Thursday, October 29, 2020

Everyday Household Items for the Garden Shed - 2020 Edition


I have a lot of cleaning brushes lurking around the garden shed.  Everything from fingernail brushes to kitchen scrub brushes, bucket brushes, and bench brushes.  Then I realized what I really needed to clean my four inch pots was a  Toilet Bowl Brush.  This is just the right shape, size and stiffness.  It even works on 3 inch pots which sort of surprised me because I thought it might be too stiff to push into a 3 inch pot. And of course gallon pots.  But the best is the 4 inch pots.  Pot in one hand, brush in the other.  Rotate once or twice and anything and everything you would be getting off with a brush is off.  Why did I not think of this sooner?

I have a couple of cleaners in the garden shed.  For basic scrubbing I have Castile Soap .  For the counter top and windows and other hard surfaces I have Windex.  I have a simple spray bottle with Pine Sol and water to make yucky stuff smell clean.  I have a pump bottle of Germ-X for disinfecting pruning shears and hands.  But what I use a lot is my Armor All Cleaning Wipes.  These things really clean plastic and rubber very well and they leave a nice shine.  For one thing they keep my rain boots and garden clogs looking nice.  They polish up my glossy plastic resin planters that I spent a pretty penny on.  And when I get done with the string trimmer or leave blower, I wipe them down too.  Just about anything you invested a little money in (Hunter boots ain't exactly cheap) that you want to keep looking new deserves the ArmorAll treatment.

For years I've kept a small number of essentials right at the garden gate.  Usually a pair of kitchen shears and a kneeler of some sort.  An old dull knife comes in handy for harvesting if you've forgotten to bring a good one out.  A few pairs of gloves clothes-pinned to the fence to dry. And usually a collection of different hose attachments from a watering wand to a misting nozzle for delicate seedlings.  Due to being relatively weather resistant and in constant use they have collected at the gate post in an untidy mound.  The shears are on a nail on the side of the post, but that didn't work for everything. I know some people put a mail box in their garden to keep tools, but I wanted something that would hold my big blue kneeling pad and watering wands not necessarily my trowels and such.  So I came up with this Wire Basket that hangs on the wire fence and is just what I needed.

I am always seeing people ask what kind of markers last the longest.  The answer to that queston is these metal markers.  But I get tired of writing them up with the special carbon pencil, cleaning the name off with steel wool, collecting them and keeping them corralled for the winter.  In fact the last time I used them was when I was expecting the Master Gardener class for a garden tour.  I figured that it would be helpful if they could read things for themselves instead of having to ask.   I don't use a lot of markers anymore.  I plant things in the position that seems logical to me (which is sort of like storing things in the first place you would look for them), and before long the plants are mature enough that I can pretty reliably tell the difference between tomato varieties or even pea and bean varieties.  

What I really want is a marker that will get me through spring transplanting and then go away.  These good old fashioned Tongue Depressors are just the ticket.  I write on them with a Sharpie.  They do really well marking pots and I can give them away freely that way.  Some of them I put in the garden and by the end of the season, they go into the compost pile with the plant waste or just get raked into the soil.  Nothing irritates me more than a plastic tag floating around the garden.  Problem solved.

A good vegetable brush.  This isn't technically IN the garden but it is very closely related.  When I was studying up on how to prepare sweet potatoes, one of the warnings was to make sure they are very clean and to not spoil your sweet potato pie with garden grit.  This is really true of all our root vegetables.  So I read Amazon reviews for awhile and settled on this handle-less coconut fibre brush.  Its quite a nice little brush and it tucks away in the corner of the dish drying rack, out of sight.

And that is a list of my garden tool improvements for this year.  I'm always looking for a better way to clean and store things.  Someday I may get it right all at once.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

 The 2020 gardening season is winding up and its time to look back and summarize what worked and what didn't.  For starters, the year 2020 has gotten a bad rap.  Apparently whatever can go wrong is going wrong, and the gardening world is no exception.  I heard one person lament "if I'd have had to rely on my Covid Survival Garden I would have starved"

I'm hearing everywhere how challenging the weather has been this year, and honestly, I haven't found this year to be any more challenging than most years.  You know - its always something.  As usual, some things went well and some things fell flat.  

 This year, I had my fill of the abundant cauliflower and summer squash but had to wait for ages for any decent beans.  My sweet potatoes were a great success (in my opinion) but the volume of regular potatoes was a disappointment.  Late beans and small potatoes were a theme nationwide.  August was so hot and dry that tomatoes refused to ripen, but that too came to an end.  I don't think I had trouble with anything to the extent that I'd never try it again, but there were a few things I need to practice on some more.

May Weather:  OK, May was a trial.  The first half anyway.  I struggled to keep everything growing through day after day of frost, wind and snow.  It was made worse by the lovely warm end to April which enticed me to optimistically pot up my tomatoes into gallon pots instead of leaving them in the safety of the basement under the grow light, and the fact that I received a pear tree fully leafed out two days before a late snow storm.  The cole crops in their shelters, and the seedlings still in the house did just fine.  The peas, in their eternal wisdom, waited it out, but did just dandy when the weather finally turned.  For several weeks I thought for sure all of the tomato plants were going to die but they recovered and carried on like nothing ever happened.  It was a lot of work taking care of everything, but it was one of those cold snaps which can be overcome by supplies, preparation, hard work and dedication to carrying. everything. in. and out. every. single. day. Without fail.

