Sunday, June 30, 2013

It Stopped Raining... Quick! Weed and Photograph!

We've now topped 7.5" of rainfall in June.  I haven't had to water much, that's for sure.  Actually just once in order to fertilize.  And I've done very little weeding because of the lasagna gardening method.  In the fall I put down a layer of chopped leaves under a layer of compost.  In the spring I only rake the rubbish off the top with a bow rake and plant disturbing the soil as little as possible.  This avoids disrupting my earth worms and seals the weed seeds under the mulch.  The success of this is easy to gauge against Mike and Shelly's half of the garden.  They mulch like I do in the fall but then hand till their soil each spring.  I can watch their weed growth as compared to mine and see how much time they spend weeding.  Lasagna is the way to go!

Everything is looking wonderful.  We are eating peas, some new potatoes, lettuce, garlic, onions and I've had one zucchini.

The Garden June 30th 2013
Left to Right: Onions, Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Carrots
Two tall beds of peas and lettuce in the middle
For the cost of 5 bagged salad mixes you can buy enough lettuce transplants to eat lettuce for about two months
Mike and Shelly's end looks nice too.  Peas and then two beds of tomatoes and peppers
Mike and Shelly's end Left to right: Bush Beans, Onions and Cucumbers, Cucumbers and Summer Squash
Beautiful Spanish Roja garlic drying in the sun
the Eggplants have outlived the flea beetles!  This one is a Swallow.
A second planting of cucumbers and herbs waits in the wings
 I am looking forward to pulling the peas out and getting some bush beans planted.  The peas need to be picked daily now and the earliest variety is done and beginning to die off.  I've only had one lettuce plant bolt.  I put in a lot of head lettuce and I am now cutting whole plants of romaine and leaf lettuce instead of trimming the outside leaves.  I estimate if we eat salads everyday we will come to the end of it at just about the time it would be bolting.

My Cold Frame tomatoes are a success again this year.  You just have to get past the part where you are planting midgets instead of giants in gallon pots.  Planting the tiny is a lot less stressful on the plant.  It is too easy to damage a large plant.  I've even broken them right off.

Above is Memorial Day Weekend.  The Dr. Whyche's on the left was sporting it's first set of true leaves.  The one on the right is the nice Absynthe I bought at my friend Mickey's greenhouse.

This weekend the Dr. Wyche's is lagging behind by one rung on the tomato ladder or about 6".  Neither plant has bloomed but they are both budding.

But the most interesting race is between two Barlow Jap plants.  The one on the right was late to germinate.  I kept it back two weeks in the cold frame reluctant to transplant it or even give it away.  It is now only inches behind the nice plant I transplanted at 4". They are both blooming and I'll bet they set fruit at the same time.  Among the late to germinate seedlings that were held back is the one Absynthe that was the last seed to germinate and the single Absynthe.  I had completely given up hope which is why I bought a transplant.  It was about 3 weeks behind my other cold frame babies. It is now only inches behind the "store bought" plant and has buds on it.  It will be interesting to see if it sets fruit at the same time.

Tim has been busy too.  He added another "patio" to the garden complex.  This gets the cold frame off the side walk and when the lid is opened up all the way we will no longer have to go the long way around to get to the garden shed door.  I think there is also enough room for a couple of chairs, or a bench or some other non-sense that I can think up.

Our previous arrangement was a bit crowded.

 My Alaska Nasturtium is looking quite stunning in the laundry basin.  There are also a few Fordhook's Favorites volunteered from last year which are trying to ramble all over.  June is the prettiest time of year in the garden.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


The Bluebird house at the corner of the garden
This year we put a Bluebird house on the corner post of the garden.  We enjoyed watching the birds all spring, and for the past few weeks, after the eggs hatched, each evening we could sit and watch them feeding.

Female Bluebird
The male and female took turns catching bugs and finding small worms in the lawn.  They would perch at the top of the Linden trees 50 feet away and regard us seriously.

Male Bluebird
"Hey, you takin' my picture?"

female feeding the fledglings
When they would land at the door to the house we could hear the babies raising a ruckus.

