Sunday, November 5, 2017

Turkey Party

There is something about a soaking rain that brings out the turkeys.  It seems like whenever we have a stretch of rainy weather I find a soggy turkey slouched miserably in the yard trying to air out.  Not a year goes by without us seeing a few turkeys, but they aren't as common since the coyotes moved in down the road.  Today we saw a whole flock of soggy but happy turkeys.  In fact, they were having themselves a little turkey party.

It started with a lot of airing out and preening and ended in a hoe-down.  They were dosey-doeing and promenading and popping up in the air like popcorn.  We tried to count them and came up with at least twenty.  

Besides the turkey party, our two squirrels, one back and one grey were darting in and out, and a couple of cautious deer lurked in the edge of the woods.  The deer aren't as bold as they usually are.  We promised a friend of ours who bow hunts that if he just sat in the glider rocker on the garden patio, the deer would come to him, and that's exactly what happened.  I've been joking that when we opened her up she was full of Hosta.  And that's not far from the truth.  So we're down one large doe, and hoping to get rid of the medium sized doe as well.  

In fact, here she is.  That's right! You'd better watch your back.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

One Week To Live

The target date to shut down the garden is the first weekend of October.  There really isn't much left in the main garden except beautiful Marigolds and Nasturtium.  I have been admiring them daily knowing they now have only one week to live.

I'm slowly pulling things out and cutting down stalks of 
horse radish and daylillies in preparation for leaf season.

This is the time for cleaning the beds and evaluating the soil

Preparing to plant the fall lettuce

The lettuce must fit under this frame so I can wrap frost cover around it.  
This way it will be safe down to 26 degrees
One year we ate lettuce until it just stopped growing mid-December.
I've learned not to plant anything where it will be hard to reach since I will mostly be cutting lettuce in the dark, in the wind and probably in the rain as well.  It's hurry up - snip and git.

I'm bringing my big pots of bell peppers up onto the patio.  These will also be covered with frost cover not only to give it a personal greenhouse, but also to keep the deer from nibbling on them.
After last year's poor showing I am so pleased with these big beautiful Blushing Beauties from Burpee.  They will turn through shades or orange and be red when completely ripe.

The only thing really left growing in the big garden is the bush beans.  I picked some this morning for dinner today and even the immature ones are getting soft and pithy because we have had more sun and heat this week than any other stretch of days all summer.  Low eighties and nothing but sunshine symbols in the extended forecast.  We are taking full advantage of it and spending as much time as possible out of doors.  I think the remainder of the bush beans are candidates for an experiment in dilly beans.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Low or No Maintenance

We spend a lot of time, planning and money trying to keep our garden and landscaping "Low or No Maintenance"  You can probably guess that there is no such thing as No Maintenance.  Anyone with  a gravel driveway knows that if you were to turn your back on a driveway for a year or two you would end up with a lawn instead.  Every leaf that decomposes and every twig that gets pulverized into the gravel is creating soil and where you have soil you will certainly have weeds.  Heck weeds grow quite happily hydroponically in gravel with no soil whatsoever.  But allowing soil into your gravel is just an invitation of LOTS of weeds.

With our garden being surrounded by gravel and paver pads, we enjoy very low maintenance.  With raised beds there is no tilling, very little weeding and in my garden I can easily do half of my chores in my office clothes.  Which comes in handy when I need to skip out the garden in the morning and pick some lettuce for lunch.

About twice a year we have to have a day of maintenance, usually straightening frost heaved posts and/or pavers, replenishing gravel and mending fences and patios.  Then every once in a while you get Mother Nature surprising you with an extra day of maintenance.  When the remnants of Hurricane Irma arrived here at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, she dumped three inches of rain in pretty short order.  That resulted in the bank, which recently had all of the summer squash plants pulled out, washing down into the walkway.  This will happen now and then on a small scale, but this week we got it in large scale.

Believe it or not, a shop vac will remove a decent amount of mulch from gravel without sucking up the heavier gravel.  But this was a lot more than the shop vac would have been able to handle.  But it really wasn't a disaster of epic proportions.  We always have pile or two of  gravel on hand.  It's best to just shovel out all of the contaminated gravel, use that for "clean fill" elsewhere, and put in some fresh gravel.

The bunkers nearby store mulch, bank run
and pea gravel for projects throughout the year
And hour later things were back to normal and even looked better than normal with fresh clean, perfectly swept gravel.

I cut into the bank to give a little edge to stop regular runoff from cascading over the RR ties and raked everything smooth again.

