Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The End of June

The whole point to a garden blog, besides finding kindred spirits to compare notes with, is that you can easily look back over the years and compare conditions and progress to years past.

 Comparing the last week of June in previous years to my garden today, I can confirm what I believed to be true.  Lettuce is great, peas are OK and worth the wait, tomatoes and potatoes are typical, zucchini and cucumber are lagging and cantaloupes are a bust.  Nasturtiums should be blooming.  Too much rain in June is not uncommon.  Mother Nature is unpredictable.

Every year has it's challenges, successes and failures.  I don't think I've ever had a year where everything I wanted went as planned or better.  Something always fails.  It might be melons or sweet potatoes or even summer squash you just never know.  Heck in 2013 I killed a cherry tomato plant!  Those things usually get eight feet tall and six feet wide.

A few things worth mentioning this week:

The tomatoes in pots are beautiful.  Deep green, healthy and blooming.
They are keeping pace with the tomatoes in the bed. 
They are four rungs tall on the ladder which is typical of this week

I love watching sweet corn follow the sun throughout the day

I'm about ready to forget about cantaloupes this year
and proceed with bush beans instead.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Four Weeks Late

So let's examine this observation that is being thrown around here in town:  "Spring is a month late"

Below is a list of the pea varieties that I planted on March 23rd.  March 23rd is a fairly early planting date in my area, but peas do well in cooler weather.  I planted as usual, soaking over night.  The weather was cool and wet. The plants took about three weeks to emerge which is absolutely normal.  Last year the peas were right on schedule, no more than two days past forecast maturity date.  Today I picked the first peas and froze two cups.

Easy Peasy Peas - 60-65 days maturity  March 23rd + 65 days=May 27th (that was almost four weeks ago)
Wando Peas - 68 days maturity (May 30th)
Garden Sweet Peas - 60-65 days maturity
Penelope Peas - 59 days maturity would have been May 21st.

These are the Garden Sweet which were supposed to grow to
28"-32" high and outgrew the standard 37" pea trellis by about two feet. 
Then they flopped over which makes it more difficult to pick
 them on one side, but doesn't hurt the plants.

These are the "self supporting" Easy Peasy variety.  The whole row was laying over one
side or the other which was keeping them from drying out when the rain did finally stop
 so I pinned them upright by placing stem supports on either side ever couple of feet.

These are the varieties of cauliflower and broccoli I transplanted on April 10th
Diplomat Broccoli - 68 days maturity April 10th + 68 days = June 17th. I saw the first sign of a bud June 14th.  It was not ready to eat June 17th.  But at least it's growing
Snow Crown Cauliflower - 50 days  (May 30th) I just found the beginnings of a head this week
Bishop Cauliflower - 65 days - no sign
Flame Star Cauliflower - 62 days - no sign
Vitaverde Cauliflower - 71 days - no sign

Please don't bolt please don't bolt.....

Yep.  Spring is a month late.  Peas are four weeks late.  Cole crops are several weeks late but yet to be determined.  Tomatoes began to set about a week late.  I don't even want to talk about cucumbers and cantaloupe.

The tomato plants are about hip height and I have several ping-pong sized fruit

"Gotta Have It" sweet corn is almost knee high and thriving
The cucumber row has been bolstered by the seedlings started in the cold frame.

Rebecca clematis vine in full bloom

Friday, June 21, 2019

Bagging Apples

"They say there is no such thing as an organic apple in the Northeast".  I remember that quote from Bill Alexander's book the $64 Dollar Tomato.  Chapter 4.

Typical bushel of homegrown New York Apples

The author had fond memories of his father growing perfect organic apples when he was a child, and his first attempts to grow apples using only organic methods of pest control was a disappointment.  After several years of failure, he finally caved in and purchased malathion and the smell of it was familiar.  All those years he remembered his father growing this wonderful healthy produce, turns out Dad had been using chemicals after all!

My PaPaw spraying his apple orchard in Kentucky 1977 
Since I only have two apple trees and they only produce a few dozen apples, I have found that bagging the apples gets around the chemical problem very nicely.  It prevents insects from laying eggs on them (the origin of those little green worms), it makes them unappetizing to deer and it keeps the airborne/rain borne diseases like Sooty Blotch off of them.  But you have to do it as early in the season as possible.