Peas:  Peas did well.  I succession planted them beginning in March, as I always do, which ended up not mattering at all because the weather was so erratic that the early peas stopped growing for weeks on end and then they all agreed at the same time that the weather was perfect and they should get going all at once.  But that's the awesome thing about peas in my growing zone.  They are a very sensible crop.  They deal with a lot of issues on their own.  You put them in the ground as soon as you can and then you wait and let them do their thing.  I'm done experimenting with varieties for awhile. Next year I'm only growing Penelope because they are currently working perfectly for my needs.

Carrots:  Carrots don't like root pruning grow-bags.  That's an easy and broad assumption to make but I'm taking some responsibility in the meager results.  I didn't water them enough.  And grow bags dry out quickly.  Next year I am putting them underfoot so I will pay more attention.  But I am also putting them back in plastic containers.  My local nursery was thoughtful enough to bring in stacks of good sized, non-decorative, useful growing containers at a price much more reasonable than I can find online and I got two appropriately carrot-sized pots to replace the grow bags.  Grow bags are a great thing to have on hand.  They fold flat to store, and you can use them as a back-up when you run out of space.  But that doesn't mean they are the end all solution to container gardening.  

Cauliflower:  I'm feeling quite comfortable with growing cauliflowers now.  They are a long term commitment, starting in March and going into the garden in April, but if you enjoy fresh cauliflower its worth it.  We've discovered a lot of difference in taste across the varieties.  The purple Graffiti were beautiful and fun to grow but had a rather strong taste.  We prefer the yellow Flame Star for its mild, sweet taste, so next year I will probably only grow those.  I have a lot frozen and I plan on trying my hand at some cauliflower cheddar soup.  The key to growing good cauliflower (really all cole crops) is row covering to keep the cabbage moths off.  

I was quite happy with my row cover solutions and my supplies are ready for next year.  I'm going to start in spring with the heavier GardenQuilt from Gardeners (which held up well tot he weather and clips) and then skip straight to the see-through AgFabric insect netting .  I've purchased the appropriate sizes and labeled them in case I forget what my plan was.

Broccoli: I only planted broccoli as a fill-in but very much enjoyed fresh broccoli and pea salad. So next year I will again buy some transplants but not start seeds.

Cabbage: transplants were also an impulse buy because I was in the mood for homemade cole slaw.  Next year I will grow some again.  Not a great quantity, but at least four for fresh slaw.  The cabbages can share a bed with the broccoli since they require the same covering.

Brussels Sprouts:  Talk about a long term project.  They are still in the garden even though we have had one hard frost and I should be picking them now.

Lima Beans:  Much like the cole slaw, I got a craving for lima beans.  This was my first try for limas. The plants did very well and there were a lot of blooms, and the earliest ones set well but after that most of the blossoms dropped, probably because of the hot dry weather.  In fact, they were still blooming and again setting baby beans when I pulled them out.  The six or so portions I did get were very good so I will try this crop again and see how they perform under different weather conditions. 

Sweet Corn:  I hadn't grown sweet corn in awhile but this year and last have been so successful that I will probably keep growing at least one bed each year.  The taste is far superior to the best the local farmstand has to offer.  Next year I will drive T-posts at the corners of the bed so I can run a cat's cradle of wires to prevent the stalks from lodging during wet weather.

Pole Beans: Good things come to those who wait.  My fourth planting of beans at the end of July was the real success.  I planted two varieties of bush (Jade and Jade II) and two pole (Monte Gusto and Carminat). The yellow Monte Gusto were my favorite.  Awesome variety of long, straight beans.  I have an excess of beans stored away.

Tomatoes:  I grew too many tomatoes.  Go figure.  I planned to grow three plants.  I ended up growing seven because I was so worried by their early (non)performance.  And that is more than TWICE as many plants as intended.  Must do better next time.

Cucumbers:  I grew too many cucumbers.  Again - I get nervous with germination problems and I start to over plant.  This year I also grew pickling cucumbers because it was a pickle year.  I won't have to plant them next year but I have leftover seeds and will probably plant a few plants because I've found some good pickling packets that you can make one pint of refrigerator pickles at a time.  And I found that to be really fun.  And man - are those pickles SPICY.  They will light you up! And they're very crunchy.

Potatoes:  the plants were more impressive than the harvest, but I still have plenty of spuds stored away.

Sweet Potatoes:  What Fun!  These were beautiful plants to watch all season and the tubers were plentiful and just about perfect.  I cured them for two weeks in a sunny window and they are super sweet.  In fact, the first time I prepared them, I roasted them and the instructions suggested that I toss them in oil and brown sugar.  Well - they didn't need the sugar.  I sampled them when they were almost done and pulled the whole batch out, rinsed them in a collander and put them back in the oven.  The next time I prepared them I baked them and we ate them plain. Not even any butter. They had a terrific taste and texture and the skins fell right off onto the plate.  I am working my way through processing them (about 20 #), storing them in the freezer both baked and roasted.

Summer Squash:  
I will not plant more than one zucchini plant. 
I will not plant more than one zucchini plant. 
I will not plant more than one zucchini plant. 
I will not plant more than one zucchini plant. 
I will not plant more than one zucchini plant. 
I will not plant more than one zucchini plant. 
  I will not plant more than one zucchini plant.   
And the one plant will be a Cue Ball.

As you can see, this year's theme was "Too Much".  I went through a phase where I felt undue pressure to use everything I'd grown. All at once.  I didn't really have an excess of any one thing so much as too many things happening all at once.  I would have five fresh veggie dishes I wanted to serve for supper when one or two would do.  I began eating cole slaw for breakfast - which isn't a bad thing.  This isn't the first time this happened.  I felt this way in 2011, the second year for the raised beds when I went hog wild.  There have been years when I lamented that I had refined my quantities so well that I no longer had an over abundance of anything.  I am again cured of this.  I will go back to careful counting.