Dad takes his turn

Where's dessert?
Last Thursday evening I noticed that the fledglings were looking out and I expected they were about ready to leave the nest.  Sure enough, when we got home last Friday after our day in the orchard the nest was empty and quiet.  We still see them on the edge of the woods, but I miss my Bluebirds.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The War of the Roses

I beg your pardon...
I never promised you a rose garden....

You may remember my apple orchard from an earlier blog entry. This year would be it's 75th birthday. Happy Birthday Apple Orchard!  It was planted by my grandfather's brother and takes up 2 acres or so on my farmland on the other side of town.  We don't do too much with it.  Sometimes I ride my horse through there.  A horse can make an apple sound so luscious.   Every couple of years the orchard pulls out all the the stops and gives us a marvelous crop of apples. But mostly, I look at it and think of all the work to be done in there. 

Apple orchards are difficult to mow.  The branches are not pruned and its hard to get a tractor under there.  If a limb falls, you either mow around it, or get out the chain saw and have a bonfire.  If you mow around it, eventually a Multiflora rose will take hold in that spot and engulf the tree.  When the tree dies and falls, you will have a brittle tree carcass in the middle of an eight foot high wall of impenetrable angry thorns, and then you have a real problem.  

Before Number 1

And that is what we had.  A real problem.  We talked about it for a few years.  We knew what had to be done.  We just hadn't worked up the gumption to do it.  My uncle or step father have gone in there and made a few passes with the brush hog so we could at least get to the producing trees.  What we needed was an all out war.

Before Number 2

It has been at least a decade since any cattle were grazed in there and in that amount of time the Multiflora Roses took off.  

Multiflora Rose History

In 1866 the rose bushes were imported as root stock for ornamental roses.  Then, someone got the idea that they would make great hedges for livestock fencing.  Yeah, well...  bad idea.  They are now a VERY invasive species throughout the eastern US.  Once they get started its hard to stop them.  Luckily, they probably do make excellent hedge row fencing for livestock, because once they take over your fence row, there ain't no way you're gettin' to the fence to fix it.  The roses owe you.  They had better keep the cows in.

Before Number 3

Above is the main gateway to the orchard.  The gate would be that large dark mound in the lower left and beyond that is an invisible drainage ditch four feet deep by twelve feet wide with a barbed wire fence on the other side of it.

My Friday day off dawned bright and early.  The first day of Summer.  A beautiful day to work outside.    Temperatures in the mid eighties and sunny skies were forecasted.  I put on a long sleeve denim shirt, some heavy leather gloves, nearly ruined blue jeans and some stiff leather boots.  Ahhh...  summertime.   My stepdad started early in the morning and mowed the high grass up to the worst of it so Tim could get in close and assess the situation.  Assessment:  The rose bushes dwarfed the tractor.  Where would we ever start?  Was this a futile effort?  What were we thinking?

Tim lowered the front end loader and began driving at the wall o' roses from various directions, pushing and crushing the fallen apple trees in their midst.  Within half an hour he had a 50 foot long angry windrow of thorns aimed at a break in the fence out to a small field we had designated for the burn pile.

We were going to win this war.

Some of the roses were three or more inches thick at the roots.  Tim took the time to backhoe these spots out along with what was left of the tree stumps to make the area mowable in the future.

An hour and a half later the front corner was cleared.  in the meantime, Stepdad Richard was mowing.  When the worst of that was done, they both attacked the rose bushes.  They would drive up along a tree trunk and scoop the roots of the rose bush out and then mash it into a ball to be pushed to the pile.  Dead  limbs were chainsawed into manageable pieces and pushed along with.

The white blossoms in this tree are NOT apple blossoms.  They are roses.

In some cases, the rose vines reached 30 feet or more into the trees.  It was my job to pull any of these out by hand.  It was then I discovered a rose pollen allergy that kept me sneezing all afternoon.

After Number 1
The 10 foot wall of roses is history!

