Saturday, June 30, 2012

This week's box

I didn't mean to disparage all CSAs in a previous post. I was just frustrated with the overwhelming amount of green leafy stuff I have received so far. When I picked up my box yesterday, I was informed that the problem is the hot weather - a lot of plants just won't grow or blossom or set fruit when the temperatures are consistently in the 90's. That I can understand, having witnessed it in my own garden.

Under the greenery, there were some veggies: broccoli, beets, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, peppers, and two small still-a-little-green tomatoes.

I still have not identified the plant below, but I think it is Swiss chard, something I have never grown, cooked, or eaten. My daughter and her husband tried it and declared it inedible. Now it is my turn.

More storms last night, but tamer - just thunder, lightning, and rain. I haven't checked the rain gauge yet, but there are puddles on the patio, which is a good sign. I will set the hoses aside for a few days.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Look through any window...

Winds peaked at 92 mph. Rainfall 0.25". Temperature dropped by 30 degrees, to 66.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Irony example 1: Several years ago, I attended a seminar on rain gardens. Since I planned to replace my driveway, I held off on planting one. If I had planted one, it would be one more bed of plants for me to water.

Irony example 2: That same year, I signed up for a free rain barrel, which never materialized. Just as well - rain barrels don't work if it never rains.

Irony example 3: My backyard is a registered wildlife habitat - and is surrounded by poultry netting to keep out the rabbits.

* * * * *

Today I harvested the Broadleaf Czech garlic, as it was ready. I planted nine cloves, harvested six seven - would have been seven eight (editor's note: I can't count), but I foolishly tried to pull one out instead of dig it up and the stalk broke off. Digging around for the bulb only resulted in damaging the volunteer sunflowers.

Tomorrow's temperature is predicted to be 103. Ugh.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lettuce (try to) be thankful

Since this is a rebuilding year for the vegetable garden, I decided it was a good idea to subscribe to a local CSA. The web site was a bit confusing, and I am pretty sure that it said a small share (which is what I ordered) was just right for 1-2 people. If you look at it now, though, it says a half share is just right for 1-2 people. (Or you could look at it, but the site is down.) Anyway, I figured I could share some and freeze some, so no big deal.

The grower is Amish, so there is another person who handles the marketing and delivery. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but she has got to be the most disorganized person in the world. It took much back and forth, by phone and by email, before I was satisfied that I was really signed up. Then there was much back and forth, by phone and by email, to get straight which location and day I had chosen, and when delivery started. Finally, finally I started receiving my share, but today when I picked it up, there were two other women trying to pick up their shares as well, but their names were not on the hand-scrawled list.

If I had opened my box at the pickup location, I would have given it to one of them, because MY GOD, how much lettuce can one (or six) people eat?!? The temperatures have been in the 90's - shouldn't it have bolted by now? And ZUCCHINI?!? I sometimes don't plant zucchini until June, and this year I am already sick of it.

This CSA also sells to restaurants and at farmer markets, and I am beginning to suspect that the best and most varied selection goes to those customers. Beyond the tons and tons of lettuce, something I can't identify that appears to be a cross between celery and cabbage (and a favorite of flea beetles), and too many zucchini, I haven't seen much to get excited about: one white kohlrabi last week, one purple one this week, a scant pint and a half of strawberries all told, two sweet banana peppers last week, some incredibly gnarly radishes early on, etc. And some of it has been picked a day or two past its prime, like the snow peas (starchy) and broccoli (starting to yellow).

Am I being too picky? Is this what CSA's are like elsewhere? I imagined getting a boxful of vegetables similar to what I would get from my own garden, but maybe my expectations are too high given the realities of market gardening? The food is local and organic and fresh; with a few exceptions, it all keeps quite well in the refrigerator. And maybe, once lettuce season is over (and it will end, right?), there will be more variety and more stuff I can stick in the freezer.

One can only hope.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

So close, yet so far away

I can see the clouds. I can hear the thunder. But will it rain in my backyard? NOOOOOOOO.

While I am waiting for it to cool off a bit outside (again), here are some macro and super macro experiments:

Shasta daisy
Geranium - Calliope
Coreopsis - Creme Brulee
Hosta blossom
Purple-ish coneflower
Marigold - Safari Red
Coneflower - PowWow White
Potato - Carola
Tomato - Roma
Meyer lemons
Bumble bee on Shasta daisy
Bumble bee on hollyhock - Creme de Cassis
Yellow jacket drinking
$25 "as is" fountain
Fountain bubbling
The story about the fountain is, the nursery was practically giving them away. Their reason was, the pump was too strong for the design, spilling water over the top. I figured I could do something to alleviate that - and I could, once I realized the pump is adjustable. The trick is to provide enough oomph that the water clears the lip of the spout, but not so much that the water runs over the sides of the saucer. And then tilt the whole thing a bit forward. Voila!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The birds are panting

Birds at the bird bath, beaks agape - that is how hot it was today. I watered before work - delightful - and ate lunch on the patio - tolerable. But after the sun crested the rooftop, that was the end of outdoor time.

