Saturday, May 31, 2008

Daikon Radishes and China Town

This morning I noticed that my daikon radishes were getting crowded. So I picked every other one. Their foliage had grown together and it was hard to get them apart without breaking the leaves of the ones I wanted to leave behind. I’ve never grown these types of radishes before, so I’m treating them like my regular radishes. I keep radishes fairly close together at the start and thin them when I can get the first little roots out of them. So now the radishes are about 5” apart as opposed to 2 ½. If they act like other radishes then they will take off in the next couple of weeks. One of the radishes was already a little over an inch wide.

I don’t usually cook with daikon radishes, but I love the pickled ones from Korean restaurants. So that is what I made. I have to let it sit for a day before it is ready, so I’m impatiently waiting.

I also picked a tatsoi that is starting to bolt. I’ve been stealing its outside leaves for a couple of weeks, so it probably isn’t as big as it would have been, but my salads appreciated the theft. I still think its rosette looks so pretty.

This afternoon we made an unexpected trip to Chinatown. Our friends wanted to go out for dim sum, so of course we all said yes. There is nothing my family likes more than a good pork bun or maybe a shrimp dumpling. Afterwards some went home but the rest of us stayed to take a look at the new park created by the Big Dig (Boston’s central artery was put underground). Parts of it are still being planted and very messy, but most of it was finished (though the trees could use a good 15-20 years growth). I thought a lot of the plantings were boring. Very monoculture. I suppose it is easier to take care of that way, but it doesn’t have much interest. Other parts were quite nice and they had some really beautiful blue irises. My favorite part of the trip was not the new green space at all, but an old one near Long Wharf. There is a beautiful arbor with wisteria growing up it. Sadly only parts of it were in bloom right now, but the parts that were smelled heavenly.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Garden Envy

This morning there was nothing much to do in the garden, but I had to go out and check everything. I was greeted by the overpowering fragrance of my lilac. It is finally in full bloom. I’d been having garden envy. All the lilacs in the area bloom around Mother’s Day (2 ½ weeks ago), but mine was just sitting there. It always blooms late. It is planted on the northwest side of the house so it gets no sun at all on its roots and the ground stays cold. Also it is a ‘Miss Kim’ lilac, which tends to bloom a little later. Its scent is heavenly and it blooms like crazy every year with no real care. As an added bonus a yellow swallowtail was flittering about the blossoms. I wonder if I will see their caterpillars on my dill and parsley anytime soon.

My other garden envy is pea blossoms. All the other gardeners already have had blossoms on their peas for at least a week. I check mine everyday, but nothing. I know I planted them late. The 2nd week of April is a few weeks later than most people plant. They have caught up a lot, but they are not quiet there yet. I planted two kinds of peas: one for me, the snowpeas; and one for my daughter, sugarsnaps. The sugarsnaps have not germinated well and are very sparse and haven’t grown very well. The snowpeas are doing great. Except of course for the lack of blossoms.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cilantro and a Turkey

I usually don’t go into the garden until after breakfast, but I wanted to harvest the lettuce before it heated up for the day. I told myself I would just grab the lettuce and come back in. That didn’t happen. I had to check out the whole garden to make sure nothing nasty was illicitly snacking. Then I noticed some of the cilantro was starting to bolt. Cilantro bolts very quickly. It is really a very strange plant. Instead of one kind of leaf, it switches as it starts to bolt. The early leaves are much like flat leafed parsley, just a little rounder. The later leaves become frilly. You can see in the photo that the leaves in the back are older and the lighter leaves in the front are starting to become frillier. I think cilantro is better before it bolts, though I’ll eat the leaves either way if that is all there is in the garden. Since I have tons and it is useless after it bolts, I quickly IMed some friends and asked them if they wanted some. Since I got a couple of takers, my cilantro will have a good home.

I said cilantro was useless after it bolts, but that isn’t really true. Cilantro is coriander. So I’ll let plenty of the plants bolt and collect some of the seeds. I’ll also leave a lot of the seeds to self sow for next year.

I did get around to thinning out my lettuce and picking the last of the early lettuce. The early lettuce was transplanted into the garden. All the rest of the lettuce is direct sown. I brought it in and decided to look under it to make sure I wasn’t bringing in too many bugs. Ack! A big black spider was hiding underneath. I broke off the leaf he was hiding under and tossed it away. After the shivers went away I washed up the lettuce. My daughter commented that it looked just like the lettuce from the store. Actually it was larger than the ones I usually get there. My lettuce is being very strange. It usually doesn’t grow quite this well. It is kind of nice to have too much lettuce.

I’ve also noticed something else strange in my lettuce patch. When I pick a head of lettuce, I reseed for a later crop. Then the next lettuce is picked and I move some of the newly seeded lettuce that has just come up. It usually doesn’t even have its first true leaves but sometimes it does. The lettuce that was moved seems to be growing faster than the lettuce that wasn’t. Very strange.

Nature’s gift to me today was the wild turkey visiting me outside the garden fence. If he were inside it wouldn’t be much of a gift since I know from my childhood what turkeys can do to a garden. But there he was very close and just ignoring me. Usually I have my dog with me, and the dog loves to chase the turkeys, so I don’t get to see them up close. Today I did.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


My allergies and my love for my garden are at war with one another right now. I can breathe and be almost sneeze free if I stay inside. But that is not likely to happen is it?

