What a difference from last year!

•December 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

What a difference from last year

By this time last year, we had already had several snowfalls, and there had been snow on the ground since Thanksgiving. This year, we have been granted a reprieve. We have had two light snowfalls, both of which melted in a day. We are currently in a warming trend that will peak on Thursday. After a cold start to the New Year, next week looks pretty good so far, days in the forties.

I complained over and over last year about the bleak landscape and cold temps on this blog. Today the sun is out, and we usually get a few sunny days each week. It is warm enough to water my lettuce beds as well.

I checked the beds last week and everything looked like it was still alive. Some of the Romaine looked dark, which is typical when it gets very cold. It should recover. The Black-seeded Simpson is still little green mouse-ears and will probably stay that way until February.

My experiment with the peas looks pretty dismal. Although most of the plants which were blooming in November look mostly dead, there is a core of green in the lower third. I can’t tell if they are really dead or have gone into hibernation. I may leave some of these to the spring to see if they actually come back.

Since my used Mantis tiller of unknown age refused to start several times last fall, I have decided to buy a new one. I discovered Mantis now offers an electric tiller, same size. There is an electric outlet by the back beds, and I can connect from the back porch for those on the side. I found a new one, with kick stand and edger attachment at an Iowa garden store (Mow and snow) online for $295.00 delivered. I look forward to not getting a workout whenever I try to start the tiller.

A small tiller is such an integral part of my gardening system. I need it to incorporate manure, kelp meal, and egg shells into the beds, and keep the soil light and fluffy. I try to till each bed once a year.

I will be starting some perennial flowers from seed next month under lights. Right now, the lights are off and one tray of Romaine seedlings waits to be transplanted. The room gets quite cold, so they do not grow very quickly. I was getting tired of transplanting Romaine every week anyway. And now they are just struggling to stay alive. I will probably start harvesting again in February.

I canned the last batch of tomatoes on Thanksgiving. These were all green tomatoes that had ripened inside and then had been frozen. All told, I canned about 48 quarts of tomato/spaghetti sauce last summer and fall. I have started eating it and find I probably could have used more herbs, they are very tomatoey. The last few batches were also very thick.

I am limiting myself to three varieties this coming year: Saucey, Aker’s Plum, and another undifferentiated one I am going to try. Also lots of green beans and cucumbers.

I know some folks are staring at two or more feet of snow right now. Gardens are not on their minds, but will be soon. Some people are experiencing snow for the first time. It is hardest on these communities because they are not prepared for it, nor are they used to driving in it. I choose to stay off the road myself, but that is not an option for many.

We have turned the equinoxial corner and it is all downhill from here. Soon, the days will become notably longer. And even if there is still snow on the ground, spring will try harder and harder to break through. I just hope the dry winter does not mean an even drier summer. We have had a lot of precip these last few years, but that may be coming to an end. A swath of drought area is creeping ever toward us.

Happy gardening!


Make up your mind already!

•November 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Spring and fall are times when it seems the earth can’t make up its mind. Warm, spring-like weather alternates with cold, blustery, and dreary days. Sometimes these can be back to back. It is hardly any surprise that people get sick more easily when it vacillates like this. I have not yet been sick (knock on wood) and I try to enjoy the good weather when it decides to make an appearance. Unfortunately, many of our warmer days lately have also been very windy. Difficult to appreciate the warmth when it is like that.

The garden is basically set for the winter. Lettuce and spinach have been planted in the square beds and has already come up. Romaine has been planted and transplanted since early September. I enjoy nice big salads when there is enough to pick. Peas have been blooming in the long beds in the back yard for at least two weeks, but no pods are y et evident. I fear the wind on the warmer days has kept the bees away.

Because I could not get my tiller started, I dumped bags of manure on beds that won’t be planted until the spring. The rain and snow will have to break down the chunks. I would have preferred to have tilled them in, along with kelp meal and egg shells.

I plan to ask the farmers next door to leave a pile of well-rotted manure behind my house for next year. He plans to build raised=bed frames for his wife, and will fill them with manure. If he does this for me, it will save about $100 a year in bagged manure. I also planted the peas and beans to provide nitrogen.

