Sunday, August 16, 2015

Extreme Weeding

It has been said that a weed is merely a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.  I'll take that a little further.  A weed is a plant that is growing where you don't want it.  Sometimes that is entirely your fault.  Today's post on Extreme Weeding falls under the Undo Redo category.

Today Mid-Day

This "flower bed", and I use that term loosely, is along the drive right opposite the house.  It is a tight triangle that Tim did not want to mow (go figure).  So we put an old double blade plow in there as yard art and I began to plant.  I divided and planted Black Eyed Susans and Hosta.  I moved in Bearded Irises and Cone Flowers.  I planted Dahlias and dug the tubers up each fall to winter over.   I bought Day Lilies and accepted gifts of Myrtle, Snow On The Mountain and Daisies.

2007

2008
  Things looked nice for several years.  I added Hardy Mums and Coral Bells.  We fenced two sides to limit the deer traffic through there,  It was colorful but a lot of work.  I had to make a map to remember what was in there and it was not easy to mulch around every little thing.  The Myrtle, which began as a chunk under the plow, spread into every empty space covering the mulch and collecting oak leaves like they were going out of style.

2009
 Over time it began to wear on me.  The Myrtle smothered and killed off the Irises and Coral Bells.  Slugs ate the Dahlias.  Deer ate the Hosta and the Black Eyed Susans.  Things fell into disrepair.  The things that weren't growing well got pulled out, relocated, given away or just dwindled and vanished.  I tried Oregano, Spearmint an Lemon Balm along the back.  The Oregano took over and the ants built a LARGE ant hill in the middle of that.

2014
 It was a challenge, but it did look nice from time to time.
My "rock clump" always made me happy.

2014
This year, with our very dry July, things began to look very bedraggled.  A few years ago I realized that given the choice between a tidy expanse of empty mulch, and a mass of crappy flowers, I'd rather look at the tidy expanse of empty mulch.  This bed needed a major overhaul


The back, along the fence, is very dry.  It gets full sun and the tree roots suck all the moisture out of the ground.  We must constantly police the edges for poison ivy coming in from the woods.  The perennial Geranium and what was left of the Cone Flowers was looking pretty bad.  The Oregano was running amok and actual weeds, as in Quack Grass and Oxalis, took up the unwanted corners.

Today
Weeding was hopeless.  It was time for some Extreme Weeding.  I decided it was time to pull everything out of there.  I've done this before a few years ago when the Yarrow took over and looked just as bad. The Overhaul was scheduled.

The green mass in the corner is what are left of the Black Eyed Susan Deer Buffet.
Next year I will have to remember to spray them well.

This extreme weeding session involved going through with a potato fork loosening the top few inches of soil, and then everything must be yanked out and the roots must be raked up with a bow rake and shoveled away.  I was surprised how much poison ivy was in there after all, and anything in the way of poison ivy was coming out.  I removed the ant hill which was surprisingly (and thankfully) under populated.  I did leave some Oregano in the corner, and I took out more chunks of Myrtle to transplant, evening the edges and beating it back from the driveway and lawn.


We had a little old mulch left, which was the final motivator for this project, and we laid it on thick.  I can tell when yard work has ceased to be fun.  In April we go through and carefully cut each edge.  We lay tarps on the lawn and carefully shovel yard after cubic yard out of the tractor bucket and then expertly feather it out by hand, on our knees, until our rotator cuffs are shot and our knees no longer bend.  It looks beautiful and is a great source of satisfaction.


In mid-August, we ignore the edge, dump piles of mulch directly into the beds and then we shoved it around with bow rakes until it is reasonably smooth.  Yep, the fun has gone out of it.  The object it to block weeds.  We are no nonsense landscapers.  It still looks better than it did.  And maybe next year I will add some annuals around the edge to add some color.



Years ago, when we UnDo-ReDo-ed the house landscape we relocated this Barberry Bush back behind the garage.  It never really took off here, and the irregular chunk out of the drive was a hassle.



