August, no more squash bugs, please.

The pumpkin patch is growing lovely vines and very few pumpkins. Last month we had a run in with squash bugs and so hand picked bugs and eggs, then applied sevin dust; which we hate to do. Bugs gone, the vines exploded. Yet, hand pollinating the flowers is not producing any more pumpkins. Each bloom opens, we pollinate, the bloom closes and dies. Although we know this has nothing whatsoever to do with the sevin dust, we cannot help but wonder.

baby pumpkin.jpg

The pond is dry now, and so too the willow grove. When the soil was still damp and uncracked we noticed beaver leavings; woodchips, gnawed trees, and skinned branches everywhere. The fast water in the creek must have coerced them into the safety of our sometimes-pond where they dined on bitter river willow and easy to chew cottonwood. Instead of calling animal control for extraction or setting traps, we used urine deterrent. The beavers left the area within three days. If you have a feed store or hunting store near-by you can purchase urine scent. If you have a family member willing to pee in the woods twice a day, save your money.

Have you ever heard of sunburned rose blooms? We think we have one. It bloomed just before two high UV days. The bloom looked burnt. Every petal was black and curled in on itself. We know leaves can suffer from sunburn, especially semi-shade and shade plant varieties, but a rose? A rose bloom? Subsequent blooms are not burnt. It appears to have been a one-time occurrence. Strange happenings in the garden this summer…The only plant growing as expected are the morning glories. A whole line of them, twenty feet long.

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June: Summer is Coming.

Cherry tree update. After months in the refrigerator followed by a careful watering schedule, steady temperature, and natural light rhythms not one of the cherry pits sprouted. Irradiation will do that to 24 healthy looking cherry pits.

So instead of cherry trees, this is the year of the pumpkin patch. Perhaps not the most balanced gardening plan but pumpkins are fun and relatively easy to grow. The rain gods have doused this region with ample water for which we are grateful. All the rain is a blessing but it makes life difficult too. The insect population has quadrupled, grass and other plants are sprouting from the tiniest of cracks, and the runoff threatened to wash the driveway across the yard and into the pond. Nature is a beautiful force.

Still, the soaker hose remains buried in the raised bed for future use. The terminating end of the hose emerges from the soil like a snake tangled about itself. It is not off-putting, but it is startling to see a big black snake-like shape peaking between the squash leaves. The bountiful rain killed the riding lawnmower so we push mow, and dream about xeriscaping and permaculture with native plants that require less human attention.

Speaking of native plants thriving without human attention… 𝓼𝓲𝓭𝓮𝓺𝓾𝓮𝓼𝓽! Have you seen The Babushkas of Chernobyl? The exclusion zone is still deadly, but also beautiful these days. It is lush and green and overflowing with foliage and short-lived, radioactive, wildlife. The subtitled film was especially enjoyable after viewing HBO’s Chernobyl mini-series. The sheer volume of crumbling concrete in the area reminds us of the folly of humanity’s attempts to control nature, oh and the whole exploding of a nuclear reactor – yeah, that too. The HBO series is entertaining but Babushkas is a documentary. The in-depth look at how these grandmothers live, what they eat, and their day-to-day surroundings provides insight into the effects of high-level nuclear radiation on flora and fauna thirty-three years later. If you enjoyed HBO’s Chernobyl, or like Science or History see if you can borrow the video from your library. …𝓷𝓸𝔀 𝓫𝓪𝓬𝓴 𝓽𝓸 𝓻𝓮𝓰𝓾𝓵𝓪𝓻𝓵𝔂 𝓼𝓬𝓱𝓮𝓭𝓾𝓵𝓮𝓭 𝓹𝓻𝓸𝓰𝓻𝓪𝓶𝓶𝓲𝓷𝓰 …

When looking for easy-to-care-for plants to replace the lawn there are a plethora of wildflowers to choose from. For a tidier look in the shade, we like Bleeding Hearts, Pennsylvania Sedge, Hostas and Sweet Woodruff. For the sun we like bulbs; iris and lily are our go-to favorites, but we also like Morning Glories and mounded Roses. The roses do quite well in marshy areas if planted on a hill like watermelon, or in a tall row with deep furrows on either side. They also serve as great absorbers, taking in large quantities of water when it rains (as it has so often this year). Fewer puddles means fewer mosquitoes; that is a good thing we can all agree on.