I got tired of sorting the pans of green tomatoes. After I put four gallons in the freezer, I dumped the rest in the dog pen. They had no difficulty deducing which were the ripest. I plan to start making the last batch of sauce later this week.

Except for harvesting and transplanting lettuce, garden activity is mostly done. I mulched the leaves on the lawn (twice for the front lawn) to provide fertilizer and because I hate raking. I guess I had enough after the ice storm a few years ago.

A Romaine plant somehow came up in a pea bed. I am leaving it there to see how cold it can get and stay green. We have been down to 25 F and it is still alive, although a darker green than those in the covered bed. The peas continue to shake off the cold.

The green beans picked a few weeks ago are either in the freezer or have been eaten fresh. It was nice to enjoy fresh green beans this late in the year. I have about 10 gallons in the freezer, to be added to soups and casseroles. The apples are done. We had a disappointing crop this year. Most of those will go into pies to be sent to my parents in PA.

The new watering system is now working correctly. As long as I can keep the feeder hose defrosted, I shouldn’t have to hand-water this winter. This may require digging the hose out of the snow. As far as I can see, the sprinkler hoses in all the side-yard beds are working. Each bed has its own control via a Y-connecter. I hope they thaw out in the sun. This could potentially be a problem for the beds with dense Black-seeded lettuce. The lids will be either closed entirely or open about an inch in the coldest weather. Right now, they are still propped open.
Here it is almost the end of the year and the garden still provides. I still have Romaine to transplant for at least a few weeks more. I still check the pea plants for any sign of pods, although that hope is fast-fading. I wonder if they will continue to try to produce until spring? They are an experiment, so we will just have to see.

Happy gardening!


The frost is on the pumpkins

•October 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After a very mild and pleasant October, the temperature finally dropped below freezing this morning. The same is expected for tomorrow before it warms up again.

I didn’t feel much pressure to get the garden ready for frost until last week. Maybe it was the geese I heard, or maybe it was the vague threat in the ten-day forecast. I pulled and stripped beans, replanted those beds to lettuce and spinach, put on the lids that had been moved the week before, and stripped and pulled all the tomatoes.

Consequently, there are seven dishpans of green tomatoes in the front porch. Not to mention the six gallons in the freezer, ripe and ready to be made into sauce. A batch is on the stove as I write this.

The Amish Paste did finally bear, but only in the last month. The majority of the volume of green tomatoes in the front porch is from these bushes, mainly because they are the largest. I did get a few red ones during the summer and into September, but it looked disappointing. Acker’s Plum and Aunt Lucy’s Italian Paste tomatoes could have kept going for several more weeks. They produced two batches of tomatoes, the second timed well with the mild fall.

Although San Marzano had mostly dried up, the tomatoes continued to ripen. They were easy to see against the dried vines. I wish the tomatoes on Principe Borghese had been bigger. These tomatoes started producing first, and kept going all through the summer. The two mentioned above had distinct batches.

I also cleaned out the last melon bed and gave the small green fruits to the dogs. This is actually the asparagus bed. I need to lay several bags of manure over them to keep them fed for the winter. I have read they need manure spring and fall.

The peas are almost to the top of the cattle panels and already blooming. I hope they weather the frost and produce in November.

Lessons learned 2

1. Wood shavings work well once the soil has warmed up. They kept weeds down in the beds where they were used. Most of the weeding had to be done either in the beds without shavings, or in the paths between the beds. Despite the landscape cloth and mulch. I am tilling this year’s shavings into the soil to nurture next year’s vegetables. They disappear within the first year. Sawdust is also good, but does not control weeds. It disappears very quickly.
2. Rubber bungee cords may look great, but they get brittle and break. Once they break, the wind can push the lid open and crack it against whatever is behind it. Usually another bed. It costs $25 to $20 to replace the clear plastic, although I can usually prolong their use with clear packaging tape.
3. Alternate low-growing tomatoes with higher crops such as cucumbers. Otherwise the cucumbers shade themselves and produce fewer fruits. This is a problem because the long beds in the back yard are so close. Saucy is a low-growing tomato, and does not have a lot of foliage. Perfect for this purpose. It also dried up early, so the space can be planted to peas sooner.

