Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Things That are Going Right and Things That are Going Wrong - Yin and Yang

My Annual Garden of Good and Evil post.  It seems every year in July I end up with a post which pretty much sums up how the garden is going for the year.  July is the tell tale time.  May's busy planting season and the June lull where every thing is supposed to grow are over.  In July we begin to reap the benefits and form plans for next year.

Here are some of my Good and Evil posts from years past.
The Good The Bad and The Ugly
The Killing Spree
Mid Summer Slump
The Empty Hod 

Wrong: Geranium in the Chair
Why is this wrong you ask?  I had planned to put a geranium in this spot.  Early in the year, at the "fancy" greenhouse, I spotted these spreading geraniums.  They were absolutely gorgeous.  I bought nicest on and brought it home and I don't think it has put out a single new leaf all year.  It hasn't spread one bit.  It still looks since and it likes where it has been planted.  But being in a 12" basket it was almost 3 times as expensive and a single 4" potted geranium.  And at this point in the year, it doesn't look any better than the regular geraniums.  So I won't be buying another one next year.

To be fair, it is right next to my favorite thing for this year which is my combination patio pots.  I just love the color and texture of these.  The old fashioned geranium pales in comparison.

Which brings us to a "Right".  Which is Coleus.  Generally, I consider myself a vegetable gardener.  But I grew up with annual bedding plants and they are family to me.  I visit the greenhouses each spring and check tags and remember the words I grew up reading: Figaro Dahlia, Super Elfin Impatiens, Daddy Mix Petunia, Verbena, Ageratum.  Not a lot has changed.

Over the years I've binged on Pansies, Zinnias, Calibrocha, Sweet Peas, Nasturtiums, Geraniums and Lantana to name just a few.  This year it's Coleus.  It began when I decided that I am tired of trying to choose a shade of pink.  Well... I don't use pink very often.  So I am tired of trying to choose something new in the red/orange/yellow family.  A person can only take so many geraniums and marigolds.  So this year I decided to choose foliage not flowers. Enter;  the Coleus.

Right: Combination Pots
When I was assembling these in my mind I decided to go with contrast.. I put lime/chartreuse in the burgundy pot, and burgundy in the chartreuse pot. I had to buy a bunch of packs of Coleus to get enough of the right colors so I had extra to plant everywhere else. It helped that my friend was selling red spikes in her greenhouse. It wouldn't have been right using green spikes in both. Then, about a week after I'd initially planted the pots, I found the really big spikes. I passed them up initially, but I actually dreamt about them so I went back the next day for them. I used the baby spikes in another planting. 

Wrong: Cantaloupe
I've decided that Cantaloupe is one of those things that I have to plant every year and hope for good growing conditions.  And this year we got them.  We had already hit 90 in May.  But it doesn't seem to matter to the cantaloupes.  To start with I had planned to plant three times as many plants.  My germination rates were awful on all my cucurbits from cucumbers to zucchinis.  I had several varieties from several sources, and I did what I always do and they just didn't want to play.   I was beginning to think that I was going to have a year without squash.  The cucumbers got it in gear afterall and the zucchinis caught up but the cantaloupes are being very stubborn.  The 4th of July weekend, when I should expect to have melons the size of limes, they were still the size of marbles.  This will not be "The Year of the Cantaloupe".

Right: Cucumbers
This has been a good year for Cucumbers.  I have three varieties planted in this bed.  Mid-May when I was worrying that my seedlings would never grow, I bought a pack of my old standby Marketmore '76 from the greenhouse, and those are producing great.  Beside them are 4 "Socrates" which are a seedless self-pollinating (or non-pollinating really) variety which is supposed to be very productive.  The cukes are about the length of a bun-length hot dog and twice as thick.  The skin is spineless and very easy to peel.  And they are nice sweet cucumbers.  We're really enjoying them.

At the far end of the bed are the SV4719CS (F1) which are supposed to be highly disease resistant.
I have a second row of those planted a few weeks behind.  The first 4 plants are producing and they are a good cucumber a little smaller than the Marketmore.

Right: Zucchini
The Dunja zucchini was a little slow to start but is doing awesome now.  This is a great variety.  The leaves are HUGE this year.  It looks like a giant Elephant Ear Begonia.  It is producing heavily and I am picking them small so I don't get over run.  I have several backup plants started but I don't think I'm going to need them for awhile.  Last year I started pulling my first plants and planted my backups Aug 7th.  I know this plant has more than two good weeks left in it.

Wrong: Strawberry Cages
This year my strawberry cages did absolutely nothing towards stopping the chipmunks.  They keep the rabbits and the deer away, but those little chipmunks slip right through.  We have killed 13 chipmunks around the garden shed....and a trap is missing so that's probably number 14.  One chippy was fast enough to avoid getting trapped, but lost his whole tail.  I saw it happen and boy did that little tailless bugger fly!  He hasn't been back.  But if we see him again we've named him "Bob".