So Tim pulled that out,  The Myrtle I removed today went into this area, and the UnDo ReDo is complete.

And here is the backside of the Poop Deck with Hosta, Brunera, and Myrtle previously removed from today's renovated bed.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Undo - Redo - Maintenance

Into each life a little rain must fall


And with that rain comes a lot of dirt and sludge.  I know we all think of rain as washing things clean, but after it gets done washing our roofs clean it deposits the gunk in the garden water tank.  The tank was installed in 2010 and the last time it was cleaned was 2011.  Which is a long time.  So there was a considerable amount of sludge in there.  We have 9 inches of rain in June, but only 3 in July.  It had been almost two weeks since our last rainfall, and the tank was getting low.  Tim decided Sunday was the day to clean the tank.  Which meant I had to empty it.  We had less than a quarter of a 500 gallon tank left but that was still a lot of water.  So I set about to give everything a good soaking.  I filled watering cans and watered every container.  I flooded each bed.  I watered every Marigold.  Twice.  I watered the Strawberries, the Asparagus, the Horseradish and even the Chives.  Then I rinsed containers.  Finally it ran dry!


Tim set up his ventilation system (a shop vac on the tank vent) 
and descended into the pit.


He used scrapers to scrape clean the walls and then bailed the sludge into a bucket which he then presented to me.  Oh good.  Black Sludgy Water. 
I dumped that in the nearby brush.
Again and again.
This took a little over an hour but now the tank is good for another year or two. 


We've also had some Un-Do and Redo projects.  It seems there is always something. The clump birch has some sort of undiagnosable problem and we are down to one trunk (from 4)  But the remaining trunk is symmetrical and looks fine so we left it.  The alternative is to dig out the stump, repair the landscape bed and plant a new tree.  So we put that off.


We had recently redone this bed.  I was sick-to-death of the bedraggled old Black Eyed Susans and Bachelor's Buttons so I ripped those out.  We will put one of our signature "rock clump" plantings in the open area to the left.

A typical "rock clump" newly planted

My favorite "rock clump"


Again, mowing simplicity dictated a new outline.

Original Planting
The old outline was very artistic but tougher to follow.
Tim will go to great lengths to simplify his mowing patterns.  When we buy a new lawn mower, we must move all the landscaping...

2014
 The next project was the Irises around the well head.  They were getting too thick and root bound, and the wider zero-turn lawnmower that does not exactly fit between the Irises and nearest edge of landscaping. So we needed to adjust.


2009
This planting started out MUCH smaller.

2015
They bloomed well this spring but the leaves and flowers are getting smaller 
because they are getting so crowded.



So out they came.  I cut them short, dug them up and placed them on the edge of the compost pile in the shade.  They will be fine there until I divide them up and replant them.  Also removed was that chewed up plastic edging that the mower now runs over every time.


The new plan is ground level street bricks.  These will stand up fine to mowing.  Tim says "believe it or not, a square is easier to mow around than a circle."  The corner of the rectangle is carefully spaced exactly a mower's width away from that mulched edge.  I will plant about a third of the Irises back here and the rest will go in three new plantings I am planning.

So that was our mid-season Un-Do and Re-Do.  Someday we might get it right!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Empty Hod

 Just the other day it occurred to me that rarely use my hod anymore.  I use it now and then, but I have not used it yet this year.  That sort of made me sad.  I haven't had a hod full of anything yet.  Which doesn't mean we aren't eating well.  I guess it just means I've planned well so I have the right amount when needed.



The hod is great for carrying potatoes.
It is virtually indestructible and up to any weight I can carry.


A hod full of cucumbers makes a nice batch of pickles.


A hod full of the biggest ugliest tomatoes you can think of makes great tomato sauce.


