Thursday, June 21, 2018

Check out these carrots

This year I tried carrots in large landscape pots full of potting mix to give them deep, light soil and let them reach their full potential. It worked. I did some thinning tonight as a test run. 

It worked. I did some thinning tonight as a test run. 

My raised beds are open on the bottom but the tilled soil is 10-12 inches deep and in the past I've had carrots reach that depth and stub off. Plus potting soil made them super easy to pull.  Side note: after I had carefully sprinkled my carrots seeds onto my soil, and covered them with a light layer, a raccoon got into the garden one night and felt up all my pots and made mountain ranges out of my smooth soil.  I just smoothed it over and they ended up pretty well distributed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Collective Unconscious

This year I have joined several gardening groups on Facebook.  All day long I can look at photos of people's beautiful gardens and discuss the finer points of gardening.  On the other hand my Facebook feed is bombarded with an international array of pests and problems, to the point where I dream at night that I have tomato horn worms!

"Joe Gardener" has a Facebook page which attracts a lot of master gardeners 
with great set ups and a wealth of knowledge.
His was one of the gardens I used as inspiration as we planned our garden
I've also come to realize that there are a lot of people who jump feet first into gardening with absolutely no idea what they're doing.  They grab a used bucket or maybe an array of recycled containers, fill it with dirt and start putting in tomato plants.  Then they start asking about ideas to keep the rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, deer and raccoons from destroying everything and for help identifying diseases.  Now that's not necessarily a problem, we all learn by doing but maybe buy a comprehensive garden reference book and flip through it once or twice?

The Big Book of Kitchen Gardens is a good start
Throughout the day I send instant messages to my co-worker with some of the really funny ones.  We both grew up out in the country and obviously take for granted a lot of farmer common sense that does not get distributed in the city.  For example, cow manure is good, don't water the garden EVERY day until it wilts from exhaustion and more importantly how to tell the difference between Indian strawberries and poison ivy!

Just so we're clear:  This is wild strawberry
and this is poison ivy
But besides seeing enough poor soil, blossom end rot and powdery mildew on a daily basis to give any gardener an extreme case of paranoia, I also pick up a lot of random useful information to stash away for future use.  Interesting facts like although tomato horn worms blend in with your tomato stems, they also glow under black light making them easy to hunt in the dark

Tomato Horn Worms under black light
Reading about everyone else's challenges day by day, and seeing all of the bad things that can happen, makes me very grateful for my well constructed, nearly pest free garden. I stop to reflect on what has made me successful as a gardener.  Certainly there is some inherited aptitude and collective gardening unconscious (in Jungian psychology the part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual's unconscious)
There is upbringing since I learned to transplant seedlings about the same time I learned to write my name.  There is my tendency to be curious and read extensively about whatever subject interest me at the time.  There is the fact that I live out in the wide open rural countryside where pests have to travel a bit between gardens.  And I think a lot of it has to do with the structure and management of the garden itself.

Look at my garden and tell me what you don't see.  You don't see native grasses, "weeds", trees or shrubs up against the fence.  You don't see an untended field full of insects and critters.  You don't see other houses or gardens nearby.  What you do see is wide open gravel paths which discourage creepy crawlies and allow good airflow and sunlight to rule the garden, and you see a very sturdy fence.  I think a lot of critters walk by, glance in and think "parking lot".  That's one luxury of living on acreage in the country.  Lack of space is not a problem.

Of course the Facebook world is not solely populated by beginners.  There are a lot of accomplished gardeners there to help the newbies and to debate the minutia of gardening knowledge.  One such fellow posted on a couple of groups asking if he should mulch his vegetable garden and if so what material should he use?  After about an hour he announced that he had learned two different approaches to it.  "Absolutely NOT" and "Absolutely YES".

10 Proven Uses for Epsom Salt in the Garden
For every dozen people who swear that Epsom Salts are the key to green plants, there will be someone who can scientifically debunk the myth.  Companion planting - new age liberal hocus pocus.  Planting by the moon - archaic mumbo jumbo.  Compost tea - hogwash.  Pruning tomato suckers - why bother.  Eggshells, Coffee Grounds, Banana Peels - ineffectual

So what is the answer?  Just listen and learn and practice some good old fashioned trial and error.  And don't lose sleep over someone else's horn worms.