Today is beautiful and it rained yesterday. I thought I would be relatively safe after a good rain. Not so. Weeding my perennial bed doesn’t take long. Maybe 15 minutes. But that was enough to set me off.

I had a couple of other things to do after my sneezing started. My chamomile came up very strong in spots, but not in others. So I moved the little plants around so there wouldn’t bee so many gaps between them. While I was doing this I found the soil was not really wet. It ought to have if we got the official amount of rain (0.7”). I’m thinking we may have gotten a quarter of an inch, but not any more.

Last evening’s thunderstorms were very intense but brief (45 mins) and I can imagine that the rain was spotty and our spot got short changed. Because of this I decided to hold off picking my last early lettuce plant. I watered it well instead. I’ll pick it tomorrow morning and thin the later lettuce.

I tried to find the cutworm again near my turnips, but there were no knocked down plants there. On the other side of the garden however I had a basil plant mowed down. I found the evil creature and dispatched it. I had a left over basil plant still in its little pot; so planted it. This is the second basil that has been chomped down. Since I’m worried about the rest of the basil, I put little sticks right up against their stems. Hopefully that will prevent them from dying. I thought about doing it to the pumpkins too since they are in the same bed, but all six of the seeds I planted came up. If a couple of them get eaten by the cutworms, it is just thinning out my pumpkins. All of them dying would be bad so put just two sticks up.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mustard R.I.P.

Today I finished the chores I was supposed to do. I put away the hoop tunnel over the tomatoes and peppers and caged the tomatoes. My tomato cages are dying. They are horribly rusted. Some of the wires have become unwelded and they stick out. I have to be careful to not impale myself on them when picking the tomatoes. I’m not quite ready to replace them yet, but I will have to soon.

Then I put up a hoop tunnel right next door to the tomatoes. It is where the eggplants will go as soon as the weather warms a bit more. Despite their late start, the eggplants are doing quite well. They are outside every day under a tunnel and inside every night. I lost one of the six pack to damping off disease a couple of weeks ago, but the rest seemed to have survived.

The plastic I used for the tunnel is old and was starting to rip along a crease. As I picked it up to put it on it ripped halfway across. Luckily the piece was still large enough to cover the eggplants, but this meant I had a three foot by 7’ wide piece of plastic. Old but not dead yet. I cut it in half and wrapped the two pieces around two of my tomato cages. This will keep the heavy winds we keep having off those two tomatoes and in addition will serve as a wind break for the one in the middle. Our winds have been ferocious this spring. At least one day every week the weatherman tells us we will have gusts up to 50mph. The plants do not like this at all.

All of my warm weather vegetables are up except my basil. I did transplants of Italian basil, but I also wanted to grow lemon and holy basil. I put the seed in a while ago and haven’t seen anything. So last night I put out some more seed. Maybe this will sprout? At least my pumpkins, cucumbers and beans are all up. All three varieties of beans are up now and for the life of me I can’t remember where I planted which variety. I know the yard long beans, because I planted two poles of them in the back. But the front two poles could have either Fortex or Kentucky Wonder. How will I tell them apart? I really need to label things. I tell myself I’ll remember where things go, but I never do.

I have sad news. My poor Giant Red Mustard bit the dust. Actually two of them did and a tatsoi. They have been slowly wilting and seem fairly dead right now. I’m sure it is death by cabbage maggot. The mustard was obviously their favorite. My turnips are also being decimated. I didn’t plant many, just a couple of square feet, but a cutworm has found them and is mowing them down and I can’t find him. I’ll keep looking every morning. Eventually he will be punished for his misdeeds.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Worm Tea

Today’s chore was to spray the garden with worm casting tea. I don’t have the complicated aeration system that some people use. In fact most wouldn’t call it tea since it isn’t really brewed. It is just worm castings dissolved in water for a couple of days. I made two quarts and used my sprayer to spray all the plants. I had a little left over so I dumped it on the tomatoes along with the worm castings/dirt that hadn’t dissolved.

I noticed while spraying that one of my radishes was thinking about bolting, so I picked all of them but the tiniest. And of course I picked more cilantro. I’m barely making a dent in the cilantro.

I didn’t stay in the garden long. I just noted all the things I ought to be doing, like putting away the hoop tunnel for the tomatoes since it is warm enough for them now and putting up their cages. The perennial border needs weeding again. But not today. I just can’t be in the garden. I’m sniffling, sneezing and tired. Something is blooming that I’m allergic to. I noticed it most yesterday during my walk. I’m hoping it won’t last long since the weather is so nice.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Walk in the Woods and Beans

Today I took a walk in the local conservation area. It is a beautiful little woods, only about 200 acres, but with paths wandering all through, a nice pond and a little stream that dries up in the summer. It is as enjoyable seeing what flowers are blooming there as in my garden. Today I was extra thrilled. I not only saw many pink lady slippers (the photo was taken by my husband a few years ago as I always forget to bring a camera when I walk) but the Jack-in-the-Pulpits were also blooming. As a child I thought they were sort of freaky plants and because of that I loved them. I still love them in all their strangeness.

