Friday, August 12, 2016

Too Much of a Good Thing

 We've had almost 4 inches of rain in the last two days and it has come all at once, not in a steady sprinkle.  Having so much rain all at once reminds me that there are certain advantages to being able to add the amount of water you want at the time you want it.  Even though it is tedious and time consuming day after day after day, controlled amounts of water make a garden much tidier.

Toadland with Portulaca
I've spent the time between the rainstorms shoring up stems weighed down by water, picking produce before it splits or rots, deadheading to keep the large spent flowers from breaking down the main stems and scattering slimey petals everywhere. 

I think one of the main reasons my zucchini have been such a success this year is that I've been able to remove every flower before it began to rot.  The earth under the plants has been dry and rot free.  I haven't had to cut out a single leaf and most years I would be pulling out entire plants by now before they were taken over by mildew.

The pristine zucchini jungle
My Petunias have been beautiful because rain always ruins Petunia blooms.  Instead I've been able to water under the stems protecting the blooms.

These volunteer Portulaca coordinates with the Petunias
Yields have been good.  The refrigerator is chock full of cucumbers and the tomatoes, although a little later than usual, are ripening now.

Tomatoes, Zucchini and Cucumbers
 I am most looking forward to the Cantaloupes.  I have over a dozen and the plants from the seeds I saved from some farmstand melons are producing large melons.  At first I was afraid they had been crossed with Honeydew or even a guord, but now the ribs are standing out and the webbing is becoming more prominent.  They will be larger than standard grocery store melons.

A large and beautiful Cantaloupe

 All of my planters are overgrown so I gave them all haircuts to get them back in shape and encourage new growth.   It has been years since I planted Dahlias.  I had given up on them because of slug damage but I no longer have a slug problem so I have gorgeous Dahlias.

The Coleus all bloomed at once.  I've cut them back quite severely and I expect them to rally again for late summer.
  My first attempt at growing Dill was a success and I used it to make pickles.  Despite supports, the 5 foot high plants are bending under the weight of the rain.

Tim has been monitoring the drainage and alleviating floods day and night.  Even though the garden beds are in no danger of flooding, I've been doing maintenance to preserve the plants for the coming sunny days.  Luckily there has been no wind because wind and heavy rain combined will topple just about any supports.  We have rain forecast for several more days.  Soon we will be longing for some sunshine.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

So just how much water can The Big Drain take?


An impressive amount of water comes off of our lawn.
Kiss the grass seed good-bye.  Good thing the sale is still on.

Rain in the Garden


Maybe I won't have to water for a day or two.  
As soon as it let's up I need to run out and pick the cherry tomatoes before they split.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Big Drain 2016: The Evolution of a Landscaping Project

When I moved into this house over 13 years ago, the front yard was a dark, dank, shabby place.  It was lower than the road and fully shaded.  The first 20 feet or so was often bare damp dirt with scraggly weeds, the roadside ditch was unkempt and the trees were dying.  Things improved when Tim removed 150 trees from the side yard making way for his garage and parking area.  The sun dried things out, we covered the ditch and planted a good lawn.  But the dying trees along with scraggly patches of tiger lilies and elderberry bushes remained.

We began cleaning up the area on a snowy winter's day.
One tree down six more to go
We've spent a lot of time, sweat and money making the back and side lawn areas nice. This was the year to finally address the front yard.  First we cut out the trees that we felt comfortable removing ourselves, then hired a tree service to remove the ones that threatened the power lines.  We also had all the stumps ground out and temporarily repaired the lawn.

A tree dangling from the crane is set down in an open area instead of being felled.
The tree service came in with a large crane, tied off to the top of the trees and picked each one up and set it in the parking area where they could safely lay them down and section them out.  It was a busy day, and it was also the day that Tim tore his rotator cuff and long head tendon in his left shoulder.  The surgery and recovery set our summer projects back a couple of months.