Monday, June 18, 2018

First Peas

Today I harvested the first of the Maestro Peas.  Day 63 for 61
day peas.  I was nibbling two days ago.  But this was the first harvest day.

 The Penelope Pea should have been ready June 12th but still has at least a week to go by the looks of it.  My Jap tomatoes are about the size of chicken eggs and more setting every day.  The other varieties are now blooming.

 Thanks to yesterday's 90 degrees and today's 92 degrees, the cucumbers are noticeably bigger each day.  The dill are coming in thick.  I don't know if the dill will flower at the right time.  I have a few volunteer dill I've let live elsewhere which are a couple of weeks ahead as a back-up.  The slicing cucumbers have buds but no blooms yet.

The cutting bed is beginning to flower a bit and I'm looking forward to these

State Fair Zinnia

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Heat Wave

When you are a gardener, you have to keep an eye on the weather.  You have to measure rain fall and keep an eye out for storms.  You have to know what temperatures are coming.  And in June, when the lettuce is at it's peak you have to watch for heat waves.  Because in a day or two all of that sweet tender lettuce could bolt and turn dry and bitter and end up in the compost pile.

So when I see a 10 degree jump in temperatures coming I get nervous and start picking lettuce.  Not all of it would go bad at once, but it can be tiresome sitting out in the garden tasting a leaf from each plant deciding which one comes into the house and which one gets thrown on the compost pile.

So here is how I extend the lettuce season.  I have a 50% shade cloth covering the west side of the main lettuce bed to block the afternoon sun.

I am thinning the rows cutting the smaller plants not the larger ones.  The larger, more likely to be bitter plants get to stay and shade the others and look pretty.

I still had some "seedling" size plants in pots that are behind in development from the first second and third plantings.  I put those in the space where I pulled over-mature plants this week.

I have these pots in almost full shade.  They are actually larger than the garden row plants but still sweet.

And then there is the weekly large harvest.  I go out at dawn on a cool morning, preferably after a rain, and pick as much lettuce as I think we can use in a week or two.  I put this all in the sink full of cold water and rinse three times.  Once the sink is full, I pull the lettuce out into a large bowl and drain the sink. 

 Three sink loads and you will see all the garden grit is gone and you have sorted out all of the maple seeds and damaged leaves and sleepy ladybugs.  Then I run it through the lettuce spinner and pack it into a 2.5 gallon zip bag for the fridge.  The strawberries are in full swing now and the peas will be ready to pick in about a week, so I am making a lot of salads topped with fresh strawberries and last year's peas to get the freezer emptied out and ready to go.

I think it will be another good year for apples.  The second tree has set only three apples.  Which is two more than usual.  I swear if I don't get at least one apple from it this year I am pulling it out and replacing it with another tree.

My pots of carrots are looking beautiful.  I tried them in pots so they would have deep soft soil to grow long and straight in.  I can always tell when they grow down and hit the hardpan under my beds because they blunt off.

The slicing cucumbers are finally on the move and the Pickle Bed is also growing.  It's exciting after so many weeks to go out in the morning and see that things are bigger than yesterday.  My tomato babies seem to double in size each day.  They will probably begin to ripen mid-July.

The Pickle Bed with pickling cucumbers and dill

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Feed Your Soil Not Your Plants

We hear this over and over again.  Don't worry about what you are feeding your plants... feed your soil instead.  And we all do our best but how often do we get a report card to see how we did?  This year, the ninth year of this garden, I've taken back the half previously managed by the neighbors.  So now I get to see how well they have been feeding the soil.  Out of twelve beds, I am resting four.  Two of theirs, and two of mine.  I planted buckwheat as a cover crop.  I prepared all four beds the same, and planted the seeds on the same day.

The photo above shows the difference in the beds today.  The one on the left was theirs.  The one on the right is one of mine.  The buckwheat in my beds is thicker and taller.  So what did I do differently than they did?
  • I did not till the soil (disturbing worms and upending the micro-organism layer)
  • I did not use synthetic fertilizers (Miracle-Gro is salt based which leaches natural nutrients out of the soil)
  • I added a balanced organic fertilizer each spring (but not this spring since they are resting)
  • I added compost as a mulch layer after planting and in preparation for winter

I think it worked.

But - no body's perfect.  Whenever you plant a consistent crop over an entire bed, you will see areas which needs some attention.  I've seen this before.  The buckwheat on the end of this bed is not as vigorous.  The soil needs some attention.