I continue to make mistakes because I add new things to my garden structure. This was the first year I had four cattle panels in beds next to each other. I had originally thought that shadowing would not be a problem, but I have learned differently.

I still need to pick up all the detritus from plant removal and tote it to the compost pile. When I get it all cleaned up, I hope to take some pics to post on the blog.

It has been a busy week. Every afternoon was spent in the garden, and fortunately, the weather wasn’t too bad. Wind mostly. The weekend looks very nice, and next week is till in the mid-sixties. Warm enough to ride the bike, now that most of the garden chores are done. After this, I need to check the green tomatoes daily and make/can sauce.

Happy gardening!


Garden lessons 1

•September 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Because the growing season is not yet over, and because I have too many topics to cover in one blog, this will only be the first installment. It is 84 F at the moment. Our morning lows have only reached the forties (48 F) once, and immediately returned to the seventies and eighties. Peas that were planted two to three weeks ago are well on their way (see pics), and at least one square bed of bush beans is blooming. The beans can be covered if need be, and peas tolerate cold well.

There are plenty of melon vines that are still green and (slowly) yielding their bounty. Tomatoes also come slowly now, so slow, I am freezing them until I have enough to make into sauce. I may freeze the sauce rather than canning it. I have one square bed planted to Black-seeded Simpson lettuce, and a long one with Romaine transplants. The latter should be ready to eat within two weeks, at least some heads.

Things are still green and growing. We had a nice rain this week, almost two inches. Although it may sometimes feel like fall is around the corner, the growing season is far from over.

However, there are a few things I have learned that I would like to recount:

1. Timing is everything – Bush beans are quick on the draw, much faster to emerge than cucumbers and melons. If these species are planted in the same bed, time their seeding to allow the slower ones to get a head start. Otherwise, the bush beans will shade the emerging cukes and melons and retard their growth. Pole beans are just as bad, and cover more area. Next year, I will plant cukes and melons with carrots, and then allow them to be well up before I plant bush beans in the same bed. Space-saving was only good in theory.
2. Be aware of whether tomato varieties are determinate or indeterminate, and place accordingly – I put Aker’s Plum, which is a vigorous and sprawling variety right up front. Next year, it will be in the back, where Amish Paste is towering over everyone else at the moment. Not producing much, unfortunately. I can put Saucy in their own long rows between beds of cucumbers. Since it is low and not very leafy, it won’t block too much light.
3. No matter how shaded, lettuce and spinach do not do well here after April or May – Shade cloths didn’t work. I can’t successfully transplant lettuce until the very end of August, early September. Don’t even try, a waste of seed and time.

I am trying loose leaf lettuce again, for the first time in several years. I was turned off by those tiny slugs I kept finding on the lettuce. I have to thin/transplant after they get bigger. I also inter-planted with Bloomsdale Longstanding, which has yet to emerge. Another experiment that I hope does not go wrong. The square beds with bush beans will be tilled after harvest and planted to lettuce and spinach. By then, I will probably have to put on the solid lids, but keep them propped open. I expect the leaf lettuce and spinach will not be eaten until spring.

I decided to change my watering system, at least in most beds. In the pics of the Black-Seeded Simpson, you can see the sprinkler hose set on its side. There are Y-connecters on every bed, and the pressure is adjusted to maintain a very fine mist, directed at the plants, and not the sidewalk or spaces between beds. So far this system works well. I hope to be able to water with it during the winter, weather permitting.

You can get Gilmore soaker hoses (25’) on amazon.com for less than $12.00 right now. It was over $15.00 this summer. Many of my soaker hoses had dried up and no longer moistened the soil.

I have also decided to use beans and peas to add nitrogen to the soil in the beds. Beans, peas, and other legumes have nodules on their roots that contain bacteria. Beans and peas are like alfalfa and soybeans in the farmers’ crop rotation. After the lettuce and spinach are done for the spring, I will then plant bush beans, and keep the square beds in them until late August/early September. Edible pod peas will be planted as early as possible in the spring, and when cucumbers are dome in late summer. This will also provide something edible from the garden well into fall.