I admit I still get a twinge of jealousy when I read on Facebook that one of my friends has picked a bushel of green beans.  But then I think:  Gee, I'm glad I don't have to deal with a bushel of green beans!  That's a lot of work.  All I need today is a handful.  But still, embarrassing levels of abundance is appealing to a gardener.  "Whoops I accidentally grew enough to feed a village"


Yesterday was Gardencatchuponmaintenance Day.  Down came the peas, out went the tired potted plants.  I pulled the old zucchini plants because I had nice juvenile plants to put in their place.  
They have been supplying everyone with plenty of zucchini but were starting to ramble and not blooming much.


I put wire fencing around each  transplant which keeps the deer from doing drive-by-tastings while the plants are small and vulnerable. I did keep one of the old Dunja plants...


...because it has 4 beautiful young squash just ready to pick. 
And more blossoms coming.


The tomatoes are just beginning to color.


And we are no longer waiting on eggplants.  We have lots.


There are also luscious little lettuce babies.
So I figured, this morning I would go out with my Hod and fill it up.  You know, just to prove I can.  And the first thing I saw when I reached the garden was...


Total Carnage!
Those little F---kers  why do they have to make such a mess!  We haven't had coon problems since the incursion of 2012 (ten coons one opossum and we also scared the crap out of a feral cat) but obviously their population needs another reduction.  I see signs of them now and then.  This year they climbed over the fence and ate the first second planting of zucchini seeds (I replanted and grew those nice young squash I just transplanted).  So they've been around but losing a few seeds now and then don't raise my hackles too far.  I just replanted and stuck the puts under the strawberry cages.  
But this....


We also have to watch out for deer in the unfenced areas.  They trample through the landscaping and along the garden walk about once a week, but don't bother much.  However yesterday morning I came out to find the lower leaves of the special apple tree munched off, and two of the lowest apples just dripping with deer spit.  Fortunately, these Northern Spy apples are too large and too hard for easy eating.  
But nevertheless, I wrapped the tree in netting to deter further molestation.



But what I wasn't prepared for was an all out attack from the coons.  After they plowed and upturned the squash bed, they also climbed into the garden and groped around under all of the young cucumber plants...


...sat on some beans with their big fat coon asses...


...and felt up some lettuce babies.
Yes I feel violated!
Now don't worry, all the plants are fine.  I unearthed the zucchinis, stood the beans back up and put all the soil back where it belongs.  I know the coons are just looking for grubs, but I can't have that level of destruction every night and it's only a matter of time before they're destroying tomatoes.


And then I picked a few things but I was too distracted to really fill the hod.  This is much nicer than taking in an armload of prickly cucumbers or dropping the zucchini three times before I get to the house.  I guess I'll have to keep the hod handy.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

July

The thing about July is that the vegetable garden isn't going to win any beauty contests.  It happens this time every year.  Everything has reached maturity.  The lush blush of youth is over.  Weaknesses are beginning to show.  We can all relate.  But I'm a perfectionist.  I like things to look lush and beautiful (I'm slowly getting over that).  I'm the kind of gardner who plants Nasturtium everywhere because I know that the aphids will go there and leave my tomato plants alone.  But then I get upset that the aphids have ruined my Nasturtium.  I can't have it both ways.... *sigh*

Nasturtium never looks good at the end of July.  It may catch a second wind and look nice in September, but in July it looks pretty ragged.  Add a million aphids and some ants and wasps and you have a real mess.  I mean a gardening CATASTROPHE! I've gotten rid of three plantings (two right at the end of the tomato bed) and today I cut back the third.  I actually took a photo this time before I hauled the mess out back to the burn pile, but a photo doesn't even do it justice.  You would need to see the dozens of wasps and flies hovering about to get the full effect.  It looks apocalyptic.  The good news its:  the tomatoes are aphid free.


A small example of a Nasturtium plant infested with Black Aphids.

Northern Spy apples
All in all the garden is doing well.  The apple tree held 11 apples and is weeping under their weight.  Remember, this little apple tree feels it is necessary to produce giant 12 ounce apples, and it is working on it again this year. Last year it dropped all the fruit, but this year it held about a third and we have 11 apples still hanging on.