The stump grinding left Tim with large piles of chips to haul away and compost.
We had the tree service leave the stumps that were in the area of the water curb box and gas hookup.  These would be removed when the water was connected.

Our raggedy front entrance with stumps and tiger lilies
The next big project was the city water hook up.  We have a good well, and have never made use of our city curb box.  Tim and our friend the excavator ran the water line up the middle of the driveway (Tim finds gravel much easier to repair than lawn).  Our well remains functional and will be run into the new garage for washing cars and watering landscaping.  We now have two sources of water available.  Well, three if you count the rain collection system.

The water line runs down the middle of the driveway towards the road
When that was all cleaned up our frontage was left looking very barren.  There is a catch basin which takes the water off the front lawn and directs it into the covered “ditch” along the road.  The house sits several feet higher than the road but the catch basin, although only about 12 feet off the road edge, is several feet below road grade. 

This may look flat but it's not
 This results in a very low front yard which deceptively appears “flat” and in particular, a contoured area around the catch basin which would be impossible to mow with a riding mower.  The amount of fill that it would require to raise the entire front lawn so that the runoff would reach the road (and the resulting lawn installation) was daunting.  

So Tim came up with an idea.  He comes up with all our landscaping ideas.  I just try to keep up and make it look pretty in the end.  His idea was to turn the impossible low spot into a “dry creek bed”.  Hereafter referred to as “The Big Drain”.

We always stockpile materials.  You never know when you are going to need some rock.  In this case we needed a lot of flat rock.  And we had a lot of flat rock left over from the construction of (and recently recovered from the removal of) a nice little frog pond over at the house next door.  I remember the summer Tim collected all those flat rocks hauling them by the trailer load from a nearby creek bed.  Every Saturday he would “go rocking”.  It seemed to take all summer.  

The first two days involved Tim cutting back the bank that is up against the road and our driveway and using the flat stones to build a semi-circular retaining wall.  He wanted to make it look sort of like a little stone bridge.  And he laid flat stones all around the drain cover with a large flat rock set above the drain with a gap all around to let the water run underneath it.

At this point I began to wonder what the neighbors think as they watch this stage by stage construction.  I wonder what they think we're up to?  I am sure that even after they watch the progression from cutting trees in the winter to the final mulching and grass seeding in the summer, that they forget what it used to look like and do not appreciate the work that goes into these projects.  I know we forget.  That’s why we are always referring back to old photos and the progression photos trying to figure out if we’ve made a difference or not.

A light rain left the run off areas visible in the dirt.
We marked them so we could follow them as we built
That weekend Tim and I spent the Friday laying more flat stones and referring to Internet photos of other folk’s dry creek bed projects for inspiration.  We knew we needed round rocks and some sizable “boulder” sized rocks.  We were all out of those, so we hooked up the trailer and headed to Dad’s creek.  When we got the load home, we threw them off into categories.  Baseball rocks, basketball rocks, beach ball rocks and character rocks.  It looked like we had scattered our toys all over the front yard.  I’m sure the neighbors were thinking “Now what?”

Each rock had to be dug into the slope so it would sit level with the rocks around it and form a gradual run off.  We didn't want it to look like a flagstone patio so we tried to add larger stones here and there and we scattered all sizes of washed stones in the bed itself.  The ground was like concrete and required a mattock to loosen it to any depth.  We would find two rocks that fit together like a puzzle and then after we got the ground beneath it prepared, we would have a hard time figuring out how it fit the first time.  Tim likened it to putting together a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on it.  The weather that weekend was in the low nineties but we still had a lot of fun digging in the dirt, and we were pretty pleased with how it turned out.  

Having the creek bed carved out of the slope gives a better
perspective as to how not-flat the lawn really is there.
Spending time in Dad's creek gave us a good idea of how a natural creek arranges the rocks.  We placed larger rocks for interest and then grouped smaller rocks and gravel where material would slow down and settle.
We incorporated a couple of planting areas with the 
intention of planting some grasses on the edge.
We had some rain prior to this which had eroded the bare dirt around The Big Drain so we were able to mark these drainage areas and try to direct the water flow into the drain from two directions.   This also showed us where we were going to have to dam up our landscaping to direct water around it.  The neighbors began to slow down, roll down their car windows, and offer encouragement.  Overall, the reviews were positive.  We spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday laying our dry creek bed around The Big Drain.  And on Monday it rained.