My choices for paste tomatoes next year are: Saucy, Aker’s Plum, and San Marzano. These are relatively low and productive. I also like Mammoth Melting snap peas, and Blue Lake 264 bush beans. I still have not found a good melon, and may stick with Ambrosia next year. If I decide to grow Broccoli, I will be the hybrid, Packman from Harris seeds.

It hasn’t been a bed year, lessons aside. I ate cucumbers for two months, a summer staple, and canned at least four batches of spaghetti sauce. I also made four batches of Kosher dill pickles (from Mrs. Wages). I currently have 6 gallons of green beans in the freezer, with more expected. I did not fill the chest freezer from the garden as expected. There is too much ice cream and Green Giant bagged vegetables (bought with coupons) in there at the moment anyway. I anticipate several more meals out of the garden yet this year.

Happy gardening!


Mammoth melting snap peas

Snap peas and melons, with towering tomato in back

Snap peas, melons, towering tomatoes

Backyard beds

Loose-leaf lettuce and sprinkler hose

Bush beans with sprinkler hose

Romaine bed

Romaine bed with sprinkler hose

Bush beans

Side yard beds

The end of cucumbers for 2010

•September 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Sadly, today I pulled up the last rows of cucumbers. The other two beds had been cleared and replanted to peas last week. I still have a most of a refrigerator draw full of their misshapen and scabby fruit. There wasn’t much on this bed, and the dogs got many of them. These were the ones that were too small, too round, or too mature to eat. They love everything I throw in from the garden, including melons, carrots, and beans.

The bed was stripped down to bare dirt and tilled. I didn’t add manure as I have in the past. There were a lot of wood chips and sawdust to work in, and that made the bed pretty full. I added some kelp meal and then tilled it all again. The hoses were replaced and the cattle panel put back in place before I planted more peas.

I was hoping that the remnants of hurricane Hermine would be here tomorrow, but I just heard on the news that most of the rain is staying in southern Kansas. We only have a 30% chance of rain tomorrow, down from 70% yesterday. Now I am glad I watered today.

I saw flowers on one square bed of bush beans today. I did get another square bed tilled, after I decided it was too late for any melons to form. That bed was planted to Black-seeded Simpson lettuce and Bloomsdale long-standing spinach. I have one more square bed with a couple of melon plants. One had a melon that has yet to mature. After that, it is out of there. It also will be planted to the same lettuce and spinach varieties.

The Romaine I transplanted a few weeks ago into the long bed in the side yard is doing well, better than that transplanted in the back yard several weeks ago. I still see green melons on the vines, so I will wait to pull them up. There are green tomatoes on the surviving tomato plants. I am freezing the ripe tomatoes until I get enough for another batch of sauce. I still have to process the small batch of pickles in the fridge. There will be no more this year.

I have yet to see a pea plant emerge from any of the three beds planted before today. I am making sure they get plenty of moisture, to hasten their growth. Who knows what the fall will bring, an early hard frost or a lengthy warm one?

Happy gardening!


First taste of fall

•August 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The storm that came through over a week ago, also brought cooler weather. The temp gradually fell until we had lows in the fifties, but just for a few days. That really made one think of fall and the coming of winter. Other signs are dwindling cucumber crops and vines starting to dry up.

This is a busy time, both in the garden and in the kitchen. Although tomato production has also slowed, I get enough to can a batch a week. Last Saturday, I canned both spaghetti sauce and pickles. I may get just enough pickling cucumbers for one more batch.

I am getting full-sized melons now, a few a week. Even though I have a lot of vines, many are seeds of volunteers from last year, and they are not very big or tasty. I did get a Kansas melon that I look forward to tasting, as well as a big Ambrosia. More are coming. Fortunately, the leaves seem to be more revealing than back in July, and a glint of ripe melon, as well as the distinctive aroma, usually allows me to find them in time. Some I had located when they were still green, and kept track of their growth.

I plan on replacing the fading cucumber vines with snap peas by next weekend. I also have to remove some tomato plants that dried up. They will yield even more space for peas. Since there are bush bean seeds in many of the same beds, I will not till them up before planting.

