Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summertime Lull

Hurry up and wait. That is how I'm feeling right now. I thought the gardenboxes would never arrive this spring, but they did, and now everything is big and growing and all I have to do is wait. I'm not good at waiting. I have tons of tomatoes--still green, mountains of melon--still small, a bunch of beans--almost there, but not quite. The eggplant and peppers still have a ways to go. The last cabbage has been picked, we're beyond tired of lettuce, you can only eat so many onions in a week, and the zucchini is already zonking out. Hurry up and wait. I don't sit well. I'm a gardener between harvests without much gardening to do. . . and it just feels wrong. (OK, I guess I could weed the flower beds.) I won't say I miss needing the tiller or the hoe, but it does feel strange to have nothing to do but fill the water reservoirs every evening. I'm ready to harvest that first ripe tomato and share them with friends and neighbors! I'm ready for tomato and mozzarella salad, fresh homemade salsa, and plain ol' tomatoes eaten from the hand warm from the garden. Hurry up and wait, and wait and wait...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weekend Update

We had a bit of rain yesterday, and the temperatures are milder today. I hope this means relief from last week's heat wave. I noticed today a lot of weeding needs to be done in the flower beds, but it just isn't possible to do a whole lot in this heat.

The vining plants are starting to take over the garden area! Today I saw a nice sized icebox melon growing between the slats of the freezer basket I put on the ground next to the plant to give it support so the weight of the melon would not pull the plant out of the box. The plan backfired on me because I didn't notice the melon stuck halfway between the inside and the outside of the basket until it was too large to save. I thought I could bend the metal or push the melon all the way inside the basket, but all I managed to do was pop the melon off the vine. Darn it!

I gave the plants a good once-over for pests and feel we are in pretty good shape. Since there isn't too much more to report from the vegetable garden, here are some pictures I snapped of some of our flowers in bloom.

This daylily is in a neglected part of my herb garden. Talk about an incentive to get out there and weed! Isn't this the most beautiful shade of red? I've always been an herb person, but you wouldn't know it by the state of the herb garden this year. I still hope to get on top of it before the end of the season.

Here are some more daylilies. I am always amazed at how much return you get from daylilies for so little attention and care.
The false sunflower plant, shown below, has to be at least 7' tall and is just beginning to bloom. I recently read where you should avoid planting false sunflower. I can't imagine why. This is our 4th summer with it and it is one of our favorites. It is a beauty in the garden if you have the room.

The fountain was one of Nick's birthday gifts. I think it is so neat that he wanted a fountain for his birthday. We all enjoy it. Not only is it pretty to look at, the sound of the water is so soothing.

Here are some "red" poppies I direct planted from seed. I'm not sure why they turned out pink, but I really like them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stressing Out

Despite the constant supply of water and fertilizer the plants in the garden boxes receive, they are showing some signs of stress. The high temperatures are taking their toll. Most of the plants are holding their own, but the cucumbers don't look that great. I smashed a couple of stink bugs crawling on the acorn squash, and I believe there may be some aphids on the green beans. Worst of all, I found two tomato horn worms this evening, and suspect there may be one or more I couldn't spot. If you have ever searched a tomato plant for a horn worm you know what I mean. I made use of a very effective form of natural pest control and fed the worms to the chickens who find them quite a delicacy. I am a bit squeamish so I simply pinch off the leaf the worm is feeding on and deliver the worm to the chickens leaf and all. I'll give the plants another careful going over in the morning in case I did miss a few horn worms.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The temperature has been in the 90's most of the week. When I am outside for very long I feel as though I am going to melt.

The garden is holding up well despite the high temperatures. I have been adding water to the garden box reservoirs every evening. The boxes with the different squash plants are usually dry, while most of the others boxes will have at least some water left in their reservoirs. In the boxes with tomato plants, the roots have grown down into the water reservoir itself which looks kind of strange but does not seem to hurt the plants at all.

I still don't have any ripe tomatoes, but there are sure a lot of nice looking green ones. It won't be long now.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Heat is On

Gosh, it's hot. It is supposed to be even warmer tomorrow. You can tell it's time for the county 4-H fair. It still seems odd not to be caught up in the frenzy of last minute projects, photos to be developed and mounted, cats and chickens to bathe in preparation for their shows, and deadlines to meet. It is always hot during the fair. Most years we would have to freeze water in 2-liter soda bottles to put in with the poultry to cool them on the most smoldering of days. I miss it, but I don't.