As I was watching the plants I heard a loud bird call. I couldn’t believe that the birds were still there. This year a couple of Red-Bellied Woodpeckers have decided to nest. I’ve never seen them before and they are kind of hard to miss with their distinctive call and mostly red head. At least the one I saw had a mostly red head. I’m assuming it was the male. He would swoop out of his hole in the tree and quickly find food and swoop back. Supposedly they don’t live here. They are a common southeastern bird, not a northeastern bird. Or at least they were.

After my walk it was time to water the garden. We have had less then a quarter of an inch of rain this week and my lettuce is looking limp. The squash are wilting. This is probably the last time I’ll water the whole garden by hand. I’ll bring out the sprinkler next. But right now I have too many things under protection and the sprinklers can’t get to it well. It is amazing how quickly a plant will perk up with a little water. Now the lettuce looks happy and the squash are happier. Though one squash is still a little bit wilty. I hope he is ok.

Yesterday my direct seeded cucumbers finally peeked their heads out. Now the beans are finally showing themselves. I have one yard long out of the soil already and a couple of others just showing their necks. These next couple of days ought to bring all the warm weather seeds out as it is supposed to be in the mid to high seventies (F). Today is absolutely lovely, which is good since I’m off to a barbeque.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Though I certainly have flowers blooming now, some of my favorites are about to come out. They are all in bud right now. My all time favorite that is about to bloom is my lilac. It is pretty enough but what I really love about it is its fragrance. Another favorite in my garden is my dwarf iris. It blooms profusely no matter what happens to it. It just slowly spreads. It will take over the garden if I let it, though I wouldn't say it was particularly invasive. It is just persistent. It doesn't care what the weather is, it just keep growing - and of course blooming each spring. Maybe every five years of so I'll have to hack it back with a very sharp shovel (its roots are thick), but other than that it needs nothing, yet gives so much.

Another flower I'm looking forward to is my peonies. Last year I planted them and cut off their buds so they would work on their roots and not their blooms, so I haven't yet seen them in bloom. Peonies are strange. I used to hate them. I considered them too showy, lots of flash but no substance. I'm not quite sure what changed my mind and made me plant them. I think over the years I've slowly grown to like them and then to love them.

On the vegetable garden front, my cucumbers that I seeded 11 days ago are up. I was a little bit worried about them. It seems that anytime I start to worry whether a seed will germinate the next day it comes up. A while back I thought my chamomile seeds hadn't germinated so seeded some more. The original seeds poked up their heads the next day.

Friday, May 23, 2008


So many things we see or hear speak to us in our own ways. Yesterday I was watching Torchwood (British SciFi show) with my family and one of the quotes from the show did just that.

“The average life is full of near-misses and absolute hits, of great love and small disasters. It's made up of banana milkshakes, loft insulation, and random shoes. It's dead ordinary and truly, truly amazing. What you've got to realise is, it's all here now, so breathe deep and swallow it whole, because take it from me: life just whizzes by, and then all of a sudden it's –“

It not only speaks to me personally, but speaks to me as a gardener – not the loft insulation part maybe, but the rest of it. Today I was picking my lettuce which is definitely an absolute hit. It hasn’t been bothered by anything. No bugs, no holes, even its first true leaves didn’t rot on the ground. From start to finish it was perfect. And then the wind kicked up and ripped off the plastic on my hoop tunnel. The plastic was beating up my eggplant seedlings still in their pots and my Aussie heirloom tomato already planted in the ground. My heart beat faster as I rescued the poor things. All very ordinary occurrences in the garden. A harvest here. A disaster there. Hoping for rain and getting more sun. It is all in its totality a fabulous thing, awesome and ordinary all at the same time. We just have to truly look to see the wonder around us.

Harvest Day

Well we did finally get some rain yesterday, not enough, maybe just under a quarter of an inch. But it was at least some. A sunny spring day after a rain is always my favorite day. It means I pick whatever leafy green is ready to eat. I always pick them in the morning, and after a rain they are very crispy and sweet. I picked my Red Sails Lettuce and some more mizuna leaves.

Then I debated my Chinese cabbage. I planted them much closer together than I ought to have (you can see the second one stick out from underneath the first one). I figured I could pick half formed ones and eat them as early greens. But it looks so pretty and hasn’t started forming a head yet. I really wish I had planted them the correct distance apart. It seems so sad to take it out before it could fulfill its promise, but it had to come out or neither of them would grow. Sigh.

I have no trouble ripping out lettuce seedlings that are getting crowded and eating them. Why is a Chinese cabbage different? Maybe because I mostly grow leaf lettuce. The small ones are fairly much the same as a full grown head. Or maybe I put the sweet blanched head of the Chinese cabbage on a pedestal. Whatever the reason it was very hard to pull up, but pull it I did.

I also picked cilantro, but then I pick it every day. I eat it in salads and in Chinese, Thai or Mexican food. I rarely go a day without eating it. I have so much in my garden that I just can’t keep up with it. Every day the myriad of cilantro plants get bigger and bigger. Though I have been harvesting them for a while now, they are almost at a real harvestable size.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Not Very Zen

There is little to do in the garden today except pick a little cilantro to add to my salad and wait for the rain.

Carol at May Dream Gardens this week told us to accept our weather, but that is so much harder than it sounds. Today I hope we get the predicted rain. We haven’t had any more than a light drizzle since last Saturday and the ground is dry. Though I’ve watered my little seedlings and newly planted transplants, I know the rest of my garden would love a drink.