As much as I complain about watering, I have to admit that there are a few positives, one being the opportunity to keep a close eye on the garden. I have developed the ability to water with one hand and weed or deadhead with the other. And I confess to sweet talking the shrubbery a time or two as we get up close and personal.

So far, I am liking the square-foot-gardening-in-raised-beds thing. Twelve Roma tomato plants and four marigolds or 70140+ onion plants in a 4'x4' bed is much more manageable than long rows of the same. And my left-brained self appreciates the symmetry.

I still think the planting medium is too peat-y, and I expect yields may reflect that. That should improve over time, as I add manure (green and otherwise). Meanwhile, after hearing about how watering may wash nutrients from the soil, I am supplementing with fish emulsion.

A quick fruit and veggie status: tomato plants are blossoming and little 'maters are forming; the Carola potatoes are blossoming but not the Yukon Gold (and I have discovered I don't like russets anymore); peas are done - I buried the spent plants where they stood; after a slow start, the sweet potatoes have taken hold; the everbearing strawberries finished their first crop - a small one, as this is their first year - and are sending out runners; asparagus and herbs look great; and it won't be long before the garlic will be ready to harvest.

Happy Summer Solstice!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A dry heat - sort of

Last year, when the temps climbed above 90, so did the humidity. Outside, it was nearly impossible to breathe, let alone garden. Inside was not much better, because AC units work by evaporation, and my unit could not keep up, especially with the afternoon sun beating down on it. In an attempt to forestall that happening again, we (and I use the word "we" loosely - my SO dug the holes, I filled them) planted a couple more 'Wichita Blue" junipers.

Another sun-shielding task was to put the canopy over the patio. Last year, despite my efforts, the canopy flopped and flooped all over the place. One day I remember in particular. I was home sick, nearly comatose on the couch. I could hear something banging around but could not muster the energy to even go look (because if I looked, I would have to do something about it). Later, when I achieved vertical, I discovered the canopy was practically on the roof. But thanks to the Internet and online reviews (and my SO), a solution was instituted: grommets.

Initially, we tried pink nylon cord.

Then my So asked, Got any bungee cords? Why, yes, yes I do.

This solution has worked very well.

And while we are singing the praises of my SO, he also dug in the raised beds he put together. Given the cement-like structure of my clay soil, this was no simple task.

This man literally makes my dreams come true!

Monday, June 18, 2012

While waiting for the temps to drop...

It is over 90 today, with no relief in sight. I need to water the front part of the house, but I am waiting until later in the evening, when hopefully the temperature will be a little less brutal. At least there is a stiff breeze.

Meanwhile, here are a few shots of flowers I have not published yet.

Several years ago I planted one hollyhock from the grocery store. It did not do much that year except stop blooming. Since then, however, the bed on the south side of my house hosts mini forests of hollyhocks each year. I'm not a big fan of hollyhocks, but the Japanese beetles are. So much so, that they leave most of the rest of my ornamentals alone.

Once upon a time, I tried to remove this yucca, to no avail. In fact, since then, baby yuccas crop up all around it - and this year, one even made it all the way across the driveway, under the gold mop. Then, after adding the asplenifolia and sand cherry, I thought maybe the shade would discourage it. Obviously not. So I give up.

I like coreopsis, but I have not been able to keep them alive for more than a couple of years, no matter the variety. Last fall I asked a local nursery if they had a more robust one, and they recommended 'Route 66'. It made it past last winter, which was admittedly very mild. We'll see how long it lasts.

I am not one of those gardeners who collects the latest and greatest varieties, but decided to go crazy this year and purchase a fancy columbine, one of the Swan series. This one is so luscious, I may become a convert, though.

Gah - it is almost 8pm and still 92 degrees outside. The front of the house faces east, so I will be mostly in the shade while watering. Time to get to it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

They SAID home and GARDEN tour

Yesterday my SO and I went on a home and garden tour. While the houses were interesting, there was only one garden of note and it was at the first house we visited. Twelve houses and two hours later, we were finished, in more ways than one. And I was disappointed.