Not Bagged and covered in Sooty Blotch
Bagging makes a huge difference in the appearance of my apples.  Sooty Blotch is my biggest problem.  Sandwich bags prevent it completely!
Bagged and beautiful

The first question I get asked when I have visitors to the garden is "what is in the bags?"  My trees are covered in them.  You might think they would be hard to keep on or that they would catch the wind and make the apples more likely to drop but that isn't the case.  Yes, the trees will drop some apples even after thinning.  Depending on growing conditions the tree will drop any fruit it can't support.

Some people staple on brown paper lunch bags, but I prefer the zip-lock sandwich bags.  I think with our annual rainfall that the bags would disintegrate before the season was up.

The bags need a little prep before you apply them.  First you cut off each lower corner which will allow any water to drain out.  Then you cut just through the zipper so you can close each side around the stem without there being a gap.  A gap would allow more water and insects in as well as encouraging the zipper to unzip.  To apply, just open one side of the zipper, place the bag over the apple, and zip it tight.  

While you are bagging the apples is a good time to thin them out.  
Clusters of multiple apples should be thinned down to the strongest one.  
Remove any already damaged fruit.

Eaten by insects, most likely ants.  This fruit will drop before maturity

An insect has laid an egg in this apple.  This apple will mature but at least be lopsided.
At worst, a little worm will eat it's way into the core ruining the whole apple.

A bag full!
The apples will grow just fine in the bags.  I've had some apples which got so big the bag had to be cut off of them because they had stretched the bag and were too big to come out the top. 

Not Bagged
As you can see, the bagging makes a HUGE difference in the appearance of the end result.  Clean, uniformly shaped fruit.

A brief recent article from the Farmer's Almanac:  Growing Organic Apples with Fruit Bagging
An article from the University of Kentucky:  Bagging Apples: Alternative Pest Management for Hobbyists

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Hilling Potatoes in Raised Beds

While gardening in raised beds has many many advantages over the traditional wide open row garden, there are a few crops that pose logistic challenges.  One of these is potatoes.

Potatoes are traditionally planted in rows in a field and the soil between the wide rows is raked up towards the plants as they grow to form hills.  People say if you continue to hill, you will get more potatoes per plant because the plants will continue to put out higher layers of tubers as the soil deepens.  This is the theory behind most container style methods of growing potatoes

The most fantastical method of container growing potatoes in layers is the spud box.  The theory behind this is that you plant the seed potatoes in the bottom, and as the plants grow, you add layers to the box and soil to cover the potatoes.  When you are ready to harvest you open up the side and the bounty of spuds just spills out.  And because you have been able to cover your plants so much deeper than a traditional "hill" you will have exponentially more potatoes to harvest.  Well... yes and no. 

A vintage Henry Maule seed catalog gives a cutaway view of a hill of potatoes.
While I do like growing potatoes in containers, I've never found that I can get more yield by burying them deeper.  In my experience, most seed potatoes will produce six to eight new tubers and the growing conditions will determine how large these grow. It is just easier to harvest them from a container without digging with a fork risking damage to the potatoes and inevitably leaving some behind.  Maybe I'm just not doing it right?  Maybe you have to believe and I just don't have faith in the "more potatoes" concept.

There are two good reasons to hill your potatoes.  First is to support the tall plants and prevent them from laying flat on the ground contracting diseases.  The second reason is to ensure the tubers are thickly covered with soil preventing them from turning green in the sunlight.  Green potatoes have a high concentration of the gkycoalkaloid called Solanine.  This is a toxin produced by the nightshade family and it will give you a very upset tummy.  Even if you cannot see the green color on the skin, there will be a green layer just under the skin and the potatoes will taste like soap.

In a farm setting, you would need implements to hill acres and acres of potatoes

When I first started growing potatoes I had sort of a "mini field" set up.  Yes, there were space constraints but I didn't really have a depth limit so I could still add or remove material as necessary.  This isn't true in a raise bed.  Once its full its full.  You can mound it up in the center but that will just cause unwanted water run off.