The weatherman said that this long weekend will be dry, which is good for our barbeques but how will the plants feel? So our only chance of real rain is today, otherwise I will have to water the vegetable garden. This keeps me from feeling very Zen about the whole thing.

I check the radar and it looks like the rain is breaking up. It hasn’t even hit yet. The green on the radar screen is not really getting to the ground. Even the sun is brightening and trying to peek out. I’ll sit here watch the birds out the window and hope for rain. Anyone know of an effective rain dance?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Caterpillar Invasion

Last year we were inundated with caterpillars of all kinds. What made it such a good year, I’ll never know, but there were tent caterpillars in all the trees and green ones hanging off the branches. If I took a walk around the neighborhood I would have to pick them off my cloths before going inside. My poor maple trees in my front yard were looking very sickly last year and lost some branches over the winter. They still haven’t quite recovered. I really thought about spraying Bt all over the trees, but didn’t more due to laziness than a conscious decision not to spray.

The advantage of last year’s invasion showed up this year. We have more birds here than ever before. I’ve seen three varieties that I hadn’t seen before. Even my husband noticed that the robins were taking over the backyard. The birds are doing a decent job of eating the caterpillars (note all the caterpillars in the beak of the robin). Not perfect, I still have to occasionally pick a caterpillar off my shirt before going inside. That was until the other day. The caterpillars are definitely getting ahead of the birds. I can tell because my patio is covered in caterpillar crap. I wonder what the NPK rating of caterpillar crap is. I could sweep it up and use it as fertilizer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Spring Planting

Today was a major planting day. Last week I bought a lot of plants from the garden center and let them harden off. Today they went in the ground. Most of the plants were flowers. The prettiest of them was the Martha Washington geranium. My daughter picked it out and some impatiens. The amusing thing is that both the flowers are the exact same salmon pink. It must be her favorite color.

First I created the planter by the front door. In went the geranium, some pretty periwinkle lobelia and a trailing vinca vine. Then I planted the flowers in my perennial border. I put in some foxgloves, dahlias and forget-me-nots. I scattered flowers around my vegetable garden: impatiens, lobelia, sweet alyssum, cosmos, snap dragons, and marigolds. And last but not least I planted a row of basil. Since I had extra plants, I scattered them where my pumpkins will come up. Eventually the pumpkins will over take them, but for now they should be fine.

All I have left is a six pack of assorted plants: some peppers (planting from Saturday) and impatiens. They have no home. I’m not going to just toss them yet. You never know. The cutworms may kill something. Most of the time I have more left over, in case of disaster, but I must have had more restraint at the garden center than I usually do. Hopefully I won’t lose too many of them. The cosmos are especially vulnerable as the birds love to rip them up.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Radish Top Soup

Today’s arduous chore was picking lettuce and radishes. My Red Sails lettuce is getting way too big, so I picked the biggest of the heads. I’ll have to harvest the others within the next week. They look full size and beautiful, but one head at a time is enough, especially when I added the thinnings from next succession of lettuce. I like the thinnings because I also am growing Black Seeded Simpson which is a bright almost fluorescent green. It contrasts beautifully with the Red Sails. To add interest to the salads, I picked some tatsoi leaves and some mizuna.

I had been waiting to pick my radishes until a bunch of them were ready. I decided with the risk of cabbage root maggots, I would pick them today. So I picked any of them that were big enough to eat. I wanted them in a bunch, not for their root (though I’ll eat that too, I love radishes), but for their tops. I had heard of radish top soup, but had never made it before. There are a lot of different recipes for it, but they all boil down to this: in chicken broth, boil some potatoes; sauté an onion in butter; add radish tops and wilt; add to broth; cook for a bit to marry the flavors; add salt and pepper to taste; puree in a blender; add cream. The difference is all in how much of what to add and how long you cook it. I added what I had in the fridge.

Radish Top Soup

  • 3 small yellow potatoes
  • 4c chicken broth
  • 3T butter
  • 1 small Vidalla onion
  • 6c radish tops
  • dash of pepper and salt
  • ½ c half and half

The soup was good, but not perfect. There was definitely too much onion and too few radish tops. Next time I’ll cut the onion in half and double the radish tops.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Compost and Another Setback

For years my husband cut the grass and I combined the grass with the leaves collected in the fall and made compost. This ended when we got a lawn service to mow our lawn and rake our leaves. They all had mulching mowers, so the grass stayed where it was. I figured that wasn’t a problem since we could mostly quit fertilizing the lawn. Can you tell I’m not a lawn person? I did miss the compost for the garden.

This year it has all changed. They mowed on Friday, and yesterday I noticed there were green lawn clippings in the woods behind the house. So this morning I went into the woods and resurrected one of my compost bins. I used to have 5 bins - 4 of which where green vinyl covered wire 2”x 4” mesh. The other was for my screened finished compost that was made of ½” hardware cloth. One of the green bins was huge and was just a holding bin for all my leaves that were raked in the fall. It was probably 8’ in diameter. The state of the bins was sad. Trees had fallen on some of them and totally collapsed them, but one looked relatively decent. It was a little smooshed, but easily pushed back into shape. A few of the mesh welds had come undone, but no matter. It will work. I’ll dig out a more of the bins later.

