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Archive for August, 2010

The garden may have slowed down, but the tree rats are hard at it.

At least we assume squirrels are to blame for the chaw marks we’re seeing in our butternut squash and pumpkins. As  Roxie was surveying the damage to our vine crops today, she heard  something plop to the ground from out of the branches above.

A half eaten roma tomato.

"You're going for a ride, Mr. Bushytail."

So apparently the red-pepper spray that some swear by has once again proven  ineffective. I don’t have $10.99 to waste on a bad product, but we felt we had to give it a try.  Or maybe it does work, but just not as well  as it might.

Had we failed to spray the gourds with pepper spray might we have nothing left to show for all those vines snaking across one half of the garden?

It’s immaterial. We have to do something. Moments ago, Roxie came into report the damage and summon the dog to duty. Einstein had planned to spend his afternoon on the couch, but now he’s on squirrel patrol.

Me, I scooped out a dollop of peanut butter and set it aside in a plastic bowl. Squirrel bait. I’ll draw from it as needed. We’ll see if the little devils can be convinced to spring the inaptly named “hav-a-hart ” trap that I just now placed between the vine crops and the tomatoes.

Yes, it’s a live trap. And don’t worry, I won’t harm the little darlings. But I personally have no heart when it comes to thieving squirrels. All those collected will be taken for a little ride and let off in strange territory.

Let me be on record as saying that I certainly hope the relocated rodents get   along with resident squirrels in their new  homes. But as squirrels are territorial, don’t count on it.

Survival of the fittest, Mr. Bushytail.

Posted by: Mike

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Hope never dies

Planting a late-season garden has always been a challenge. I tried for years to do what garden experts and the extension service claim is possible–put seeds in the ground in late summer that will bring you cool-weather crops in fall.

I’ve tried spinach, lettuce, beets, carrots. Even peas, once. But the result is always the same. The seeds never come up, or if they do, they quickly dry out and blow away in the 90-degree heat. Green beans have been about all I could hope for.

It doesn’t seem to matter if I put them in the shade of larger plants, either. They just don’t come up. Maybe it’s the soil temperature.

But I am a gardener, and a granddaughter of an Iowa farmer. It is not in my nature to give up.

You see, this year I have a new plan. This year, October lettuce will be mine!

The way I see it, the problem is that temperatures for delicate greens are too high and the winds too hot to allow the plants to get a root-hold.

So, to get the seeds germinated in the first place, I’ve started them indoors. Even now, the tiny lettuce shoots are just breaking the surface of the potting mix. (I’d provide a picture, but they are barely visible.)

I haven’t mentioned it to Mike yet, but Phase 2 involves a wee bit of lumber. It could all change tomorrow, but right now, every indication is that the hot, dry weather will continue for a while. So once the seedlings are strong and have some true leaves, we’ll need to prepare  their new home.

My plan is to pre-water the soil, then install a little man-made shade (Mike, this is where you come in.) We’ll need something to keep the lumber up off the wet ground–but only a few inches. Then we’ll put the boards over it to completely shade the soil and cool it off for a few days before transplanting.

Once my little darlings are in the ground and watered in, we’ll need to allow only partial sun. I’m thinking a slatted roof like you see in some garden centers or decks.

If the temps go back up to the 100s again, all bets are off. But by mid-September, I’m betting that won’t happen. All I need is for the lettuce to stay cooler and somewhat wind protected until the sun gets lower in the sky.

Here’s hoping it will work.

Updates

The long spate of hot weather has brought tomato flowering to almost a dead stop. I’m harvesting the Romas, which were extra late this year, but the Mr. Stripeys, chocolate cherries and Black from Tulas are pretty much done. I look for more later tomatoes, if it will only go back to the 80s and rain again.

Corn and cukes are, likewise, about finished. But the vine crops seem energized by all this heat. Butternut squash in particular, is going strong. And it’s a vegetable I cherish because–no processing!

Here are a couple of photo highlights from the season:

Mr. Stripeys with a lone Black from Tula Note: These tomatoes would not ship well.

Did we really freeze this much corn?

Posted by: Roxie

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   As yet another heat wave begins to sizzle, I figure that the watermelons and pumpkins growing on our satellite plot in the community garden need a good soaking today.

   I’ll get right on that, but surely there’s some chore I can think of to delay a trip out into the broiler.  Wait a minute. Hasn’t Rox  been clamoring for one last post about the corn?

   (Clamoring may not be the word for it, but it is far more polite than another word I might use.)

    So here goes, and it may, indeed, be the last post on the topic because  I have harvested roughly 96.3 percent of the ears in our 20’x20′ plot of silver queen. Something like 150 of them, give or take a couple. Other than our time, the cash outlay for this was $10 for seed.

   We never watered it. No fertilizer. 

   Think how many ears of corn $10 would buy you at the supermarket or farmer’s market. Talk about a great investment.

