Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fall planting

This past week, we had one of those horrible 90-degree days when the air is barely breathable. Just one. This morning, the weather felt almost autumn-like. A good reminder to get the fall garden planted.

In the past, before retirement (BR), I didn't always plant a fall crop of anything, as I was usually knee deep in tomatoes by now. Also, while gardening is always unpredictable, fall is more so. For one thing, most of what gets planted likes cool weather and August is usually anything but cool. Then, just as the temps start to moderate, frost may occur. So fall plantings are more of a crap shoot than spring or summer, but it's hard to resist an empty bed.

In the sixteen squares above, I planted roots - beet, rutabaga, turnip, carrot, radish - plus lettuce and spinach and kale and broccoli, all from seed. Since the pole beans were not able to complete with the corn and pumpkin, I also planted some of those in their own bed, as well as a short row of snap peas behind the endamame (which are languishing under pumpkin vines).

Speaking of pumpkin, the two varieties I planted continue their attempt to dominate the entire garden. I found this big boy in the tomato bed, a good 25 feet to the SSE of where the vines started.

Its smaller cousin breached the corn. I planted two varieties, both supposedly small, and now I am not sure which is which. I *think* the green ones are Rouge Vif d'Etamps while the orange ones are Burpee small(?!?) sugar.

Joining the pumpkin is butternut squash. While not quite as sprawling as the pumpkin, it too is doing its best to wander far and farther.

And, as far as squash is concerned, size *does* matter.

Just ask the zucchini.

We ate at Five Guys last night. I said I didn't care where we ate, as long as they did not serve zucchini. Or cucumbers (except as pickles).

Actually, I like zucchini and have been trying out all kinds of new and unusual dishes, courtesy of the Internet. More on that later. Right now it is time for my afternoon nap.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Perfect weather, sort of

We have been having some gorgeous weather from the human comfort standpoint - cool, dry, partially overcast so no sun baking one's brains, etc. Some of the garden plants, especially the sad looking sweet potatoes, wish it were warmer, and they all could use a good soaking rain. But us two-leggeds cannot complain. Some hot days are coming, then hopefully a storm and more of these reasonable temps. We'll see - weather is so fickle.

Here's what's happening in the yard these days:

First up, garlic!

The pic above is 'Music' which is supposed to be the newest fave of backyard garlic growers. I purchased it from Burpee, who sells it by the ounce, not the bulb, so I had no idea how much I was getting. Turns out a LOT, enough to experiment with. Pickled garlic, anyone? (The variety below is either Bogatyr, German Extra Hardy, or Georgia Fire, all of which I grew from my own stock.)

I think the fountain never made it out of the shed at all last year. Now that I am home ALL THE TIME, it is back on the back porch where I can enjoy its burbling while simultaneously enjoying this great weather. (Notice Meyer lemon in the back. It is much recovered and doing great - knock on wood!)

Next to the back porch, where I can keep an eye on it, is some swamp milkweed, which is relatively new to the yard.

Not so new to the yard is common milkweed, all volunteers. Milkweed spreads easily but is also easy to discourage, either purposely or not. Given the plight of the monarch population, I am going to deliberately encourage these guys.

New garden art!

Last year, I added the cat below. This year, when I passed the same vendor at the Three Rivers Festival, I eyeballed the sampling but nothing (that was within my price range) caught my eye. My SO, however, returned the next day and bought me the above heron. It is standing in the rhubarb patch, but I am thinking it would look great by a pond. Agree?

Here's is the Japanese fern I mentioned before, a gift from my (now former) co-workers. It's still alive, and now I am interested in maybe adding a few tall ferns to the back of the hosta bed. Maybe. We'll see how this one does.

Another gift from those co-workers, a Supertunia. I'm not much of a petunia person, but I am curious to see what a super version of one does.

And, finally, daylilies.

My daylilies bloom every year, and every year I am so taken with their luscious colors that I photograph them, and the photos look remarkably similar to the photos from previous years.

Yesterday I picked my first tomatoes of the season, some cherry-sized ones. I planted two varieties of cherry tomatoes and the plants have become so HUGE and intertwined that I am not sure which plant these came from. I'm guessing the Matt's Wild Cherry, simply because the black cherry should be darker, right? I've not grown either before, so I'm not sure what to expect, except great taste. Yum!

Friday, July 18, 2014

I lied

I found a cucumber underneath all the neighboring zucchini foliage and it's a big 'un!