The typical book says to layer 4” of green/nitrogen matter (grass) to 4” of brown/carbon matter (leaves). I always figured they would compost better and be less smelly if the brown and green are mixed together (a compost pile gets smelly from the ammonia given off, and happens more when there is too much green matter together). So I don’t religiously layer. After I add about 8” of waste, I water. Right now the pile is about two feet high. When I get more grass, I’ll finish the pile at about 3’ high then start another.

My poor Asian greens have another pest to deal with. I found the cabbage fly under the row cover. Next year I really have to be better about tacking down the row covers. The good thing is that the fly also likes yellow. Several of the flies committed suicide in the flee beetle traps. I found more on the leaves however. They probably already laid their eggs. It makes me want to cry. Get a handle on one pest, and the next one moves in. Cabbage flies are a much more serious pest than the flee beetles. They lay eggs next to the stems and the larva tunnels into the roots of the plant. My daikon radishes under the row cover are doomed. They still need another month before they are ready.

But just in case it will help, I laid out more yellow traps. I also put some maggot collars around the smallest plants. I made them out of the same left over construction paper with which I made the flee beetle traps - except this time I picked a light blue grey. I figure I don’t want it to be anywhere close to the yellow of the traps. I’m starting to remember why I quit growing the brassica family in my garden. Maybe next year I’ll plant garlic and onions.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

When to Plant Tomatoes

It is always hard for me to decide when to plant my warm weather crops. May can be a beautiful month, with sunny skies and 65-80 degree weather; or it can be a cold dreary month with constant drizzle and in the low 50s; and yes it has snowed on rare occasion. Brrr. In addition the weather here is a very fickle mistress. It can start with a fine batch of sun and warmth and quickly switch to cold and wet. The usual last frost date at my house is around the first of May. I live toward the top of a breezy hill. It can be cold because of the wind, but the later frosts usually miss us. This year our last frost was April 15th. We are predicted to have a colder than usual week, but this is because it is going to be cloudy, so the nighttime lows will not be bad. I sincerely doubt that the nighttime lows will get below 45 degrees again.

Many people consider Memorial Day the day one should plant tomatoes. It is certainly a very safe day to do it. But if we have sunny weather with winds off the land as opposed to the ocean, getting the plants in early can give them a few extra weeks of growth and of course that means earlier tomatoes - the gardener’s Holy Grail. My tomato plants were ordered for May 15th and I duly picked up then. So I had no choice this year. I could have held them for a short time in their pots, but they are nice sized plants already. They would rather be in the ground. So today they were planted along with my peppers. The tomato plants were about 6” tall. I stripped off the bottom leaves; put in some organic fertilizer, worm castings and crushed eggshells into the hole; sprinkled on the mycorrhizae fungi that I talked about yesterday; and planted them deeply. Only the top couple of inches poked out.

If you think this all went smoothly, you would be very mistaken. I kept forgetting to sprinkle on the mycorrhizae. So occasionally I would have to dig up a plant again. The soil additions are easy. You dig all the holes first. Then put each addition into the holes. If I had taken all the plants out of their pots, then sprinkled, then planted, I would have been fine. But I hate having the roots exposed to the air more than necessary. I’m sure I’ll get used to the new procedure, but for now half the plants get dug up again.

One more addition was needed; something to keep the cutworms from destroying the plants. Most people use cutworm collars. I use them sometimes too, but often I just use small sticks. I find thin straight sticks about 5 inches long and place them along the stem on both sides; 3” under the soil and 2” above the soil. If a cutworm can’t wrap its body around the plant, it won’t cut it off.

Then I had to reassemble the bed. I cut holes in the black plastic where the plants come through. I had a short piece of clear plastic as my hoop tunnel, but found a longer piece today in the garage. I had to carefully pick the tape off. The plastic obviously was wrapping something in the past, but now it wraps my garden. The bed is covered with clear plastic and the ends are no longer open. I will have to open them later when it gets hotter, but this week will only be in the low 60s and relatively breezy and cloudy, this will provide more protection. When I found the clear plastic in the garage, I also found two old water jugs. So I filled those up, and stuck them under the plastic. Water provides great thermal mass, and keeping the plants warmer at night is always good - at least for tomatoes in spring.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Better Living Thru Biology

The cilantro in my garden is taking over. The edges of one bed must have about 5 plants per square inch. I’m going to slowly pick/thin it. Yesterday I picked some for lunch. The plants only have 2 or 3 true leaves, but still I picked about ¼ cup from a tiny little spot. I had some left over Chinese chicken from last night and some left over Korean beef from the night before. Add some bok choi, some cilantro, lime, fresh ginger and garlic (always add more garlic) and I called it Thai leftovers.

