Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Freed

My poor zucchini as been stuck under a row cover for most of its life. This is the first year I've successfully kept the vine borer out of the zucchini. Of course as you can see above the zucchinis have outgrown their cage and were trying to break out.

I took their row cover off today. It was pretty hard to remove the clips and such on one side as that side is just a wall of cucumbers. I had to get some string up to keep the weak branches from blocking my path totally. I think they are weaker than normal as they don't see a lot of wind under a row cover. Also the row covers holds them up.

Most of the leaves were fine and not showing any powdery mildew or damage, but a few looked like this. They were being farmed by the ants. The good insects can't get under at all to get rid of the aphids so they really took over on certain leaves. I cut them off and tossed them into the compost

I've only had a handful of zucchini so far this year. I'm wondering if the row cover is worth it. I just can't keep the flowers pollinated well and the plants don't grow as well underneath the cover (unlike other plants that seem to thrive under a cover). It won't be long before powdery mildew takes over the plants and they all die off. So do I get a better harvest this way? Or just a later one? Probably the latter. And the cover is a lot of work. I think next year I won't bother.

On better news I succeeded in forcing my fennel to flower. A few weeks ago I cut off some of their roots about 6" from the plant. Not all the way around or anything, but just enough to stress them out a bit and convince them it was time. I want those fennel seeds. And boy are they sending up blooms. Tons from each plant. I only have five plants. I'm hoping this is enough to keep them viable for a lot of years. Seed to Seed recommends ten plants if I remember correctly (not a sure thing). I've only got half that. I guess I'll find out down the road.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rain and Sunshine

Saturday I decided I'd better water the garden. It had been four days since I watered last and we had seen a lot of 90F+days. The soil in the beds were getting pretty dry. The forecast said it might rain but this summer has been weird with the forecasts. We get rain when they don't predict it and don't get rain when they do. Basically our thundershowers are widely scattered enough that you can't count on anything.

One night I went to bed with the knowledge that we would get rain. I was looking at the radar and it was a huge orange wall headed straight for us. How could we not get rain? When I got up and checked my weather station, we hadn't gotten a drop. So I looked at the radar history and saw the storm break up just west of us. That huge orange wall turned yellow then green. Then totally disappeared. No rain for us. So I've been ignoring the forecasts and just watering when it needs it. It isn't worth waiting.

The upside down garbage can is to get the sprinkler over the tall corn. Though I need to put it in the mustard bed to get it high enough.

So of course it rained on Sunday, but only a quarter of an inch so I didn't feel too bad about watering. Then Monday hit. We had flooding rains. It was 2" of rain in less than an hour. Then it all cleared out and was just hot and humid. But at least it was real rain. I might water my garden, but I don't water the grass or the foundation plantings or even my landscaped fruit trees. So I still appreciate the rain. And now this week we are going to have four days of beautiful nonhumid dry sunny days and it will get to be about 80F (27C) each day. I live for weeks like this. We haven't gotten much of this kind of weather. It is just perfect for gardening.

Or sitting outside reading and eating a snack. In not too long those will be my peaches, but until then I'll be getting them at the farmers market. At least the zucchini for the muffins came from the garden.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Harvest Monday, 28 July 2014

This week my harvests were beans and cukes.

And beans and cukes. And beans and cukes.

Sometimes the beans and cukes came with chard and basil.

Or with onions and celery. Sadly I didn't need the celery. I noticed the plant had twisted leaves and was mottled. It was fine a week ago. I ripped it out as I didn't want the mosaic virus to spread to the other plants. But sadly it is quite probable.

I did have a few other random harvests.

My favorite basket had all sorts of things. It did have the requisite beans and cukes. But it also had broccoli, the last cabbage, basil, and some beets. If only all my harvests were as varied as this one is. Especially that broccoli.

