Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Okay, so I fibbed - June Progress Report

In my last post about simplification, I said that I had, for the first time ever, restricted myself to the planned 5 tomato plants.  And then the very next day, I planted the 5 backups I had.  Because they were small, but too nice to throw out.  When you've cared for a seedling for two months, it is hard to give up on it.  I also have one backup each of cucumber, yellow squash and zucchini in gallon pots.  Those make a little more sense.  The gallon pot slows down their maturity, and you can plant them much later and have a second crop up fresh, healthy plants.  However, last year I was so good at maintaining my zucchini that I didn't need a backup.  So...

The five spare tomato plants are rooming with the zucchini
No deer protection.  But that's what you get when you're a spare
But the tomatoes are under strict supervision.  I am suckering them and keeping up with the lower leaves, and generally following all of the accepted practice of tomato training.   I am pinching off any fused blossoms, because last year I had such a mess of ugly fused fruit.

Celebrity Tomatoes
This is the first year in a long time that I have planted a determinate hybrid variety.  I chose Celebrity because it is a great producer, and the fruit are round and beautiful, and just perfect for sandwiches.  They are also earlier than my heirloom varieties - apparently.

The small zucchini to the right was not pollinated and is already beginning to shrivel.
The larger one to the left is newer, but filling out quickly
This year the zucchini put out a lot of female flowers before any male.  I let them go because who knows if a bee may manage to cross pollinate from some neighborhood garden.  But in the end I could tell that none of the squash would amount to anything, so I pinched them all off.  I've also been carefully policing up the spent blooms.  I was very thorough about that last year and had no sign of mildew or other disease until the end of August.  It's just good housekeeping.

The Neighborhood Squash Patch
I have five zucchini plants planted.  Technically ten because each "one" was two seeds.  I mentioned this last year.  I like planting zucchini seeds in pairs because one will grow left and the other will grow right and you will always have a compact looking zucchini bush and never a sprawling naked vine.  Which I hate.

I always have a few spares hanging around
The reason I have so many is that we let the next door neighbors share our garden and I want to be able to choose the variety and maintenance schedule on the mildew prone summer squash (I planted some yellow as well) so I told them I would plant and manage all of the zucchinis and they could help themselves to as many as they want.  I have my own private zucchini monster planted separately.  And I bought a spiralizer and pinned a bunch of recipes so bring on the zucchini noodles!

The pea anchors for windy days.
The twine is tied to the top of the tall pea fence
My Wando peas are so tall I have to reach way up to pick the later pods.  They are also catching a lot of wind so I straightened the fences and anchored them down a bit.  An ounce of prevention and all that...  We've had a lot of cool windy days and the ground is saturated, so things can easily topple over.

The Tomatoes are surrounded by Nasturtium and Basil
In fact, I had a Nasturtium plant twist off in the wind.  I have them planted thickly here around the tomatoes to prevent soil from splashing up on the tomato leaves in the rain thus discouraging bacterial diseases.

The early Pea bed is cleaned and replanted
The earlier peas are done and the second planting of cucumbers, and the first planting of bush beans are in.  I have learned to wait with beans.  The longer I wait, the better luck I have.  I've planted in May and lost entire rows to rot in years where it was so cool and wet I had moss growing every where.  Like this year...

Moss in the zucchini bed!  And it get's full sun.  ALL DAY full sun and great ventilation.

Cucumbers sheltering the lettuce from the afternoon sun
The early cucumbers are progressing nicely.  I chose the super resistant SV4719CS variety which did very well last year.  The second planting is Marketmore 76 which will be fine in the heat of July but often mildews early.  So I plant them later and hope for dry heat.  I hate having to look at scraggly brown vines whether they are producing or not.

Big Early Red
The peppers and potatoes in pots are doing well.  The neighbor's pepper plants are beginning to drop leaves in this cool damp weather.  Mine did that a lot last year, so I tried fresh soil in containers, and I have had very few leaves drop.  I have also pinched off and pruned my pepper plants, experimenting for larger yields.  The "Big Early Red" that I purchased as transplants instead of starting from seed have set a lot of fruit.

The apple tree is loaded with apples.  I may experiment with bagging them this year.  I think it is done dropping the inferior fruit.  The droppage has slowed down anyway.

The landscape plantings are beautiful this time of year.  The irises are done and the lilies are starting up.

The Siberian Irises earlier this month
May Peonies
Clematis Vine

Tiger Lillies

Daylillies in the dry creek bed

The Dry Creek Bed

Toad Stool Town
And the garage is stripped, empty and waiting for the Amish

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Last year I wrote a blog about Cutting Back and listed everything that I can grow which I no longer bother to grow.  Well, this year is the same theme.  Having already finished the epic dry creek bed project, we are moving on to refurbishing the two car garage and building a deck at our side entrance.

The garage with its old shake shingles and
house wrap hides in the background
The garage is about 70 years old, has been routinely ignored in favor of all our other renovation projects and is in need of a major face lift.  I always try to leave it out of garden and landscape photos, but sometimes it sneaks in. 

"Needs to be refurbished" - ya think?
What it needs is a whole new foundation
Our side entrance has been on hold for years and has been dug up a few times in the past few, first to replace the septic system and then just last year to run city water into the house.  It presently consists of a non-glamorous set of steps, deteriorating railroad ties, an expanse of bare gravel, and a stalwart Porcelain Vine which does a lot towards covering up the air conditioner and distracting from the general lack of landscape.