Today I planted my squash and cucumber seedlings. Though I guess I shouldn’t call them seedlings. They are huge even though they are only about three weeks old. They were grown in newspaper pots, so their roots wouldn’t be disturbed when they were planted out. I’m trying Chappy’s Power Organics Root Booster this year on my transplants, and since it just showed up in the mail yesterday, the cucurbits are the first ones to use it. It is beneficial mycorrhizae fungi. It is supposed to make the roots take up nutrients and water more easily. This is definitely my year to try biological aids as preventatives for my plants. I’m also trying Serenade which is a bacterium that is sprayed onto plants and prevents fungal diseases; and also a more traditional one - worm casting tea. These products were a recommendation from Love Apple Farm’s web page on how to grow better tomatoes. I’ll probably follow most of her suggestions and see if my tomatoes are more vigorous; quite a few of them I already do, but some, like the biohelpers I hadn’t heard of. Tomatoes usually grow well for me, but do end up with blights by the end of the year; not enough to kill them, but it does slow them down. My cucumbers always get mildews in August so maybe it will help with that too.

Yesterday I picked up my tomatoes from Verrill Farms. The plants look healthy. They were in nice 3” pots and about 6” tall. I did prepare their beds today. Basically it was mounding up soil to create spots for the plants. But I didn’t use my hoe. It is perfect for moving and mounding soil. I like to have my hands in the dirt. What fun is gardening without getting dirt under your nails? So I played in my sandbox making sandcastles and roads… err I worked in my garden making trenches and holes for the plants.

The tomatoes will be placed 2’ apart along the back of the bed. In the front will be the peppers spaced 1’ apart (small chili peppers). The bed is about 3 ½ - 4’ wide so they will have a little more room in that direction. Each plant has a little bowl in the soil. They are being grown under black plastic and the problem with that is the rain doesn’t get in as well. So I’m directing it to the plant and to a ditch between the tomatoes and the peppers. I want to make sure it doesn’t drain off the sides of the plastic and away from the plants. The plastic has little holes in it, but I’ll end up cutting a few more when I find where it pools the most. I didn’t yet plant my tomatoes. They need a little hardening off. They have been grown in a greenhouse, so they have had full sun, but their stalks aren’t quite used to the wind. That being said they won’t really be in the full wind. I have a clear plastic cover with open ends that will be over them until the weather really heats up. In addition they will be planted deeply so they won’t have much of them above the soil. Still I figure they could use at least two days hardening off. Maybe tomorrow they will go in.

On the flee beetle front, I seem to be winning. There were lots of little flee beetles in the traps and appreciably less on the plants. Hallelujah. I may not get rid of them all, but I’m hoping to keep the population to reasonable limits.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day May 2008

In the woods next to my house the pink Lady Slippers are blooming. I used to have some in the woods of my back yard, but as the maple trees have taken over, they have sadly disappeared. In my yard the following are blooming:

Lily of the valley
Crab apple
Martha Washington Geranium
Sweet Alyssum

Bleeding Heart
Dwarf Rhododendron
Creeping Phlox
Johnny Jump Ups

In bud, but very soon:
Dwarf Lilac

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at May Dream Gardens

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Always Room for One Little Pumpkin

I’ve never in my 17 years in this house had a brassica family plant grow well here. I’m really trying this year, but maybe it is not meant to be. This morning I had another pest invade the plot – flee beetles. The row cover is supposed to keep them out, but I obviously don’t keep the edges tacked down well enough. This is not too surprising if you look at my row covers. I don’t dig the edges under the dirt. I just throw whatever is lying around along the edges; rocks, t-poles, bricks, or anything heavy enough to keep it from blowing away. I was really more worried about cabbage butterflies and moths than flee beetles.

So it was off to the internet to find a solution. The most common solution was probably to use a row cover. Too late for that suggestion. I don’t use broad spectrum pesticides, so pyrethrin and rotenone are out. I had to laugh at the next organic solution. Plant a trap crop. Sounds nice, but what are the trap crops? Diakon radishes, mustards, choi, and napa cabbage was my answer. Of course I already had every one of these in my garden as my MAIN crop. I guess my mizuna might survive as the only crop not on that list. So I have the tastiest plants in existence for flee beetles. Sigh.

On to the next suggestion - sticky traps. It seems they like the color yellow. I could go out and buy a trap, but I figure I might be able to improvise. I have white plastic containers and if I put water and a little soap and a little yellow food dye, they might just be stupid enough to commit suicide. How smart can an insect 1/16 of an inch long be? Well I had no yellow food dye. I had blue, green and red, but the yellow one was mysteriously missing. The only yellow item I could find was construction paper left over from when the kids were little. Why not? I cut out rectangles to fit the bottom of my flat containers, filled them will water and a drop of soap and put them out in the garden. I swiped one of my Napa cabbages with my hand and a few beetles duly hopped into the death trap.

BTW the silliest suggestion I ran across was using a catnip spray on the crop. I could just imagine what would happen to a catnipped plot in suburbia. I wouldn’t dare plant it. Usually the myriad of cats in the neighborhood stay away because of the dog, but with catnip sprayed on the plants they would fight the dog for it.

Today was a beautiful day and the perfect time to buy the rest of the seedlings that I need. Tomorrow I’ll get the tomatoes that I ordered. I need my peppers, basil and some flowers. I grew some basil from seed, but the seedlings look sick. I’d rather have healthy ones. I bought the traditional jalapeño and super chili peppers. I never grow the sweet kind; they aren’t really prolific enough here; but the chilis do quite well. Sadly there was no basil. They have always had basil seedlings before. I’m so sad. I’ll have to look for them elsewhere.