   It’ll be interesting to see the condition of the ears still over there that haven’t matured. Some in the last batch were weirdly pollinated, or so we presume from the spotty kernel production on many cobs.

   But all in all, it’s been a nice crop. We’ve had a our fill and more. Roasting ears (I refrain from referring to it as ‘ear corn,’ as my grandma always called sweet corn, because it gives Roxie the creeps) figured in several meals. We had boiled sweet corn with burgers, blts, BBQ brisket and by itself.

   We even threw some on the grill while tailgating at the Wizards soccer game the other day.

   But mostly, we’ve frozen our haul from the corn patch. Some gardeners freeze whole ears, but that takes up a lot of space in the chest freezer. Plus we can’t see the point. Fresh is the only way to eat corn on the cob.

   So we boiled the shucked ears, blanched them in cold water and cut the kernals off the cobs. Enought to fill 12 quart bags.

   Today, when I’m tending the melons and pumpkins, I’ll pluck what’s left on the stalks. Can’t be more than a dozen ears, I wouldn’t think,.

   So goodbye to the corn blog posts. Except I might publish a picture in September, when the stalks dry. My plan, as always, is to chop the stalks flush with the dirt and tie them up in bunches for fall decoration.

   They’ll look every bit as good on our front porch as the corn stalk bunches  that cost five or six bucks at the hardware and garden stores in the fall.

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I am not a hot weather person. When it gets up to around 100, I’m perfectly happy not to be out in the garden with the sweat rolling down, counting cherry tomatoes and analyzing strangely colored leaves.

Not even picking, which is usually my favorite thing about gardening, gets me excited.

From the looks of things, the plants seem to agree.

We’ve been picking like crazy since early July, but just a few days in the high 90s/ lower 100s have slowed things down. It’s just too hot, and to conserve energy and water, the plants have gone on a little production slow-down–a sort of sick day strike–until conditions are better.

Ergo, I have time to write a blog post. So here are a few updates.

Tomatoes–I had so much tomato puree and salsa left from last year that I decided to cut way back on the number of plants for canning, and instead plant some unusually colored varieties.

A couple of them have been outstanding. Black From Tula, a very dark fleshed old-fashioned variety I bought on a whim from the Seed Savers Exchange, was earliest, with big fruits the first week of July. Well, okay, they weren’t really black. There was a red blush on the outside, a greenish core and a dark purple for the areas in between. And they were delicious.

Mr. Stripey, another old-fashioned type, finally started ripening just as Tula tapered off. The Stripeys are more of a yellow tomato shot through with pink. They are huge and also very, very good. I’m still hoping for a chance to get both these on a plate at the same time, perhaps along with a regular red tomato.

Beets, potatoes and carrots–This was a banner year for beets. I planted Lutz purple beet and Touchstone golden, and both of these did very well. I’ve become a particular fan of the golden ones.

The wild colored carrots didn’t turn out as well. The trouble with ordering a “rainbow” mix is you never know what color of individual seeds you’re planting. It’s been my experience that one color seems to dominate, and that’s the way things were with the carrots. Instead of a mix of orange, yellow and reddish, we got mostly white. Oh well. Maybe all the colored ones hid at the bottom of the packet.

We did have a fine year for white potatoes, though.

Sweet corn–We put in a patch that was unclaimed in a new community garden started by our church and school. It was Silver Queen and it has been a huge success. But I’ll leave the details to Mike, who is writing a bigger post about this.

Squash and Cukes–The butternut squash and pumpkin are on a quest to take over the whole garden, where cucumbers and cantaloupe struggle mightily against them.  I already have more sweet, dill and hot pickles made than we could eat but that doesn’t matter. I’m picking the tiny babies now to make into sour cornichons.

Onset of powdery mildew

Last year, we experimented with a diluted milk spray on the vining plants to control powdery mildew. We decided it worked better as a preventative than as a treatment.

Fast forward to this year. Mike started spraying in mid July, before any of the telltale gray showed up on leaves. And he’s kept spraying at regular intervals.  So far, no sign at all of the troublesome disease. (knock wood)

We’ve also carried through on our resolution to do more preventative spraying of the cherry tree with copper sulfate. As of today, the leaves looked healthy with no sign of cherry leaf spot.

Not so the currant bush, which has lost a lot of leaves quite suddenly. This is a mystery to us, since nothing has bothered this plant since the day we put it in the ground 8 years ago.

I’m unsure what to do, since it looks like it could be either a fungus of some kind or tomato ringspot. Both of these make sense. Fungi do well in this type of weather. But ringspot is carried by a nematode, and we’ve had some pine trees killed by disease-bearing nematodes. But I don’t think it’s the same type of nematode.

The ringspot would be the worst, because it it viral and can kill the plant.  So let’s hope it’s not that.

Anyway, I guess break time’s over. Some clouds have rolled in, the temperature’s dropped a few degrees. Time to get back outside to work.

Posted by: Roxie

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