The side shoots were fairly decent in size, but they were a bit deformed. On a few of the shoots, the sides were starting to bloom while the middle was still very tight and needed time to mature. I'm guessing the heat is making them bolt as we have had a lot of hot temperatures over the last couple of weeks. The melons are growing like crazy, but the broccoli is not happy. At least I'm getting side shoots. Hopefully this week I'll have another batch. I'd love to have broccoli every week, even twice a week, but I think that may be asking too much.

Do you remember those carrots that I harvested. Well I had them packaged up in two week portions. I opened one of them yesterday and the date I wrote on it was July 25th. So I'm doing pretty well at eating carrots at the right pace to finish them off and not have extras when the fall carrots start. Sadly the cabbage I'm being really slow about. I need to get to the last Chinese cabbage. I use a leaf or two here and there, but the head is still rather large. It would really help if I could eat soy and use soy sauce to make a good Chinese stirfry. I miss that. I've had coleslaw with the European cabbages off and on for lunch. I'm very slowly making my way through them.

  • Alliums: 3.49 lbs
  • Beans: 1.04 lbs
  • Broccoli: 0.69 lbs
  • Cucumbers 10.83 lbs
  • Greens: 4.15 lbs
  • Herbs: 0.18 lbs
  • Roots: 1.48 lbs
  • Squash, Summer: 0.55 lbs
  • Weekly Total: 22.41 lbs
  • Yearly Total: 189.78 lbs
  • Yearly Tally: $74.95

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

In Hope of Peaches

Gratuitous Flower Photo

Summer has hit and summer means peaches. Right now I've been buying them at the store. The New Jersey peaches have been really good. I suspect the farmers market will have them this week too and I'll start buying them there. But of course I want my own peaches. I lost one of my two peach trees last winter. I haven't a clue what killed it. I replaced it with an Elberta Queen. It will be years before I see peaches from that one.

But my other peach tree is just loaded down with peaches. And I thinned about 3/4 of them off of the tree. I've noticed that the squirrels were thinning more of them out. Many a day. So I had to protect it. On Friday I put the netting over. I had a choice of 14'x14' or 28'x28'. The 14' one is too small, but the 28' one is way too big. So there is a lot of extra fabric around the base of the tree.

As soon as I left the area I noticed a squirrel immediately come back for another peach. He first touched the bird netting. Then he decided he could jump over it. So he leapt for the trunk and didn't make it because the netting is in front of it. He fell into a pile of netting. He extracted himself. Then he looked at the peaches again. And did another leap. Once again he got caught in the netting. At this point I was scared he was going to get caught in there and not be able to get out. But again he extracted himself.

I thought for sure after the last struggle to get free, he would give up. But this time he leapt and got really caught in the fabric. After five minutes he was still in there. Now I'm not a fan of squirrels by any means. To me they are rats with fluffy tails, but the last thing I want is for the squirrel to die a slow death in my netting. So I went out and had to help him out. He was not pleased by this. Nor was I for that matter. But at least it scared the heck out of him and he left the area for good. I haven't seen any squirrels going for the peaches anymore. I hope it stays that way.

Last year this was the day that I picked my first peach. I won't be doing that this year. They need a little longer. Also I've noticed that the peaches are much, much smaller this year than last year. I wish I knew why. I'm a real neophyte with fruit trees. It can't be water. We have had about 5" of rain in the last month. That ought to be enough. Surely peaches don't mind the heat we have been getting as Georgia comes to mind when you think of peaches and they are certainly hotter than me. Maybe I just need to thin them better. I did leave them a bit closer this year than last.

I also got around to protecting the apples on the trees in the back yard. There are two apples on one tree and seven on the other. So not many. I didn't think they were worth netting the whole tree. So I'm trying to net the individual apples. I'm thinking it probably won't work, but it doesn't hurt to try.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Garden Chores

Black Swallowtail laying eggs. It's top wings wouldn't stop moving so they are blurred while the rest of butterfly was still.