Now that the main gardening work is past, we can turn our attention to tweaking past projects.  For instance the dry creek bed.  The line between the lawn and the rocks was too complicated making a corner that made the mower stop and turn sharp ripping up the sod in the same place over and over.

Original mowing line from last year
Friday I cut a new smooth line, stripped the sod out and we put in a load of #2 stone and a few boulders.  I have two day lilies that were sitting around, and an ornamental grass that need to be dug into the rocks.
New mowing line
I'm happy with my idea to bury fiber pots into the rock.  The perennial plants did well and came back strong.  I've examined the pots that held annuals that had to be replaced, and there are areas in the pot wall that have broken through so the pot will eventually disintegrate into the ground.

There are always pots sitting around that need to be dug in!  Below in the heavily shaded wooded area, four helleborus in fiber pots shielded from clumsy deer hooves by a canopy of wire that need to be placed.

Back in the garden, I have tomatoes set.  The plants with wires jabbed into their stems have shown no ill effects from their surgical procedure.

Cucurbits are terribly sluggish.  The cantaloupes below were seed in the cold from the first of may and transplanted into the bed two weeks ago.  I always plant two seeds together in case one decides not to live, and they are still deciding.  The second seeds are just now germinating.  The cucumbers aren't any larger or more vigorous.  But one of these days I'm sure they will take off.  If we get some consistent sun.

The buckwheat is just about to bloom.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Bedding Plants

Bedding plants is a term you don't hear as often anymore and which always seemed a little elusive  to me.  I guess you put bedding plants in a flower bed, right?  But don't you put all plants in a flower bed?  Why are annuals called bedding plants and perennials aren't.   Then I stumbled across it in a context where it suddenly made perfect sense.  Why would we refer to annuals as "bedding plants"?  Because of the Victorian love of formal gardens and a style of gardening called "carpet-bedding"

From The English Garden:
An informal English Cottage Garden
Bedding schemes were seen as the height of style in the mid- to late 19th century. Any gardener with a semblance of horticultural ambition took pride in his ‘bedding border’, often inspired by a growing number of paint-by-number designs in emerging gardening magazines. The practice of ‘bedding out’ goes back to the 17th century, when formal parterres were filled with greenhouse-raised flowers in spring and summer. But it was in the Victorian era that it reached its zenith, stimulated by an abundance of newly discovered exotic bedding plants such as heliotropes, pelargoniums, petunias, verbenas and salvias, raised in state-of-the-art conservatories and greenhouses.

To create these intricate formal designs you had to have a dense, compact plant that grew and bloomed consistently: marigolds, wax begonias, coleus, dusty miller, verbena, salvia.  You didn't need the tall cottage garden plants like hollyhocks, snapdragons, lupines.  You weren't creating a flower border or garden you were creating a flower "bed" and you needed bedding plants.  

Elenor Perenyi writes in her book Green Thoughts that "they quickly became the basis for the only really hideous gardening style on record.  In England it was called carpet-bedding because the low growing plants could be packed into patterns like those of an Oriental rug-but also be made to spell out mottoes, depict clocks and maps, even the human face."

Actually I like the style.  I think it is creative and artistic.  It not only requires a lot of planning, but also a lot of upkeep.  If I were an English gardener employed by a large estate, I might also pass my time making pictures with flower.  I might even do it with my lettuce.  But then I could never pick my lettuce!

Lettuce plants laid out in a carpet bed design

Monday, June 4, 2018

Water Weed Wait - June Status Report

I've always said the June in the garden is boring.  It's a great time to go on vacation!  Everything is planted.  Nothing is ready to pick.  The only thing you can do is water, weed and wait.

I've been watching this garden on my way to work.  They have rallied after their raised beds disintegrated and come back with a bigger plan and a fence.  Their posts don't look very sturdy.  But their tomatoes are in.

Our next door neighbors have planted their garden.  All looks well.  I'm waiting for my tigerlilies to bloom.  I think they will look stunning against the black background.

This is what I'm calling my "pickle garden"  I've planted pickling cucumbers (usually I only do slicing) and dill.  The dill has been very sluggish to come up.  I planted three different times in May, and then again the middle of last week.  I finally have some dill seedlings coming up.

Our clematis vine is putting on a great show.  This fall we are going to have to put a cattle panel on the fence because the little store bought trellis is no longer adequate.