Thank goodness for the garden boxes. I do not miss being out under the hot sun pulling weeds. I do have to fill the water reservoirs in each box every day, even when it rains. The plants have grown large and thirsty. The garden hose is already stretched out to the garden and ready to go making this chore a fairly easy one. Next year, however, I will leave more space between the boxes. As usual, I underestimated how big everything will grow and it can be a bit challenging to pull the hose between the boxes without crushing a vine or leaf. Problems like this I can live with.

One chore that hasn't gone away this year is trapping the Japanese Beetles. I hate how these "June Bugs," as we used to call them, show up in late June and early July and proceed to defoliate our Rose of Sharon shrubs and whatever else meets their fancy. Some people say you shouldn't use the traps because they only attract the beetles to your yard. I disagree. For one thing, I don't set out the traps until the bugs have already arrived. Setting out the lures and trapping the beetles in bags is much safer for the bees and beneficial insects in the yard than spraying poison. Also, by trapping these beetles, thousands more offspring are prevented.

Another indication that it is mid-July is that the raspberries are nearly finished for the season. I didn't get too many picked this year, but did manage to get enough to make a good pie. Now it is time for the blueberries--my favorite. I have only one shrub at home which now yields enough for my morning oatmeal two or three days a week. I hope to add more blueberries next spring. For now, I will pick them at one of the local farms.

The flowers continue to bloom and brighten the yard. I hope you will enjoy these photos.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gentle Week of Gardening

This has been a nice week of gardening. The plants are growing well. In fact, they are thriving. The zucchini and cucumbers are offering up their fruit at a leisurely pace, and you can almost watch the acorn squash and melon vines grow. We've had just the right mixture of sunshine and rain. Perhaps best of all, even though I've been carefully inspecting the tomato plants daily for signs of the evil tomato hornworm, I have yet to come across one, or any other pests that need to be dealt with. Everything is growing, blooming, and producing, but at a gentle pace. We are still a few weeks away from the day when bushels of tomatoes and beans will demand to be picked and dealt with now--or else!

Today I saw a toad near the garden, and also a young praying mantis, both natural forms of pest control, and both welcome in our yard. We have always been fortunate to have a steady supply of mantids around the house. We even have pictures from when the girls were small of them posing with mantids on their shirts or heads. There really is something very fascinating about mantids, and while they are deadly to other insects, they are gentle to people, never biting or stinging. Once, a few years ago, I was walking through some tall grass and disturbed a group of mantids. I was surprised as they started rising up and flying through the air on both sides of me. As they rose above the ground, they were nearly vertical and with their large fluttering wings they reminded me of the tiny fairies I've seen illustrated in storybooks. I had to wonder if it was an experience like this that inspired someone to write the first fairy stories years ago.

I also recently came across a garter snake while weeding the flower garden. It startled me, but only because it was in a hurry to get away from me and into the shade of the crabapple tree. I genuinely hate snakes, but Nick reminded me that they, too, are a natural form of pest control. Well, OK, but it had better leave my toads alone.

Our dog Toby would like to be a natural form of pest control, if only I would let him. I have rescued more than one baby rabbit from his jaws and scolded him in the process. Now I realize, sadly, that this has been a misguided effort. Only this week a group of rogue rabbits ate my new yellow rose bush down to a stump. I have heard friends complain of rabbits gnawing on their rose bushes, but we have never had this happen with our other roses. It seems I need to learn to let Toby do his job, and try to look the other way.

Here's hoping you, too, are enjoying a week of sunshine and gentle gardening, free of pests and worry.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Let's Hear it for the 3-Day Weekend!

It has been great to have extra time to relax and enjoy some home time. Although at different times throughout the day yesterday it looked as though it were going to rain, it never did and we had the full day to spend outside. Our family cookout was a lot of fun. Now that the girls are grown and living on their own it can be difficult to get all the family together, so we were thankful that both daughters plus my parents were able to come over. We have not all been together in the same place since last Thanksgiving.

We had a campfire and cooked seasoned beef patties with mushrooms in foil packets over the coals. We also simmered a big pot of beans on a tripod over the fire. We ended up with a lot of great food, including a delicious dish made with garden zucchini and fresh carrots. You simply cut the carrots into matchsticks, and lightly steam them before adding a fresh zucchini cut into slices. After the zucchini has lightly steamed for a few minutes, drain, and stir in about 2 tablespoons of prepared pesto. The aroma was fabulous and it tasted great. We also had coleslaw made from the cabbage I had picked the day before. In addition, Mom brought over some beet greens cooked with bacon and a broccoli salad. Fabulous! Add to that one daughter's "Avocado Cavier" with tortilla chips and the other's lemon bars, and there was some good eating going on! I love the tastes of summer.