After Number 2
Note the dark pink roses along the bank which are leftover from a house that stood here before our family came to the farm over a hundred years ago.  We call them the "Stoddard Roses" after the housewife who likely planted them,

After Number 3  The gate has been pulled out and the deep drainage ditch uncovered.
Halfway through the day we attacked the gateway.  It didn't take long for me to decided that a weak pipe gate, an undermined gatepost, and three decent strands of barbed wire were not worth the hassle to salvage.  I wrenched the gate off it's hinges, Tim reached in with the back hoe and scooped out a grand daddy rose bush, gate, gatepost, wire and all.  Some things are just not worth the trouble.  We can put all that back later after the roses are gone.

Seven hours later, we had an orchard again.  A neighbor on her way to feed calves at the dairy next door stopped and came walking out grinning from ear to ear "Now that's what I call a good day's work!"

The Part We Saved for Later

We did stop about a hundred feet short of the back fence leaving about a fifth of the orchard untouched. We told ourselves we were leaving "habitat" for the birds and the rabbits, but really, we were just darn tired.  And we have enough fuel for a pretty good bonfire, the pile is almost 30 feet square and 10 feet high without adding the large limbs we set aside to cut for campfire wood..  We can always come back and have another go.

Neither Tim nor I, nor my Stepdad want to see any rose bushes for a long time.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

School's Out!

In two weeks we will attend my 25th high school reunion, and after all these years I still recognize the last day of school.  As I write, just 5 minutes ago, an off schedule school bus caught my attention as it drove past my office window and I realized….  Half Day… School’s out!  No matter how old you get or how far removed you become from the rhythms of childhood I think that still strikes a chord.  The summer is stretched out in front with endless promises and the heart is unfettered by routine.  Suddenly it is easier to get out of bed in the morning and we do not think of returning home until the fireflies light up the tall grass.

This week and next week are shaping up to be the nicest weeks of the year and it’s a perfect day to be the Last Day of School.  I remember my first last day of school like it was yesterday.  Or more particularly, the day after… the first day of my first ever Summer Vacation.  It was 1976 and the Bicentennial was all the rage.  Everywhere you looked there was red white and blue.  I had a brand new pair of red white and blue Keds sneakers and a matching outfit with red shorts and a red white and blue striped tank top.  I awoke on that perfect, bright June morning which was just like today, warm and clear and bright, with a sense of occasion I put on my favorite outfit and slammed out the screen door to the backyard.  My pony was housed in a shed in the back yard and to avoid wetting my new Keds in the dew, I balanced along the stone pavers which outlined a bed of Lily of the Valley along the back of the house.  What I did the rest of the day I don’t remember.  It probably ended up being like any other day, but that first morning sense of adventure is hard to forget.

Mom helps me give my pony a summer bath 

I was five years old and we still lived at the Greenhouse.  The busyness would be winding down as most bedding plants and vegetables had already been purchased and planted, but at my Grandparent’s farm, haying would be in full swing.  The farm was a red barned haven like all old fashioned farms were.  They smelled of clover hay and molasses not silage, and the cows slept on beds of golden straw harvested from one field of oats not sawdust delivered by a truck.  There were shady maples for climbing and calves and kittens for playmates.   Summers on the farm were so perfect that the autumn before, as I hung over the seat back of the old LTD car on the way to the County Fair and my Grandparents asked me if I were excited about growing up and going to school, I answered an honest “No!”  And now it was all behind me and the summer was back.  Yes, that was a magic day.

My Grandfather, Grandmother, and Uncle with the baler in 1976
Today in the garden, things are going well.  I seem to have outlasted both the Cucumber Beetles and the Flea Beetles.   I haven’t had to kill more than two or three bugs a day for the past several days and I have uncovered the eggplants.  They sustained some damage, but not enough to stunt them like last year and we already have a flower!  

The rows of potatoes that I also kept covered so as to remove a large food source for the Flea Beetles are now straining against the top of their floating row covers and will have to be uncovered.