I've tidied up the compost pile.  This is where I keep a lot of my extra perennials stored so it usually looks like bargain day at a greenhouse with all sorts of mismatched pots sitting around.  The spare Rising Sun Redbud tree is in a pot.  There are also 2 daylilies in fiber pots waiting to be planted and three porcelain vines and three Siberian Irises sitting on the back wall.

Every bed of the garden has something growing.

Under the wire cloches are cantaloupe seedlings.  I planted those in the cold frame the first week of May and they only decided to come up May 25th.  I had originally thought I would try them in containers again.  But I had an open bed that I didn't have any urgent plans for so I transplanted them and then covered them to keep crows from snipping them off.  That will give them the best chance to produce something this year.

This is my spare tomato bed.  It was originally destined for bush beans.  But a few bush beans go a long way and there is still plenty of time to grow more so the beans went down one side, some spare lettuce down the other and the three spare tomato plants down the middle.  I can plant more bush beans after the first cucumbers.  Bush beans are never a rush.  As long as I get them seeded by the end of July they will be fine.  I'm sort of beaned out anyway.

Blue Beauty, Absinthe and Lenny and Gracie's Kentucky Heirloom

Maestro peas starting to form pods.

Usually my second variety of peas is Wando.  But Wando grows about 7 feet high, and last year I had to anchor the extra tall pea fence to keep it from blowing over.  So this year I tried varieties that should be easier to manage.  On the left is Penelope and to the right is Burpeanna.  The Penelope were planted the day after the Maestro (Apr 14th and 15th).  Maestro is a  61 day pea (bloomed around 45) and Penelope is a 59 day pea and they are not living up to their description because they are already a week behind the Maestro bloom date and showing no signs.  They have not yet bloomed.  The Burpeanna had a poor germination rate.  They are a 63 day pea.  I believe I planted them May 5th so they should be three weeks behind the Penelope.

The Buckwheat is coming along nicely

Second planting of lettuce and bed prepared for the second planting of cucumbers in early July. There is a little oak leaf lettuce volunteer which I left to grow.

The first planting of cucumbers and lettuce with some celery and radicchio also.

Of course the main focus of the garden is the tomatoes :)  These are my main tomato plants.  They are hip high now and blooming.  I've side dressed them with worm castings and planted Nasturtium beside them to provide a ground cover to prevent splash up when it rains.  I've removed the bottom layers of leaves.  

You can remove the leaves all of the way up to the first blossom if you want, but this early in the year that is a little extreme.  I am going to try something new this year.  It is well know that copper is the main ingredient of tomato disease fighters.  You can spray it on.  Dust it on.  Old timers used to drop a copper penny in the hole when the seedling was transplanted or insert it into the tomato stalk.  

Of course pennies don't have as much copper in them now as they used to, so copper wire is the easiest source.  So when the tomato stalk is at least the thickness of a pencil, you are supposed to jab the copper wire into it.  OUCH!  right?  Well I tried it.  I still had two spares unplanted anyway, so the risk was not absolute.

I didn't do all of my plants.  For one thing, it seemed a bit of a risky operation, even on a cool rainy day.  But I did three of them and they seemed to take it just fine.  Since this is an experiment, I have to have a control group.  In a row of six plants, I inserted the wire into three plants.  Three out of four of the same variety.

Other odds and ends.  I did put in some potato plants.  And the only reason I did was that I had some potatoes in the house that were sprouting all over the place and I didn't have the heart to compost them.  I've always had good luck with using grocery store taters as seed potatoes.  The front row is red and the back row is russet.

And on the patio I put some spare lettuce plants in pots.  I started seeing these in nurseries last year and wanted them but refused to spend the money.  I stuck them here where the east sun and the west sun is blocked completely.  I used Miracle Grow Moisture Control potting mix and they have taken off and surpassed nicer transplants that went into the garden beds a week or two before.  You just can't beat that Miracle Grow soil.  As much as I hate to admit it, considering it's ties to Monsanto, it really is a great product.  This spring I also started with several bags of Espoma Organic Moisture Mix and I can't say I'm all that impressed with it.  I don't enjoy working with it.  It is heavy and soggy right out of the bag, and so far the plantings have not shown any great growth.  I did use it for my tomatoes when they were in gallon pots and you can see those results were great.  But in my large planters - not so much.  I'll probably try at least one bag again next year.