The bush beans in the beds on the side of the house are doing well. They came up in two days with plenty of water. I am trying a different watering system this fall. I use flat sprinkler hoses to replace many of my soaker hoses. These latter hoses have dried up and do not allow the passage of much water. I place the flat hoses on their sides in the square beds, oriented so that the mist hits the seedlings. I also have all these hoses on Y connecters so I can control the force of the water. They work very well and give good coverage. I will try to take some pics.

I was able to plant one of the long beds in the side yard to Romaine lettuce starts. Only one half is currently planted, with more seedlings coming up inside. I use a sprinkler hose in the flat position in this bed. The mist is quite fine, but if allowed to spray long enough, will keep the soil moist. No puddling.

I used a sprinkler hose wrapped around the base of two rose bushes to supply moisture to bushes that had originally had soaker hose loops. The loops stopped working and the bushes didn’t get enough moisture to bloom or grow. I have the hose flat and with the holes facing down between the bushes. Garden staples keep them flat so I can mow over them without tearing them up.

You can get sprinkler hoses from Gilmore from amazon.com right now for leas than $11.00 for 25 feet. They were closer to $15.00 earlier in the summer. I like the Gilmore version because they are very flexible and last for years. Many stores now carry recycled rubber sprinkler hoses. These have the same problems as soaker hoses: they dry up and stop providing water. I am all for recycling, but I have to continually replace these. I have a Gilmore hose that was purchased 5 years ago. It still works, despite being out in all weathers. I have purchased almost 20 of these to replace the soaker hoses in most of the beds. Like everything else, they are an experiment. I will keep you informed.

Aker’s Plum is in hiatus. San Marzano has been productive, and I hope that Amish paste makes use of all that foliage. I still get Principe Borghese, a handful a day or so. Really more of a salad tomato, but I throw them in sauce anyway. One Saucy plant remains, but not producing at the moment.

I have a lot of work in the coming week: remove dead tomato and cucumber plants, plant snap peas, and make spaghetti sauce and pickles. After the cukes are gone, Picking each night will take less time. However, I did have to start buying lettuce last week.

Happy gardening!


Hot, then cool, then hot again

•August 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The last few weeks have been busy. Tomatoes are coming fast enough to require sauce-making and canning two or three times a week not. Cucumbers are also coming, both slicers and pickling varieties. I have made two batches of pickles, both from mixes. The first had to go into the fridge because I forgot to add the water before putting the jars in the canner. The second batch sealed, but I am concerned I may have over-cooked the pickles. I will see this winter. I hope I get enough for one more batch this year.

The squash was a disappointment. Everything looked fine, plenty of blooms, but very few fruits. I have pulled them up and reseeded with bush beans. The tiller decided to act up, so I wasn’t able to get the last few beds tilled and fertilized yet. I plan to take it into town on Monday to get fixed.

We got a five minute rain storm last week, followed by a few comfortable days, great for working the soil. Yesterday brought a good soaking, so soil may be too wet for a few days. I transplanted Romaine lettuce starts that were ready and filled the trays with more soil. I planted more seeds for the long bed that held broccoli this spring. I will hopefully get that tilled in time. I also added humus/manure and kelp meal.

I have gotten several melons and am watching a few larger ones. They were hidden by the leaves until just recently. Pickling cucumbers are also hard to find, since they blend in so well. Burpless are long and a darker green and easier to spot. I missed several pickling cukes until they turned yellow. I also have a bad habit of finding ones that are too small, and then not finding them until they are too old.

Acker’s Plum tomato variety seems to be very productive. The first tomatoes looked like normal salad types, round, but them later they became more pear-shaped. I was not impressed with Roma VF, which has already dried up. San Marzano is still producing, but they have an annoying habit of turning red on one end while they are still green on the other. Principe Borghese is still producing as well, as is Aunt Lucy’s. I did get a few fruits off Amish paste, the first two were quite large and fairly dry inside, while the last ones have been quite small. I prefer the larger ones, I hope all the foliage pays off, otherwise I will not grow it again. There are still some live branches with fruit on Saucy.

Between working the beds and canning, I am pretty busy. The weather will go back and forth now until winter settles in for good. More wind and hopefully more rain then we have had in the last month. The pressure is mounting to get as most out of the soil while I can before it freezes solid.

Happy gardening!