now I am loving the round Cue Ball.  They are sweet and tender and should be picked when they are still the size of a cue ball.  They scratch up really easy.  I don't know how anyone would ever take these to market. The ugly factor would make them unappealing. But I've learned to be extra careful and always use a knife to cut the stem.  I am now picking both Supremo pickling cukes and Bristol slicing cukes.  I don't have enough Supremo to make a batch of pickles yet so they are going into salads for now.  

I've pulled the last of the weed potato volunteers out of the zucchini bed.
My grow-bag potatoes will be ready to harvest as new potatoes soon.

The largest of the bunches flopped in the rain.  The only problem with this is it leaves the center surface of the soil exposed to more direct light.  If I had a lot of soil or chopped leaves lying around (which I don't) I would have just dumped some in on top.  But instead I took some twine and tied a circle around them.  Then I went and tied twine around all of the others too!  If I can get to mixing some more soil (I have all of the ingredients) I will probably untie them and add a layer.  It will actually make watering them easier and they don't really look messy.  They look like a giant planter full of cascading plants.

Standing back up with one string

This is day lily season.
Here are two of my favorites

Monday, July 13, 2020


Housekeeping:  From that title you may think that I actually took some time to clean my house.  How would that even be possible in July when the weather is so perfect?  What I'm referring to is housekeeping in the garden.  Sometimes there is a lot of it.  Right now I'm changing over from some spring crops to summer crops.  And even the summer crops needed a little sprucing up.

The thing about keeping the cabbage crops so tightly covered is that you have to set aside time to open them up and do some serious work.

Friday morning I got down on my hands and knees and trimmed a whole wheelbarrow full of dead or damaged leaves out from under the Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts.

I went easy on the Brussels Sprouts because I don't want to trigger their sprouting for a few more weeks.  Removing their leaves encourages the little dormant replacements along their stem to grow and unfurl.  But you don't really want to harvest them until cooler weather when they will be sweeter so you don't want to trigger the sprouts too early.

There are a lot of beautiful broccoli and cauliflowers in there.

Its like a treasure hunt.

Or like finding a jewel

It looks like it should taste like berries.
Hopefully not...

The Brussels Sprout stalks are standing nice and straight, but the leaves are still pushing against the insect netting.  I sort of had a plan for this.  That is why I put them in the middle so I could tent the center a bit higher.  But the six foot width is not enough to reach the ground on both sides.  Luckily I had one more length of netting so I doubled them up, overlapping at the top.

Next I tidied up the cabbages.  I think its time to try my hand at fresh cole slaw!
The lower cabbage leaves, especially those of the green cabbage,  were very large and lying on the ground, and every time it rained or they were watered, those big leaves just held puddles of water.

The biggest job in the garden was the lettuce and peas.
I started on one bed on Friday, but by 10:30 it was 90 degrees in the shade and over 100 in the garden.  So I moved on to other chores.

The big chore of the day was washing the house.  Our house is vinyl sided in sage green with white trim and white gutters.  And rain is nasty, dirty stuff.  It turns the gutters black and leaves grey speckling and green algae everywhere else. I try to get around and wash the whole house each year, starting with the front porch, and moving to the side entrance next which are the parts we see up close every day.  If I get to the other two sides its a bonus.  I also do the garden shed and chicken coop which is easier. 

This year it was so easy because we finally replaced our old deck and steps and my husband replaced the walkway to the bulkhead doors, and leveled the entire area which had been dug up repeatedly over the past few years for electrical changes and water projects.  Its so FLAT!  Wonderfully flat.  I can put an eight foot ladder anywhere and reach the eaves without worrying about tipping.  Somehow 90+ degrees didn't seem so bad when hosing and scrubbing the house.  A lot better than pulling up armloads of wet, soggy lettuce.

Later Friday afternoon, we tackled the last yucky part of the side entrance.  The corner of the driveway.  All of our driveways have historically been edged in railroad ties.  But those have tripled in cost over the past few years so we won't be replacing them.  We pulled out the rotted ones earlier this spring leaving an untidy edge and exposed road mat.  There were two options.  Either run the driveway gravel right up to the deck, or put in a planting bed.  We spent the afternoon cutting 40 some feet of fresh edge and stripping all of that hard sod out of there.  We did use the backhoe, but still, around 3:00 I began to realize we were working in extreme heat and humidity which could actually kill us if we weren't careful!  We would work for 10 minutes and then sit in the shade for 10 until it was done.  Later this summer I will divide the daylillies on the other side of the walkway and create a matching planting.

For the past month we have been praying for rain.  We got an inch last Wednesday night, and were looking forward to at least one rainy day this weekend.  The rain finally arrived on Saturday.  I did get some actual indoor housework done, and we spent some time on the front porch watching it.  We ended up with an inch and a half, and for awhile we had 40 mph wind gusts which were unwelcome.  My husband asked me if everything in my garden would be OK, and I told him I expected the one bed of sweet corn to be lying flat.  And guess what?  

The stalks still standing are the ones that went over in
Wednesday's rain which I stood back up and supported
I know, Right?

Now that looks like utter disaster, but its really just an inconvenient mess.  Only two stalks were actually broken.  The rest will be fine.  I have not had any trouble like this with the Gotta Have It corn, this year or last, but this SS3778R stuff lays over at the slightest suggestion.  Its like it was designed for making crop circles.  I won't be trying it again.  I'll find another variety.  

What I did was take two of the expanding pea trellises I'd pulled out of the peas the day before, and worked them in down each side.  Then I tied a piece of twine from one side to the other, stood up a row.  Tied another piece of twine.  Stood up a row.  Tied another piece of twine.  Before long I had restored order.  They're staying fenced.  Every stalk seemed completely unperturbed.  Their roots are undisturbed and they are just flexible as gymnasts.

The winds were still whipping around, and the ground was saturated, so out of an abundance of caution paranoia, I encircled two rows of twine around the entire batch of Gotta Have It and secured it to the fence at three points, against the prevailing winds.  When the ground hardens back up I can loosen it.

But the mid-season housekeeping was not done yet.
I have lettuce plants tucked all over and they were overgrown and bolting.

So whats the problem with that?  Air circulation.
My pickling cucumbers had one diseased leaf stuck in amongst its lettuce friends.

The vines will be much healthier with more air circulation.

I have little baby pickling cucumbers growing

The sluggish pole beans are beginning to send out climbing tendrils.  
I put a twine around them to keep them closer to the pole until they find it.

I pulled out two rows of peas leaving empty beds.
I'll spend the week raking these and picking at the remaining weeds and 
next weekend I will plant a cover crop of Buckwheat.

There was so much lettuce and pea vines to compost I had to set aside some of the pea vines for later.  They wouldn't fit into my composting tube.  But that lettuce will wilt down fast and in a couple of days there will be room for more.

I picked all of my vines pretty clean, but there were still a few overgrown pea pods left.
I snipped these off and hung them along the fence to dry.  
There's no telling what the state of the world will be next spring when it comes time to order more seed.  Better no to throw anything out.

I still have the Garden Sweet pea vines to pull.  I gave up on these early and concentrated on the Penelope peas which we liked better.  I will also save seed from these just in case.

But its not all work in the garden.  I'm enjoying colorful flowers.

Zinnias and Chard

Portulaca and Eggplants

Baby Bubba Okra

Sweet Potatoes

Slicing Cucumbers - first planting

Healthy tomato plants loaded with tomatoes.

Red Norland Potatoes

That flimsy sweet corn is beginning to tassle
Butter Beans flowering
I picked my first zucchinis yesterday.  
Besides a lot of housekeeping, there is a lot of food out there that has to be eaten!