Speaking of constant maintenance - another challenge is keeping the destructive little chipmunk varmints in check.  Last year I killed fourteen.  This year I've killed ten so far, and the next door neighbor caught his ninth one this morning.  If you have a big problem with chipmunks, the key to trapping them is to find out where they like to run and putting a good heavy snap trap in their path.  In this case, they love to run behind this step close to the chicken coop.  So that's where I leave a trap.  You can see it tucked in there behind the step in the shadow.

Chipmunks are awful cute and cheery and I hate to have to kill them all the time, but they are so destructive.  Not only will they eat every last strawberry, despite the strawberries being protected by a secure cage of 1 inch square woven wire - which the little buggers squeeze right through - but they will undermine and kill your shrubs and ruin your house.  There is absolutely nothing more aggravating than laying cozily in bed on a wintery Sunday morning, listening to a G-d D---d chipmunk gnaw on his breakfast in the crawlspace under the bedroom.  And who know s what else he's gnawing on before he goes back to bed in the insulation he's pulled down and rearranged.  So chipmunk control is another item of constant maintenance.

I'm slowly going through and pulling out spent plants getting ready for autumn.

I'm potting up things I want to over-winter for next year.  
Spikes and vinca vine are fairly easy to keep alive and well.

The Nasturtium are looking gorgeous

The Supertunias are holding their own


Red Fountain Grass "Fireworks" in the dry creek bed.
"Cherry Sparkler" in the background

Soon these green lawns and lush leaves will be gone.  Enjoy them while they last.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

And Autumn Came

Usually by August I am longing for the end of the garden.  But this year has been cool and pleasant so things haven't burned out as badly as usual.  I cut back so much I'm not tired of watering and preserving.  I've been able to easily keep up with deadheading and maintenance.  Mums are blooming.  I'm still enjoying gardening and not longing for frost.  If something get's too raggedy to manage, I just pull it out or chop it down and move on!

The ragged part - I pulled out an early row of beans,
leaving ugly but producing cucumber plants

Most people are saying this isn't a good gardening year.  Well, it hasn't been a great year for tomatoes but I still have too many and everything else is doing fine.

The Purple Queen Beans are still beautiful

The tomatoes are holding their own

Its been a good, but late year for peppers

Some things are worth caring for all summer.  The Nasturtiums look pretty bad by late July.  But it you clean them up and trim them back - then ignore their ugliness for awhile - they will have a nice second season in September and October.  Mine are just beginning to bud again
Alaska Nasturtium

This month all of the news headlines have been about hurricanes and fires.  Harvey nearly wiped out Houston, and Irma is moving into south Florida right now. It seems that the entire Pacific Northwest is on fire.  I can't imagine trying to garden in such extreme climates.  I look around and count all of the things I would have to tie down in preparation for a hurricane.  A cold frame, wheelbarrows, planters, likely lawn furniture although ours weighs a ton.  We did have 60 mile an hour winds this week, but it was only for about ten minutes, and resulted in a lawn full of leaves and twigs.  The green tomatoes took a bit of a beating and some have been dropping in the days after the wind.

We live in western NY, and whenever we say that, people think of Buffalo winters.  I think the American psyche was permanently damaged by the blizzards of '77 and '78.  But that isn't what our climate is all about.  We really are not that much further north than the Mediterranean, and the Great Lakes moderate our weather.  When asked to describe our climate I just list the things we do not have:

  • Hurricanes
  • Forest Fires
  • Earthquakes
  • Major Floods
  • Ice Storms
  • Hail

Now and then we will have a tornado or some localized flooding but those only affect dozens or hundreds of people, not thousands.  Lately our winters have been mild.  Sure, we can get three feet of snow over night, but if you shovel your roof things will be OK.  Snow in general is much less damaging than hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes and floods.  I can't imagine working all season for a nice garden then have it wiped out by floods or fire or something as simple as hail

There is one more garden season for us.  We do not do much fall gardening, no peas or cabbages, but we do lettuce.  My lettuce babies are growing and waiting for the zucchini to vacate the garden bed up by the shed where they will be coddled until December when they will finally stop growing or finally be frozen out.

We will enjoy the autumn colors until we have put everything to bed for winter.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

August Progress - the end of some things

How many rows of bush beans can you get into a three foot wide bed?
If it's Purple Queen - One Row.

They like to climb two to three feet tall

I've been picking an earlier planting of yellow wax beans for two weeks, 
but the purple are going to be ready in a day or two.

Back in June my father was the one who first said "my peppers are shaped funny". 
 And I knew exactly what he meant.  Most of my bell peppers are pointy.  The three below all came from plants in the same four pack.  The pointy ones seem to stay pointy and the nicely lobed ones seem to start out that way.  I haven't been able to find any explanation on the internet about that.  Some suggest that you wait to pick them until they fill out and the lobes push past the center point (as seen in the center pepper) but it doesn't happen.  As you can tell from the deep color of the pointy one on the left, it is very ripe and shows no sigh of reshaping.  If anyone knows the science behind this I'd love to hear it.