Right: Cucumber Grids  
These cucumber grids from are supposed to let the vines grow up off of the ground (without having to go straight up) and let the cucumbers hang down through where they are easy to pick.  And they are working just as advertised.  I wish I had bought them sooner.

Right / Wrong: Bush Beans
I went ahead and planted some bush beans earlier than I had planned because I was having a hard time looking at bare un-productive dirt.  And I think I have proven that I should not bother to try growing beans on the west side of the tomatoes.  They just don't get the right amount of sun.  The Purple Queen on the east side are doing fine and are almost ready to bloom.

Good Bugs / Bad Bugs
This year we have no cucumber beetles.  NONE!  I've battled them for several years.  In 2014 I had only three, but last year I had a gazillion and they killed the cantaloupe vines before the melons could ripen.  We have had plenty of honey bees, fewer dragon flies (because no mosquitos?  we tiled some drainage ditches) but a lot of lady bugs.  I usually see a couple each year but I'm seeing them every day now from the front landscaping all the way back to the back tree line.

I have seen virtually no Flea Beetles which in past years have killed entire eggplants and ravaged the potatoes.  I think this is because we covered the beds with stabilization mat last winter. The beetles always hatch on the first warm day in April.  I'll be out in the garden getting things ready for planting and I'll notice that the ties the raised beds are made of are covered with millions of tiny flea beetles like someone has spilled pepper.  If you wave your hands over them you can feel them jumping in waves of thousands.  And nothing kills them.  This year, on one of the first warm days in April I was out in the garden and it suddenly dawned on me - no flea beetles.  If the larvae survived the solarization then the beetles themselves were hopelessly trapped under the tightly woven material.  Ha!  Take that.

We've had an average number of Japanese Beetles and Asparagus Beetles.  But even an average plague of them is a hassle.  The Asparagus Beetles have completely killed off the row of asparagus despite my religious removal of all beetles and larvae every day for two years.  Which brings me to my next Yin and Yang.  Dill.

Right/Wrong:  Dill
Because I am not ready to admit complete defeat on the asparagus, and a few stalks still come up, I decided to disguise the ratty row with other things that look like asparagus so the asparagus that did survive could hide in there for another year while I figure this out.  So I planted Dill and Cosmos.  

I was thinking that besides the scourge of beetles, the soil must not be very good here because the asparagus was so easy to defeat.  I did every thing I could do to amend it and without actually digging up the asparagus crowns.  But it doesn't seem to have worked.  Note the gap in the dill row.  There is another gap on the other end were two seed spots side by side came up with nothing.  Twice.  I reseeded.  But just look at the difference in those two plants above.  They came from the same seed pack on the same day, 12 inches apart and have received the same treatment from day 1.    There is also a Cosmos plant behind the taller dill which is doing OK but is quite a bit behind the other plants which you can see flowering orange in the background.  I think I have a few blank spots in my soil quality.  Time to dig the whole thing up?

Right/Wrong: Peppers
Speaking of soil, I am not having good luck with peppers this year.  I've always had only moderate success with them so this year I dedicated a whole bed to them and decided to learn to grow better peppers.  I planted six packs from the local greenhouse instead of starting from seeds like I usually do.  One pack of Jalapenos, three of generic "Red Bell Pepper" three generic "Yellow Bell Pepper" and then tried one of the few varieties that was actually specified on the tag and I recognized which is Red Knight.  

Out of all of those plants, I've only found peppers on 6 plants.  And not a lot.  All of the Jalapenos are doing OK and the two Red Knight on the far end of the bed have some peppers on them.  Now this can caused by a couple of things.  
1.  Poor Pollination.  Peppers are self pollinating, so theoretically, high humidity could affect that.
2.  Too much Nitrogen in the soil.  I haven't tested it but this bed I amended with Kelp Meal to give them a little more Potassium, and when they began to bloom I watered with Epsom Salts for Magnesium so I've done my best there.
3.  Weather.  We have had plenty of hot days averaging in the high 80s and this bed gets the most sun which is about 10 hours.  But cooler night time temps could affect it.  We frequently have nights in the low 50s.  The garden will be a few degrees warmer because of the gravel acting as a heat sink.
Whatever it is - this will not be "The Year of the Peppers"

Right: Potatoes
And finally:  Potatoes.  I can't seem to go wrong with potatoes.  We can check that off my learning curve list.  These are from the bed where the zucchini is.  They are volunteers from two years ago.  There were three plants and this is the last one to go.  The main potato crop is in the garden in tubs and doing well.  The next time I need potatoes I will just dump one tub.  That's the easiest way to grow them.

So that's how this year is shaping up.  We have had warm days, not enough rain and moderate success.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wordless Wednesday - Morning in the Garden - July Version

In other news:  last week there were a lot of garden happenings.  We had visitors.  A hot air balloon that skimmed the tree tops and the Master Gardener's club.  But what we really need is a rainy day.

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.