The side entrance last year mid-water project
This is the year we plan to remedy all that, so the garden has been tightened up again to be low(er) maintenance.  I cut out more than half a dozen planters which are very time consuming as they require almost daily watering.   I successfully (for the first time ever) restrained myself to 5 tomato plants and no eggplants.  And that's really about it. Still, it will be a lot less daily work.  Here is a list of what is in the garden this year:

Zucchini and Yellow Squash
Out in the open the plants have to be protected
with a wire cage until they are mature enough to
be prickly and not appetizing to deer and rabbits
  • Lettuce (lots of lettuce)
  • Strawberries
  • Peas
  • Potatoes (in containers)
  • Zucchini (way too many)
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes (only 5 plants)
  • Bell Peppers (in containers)
  • Bush Beans (still to come)
  • Various Herbs
Tomatoes surrounded by Nasturtium to keep
soil from splashing up onto the tomato leaves.  

Cucumbers shading the third planting of lettuce

Bell peppers in large landscape pots.
The Gro Thru grid will support the plants when
they become taller and heavy with peppers.
Right now, the strawberries are in their prime.  I pulled many runners to open up the bed, and to keep the plants away from the sides which is what caused my Strawberry Problem of 2016 where all of the plants grew through the cage making it almost impossible to remove for picking.  I am picking a couple of quarts every other day and what does not get eaten fresh goes into the freezer for Strawberry Crisp .

Peas are about ready to pick.  There are enough for nibbling but not yet for two servings at dinner.  I think probably if I feel around in the potato pots, I will find enough new potatoes for supper.

tall Wando peas

Maestro peas almost ready to pick

Potatoes in tubs
To harvest, I just dump one tub.  And I never damage
one like you might when digging
In addition to refurbishing, we also have a lot of seasonal maintenance.  The garden shed has been washed down and the doors painted.  The doors are white fiberglass, and you would not believe how much dirt they collected just from rain and atmosphere.  Within a couple of months, they would be grey with grunge.  This bronze color which matches our outdoor furniture and deck boxes will hide a lot of that.

So that's what' going on in the garden.  The weather has been beautiful, pests have been minimal, and everything is growing by leaps and bounds.  Time to start on summer projects.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Planting the Dry Creek bed

A couple of weekends ago we planted the dry creek bed project which finishes it.  I knew I wanted grassy looking plants.  Flowering at different times.  Deer resistant.  Easy to maintain.  And I also wanted it to coordinate with the tiger lilies along the front fence, and the plantings in the "Big Drain".  One thing I know about myself is that I prefer simple repetition in landscaping.  That is what makes things look tidy and well planned out.

Day lilies - these are super easy to maintain and come in a wide variety of color combinations.  I stuck with a "hot" palette of yellow, orange and red.

Siberian Irises - also easy to maintain.  It seems like the universal color for Siberian Irisies is blue.  If you buy a mix, over time, the other colors will dwindle and the blue will take over.  But I have at least 4 different shades of blue/lavender in the landscape right now.  We already had clumps of irises planted along the driveway on the one side of the spruce row.  I had leftovers "stored" in an out of the way edge which I dug up and re-potted.  I am now over run by blue Caesar's Brother irises and on the lookout for white or yellow plants.  There were some available last year, but so far this year my search has come up short.

Blue Oat Grass

Fountain Grass Fireworks
I saw gorgeous, mature plants potted up and selling for an awful amount this spring, and was happy to find  the baby version in 4 inch pots.
Fountain Grass Cherry Sparkler
To coordinate with the all red Fireworks

Now the trouble with planting this area is that it is several inches of stone over stabilization mat = no soil.  Also we do not want the soil filtering through the rocks and out of the planting area.  The solution I came up with was large, 2 gallon peat pots.  These will contain the soil until a root ball develops and then slowly break down into soil, allowing the plant to expand naturally.

I began buying plants as soon as the greenhouses opened in April.  I potted them up as I got them and set them in the garden where I could water them easily allowing them to become established so when I planted them in the creek bed they would not require daily watering and maintenance, and also so that when they were watered, the soil would not be loose and spill over the edge of the pot and wash away into our stones.

 Each pot had to be dug down into the landscape.  This meant moving a lot of rocks, cutting the mat and digging down into the base layer.  The base layer varies from gravel, to clay, to regular top soil full of tree roots.  I thought about taking photos of this process, but I thought maybe I wouldn't want to remember this part.  And I was right. After 5 hours, I was tired of chipping away at the sides with a hand tool.  When I closed my eyes, all I saw were empty holes.  I wore out two pairs of gloves.  We removed two and a half tractor loads full of fill dirt. Then I had to replace the rocks around the plant and top it all off with gravel. I placed fist sized rocks inside the top of the pot to disguise the edge. I was quite happy with the results of our efforts.

Towards the end of this five hour session, Tim had lost patience and was wondering aloud why we go to all this effort because no one ever seems to notice.  I appreciate the end product. But sometimes it does seem a little excessive.   Shortly, one of the neighbors who also has a very tidy, nicely landscaped place, slowed down while driving by and pronounced this project "award winning". Which was much appreciated.

And then just last night, we got a knock on our door at 8:45 pm on the edge of dusk.  Another neighbor had guests in from Cuba and she wanted to walk through the vegetable garden and then out the creek bed.  Now 8:45 is a bit late to go knocking on neighbor's doors, but of course I was flattered because you don't get guests from Cuba very often.

This is a lot of creek, and just a little grass, but when
you stroll down through you can better appreciate each planting.
Another aspect of the Dry Creek Bed I haven't covered is the replacement of two spruce trees.  One died about three years ago and was not replaced, and the one next to it was looking pretty bad so we removed it.  I hate planting large evergreen trees.  They are heavy and prickly and I hate them.  Although the new trees are several years behind the first planting, I pruned and shaped the older trees, and they look like they all belong together.

The tree on the very end is an old but slower growing tree,
 and the second and third trees are the replacements.

I was scrolling through the blog the other day and came across two entries from 2012 when we first began to work on this side yard in earnest :

The Side Yard
The Tree We Planted Twice

Before and After