After lunch, the girls picked some raspberries and cherries with their dad in another part of the yard while I showed my parents the garden boxes. We picked a zucchini and enough fresh lettuce so everyone could take some home. We also found 3 new acorn squash--so cute. Many of the tomatoes are blooming now and there are even some green tomatoes on one vine. One tomato plant, a Husky Red, is so sturdy and full. If the tomatoes turn out half as beautiful as the vine, we are in for a real treat.

Today I sprayed Bt on the broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. These plants were discovered by cabbage moths who left some uninvited picnickers behind. Bt is safe to use even up to the day of harvest, so I don't feel too badly about spraying the plants. I also took some time to spray a calcium mixture on the tomatoes. I decided to take this precaution against blossom end rot since we've had so much rain. I also decided to move 3 pepper plants from the boxes into the ground. Next year I will only plants peppers with other peppers. It seemed like it would make for attractive plantings to mix some different varieties of vegetables together in the boxes. It did, however, the vining crops are so lush that they started overwhelming and shading the peppers. So, even though the pepper plants were a bit large for transplanting, I decided to take the chance. I plopped them in to the ground with some granular fertilizer and plenty of water and suspect they will really begin to thrive with more sun and space to grow.

One final garden note. The purple cauliflower I picked last Thursday turned out to be a fraud! After preparing it to put in the refrigerator, I discovered it was not cauliflower at all, but broccoli! I was simply dumbfounded. I even went outside and pulled the tag. Sure enough, it read Purple Cauliflower 'Violet Queen.' All I can figure is that someone must've tagged the seedlings incorrectly at the greenhouse. What bothered me the most is that I didn't even realize it wasn't cauliflower until I had it in the house. In my own defense, in the garden boxes the heads really do look a lot like cauliflower, especially with the upper leaves shading them. Since the tag read "purple cauliflower," I assumed that's what they were and really never scrutinized the plants. Even after I got the head trimmed and saw it looked exactly like broccoli (except for being purple), I had to taste it before I could believe it. It is a good thing we like broccoli, but I'm sorry not to have any cauliflower.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Garden Fun...or...Can you do the Funky Chicken?

Gardening should never be all work and no play. I enjoy using what I call my garden "do-dahs" to add some fun and whimsy to the yard and gardens. When choosing garden do-dahs, one must be careful to skirt the fine line between whimsical and tacky. How to define "tacky?" Hmmm...of course this is largely a matter of opinion, but as a general rule I would say you should usually avoid items made of plastic. I also shy away from garden ornaments with the look of being mass-produced, and anything devoid of a personality. Here is a sampling of some of my favorite do-dahs.

These funky chickens were a Christmas gift this past year. Talk about personality! I just love them! They are made of metal and have stakes at the bottom of their feet so they don't topple over. I gave them a few coats of polyurethane before setting them out so that they won't rust.

I also love these cast iron frogs. I have a set of three and they reside in the large flower bed which I (now improperly) refer to as the wildflower garden. From time to time I move them around and it has become a game for observers to try and find them all. Here are two of the frogs. I couldn't seem to find the third as I was taking the pictures...

The "grow" ornament adds some height to the gardens which is nice. I also like this do-dah because it is unobtrusive and subtle. It also serves as a sort of silent prayer. Unfortunately, it also works for the weeds!

I'll share more of my favorite do-dahs in a future post.

A Respectable Harvest

After a week without internet access, I am back to blogging at last! The garden grew quite a lot in the past week. I continue to be amazed at how well most of the plants are doing in the garden boxes. There is a banana pepper plant and an eggplant that just are a bit sluggish, but other than that everything is lush and thriving. This afternoon I was able to make a pretty respectable harvest, expecially when you consider the boxes were only planted only about a month-and-a-half ago. We will enjoy some cabbage, a purple cauliflower, and some sort of a zucchini dish at our 4th of July picnic tomorrow! Tonight I'll be checking out my cookbooks to find a special way to prepare the veggies. A week or so ago I also picked some broccoli and a smaller zucchini from the garden.
The rain and sunshine has done wonders for the flower gardens as well. The first picture is of the big flower bed we still call the wildflower garden, although it no longer consists of only wildflowers. Last year I revamped the flower bed and added several new plants. This was mostly so that something would be blooming in the garden all summer. The bed has filled in very nicely and needs a lot less weeding this year (always a good thing).
Another flower bed sits at the entrance of the vegetable garden. This garden has several plants in it including Shasta Daisy, Rose Campion, Mallow, Perennial Geranium, and Coreopsis. I especially love this Hydrangra 'Annabelle.' Look how pretty it is next to the purple phlox. Aaah, summer.