I want take better photographs, and was hoping to experiment on those non-existent gardens, but these are the only photos I took.

I would have taken more, but I didn't see anything I hadn't grown at one time or another. So I decided to experiment with the camera in my own yard. I discovered that the "soft background" setting was not very helpful, so I tried macro vs. super macro.

I couldn't see much difference between the two, and only later did it dawn on me that the difference between macro and super macro is how close to your subject you can get. Duh.

One more collage: I planted my tulip tree in 2009. Below are photos from 2011 and this year.

Even though it is not a whole lot bigger, it sheds enough shade that the sun-loving plants I chose to locate between it and the West Wing were pouting. I know the rule about perennials - "First year sleep, second year creep, third year leap" - but I was still a little concerned. Concerned enough last week to move those plants, to one of the beds by the patio, where they appear much happier. Also, I am less likely to step on them or drag the hose across them.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Stump the expert

One of our local radio stations has a weekday call-in show, and on Thursdays the subject is "outer spaces" with a local nurseryman as the main expert. I tune in when I can, but can never think of a question I need answered. Not that I know everything, but with Google at hand, I can usually find out what I need to know online.

Anyway, the other day, I thought of a question and quickly fired off an email while the show was in progress. (You can call, Tweet, FB, or email your question.)

I have a viburnum dentatum 'Blue Muffin' that barely produces any fruit. I've been told I need another species of dentatum to cross pollinate (so I planted a 'Chicago Lustre' on recommendation by others, including a nurseryman, without effect), I've been told no cross pollinator is necessary, I've been told I need another 'Blue Muffin'. Your opinion? And if I need another species of dentatum, what would you recommend?

The online consensus is, yes, you need a cross pollinator, a different variety of dentatum. What nurseries tell me (except for the guy who sold me the 'Chicago Lustre' which BTW does NOT bloom at the same time as the 'Blue Muffin') is no, I don't need a cross pollinator. This year the blossoms were untouched by frost, and still only one berry (if that) per cluster has formed. I would plant another dentatum if I could be sure it would help, but in general, they are not a favorite, primarily because the blossoms STINK - every time I walk by one in bloom, I wonder what died.

I also wonder if I need more pollinators, e.g. bees. The summers have been incredibly dry for several years and there are very few bugs in my backyard. I don't mind the lack of mosquitoes at all, but am concerned over how few bees I see. I have considered getting a hive myself, but while I like the idea of keeping bees, I am daunted by the work involved.

Anyway, the expert on the radio show flat out said he did not know the answer to my question, not without doing some research. At least he was honest.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

A brief tour

Between the watering and the pea picking, I managed to get a few photos snapped.

First off, new cedar beds awaiting relocation to the garden, courtesy of my SO.

Then there were the strawberries, in need of protection from the robins.

SO to the rescue again.

Next, some lawn ornaments. This metal butterfly was a gift from my son for Mother's Day.

This pink flamingo guarding the rhubarb is one of four that my dad purchased from the original factory.

This Buddha head is from Joann's, purchased several years ago and just now finding its way outside.

This Buddha was found more recently, at Tuesday Morning.

It provides a handy perch for Mr. Chipmunk, fresh from an engagement raiding the scabiosa for seeds.

There are a lot of baby birds in my backyard this year. I have enjoyed watching the young ones learn to fly, be fed by their parents, and in this case, learn to take baths.

And finally, a wren has deemed the wren house to be nest-worthy. We shall see if his nest attracts a mate.

More later. I promise.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Blow me down

I was going to take photos today, but it is just too windy - gusts up to 30 mph. In lieu of garden pix, here are a couple I took at the pond where I work. Look closely and you will see a great blue heron.

We actually received a measurable amount of rain a couple of days ago - about 0.25" here - and a trace the next day and a trace today. All that falls into the better-than-nothing-but-not-much category.

I've been enjoying the snap peas and a few snow peas and fewer English peas. The variety of English peas I chose require no staking, but I'm discovering that they are a pain to harvest. I also think there was not much to be gained by planting them in mid-March - April 1 would have been soon enough. That date was a bit early for the onions, but they look very strong now.

Despite the recent cool temps, some of the Roma tomatoes are starting to blossom. The bush beans are doing well, and the garlic looks great.

And that is all I am growing, as this is a rebuilding year. My SO just finished building me seven more 4'x4' beds, which we are going to install tomorrow. I will plant green manure in them this year. I think a robin ate my first red strawberry, so his next project will be a screened cover for that bed.