Since it is so late in the season, the garden center had all of its seeds on sale 50% off. Who can refuse such a sale? Certainly not me. I wanted to pick up some more peas for the fall. They were very sparse. Most of the peas were English peas and I wanted snow peas, though I would settle for snap peas. I finally found one last packet of snow peas. Since I only needed to buy fall peas, I of course picked up five other packets of seed; arugula, kale, two lettuces and some rainbow chard.

And then my daughter decided we had to plant pumpkins. She wanted the Jack-be-Little pumpkins, but since they were all out, she ended up with a sugar pumpkin. We sometimes can grow pumpkins here. It depends upon how many vine borers visit. But we can always try. I hadn’t planned to put in a pumpkin and I don’t have much room left in the garden but you can always shove one more plant in right? Ok I have planted pumpkins before. I know they are monsters that take over the garden but when Beth asked for pumpkins, I immediately said “sure.” I figure we will plant them next to cucumbers and shove the basil that was going to be there, next to the leeks. We will have to train it up the fence to keep it from smothering the rest of the plants. So as soon as we got home we planted the hill of pumpkins right next to the cucumber plot. They have about a 3’x 4’ plot in their immediate vicinity and lots of fence space.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Busy Day

I had a busy day today in the garden. It is still extremely windy out, but the sun is shining again, so it is a good day for chores. The number one chore on the list was turning the compost pile and finding that black gold at the bottom. Many gardeners screen their compost, but I just pick through it. I recompost the sticks, avocado and peach pits, corn cobs and other assorted bits that didn’t break down in the first year. The avocado pits are always amusing. I always squeeze them, about a third of the time they collapse into a nice brown powder. I’m guessing that means it takes three years for them to break down. I took my prize down to the squash bed and dug it into the soil; then sculpted the soil into two hills. One hill I will plant right away, one I’ll plant around the end of June or the beginning of July. I’ll keep it covered with a row cover to keep out the vine borers. The vine borers make it really hard to grow squash here, but a row cover will keep them out. Personally I really hate the look of row covers, but it keeps the plants growing without any pesticides, so I use them.

The soil is getting quite warm. Our last frost was almost a month ago. I think it is going to stay warm during the day from now on. So it was obviously time to plant my beans. I have four poles. I planted Kentucky Wonder and Fortex around the front poles, and the Yard Long Beans around the back poles. I had to rip up a couple of peas at the end of the row since they were too close to the beans. I didn’t want the beans to become shaded by them. They had germinated less than a week ago, but look how big their roots were already.

This spring I’ve been fighting with the slugs eating my Asian greens. Last week I tried crushed eggshells. Obviously I need more eggshells. My real problem is that I mulch the paths with hay and the slugs love hiding in it during the day. At night they come out to eat. So on the side with the mulch (the other side has brick pavers) I dug my row cover edge under the dirt. I’m hoping that keeps them from invading. Time will tell. I can’t give up anymore of my eggshells. I’m saving them for planting my tomatoes next week.

On the cutworm front, I finally found the cutworm that was eating my cilantro. It chopped down another plant, but stayed around the base so I could find it. Only a gardener can be so happy over squishing a worm.

The happiest part of the day however was picking some more lettuce and my first radishes. My early Red Sails lettuce still is not full size, but it is almost there. As you can see I now only have three left, and they have lots of room to grow now. As I pick each head I throw more seed into the empty spot. Hopefully I will have lettuce here all summer long at different stages of growth. I also thinned out the later lettuce (direct seeded the same time the early seedlings were planted). They were getting crowded and more lettuce to eat is never bad.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Weeds and Cutworms

My Mother’s Day gift to myself yesterday was weeding the perennial garden. Since I hear people all the time complaining about weeding their gardens, I figure I’m a bit strange. I like weeding. Not all weeding is fun, but pulling out small weeds after a rainstorm is always nice. It is more on the order of communing with the garden than working. I also stripped all the flowers off the blueberries I had planted earlier this year. Some of the blueberries were planted where raspberries were last year. I obviously didn’t get all of the roots out, since raspberry shoots were still coming up. I stripped them out of the ground. Note to self: put on gloves before you rip out raspberries.

Today is very windy and chilly. The weatherman said we will have 20mph wind and may get occasional gusts up to 50mph. I was going to start hardening my cucumbers off so I can get them in the ground at the end of the week. They have already seen full sun all day being in their hoop house, but their stems aren’t very strong yet. They need to be gradually introduced to the wind. So they get one more day under plastic.

Cutworm update: cutworms 1; me 4. So far I’ve found and dispatched 4 cutworms, but one has eluded me. I saw the foliage knocked down and dug around the area, but I had no luck finding him. I’ll keep a sharp eye out tomorrow to see if he strikes again. There is the slim possibility that the plant was nipped off by a bird, but I doubt it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother’s Day

As I went outside this morning to put out my plants, I was greeted with beautiful birdsong. We have a lot of birds in this area, but usually they aren’t so noisy so late in the day (9:30am). Usually they sing en masse closer to sunrise and just individually until dusk. Then after I had just started writing this post, I looked outside. There was a bird that I had never seen before. It was on a branch right outside of my window; hopping all around the branch looking for insects. The bird was black and white striped with a white throat. It was a very distinctive bird. I looked it up and found it was a female Black and White Warbler. LOL Halfway through writing this yet another bird I don’t usually see showed up on the same branch the other had vacated. This time it was a Yellow-rumped Warbler and boy was he singing. So I guess they were noisy this morning because I have a bunch of warblers in my yard. I think they’ve finally shown up because the caterpillars have hatched. Little green ones are hanging off the trees. I have one tent from the tent caterpillars on the branch right outside my window and a tufted titmouse was happily eating them. Though I’m not really a bird watcher, I do love the birds. It was a nice gift for Mother’s Day.