The peppers are slow but still putting out a lot of blooms and baby peppers.  Luckily these are in pots so they will not have to be pulled out when we put things up for winter.  The pots can come up against the garden shed and be protected from frost for weeks after the garden beds would last.

The summer squash bed is about done.  The powdery mildew has taken over and they are not putting out any new flowers or growth.

But the zucchini plant on the other end in its own bed is still thriving.

I am still getting cucumbers from the second planting, and PLENTY of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes but my Celebrity plant died last night. You can see about 8 inches up from the ground it has a very blighted stem area and the entire plant was suddenly wilted.  I harvested all the tomatoes and pulled it up.  I have enough Pineapple tomatoes to keep me going and the other varieties are still waiting to ripen. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Japanese Beetles

How can you tell if you are running a Japanese Beetle Breeding Ground?  The skunks will tell you.  And the coons too.  They will come through at night and root up your lawn looking for the grubs.  And while it's great that they're willing to destroy the grubs for you, if you had a nice neat lawn you spent a lot of time on all this destruction could be very upsetting.

Now I can see which areas of our lawn have not been properly treated with Milky Spore.  I have a big box of it ready to apply and late summer/early autumn is the perfect time to apply when the new grubs are feeding getting ready for winter.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tomato Maintenance

There are many different methods of supporting tomato plants.  You can tie them up on strings, cage them, train them up a ladder, twist them up a pretty colored spiral stake or put them through hog panels.  One thing all of these methods have in common is that you have to keep up with them every day.  You have to make sure your leaders stays in the frame, and any side shoots that you do not prune off need to be woven in as well or at least tied to the outside.

If you don't your supports will be useless.  In fact, in this case I think having the ladder is actually doing more damage to the plant than letting it sprawl on the ground because now the side branches are broken over a rail resulting in the stem snapping.

Here is one of my own determinate varieties, unpruned, 
but still contained within the ladder.

There are soft tomato ties here and there supporting side branches.  
Sometimes the tie needs to be repositioned to support the fruit as they grow.

And here is an indeterminate variety, well pruned 
to a single leader and contained in the ladder.

Sometimes the branch will lay harmlessly along the ground.

But the worst case scenario is the branch will break off entirely and you will lose all the fruit on it.
So maintain your tomatoes!  You don't want all your hard work and hopes dashed because you didn't keep up on simple maintenance.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Mid-Summer Slump (not)

The mid-summer slump is late.  My garden looks far from slumpy.  In fact, it looks pretty fresh and new.  Maybe not June-new, but still pretty good.  Despite the fact that in July we went almost three weeks on only 1/4 inch of rain.

Shabby old vines
 The first planting of cucumbers was dwindling off and beginning to show signs of age.  Instead of letting the leaves deteriorate and foster diseases, I pulled them out.  I  have a row of Goldmine Bush beans planted there.

Cucumber bed before removing old vines

The Goldmine Bush Beans now have the bed to themselves
The second planting of cukes is just coming on.  This plant was a spare from the first planting which I kept in a pot until the peas were out and the second planting was ready to go in.  It has already been a great producer and will bridge the gap between the first and second plantings.

A perfect Cucumber

Second Cucumbers and Bush Beans
I am still waiting on my first ripe tomato.  It is WEEKS late.  I have been getting one or two ripe Sungold cherry tomatoes each day from each of my two plants.  Which is barely enough to garnish a salad.  I am waiting for the time when I have handfuls to make tomato, cucumber and feta salads.

The tomato bed is NOT a jungle this year.
It is also not blighted yet

Celebrity Tomatoes
The bell peppers that were setting as I planted them this spring are beginning to ripen.  The plants that I pinched back pretty vigorously in June are setting a good amount of fruit.  Luckily these are in containers so if it takes them forever to mature, I can protect them from frost.

Baby bell peppers

Powdery Mildew
We have had dry weather, hot weather, cool weather, damp weather and still the garden is weathering it all.  There is a little mildew showing up on one of the yellow summer squash plants, but nothing to be alarmed about.  As I've often noticed, it is the varieties with plain green leaves that succumb first, and squash with lighter lacing running through their leaves hold out the longest.  If it gets too bad I will just pull it out.  We've had very few bad bugs this year.  So all in all it has been an easy year so far.

The Dunja squash has lighter lacing in the leaves
and will be the last thing affected by mildew