Cukes on the left, Purple Queen beans (dark) down the center
 and Gold Mine wax beans down the right

This week we began picking 3 or 4 cucumbers each day and the beans are beginning.  I've picked a few Sungold cherry tomatoes and we're waiting on eggplants.

The large eggplants have set several fruit on each plant
The lettuce can be considered done.  Which is fine.  We eat lettuce 4 or 5 times each week through May and June so by July we are "lettuced out".  The lettuce bed is in transition and looks like a hodge podge of plants and growth stages.  There are a few buttercrunch plants holding on and the second planting of cucumbers down the center is gaining size.  I also have two zucchini in gallon pots waiting in the wings to replace the first planting of summer squash.  Next week I will seed fall lettuce.


The lettuce bed in transition.
The Nasturtium still looks pretty in this bed.

What does Iceberg lettuce look like when it bolts?  Like a ball of yarn unraveling.

Mildew on the Magda summer squash.

This year will be the first time I've tried a second planting of summer squash.  I seeded the backups the day I spotted (and failed to apprehend) the squash vine borer moth.  No sign of SVBs yet, but the squash have contracted, on a small scale, every disease know to squash.  The plants are past their prime and while they still look fine and are keeping three families supplied with squash, their days are numbered,

The last of the peas need to come out this week
in preparation for the fall lettuce planting

I'm letting the peas I missed dry on the vine and I am saving the seed.
This is the first time I've tried saving my own pea seeds.

The very healthy potato plants are browning out
and will need to be cut back this week.
The potatoes can stay in the ground until we close the garden

Strawberry bed before renovation

I'm a little late in renovating my strawberry bed.  A few weeks after they stop producing you should cut back the leaves, and sort through your runners.  I attempt to sweep all the runners along the row to fill in and cut off the excess.

Strawberry bed after renovation attempt

The tomato and pepper bed
The tomato bed is doing fine.  The plants are bearing quite well 
but I am still awaiting the first signs of color.  Last year I discovered the  scrumptious combination of fried green tomatoes and peach pepper jelly.  Yesterday I found some peach and jalapeno jelly at a farmer's market (we were out galavanting many miles from home) and this week I'm going to fry some up.



The annuals look good in July.  After such a wet and cloudy June I am now having to water regularly.  The little sink planter above is looking the most beautiful it ever has.  I've tried a couple of different vining plants in this planter.  This year I put four little Lobelia plants in it.  I read that you should keep Lobelia's soil damp at all times so I water this every morning rain or shine and we have achieved the desired results.

Pest report for this year:  We are in the midst of Japanese Beetle season and... there are very few (Yay!)  After battling a scourge of Cucumber Beetles that all but killed the cantaloupes, I am ready for a break.  I've picked a few dozen beetles off our porcelain vine on the side of the house, but I've seen only three beetles in the beans, and we have a Blue Jay who is diligently picking the out of the Linden tree row every day.  It's fun to watch the Jay move through the trees.  The Jay will target a beetle and if it misses and the beetle drops, the Jay also drops (plummets) to the ground feet first and snaps it up.  GooooOOoooo Blue Jays!

Foot Note:  Is there any gardening significance to being stung by bees?  Is it good luck or something?  Because in the past week I've been stung twice.  Prior to this I'd been stung only once (two years ago) since high school... once in 25 years.  And then last Saturday I got stung on the toe by a honey bee (my fault) and today, walking up the garden walk in clogs a surly Yellow Jacket got me in the ankle for no reason.  Same foot.  Considering that two weeks ago my right knee made it clear it no longer wanted to participate in either gardening or house work, and today my left ankle is twice its normal size, getting around is getting complicated.  Stairs are a trial.  Work that requires getting down on one or both knees to be avoided at all costs... I feel like the tin man