The two necessary components to hilling potatoes is room between the rows (not only to supply the material needed, but to allow the inevitable widening of the row) and deeply tilled, loose soil that can be easily moved.  When you get down to hardpan you are out of material

Hilled rows of potatoes can pose a problem when watering.  The water will initially run off of the hill.  You need those wide rows and loose soil to hold the moisture long enough for it to sink in before running away.

Valleys for planting built with hilling material collected between the rows
When you plant potatoes in a raised bed you have to plan your hilling material ahead of time because you can't necessarily just add more material when you need it.  Which means you have to start with valleys and end with hills.  You are going to plant your seed potatoes as much lower than your finished bed level as you can manage, and you can store your hilling material between the rows of potatoes because with a raised bed you are not going to be walking on it and compacting it again.

With a rake I've created these valleys.  

And now I am going to dig my seed potatoes about six inches into the bottom of the valley.  I stopped there because after that point my soil is a higher concentration of clay and even if you dug the seeds down into this harder material the plant would have trouble putting roots out through it anyway.

As you dig the individual holes, you can add the additional material to your hills.  You won't need all of it because I just sort of brush the loose soil from around each side of the hole onto the seed potato just enough to block the light and let the plant know it's time to grow..

As the sprouts form, you can begin to first level your bed and then eventually form the hills.

You should let the plant keep at least three inches of growth above your soil level

These plants are ready to hill again.

I now use a rake to take about half of the ridge of soil 
in each direction towards the rows on each side.

You keep working over the same area until the plants are supported with hills, and you are now left with the valleys between your rows.

In the spring it only takes a day or two to get enough growth to hill again.

Sooner or later you will run out of material.  The wider you spaced your rows, the wider your hills can be.  At this point you need to be watchful that you are not hitting roots with your rake.

As your plants continue to grow, keep an eye on things to make sure your potatoes aren't growing too close to the surface.  Rain erosion can wash some of your hilling away exposing the potatoes.  If the potato patch is too dense to use a rake to re-cover your spuds, an good emergency fix would be to add a layer of straw. The straw can either be removed at the end of the season or tilled into your soil.

And that's how I deal with hilling potatoes.  I've grown them in a variety of locations and containers and this method in this bed gives me the best results every time.  
Within a week my plants should be blooming and I will be able to take some new potatoes away from the edges without disturbing the plants

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Year of the Soggy Chipmunk

That title got your attention didn't it?

It's fun and intersting to keep track of garden statistics.  I make notes of overall weather, pests and frost dates per year.  One of the most important numbers is rain.  Its a little tedious having to remember to check the rain gauge every morning, but some years you can go weeks without having to remember to do that.  

I print a chart each year for the months April through September since those are my gardening months.  I clip it to a clipboard and hang it on a nail in the garden shed.  Every time I empty the rain gauge I write the measurement down on the date.  That way I can keep track of whether my garden is getting the minimal one inch per week.

We're basically half way through the gardening year. Two and a half months down.  Two and a half to go.  May rainfall was only slightly above average (my husband will argue against that but I have facts).  It didn't even come close to May 2014. So far this month (halfway thru) we have had all the rain we should be getting in June.  I hope we don't break the record.  It's wet out.  Really wet.  Several days out of each week we have standing water in the lawns.  This morning was pretty squishy.

 I also make note of the approximate date of arrival of the Japanese beetles.  Severity of cucumber and flea beetle damage.  Approximate date the powdery mildew shows up.  Stuff like that.  Number of chipmunks removed from the population.  We've already exceeded our average and tied our record on that score.  So I officially dub this 
The Year of the Soggy Chipmunk.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Simple Project

These are the kinds of fun weekend projects we like.  
A wheelbarrow load of gravel to replace the soggy mulch where it pools between the sloping raised bed and the railroad tie.
Two wheelbarrows of mulch to freshen up.

Some little square pavers you can hold in one hand to edge between 
the gravel and mulch.
Not the usual three foot square heavy duty pavers

That dresses it up nicely.  Which is important since we walk past it  at least a dozen times a day when were are working around the garden.  Maybe a hundred times a day on a busy day, or that's what it seems like.

Here is my little bitty broccoli bud

And the Paul Robeson tomato in the container is the first to set a tomato.  I think the one in the raised beds has a fruit set too in the first cluster of flowers.