Every morning I go out into the garden to do the chores. The first things I see are the melons and sweet potatoes. They are always trying to escape their beds, so I turn the ends of the plants inwards to keep them under control. Or at least relatively under control. Then it is on to the covered zucchini plants. I lift the covers and fertilize any female blossoms I find. Usually there is one. I haven't been very successful in getting them to set though. Maybe one in three. One more week and the cover comes off. Then the bees can do their work.

The cucumbers are just coming on strong now. I tie them up and make sure they stay on the trellis. They really want to escape. Today I saw the first signs of wilt in the patch. No! I cut that branch off way down. I'm hoping it doesn't spread. I'm very surprised to see it. I've only see one cucumber beetle so far this year. Usually wilt hits a bit later. I've gotten a few cukes in dribs and drabs over the last week, but yesterday the inundation started.

So I cut up the cukes and tossed them into the brine I made the other day. I picked yet more today so I'll make up a large cucumber salad for a BBQ that I'm going to tomorrow. I'll probably bring coleslaw too and a jar of the pickles.

The beans are right next to the cucumbers so I check those over and pick any that are big enough. I make sure the asparagus beans aren't being taken over by their more vigorous neighbors. They don't seem to want to branch very much. I do pinch all the beans out when they reach the top of the trellis to get them to branch. But those beans are such slow growers that they have just gotten there. I've also had some rust and some kind of spotting disease. So I ignore the beans when they are wet. And I've been cutting off any affected leaves to try to keep it from spreading. Last year I didn't do this and the rust spread very quickly.

Then it is on to the corn. I've been hand pollinating these every other day since I started to see silks. This just involves shaking each stalk early in the morning. With my last variety I would see the pollen fall down, but this variety doesn't seem to put out very much pollen. I hope they all get fertilized.

And there are a lot of ears to fertilize. In past years I would occasionally get more than one ear. But this variety (Honey Select) seems to put out two ears most of the time and I've even seen three. In other varieties the second ear really doesn't mean much. I would be tiny and not well filled out. It would often be tossed as useless. Will this one put out useful second ears? I hope so. In addition the tillers have male blooms. That is the first time I've seen that happen. This corn likes to flower.

My other patches of corn are getting huge too. And they weren't really protected from the wind. I find that corn falls over easily in my raised beds. So the windward sides of one patch was staked. I don't have enough stakes for all my corn, but if those stay upright, they will protect the other corn from falling. I have one other patch but it is partially protected from a nearby tall row cover so I'm hoping it will stay upright.

The squash runs below the corn. Not voluntarily though. So I have to keep it turned so it will cover that area. I need the squash to really take over under the corn as its prickly branches will keep the raccoons out of the corn. The first male flowers have bloomed. I've got a week or two before I'll see any females, but it won't be long. I hope I get a lot of squash this year. The only variety I'm growing is Waltham Butternut. I'm hoping to save seed. All the other years I've had germination problems and had to plant Early Butternut close by so I couldn't save seed.

I noticed that one of my fall bean plants was starting to run, so I got the trellis up finally. I always put the poles in when I plant, but the cross bars and the string went up today. I put up one string per plant.

And as always I weed when I see them. But occasionally things get out of control - especially under those row covers. Yesterday I decided I HAD to weed the onions. The crab grass was about to bloom and there was a nightshade plant that was huge. I got out the gloves for that one. Some of the crabgrass was close to the onions and was huge. Mostly I could pull it with only minimal disturbance, but one red onion was accidentally pulled. Like the Ailsa Craig onions, the red onions are a bit smaller this year I think. Maybe not though. I'll find out when they are all harvested and weighed as I grew the same amount of each variety this year and last.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Onion Harvest Begins

I had a bunch of the Copra onions fall down over a week ago in a wind storm. Most places say to harvest a couple of days after the top fall over. UMass Extension service says to have half the leaves dead before harvesting for the best storage. They say they don't cure well if the leaves are too green. So I split the difference. A couple of leaves have died on the bulbs and they have been down for a while now. I'd say this is about 2/3s of my Copras. The others are still standing tall, so I'll leave them alone.