The Sweet Fruit: Planting in January

Anticipation is a powerful motivator. During the bleak and cold government shutdown month of January we choose to embrace hope.

Once upon a time, we tried to grow avocado trees. We set four avocado pits and watched them sprout in the window sill. Two succumbed to transplant shock, but two survived. One spring day, a cold snap took a third, but the fourth seedling hung on. We did not succeed in growing avocados (wrong climate) but we had a nice four-leaved house plant for three years before “Ralph” gave up the ghost.

In memory of Avocado Ralph, and with hope for tomorrow we got our hands dirty with a little planting today. I saved two dozen sweet cherry pits from the grocery store this summer. They are probably Bing Cherry pits, but don’t hold me to that. Cherries require a bit of pampering in order to germinate. There is a long road ahead of us, but still we have hope.

We used water-stabilizing soil and two, biodegradable egg cartons. The pits hibernate in the refrigerator until March, when we move them to a window. On tax day the sprouts graduate to the covered porch for a little hardening, then outside for good.

Not sure how this will work out. In five years we might have two trees with something of a cherry harvest. Here’s hoping.

 

 

October Update: Frost

The weather foiled us again.

We had a frost and everything new in the fall garden died. :-/  The great okra tree of 2018 fell, the pepper plants wilted, but the spring onions look okay. It appears the fall garden plans are not going to happen this year.

We are still hopeful for the spinach and lettuce in the triangle greenhouse, although we have not wrapped it in plastic or planted any seedlings. I am grateful we are not subsistence farmers.

 

Fall is here, for the most part.

October arrived with green grass. I am grateful for the cooler temperatures that the equinox promised and happily, delivered this year. Our one surviving okra is still producing, as are the Mucho Nacho peppers and Jalapenos, but all other spring planted items died and found their way to the compost.

The garden is a north-south rectangle situated alongside the west side of the house. This year, the UV indices were higher than average. Our guess is that the reflected light and heat – off the house – was higher than in previous years, and high enough to kill garden plants in September despite west side shade and ample watering.

So far the fall garden has one okra plant, so-many peppers, and spring onions. We planted half a dozen and “mow” the green onions as needed. We have pea and bush bean seeds to plant on October 10th. Until recently the garden was too hot for anything tender, and now it is too late because the first freeze is creeping up. The average date of our first freeze is November first, only 24 days away! It may be too late for these peas and bush beans too. Somehow I doubt that the first freeze will hit on November first and end the growing season, but just in case…

tractor

… we are converting the triangle chicken tractor into a small greenhouse. Our last two chickens were killed by neighbor’s dogs last week. We are not buying new hens this fall, nor in the spring (probably not anyway).

In order to convert the tractor we have to repair the wire (damaged by the dogs who killed the chickens), move the triangle to a full sun location, and wrap it in clear contractor’s plastic. We already have hay – purchased to insulate the coop through winter – that will now serve as garden bed insulation. Initially we were concerned about mice, but we are lucky to coexist with a beautiful female barred owl.

A Barred Owl in winter plumage. The owl who lives with us has more brown in her plumage.
Taken by Mdf, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=261200

We know she is a girl because of her size. Females are larger than males and she is, by observation, at the large end of the size spectrum. The photo shows a Barred Owl with very light feathers, yet the owl who lives here has more brown in her plumage. If we place the triangle greenhouse in a good sunny spot and keep the grass around it short, she should keep any mice at bay.

We hope to plant a winter crop of spinach and Romain lettuce in the two beds in the triangle greenhouse. Each bed is 7.5 feet long and 2 feet wide. We have the ability to convert the large hoop garden into a greenhouse by wrapping it with contractor’s plastic also, but are delaying that project. We want to learn as many lessons as we can with the smaller triangle greenhouse before making a larger greenhouse.

With highs in the sixties until Halloween, this gardening project should go off without a hitch. Hopefully the next gardening post will have pictures of fresh greens from the new greenhouse!

 

 

End of Summer, Looking Back

Summer is drawing to a close. It is late August, the kids are back in school, the winds have shifted, and it is time to take stock.