The Potato Patch

The peas are ready to pick in quantities large enough for supper, and I still have 5 portions from last year in the freezer.  I rationed them out, but this is the first time I’ve made it full circle without running out of garden peas.  I also have potatoes left... slightly shriveled, and sprouty as heck, but I had enough to plant this year's crop and I believe we will make it full circle with the potatoes as well.

Purple Pea Blossoms

  One pea plant has unique purple blooms instead of white.  I also have 5 portions of sweet corn left and a gallon bag of green beans which will have to last until August as I plant beans late, after the peas have been pulled.  And I have a Zucchini started!  Let Summer begin.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cucumber Beetles

Besides Flea Beetles, I have managed to grow a significant population of Cucumber Beetles.  The first several years of gardening there were none.  Over the past 3 years I've seen one or two a year but they haven't proved to be too much trouble.  Last year they were on the rise and I bought some sticky traps.  This year I have been killing half a dozen each morning in addition to what was on the trap.  Yesterday I put out a fresh trap, and this is how many I caught in the first 24 hours...

The other size is even worse....

And I'm still killing half a dozen by hand each day.
Gardening is so easy up until the point where the pests discover you have a garden and set up an ever expanding population.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Past Project Progress

In the June lull of activity, while we wait for the pea pods to unfurl and the squash to blossom, it is a good time to check up on the progress of some long term projects.  The asparagus bed which I planted in 2011 was finally productive enough to really enjoy.  The trick to establishing an asparagus bed is to not eat it all at once.  So, I picked a third to a half of the emerging shoots.  Those left to grow are now taller than my head.

Having always steamed my asparagus, I was on the lookout for a better way of preparing it.  Neighbor Shelly came back from the best produce market in town with this recipe:
    Drizzle with olive oil
    Coat with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese
    Bake in a moderate oven for 15 minutes.

I used Italian seasoned bread crumbs, a Parmesan Romano blend and seasoned them with my favorite herb sea salt.  Then I baked them for 15 minutes at 350*.  It was OUTSTANDING.  I don't know if I'll even bother to buy that asparagus steamer pot I've had my eye on.

The asparagus I started with was all male Jersey Supreme and then I filled in with Mary Washington which, being female, is reseeding itself.  I'm not sure what to do with my little asparagus seedlings.  Its nice to have some to fill in and thicken up the patch around less productive crowns.

But, I'm thinking dozens stacked on top of each other is probably unwise.  Still looking for management tips there.

Speaking of things thickening up, way back in the early stages of this blog, I wrote about ordering Siberian Irises with no idea where I was going to plant them.  I settled on the well head in the lawn.  There are few things less attractive than a well casing with a bright blue faucet sitting in the middle of your back yard.  I've seen some interesting attempts to disguise them around here, but I like mine best.

Four years later those nine scrawny little plants have become a lush jungle.  In the spring when I actually use this hydrant for occasional filling of watering cans, they are short and out of the way.  By the end of May when we've begun using the rainwater storage instead, they fill in and are beginning to disguise the hydrant quite nicely.

It's hard to see the lovely colors in this photo, but the majority of them are lavender with some dark blue, pale blue and yellow as well.  Each year I keep an eye on the non lavender seed heads and make sure those seeds are well placed to increase the color variety.

And finally, the Apple Trees.  Four years ago I had trees grafted from the final remaining tree from the old apple orchard here.  This spring we took the tree tubes off and pruned them, and they are quite nice looking trees.

I was very excited to see blooms on one of the two.  But I didn't see any bees working on them.  Apple trees must be cross pollinated from a second variety.  This year the three other trees in our yard, the Yellow Transparent, the Empire, and the Macintosh all bloomed at once.  That's a pretty rare occasion.  On a nice dry day I snipped a bloom laden cross branch out of one of them, got up on a ladder, and hand pollinated each clump of blooms on the grafted tree.

I was rewarded with 6 little apples.  One from each of the flower clusters I could reach.  Success!

Now we will wait with bated breath to see if any or all of these little guys manages to hang on to maturity.  A lot can happen.  Birds, bugs, wind.  The first thing we will do is put bird netting on and hope for the best.  Four years is a long wait for an apple.