The first curing is in the sun preferably an 80F degree day. Well yesterday it 92F. This can produce sunscald, but waiting longer means another rainstorm they have to go through which could lead to rot. So I did it anyway. I decided this year to try a new way. Last year I'd leave the onions outside on the path for a day or two, then I'd bring them inside to dry. I don't particularly like the constant smell of onions in the house (we don't have a shed big enough for them or a garage like most people would use). And I think the gas they release is bad for my asthmatic lungs. So I wanted a better solution.

I have very little extra space in the yard to do anything with, but the top of the compost pile is a lot of space. So I put bamboo poles over the top every four inches. Then I laid down some chicken wire over that. Then I put my onions on top. Yesterday they didn't have a tarp as they were getting their first drying in the sun. But tonight it is going to rain, so they needed protection.
Now they have a tarp. Hopefully it is secure enough for a storm and the rain won't blow in. I'll leave them there until they are dry enough to braid and go into the basement for storage. I hope these are dry before the next harvest as they took up about 2/3s of the space and I only harvested about a third of my onions.

I would say this is going to be one of the best years for my Copras. Copra has never been a particularly large onion. Their claim to fame is that they store very well. They are a 3" onion that can get bigger in good conditions. Mine were always lucky to get to 3". This year the bulbs are bigger than usual with many over 3" and I haven't found even one that was starting to bolt. I think the netting over the onions really helped to keep the onion fly from damaging them. I hope that means that they will store better too as I've gotten a lot of random rot in storage in the past. I'm also endeavoring to be as gentle as possible with my onions as dropping them or knocking them around can lead to rot.

In addition to the Copras, I've been harvesting the Ailsa Craig onions as I need them. They are a sweet onion and though they are a good keeper for a sweet onions (about 2 months) I always use them first as they can't store over the winter. They haven't fallen over yet, but the bulbs are big enough. Interestingly I don't think they are getting quite as big as last year. But the taste is a lot better.

One of those Ailsa Craigs went into my refrigerator pickle brine. I like to make up jars of the brine and when the cucumbers are harvested, I can just pop any extra ones I'm not using, into the brine. I decided to make up the brine because as I was setting up the onion drying spot, I had to take down a couple of dill plants. They had huge heads and were just perfect. Now I just need my cucumbers to go crazy. I think they are almost at that point.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Incursion and Thinning

Something has been getting into my garden at night. It has to be pretty small to fit under the fence. Nothing was eaten. Usually that means it was a skunk. Last year I had one get in and he dug a hole in one of my paths. No holes this time. No missing crops. So at least whatever got in wasn't damaging anything. Skunks can be real pests in the garden as they eat the grubs and worms. So they rototill the place. But luckily my garden is cat protected. That also means there aren't a lot of places for a skunk to dig.

Right on the other side of the path from the hole I noticed this. The first melon has started to form. Well maybe.

The melon patch is so thick now that I wouldn't notice if I had others. In a week I'll have to start checking as I like to prop the melons up on bricks so the slugs don't eat holes in them and the moist earth doesn't rot them and they get warmer so they ripen better.

Most of my activity in the garden is still weeding, but now I'm weeding and thinning. These are the mustards. They came up in huge clumps. So I had to thin them out so they had space to grow.

Then I thinned out some fall turnips.

I weeded some things out of the mustard and turnip patches, but the carrot patch was the worst. I swear there were more weeds than carrots. You can see the unweeded patch to the left. And you have to be so careful with carrots. It took a while to finish. But I got it all done. I tried to be really good and not leave the carrots too close together. I like them about 3-4" apart in rows that are 4" apart. If they are closer they can be slow to grow. I do leave some closer, but that is when the neighboring carrots on side are missing. So they have a lot of empty space near them. It would be nice if all my carrots germinated perfectly, but it never happens. So sometimes they are farther apart and sometimes closer together. And I always try to save the best and biggest carrot seedlings as it makes a difference. If they are struggling now they will be slow to grow.