I'm temporarily without my landline, which means no FIOS Internet. I am posting this using my T-Mobile phone as a hot spot. Works pretty well, which makes me wonder just how much I need FIOS, other than for streaming Netflix. Hmm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


It has been hot and humid here - almost August-like but not quite. And not for long - today the high might not even reach 70. At this rate, my tomatoes will never turn red/black/whatever color they are supposed to be. My cucumbers have not been producing, either, leaving me at the mercy of the farmers markets for my salad fixings. The corn is starting to tassel, though, and there is plenty of zucchini. And pumpkins.

I plan to harvest the garlic this week. The onions are falling down on their own, signaling their willingness to be rousted from their bed.

A few volunteer sunflowers are showing their sunny faces, while the ones I planted on purpose are lagging far behind.

And let's not forget the zinnias, so pretty and so easy to grow.

I have not spent very much time observing the comings and goings of the avian neighbors, but I did spot a couple of unusual ones recently. This, I believe, is a catbird.

And I think this is a female oriole of some kind, Baltimore or orchard.

This "critter" is actually a pea tendril wrapped around a pea vine.

On the less pretty side of the yard is the former meadow/incipient orchard. Yesterday I mowed most of the area while contemplating just what to plant there next year. I have room for seven dwarf fruit trees, eight if I sacrifice the stunted serviceberry. It's easy to get carried away when perusing catalogs - I'll have one (or more) of each - but I'm trying to pay attention to what makes sense for me, a fruit lover who lives alone and whose boyfriend does not like fruit much but whose family members are willing recipients of the surplus. And there is the "dirty dozen" and their cousins to consider. I'm thinking a peach (Red Haven, of course), a sour cherry, some apples. And then what? I have until next spring to mull it over.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why doesn't everyone grow raspberries?!?

When I headed for the raspberry patch the other evening, a bird flew out of the brambles. As much as I love raspberries, I admit I am getting tired of picking them, which I do on a daily if not twice daily basis, despite the mosquitoes. If a few birds want a snack, fine by me. After dealing with strawberry-stealing robins earlier this summer, I was afraid I would have a similar problem with the raspberries, but not so. Instead, I have been reaping quart after quart of red goodness.

I don't know why everyone doesn't grow raspberries. It's easy, it's fun, at $4 a half-pint for locally grown organic ones, it's thrifty. I planted four or five plants two years ago, last year enjoyed a pleasant harvest, but this year I have been amazed. Initially, I was picking a cereal bowlful a day, then I had to graduate to a quart bowl; for a few days I was actually picking TWO quarts a day. Now it's back to the cereal bowl and the berries themselves are getting smaller.

What do I do with all those berries? I've been eating them daily on my breakfast yogurt and freezing the rest. (Spread them on a cookie sheet, freeze, then transfer to a freezer bag - so simple.) I also made a galette and a raspberry version of this salad dressing, running the berries through my saucemaker to test the berry screen.

I chose Latham for my variety (I forget why), purchased from Jung. The canes are thornless and the fruit sets on two-year-old canes. I planted mine in an 8'x2' raised bed made of cedar, in the lawn. Raspberries can spread by sending out underground shoots. I was hoping the raised bed would discourage this, and I think it has, but the few that escape are decapitated by the mower.

Raspberry plants like sun; the shadier side of my patch bears less. As for care, all I do is prune out the spent canes after harvest, weed the bed, add some compost, mulch, and that is it. If raspberries have any serious pest problems, I have not seen them. I do keep them surrounded by poultry netting to prevent rabbit damage.

I don't know why it took me so long to grow raspberries. What's your excuse?

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Progress report

You know how you say, "I'm going to do this or that when I retire"? During the month of June, leading up to my retirement date, I looked at much of what needed attention in the yard and garden and said, "I'll take care of that in July, after I retire." Now it is July, and after one week of retirement, I'm exhausted!

In an attempt to protect the broccoli, I shifted a cage from the strawberry bed to the brassica bed, only to find the whole thing caved in, presumably by a big fat woodchuck. Everything that stuck through the collapsed fencing was eaten, plus whatever sweet potatoes poked through the poultry netting I had draped over them haphazardly. This past week, my SO finished lining the wood fence with poultry netting; we may replace the floppy chicken wire around the top with sturdier hardware cloth bent at a 90 degree angle. I've also been tossing dog poop around the shed where critters have created entrances. Maybe I should jack up the shed to discourage its use as a good hiding place?