It rained a lot.  It rained an inch and a half in under an hour.  Our dry creek bed was no longer dry.  In fact, it was a pond.  Tim stood out in the rain under an umbrella to see what would happen and where the water would run.  When the rain washed all of the grass clippings out of the lawn and clogged the catch basin he had to get a pry bar from the garage and remove the cover stone entirely allowing the "pond" to drain.  And I’m sure you can guess that the rain also washed a lot of dirt into our pristine rocks.  A lot of dirt.  I removed five gallons with a trowel.

Step three was a split rail fence.  When Tim built the retaining wall he graveled up to it effectively widening our driveway entrance by over a foot and a half which only encouraged the mail man to cut the corner and Tim was sure it was only a matter of time until he (or someone else) landed in The Big Drain.  So we put in three sections of split rail fence, finishing up just as another gully washer hit washing all the dirt I’d just removed back into the stones.

Step four was landscaping.  I wanted a grassy look and something that would provide some color.  I bought some grasses and day lilies.  We had recycled Siberian irises and myrtle sort of lying around that would fit into the plan pretty well.  We've moved towards using a lot of ground cover in our landscape beds with the intent of mulching and edging less.   We like something thick that we can mow right up to.  We have a lot of myrtle available here and it grows well, but with it's low growth habit it can be hard to keep out of the lawn.

The ground surrounding the drain was very hard and gravely so I had to dig ample holes and fill in with good compost and slow release fertilizer.  

The side against the road we mulched with gravel, a continuation of the driveway.  Our friend Sandy who owns a landscaping business will be so pleased.  She’s been trying to get Tim to mulch with gravel for awhile now.  She seems to think that will cut down on weeds.  I know for a fact that weeds grow just as well in gravel as they do in mulch so we’ll see.  On the lawn side we needed a substantially raised planting area to direct the water from the lawn around to the mouth of the drain.  That side is mulched with shredded bark mulch.

The next morning Tim woke up determined to replace the recycled myrtle with something more interesting.  So off we went to the nursery to look at other ground covers.  I had put some Chameleon plants in the gravel corner against the road and Tim really liked them.   So we came home with three and a half flats of “aggressively invasive” Chameleon plants (and some weeds).  Well I’ve never met a useful ground cover which was not aggressive and/or invasive.  The one thing I do not like in a ground cover are those which migrate to greener pastures leaving their original planting space unattended.  The Chameleons can’t get into too much trouble being bordered on two sides by rock and the other side by a lawn mower.  I will have to defend my day lilies for a few years until they get established.

The Chameleon plants should add some color and I think they make the lawn side of the arrangement look like a wet creek area.

We planted grass seed and washed all of the unwanted dirt into the basin where we could collect it and clean it out.  We tried to plan it so we would have at least 4 days with no rain to give the quick grow seeds a chance to sprout before they had to face a gully washer.  But as soon as we finished, the weather forecast changed from 6 days with no rain to 2 days with no rain.  So Tim got out his upholstery kit and sewed two burlap bolsters which we filled with gravel and placed across each opening to try to slow the dirt and seeds washing back into the creek bed.

Hopefully these burlap sacks will hold the grass seed back from planting itself in our rocks.
We admired our handy work for a few hours.  This project started in winter and finally finished months later in the heat of the summer.  We didn't have a finished goal in mind.  Like most of our projects, it evolved over time.

And then Tim turned around to the other side of the driveway opening and said...  "Now what are we going to do over here?"

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 the nicest one 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 nice, and it likes where it has been planted, but being in a 12" basket it was almost 3 times as expensive than 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.