My daughter is already home from college so is here for Mother’s Day. However my son will probably forget it is Mother’s Day. He is still off at college. I was going to harass him earlier in the week to tell him his responsibility now that he is not around. I don’t need gifts, cards or dinner out, but the phone call is mandatory. This is his first year away so I have to get him trained up for the rest of his life.

I have two mothers in my life, my mom and my MIL. I sent my MIL a basket of plants which is traditional for me (that or flowers). My mother got something else this year. I sent her the Organic Sampler gift from Diamond Organics. She lives in Colorado and is a long time from having really fresh veggies. They ship freshly picked organic produce overnight to your door. Not quite as good as the farmer’s market (since it get shipped via plane), but still fresh and healthy. Happy Mother’s Day to both of you.

BTW sorry no photos of the birds. I think I would have to use my husband’s good camera to get photos of skittish little birds and I'm just not willing to play with the lenses right now. Instead I took a photo of the Lily of the Valley that is blooming in my back yard.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Weathering Obsessions

We have probably gotten about an inch of rain in the last couple of days. Sadly the sun won’t come out until tomorrow, so my little eggplants, cucumbers and basil must stay on the window sill today. The clear plastic row cover won‘t heat up without the sun. Well actually it will to a certain extent. I took the Asian greens outside. They can handle the cold weather. When I put them in the little hoop micro house, it was actually much warmer than the surrounding air; still not warm enough for an eggplant, but enough to make the brassicas happy.

As the spring gets farther along, my fascination with the weather gets to be obsessive. Will it rain today; will it be sunny; will we have a frost; what will be the high? I usually visit a couple of different weather sites each day; sometimes more than once. They give me an idea of what the weather will be, but my little micro climate can be different. If I ask for the weather in Winchester, I will probably get a report for Winchester center (if I’m lucky and it’s not for some close town). I live on a hill. In the fall, winter and spring we often get snow when downtown Winchester will have rain. I’ve been gardening for years in this house, but I haven’t kept any records of the weather (or anything else for that matter). I used to have a high low thermometer, but after one storm it blew away and hasn’t been seen since. I need a new thermometer; oh yeah and a rain gauge; and those historical records I never kept. As if that will really make my plants grow better. But still my obsession continues.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Solar Challenge

For the month of April, Winchester was issued a Community Solar Challenge. This is held by the New England Wind Fund. If 150 families donate $100, they will put a 2kW solar array on the Winchester High School (worth $25K). I dutifully donated my $100, and then waited to see if we made it. I figured even if we didn’t it went to a good cause. Supposedly I can say my house is powered with renewable energy for a quarter of the year – kind of like buying wind credits but not really.

On May 1st, I was looking online to see if we made it and only got the original contribution page. “…If by April 30…” Sigh, that didn’t tell me. Finally our paper, the Winchester Star, had the answer yesterday. 217 people donated. This is good because we made it, but then again it is less than 5% of our population. Since so many people donated, we have been issued another challenge. If we can get 83 more families or 300 total to donate before the end of June, they will double the size. So I guess I’ll wait another couple of months to find out about that.

Yes that wasn’t gardening related, so I’ll move on to the garden. Not much is happening, but my peas, turnips, and radishes that I planted a week and a half ago were finally up yesterday. It took them long enough. This morning a small pack of Asian greens that I am starting inside popped up. They took what – 4 days maybe? Starting seeds inside is so much faster. And the best news is that the cutworms can’t get them – yet.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mystery of the Missing Lettuce

I thought I was safe. The radishes were up. The lettuce was up. Not a sign of a toppling stem. Today I found 3 plants lying on their sides. The cutworms have shown up and are logging my garden. Luckily for me they like to drag their ill gotten gains down into their lairs, thereby telling me their location. I found three very small cutworms. They were almost cute, but I know better and they were quickly dispatched. Yesterday one of my lettuce seedlings totally disappeared. I wondered what had gotten it. But since it was so small, there was no evidence left at all as to its demise. It just vanished. Well now that the mystery of the missing lettuce is solved, I know I have to be more vigilant. I can’t miss a day of checking my little plants. A single cutworm can mow down all of my newly seeded lettuce very quickly; so fast that I may not see any plants at all. Luckily in most places in the garden there is a lot of cilantro and dill popping up and the cutworms seem to love the cilantro. I can use to lose a few of those plants. OK I could use to lose hundreds of those plants since they need thinning again.

As to my wireworm traps, not one wireworm was captured after three days. The above ground part of one carrot seemed to have been tasted by the slugs and ants seem very interested in another, but nothing underground was touched. Not one. I’ll leave them in longer, but wireworms are probably not doing the damage to my cole crops.

I did get some good news today. My media reader showed up today. So I can easily transfer photos from my Elph to my computer. I’ll retroactively add a couple of photos.