My SO has also been helping with the weeding, him in the back, me on the public sides of the house. I continue to move plants from the patio beds, now to the south side of the house: crocosmia, catmint/nip, shasta daisy, monarda, coneflower, hysop, etc. Once upon a time, I tried to have a meadow-like area in the backyard, for birds, bees, and butterflies (3B), but it was too large to maintain. So I tried having two large beds by the patio, but they did not get enough sun. I was going to try using the south side of the house for blueberries but changed my mind, so now that area will be the new 3B area. One of many nice things about gardening is, except for large bushes and trees, you can somewhat easily change things around if they don't work out.

In the vegetable garden, the pumpkin and winter squash continue to take over, making the paths almost impassable. (Must research bush varieties.) The pole beans finally germinated and are climbing the corn as anticipated. I cleaned out the failed broccoli bed and plan to use that for root crops, as the squares I used for roots are now obscured by the winter squash. The cukes are climbing the trellis and blooming and almost ready to bear; the zukes have been finding their way into stir fries and salads. The onions and garlic look great, should be ready for harvest one of these days. The tomatoes plants are HUGE and fruit is starting to form, the potatoes blooming which means I could start feeling around for new potatoes if I get the urge.

I cleaned out the pea patches, which besides being ravaged by the birds had been overtaken with weeds. Usually, the weeds are not such a problem with the peas, but this year they were overwhelming. Still, I harvested a kitchen strainer full of pea pods, which was a surprise - the weeds had hidden them all away - so the crop was not a total failure. No snap peas whatsoever, though.

I always plant some flowers in the vegetable garden: marigolds, sunflowers, zinnias, and this year something called bee's friend. The marigolds have been overwhelmed and the germination of the sunflowers and bee's friend spotty, but there will be zinnias. They benefited from being started in pots. I'm becoming convinced that, even if you don't want to start plants early, germinating them in pots when possible is a better way to ensure consistent germination than direct sowing.

I've been gardening off and on for about forty years. You'd think I'd be an expert by now, but there is always something new to try, a different method to experiment with. Every year there are some failures and some successes, some due to the gardener, some because of things beyond one's control (weather, I'm talking to YOU). Rarely is it not a challenge.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Random Wednesday (without pictures)

1. I am still getting used to being retired. Every day feels like Saturday. It's hard to give myself permission to sit down and read a book or watch a movie, as I'm not used to having enough hours in the day for such leisure activities.

2. Yesterday, I weeded the hosta bed and moved 'Love Pat' from one end to the other where a space had opened up as a result of said weeding. Then a Japanese painted fern went into the spot formerly occupied by 'Love Pat'. The fern (Athyrium nipponicum (goeringianum) 'Pictum') was a departure gift from my co-workers. The plant tag says it prefers to grow by water or in bog gardens. No such environment exists in my yard, so I hope I can keep it alive.

3. My co-workers also gave me a petunia hybrid known as Supertunia 'Indigo Charm'. That went into the bed by the front walk.

4. Speaking of the bed by the front walk, I have been slaving away there recently. Last year, I move some 'Clara Curtis' painted daisies there, and they were so happy, they rapidly began overwhelming everything else. I relocated those, then realized the few surviving coreopsis were blocking the view of the delphinium (which I was surprised to see survived last winter). I shifted the coreopsis to the back of the bed. I have alternative plans for the beds that are by the patio, so I moved salvia, scabiosa, and lavender from there to here. So now there is a big hodgepodge of plants in the bed by the front walk, including several sedums both low growing and tall. We'll see how they sort themselves out.

5. My experience with coreopsis is they rarely last more than a few years. The exceptions to the rule (knock on wood) are 'Route 66' and 'Zagreb'.

6. I have been picking almost a quart of raspberries on a daily basis, eating some, freezing the rest. A half pint of local organic raspberries goes for $4 in these parts, so I am feeling rather smug about my harvest.

7. When I planted potatoes in raised beds this year, it was with the intention of moving some of the dirt from the patio beds to the potato beds as the potatoes grew. The potatoes got ahead of me, WAY ahead of me, but I did add some of that dirt this week, topping it with straw. I learned from the first potato bed that I should work the outside edge before the interior areas, to keep everything propped up.

8. Sadly, it appears that my asplenifolia has died. It leafed out this spring, but now all the leaves are dead. Perhaps a delayed reaction to the harsh winter? I'm doing a wait-and-see, maybe it will recover, but so far, it does not look good.

9. I found my gas meter yesterday. During the month of June, my yard received over 7" of rain. Great for plants, even better for weeds. In the past, I have received a letter from the gas company, informing me they could not read the meter due to the weeds. Now they read the meter remotely, but I still want to keep that area clear. And the air conditioner.

10. No need for AC today. It is a lovely, breezy, partly sunny 75 degrees. Open the windows!