The not-a-square-foot garden is a success. We’re still harvesting large and small tomatoes and many peppers thanks to some shade cloths. Our compost had a pleasant mellowing effect on the spicy-ness of our produce this year; more on that later. The jalapenos are sweet and the mucho nachos are perfect for salad, and corn salsas. In mid-June the sun was too hot for the squash and cucumbers, but landscaping fabric is cheap. A 36 inch by 45 yard roll costs $5 and provided five, five-foot shades (plus enough left over fabric for next year). We secured the shades to the protective chicken wire that covers the garden, with clothespins.

We bought plastic clothespins initially, 50 for a dollar, and used those to attach the shade cloths. However, the high UV summer sun deteriorated the plastic in three weeks! In early July, we had a nice summer storm with some hefty gusts and a few clips let go. The following day I went out to check the plants are reattach the shades. Every clothespin I touched snapped into pieces. Could not believe it! Now the shades are held in place with wooden clothespins; they are holding up great.

august

The compost we added to the soil this spring, homegrown and three years old, worked wonders. In all years previous, our produce was generally spicy, and “sweet” varieties tasted bland. Up to this point we guessed it had something to do with our clay soil’s ph. Turns out clay soil is not necessarily acidic, but all clay soils act acidic. The local college extension center tested a soil sample and low and behold our clay is acidic, but only a little.

Our compost contains a great deal of eggshells (easily 1/8th by volume) and the calcium from the shells provide powerful alkali cations Ca++. Applying so much eggshell, banana peel, and kitchen waste compost to our mildly acidic soil, has taken the spicy edge off. While we were testing things we tested our well water too, it is mildly alkaline, so the more we water (ie the less it rains) the sweeter our garden will be.

Okra taught us not to jump the gun and transplant too soon. We transplanted four seedlings in April, but the soil temperatures were not yet acceptable. Three of the four seedlings wilted away, but the last one is producing. We supplement our meager production with trips to the farmer’s market this year, but hope for okra self-reliance next year.

Now that the water at the lake is getting cool it is time to plan and plant the fall gardening. This is our first time fall planting so if you know anything about fall gardening, leave a link in the comments below!

We have radish, squash, and bush beans to plant, but that’s about it. We’ll see how it works out.

 

 

 

 

 

Cilantro is Coriander and Newspaper Weeding Update

Truth: Cilantro is Coriander, and newspaper weeding is a great way to reduce garden work.

But first! Two zucchini, two cucumber, and one okra seedling made it into the garden. They are doing well. The other two okra seedlings died at about three inches tall. (idk, okra doesn’t like me, oh well) We traded the other zucchini and cucumber for a perennial, flowering, Dwarf Nikko Deutzia bush. Yay!

The cilantro (aka coriander) is over-producing. We started hanging bunches in the kitchen today. It takes about a week to dry, depending on indoor humidity, no reason to hurry. At this point, we have enough for the year, and before the season is over we’ll probably have enough for three additional households. At the end of the season, we let the plant mature to produce the seeds. Hopefully we will have volunteer cilantro next year. For ease of use, I prefer using leaves in recipes – fresh when available or dried and chopped when out of season.

May 31st is the half-way point in this region’s 90 day growing season. The harvest to this point includes many salads, so much cilantro, a couple dozen radishes, and a few, early, hot peppers. Already this garden is competing with past gardens in terms of greatest total produce volume, and we still have a 45 to go before it is too hot for the vegetables to bloom. We think the homemade compost is a factor in the success. Despite these successes, our growing season may not last 90 days; we expect a 99 degree day on Friday. 100 degrees is too hot for blooms to set without added help. Perhaps the newspapers will keep soil temperatures lower, and coax the plants into setting more blooms.

Newspaper surrounds the tomato and pepper plants, held in place with the weak adhesive force of damp dirt. The garden receives iv water (if you will) via the soaker hose and leaky outdoor faucet. We have a drip that produces about three gallons a day, which is just enough to keep the plants healthy, and fill an outdoor watering pan for the chickens, dogs, cats, and the bravest wild birds.

The newspaper cuts weeding time tremendously. We did not cover the entire garden, instead, the curly leaf lettuce and red romaine side provide a control group for the newspaper experiment. It works better than expected. There are still weeds, but only 1/10th can grow through the perforations on the papered side of the garden. Nor is the newspaper deteriorating as quickly as expected. It might last into next season. If it does we can mix it into the soil, or remove and compost it. Whatever happens, newspaper weeding is a win-win.