Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Garden is Nearly Spent

Almost a month since the last blog post.  Wow, time has flown by.  Travel and meetings and work have taken us away from the garden but the heat and drought have done as much damage as neglect.  Everything has nearly run its course.  The tomatoes are wilting.  The corn was in the ground too late to amount to anything.  The vines are all nearly dead and gone.  A couple of bright spots.  I have a bunch of butternut squash to harvest this week.  I have gotten several fairly good size hubbard and lacotta winter squash.  The sweet potato vines are thriving.  All in all I think it has been a good first year effort.  We have never attempted gardening on this scale before and it has been fun.

There are several things I have enjoyed this year.  Getting out in the early spring and working the soil.  Getting exercise and feeling like I had accomplished something.  Watching things germinate and grow.  Seeing how folks seemed to genuinely appreciate a gift of fresh vegetables and how much giving those gifts meant to us.  Spending time with Mom and Dad and working with Connie and the girls.  I had some good harvests and some duds but I came to realize that for me it has been about the process and learning more so than the end result.  I am the kind of person that must be learning something all of the time.  This has given me a whole new area of my life to learn about and research, including an excuse to buy gardening books and magazines!

Heading into the late summer and fall I plan to work on improving the soil quality and re-measuring and squaring up the garden shape a little better.  I am thinking of putting in some garlic in September.  I read in the paper today that the winter chill is important for good side bulb development so you get full heads of garlic in the summer.  The garlic we planted this year in the spring grew but the bulbs were small at harvest.  I got 2 pounds of Crimson Clover seed (I liked how the name sounded, kind of like an old 60s rock song) in the mail today from Johnny's Select Seeds that I am going to try as a green mulch winter cover crop.  I'll let you know how it goes.....


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Unexpected Blessings

You have undoubtedly heard the saying "Men are from Mars, Women from Venus".   Well, Steve and I have experienced different feelings and blessings from the garden this summer.  While we both have enjoyed spending more time together and with his Mom and Dad working in the garden, our focus has been different.  Steve enjoys watching things grow.  He works hard on keeping the weeds out and tilling up the soil all while working at breakneck speed.  His idea of keeping the weeds out is to kill everything in sight!  Let's just say he has no patience where crabgrass is concerned.  So any living "good" plant in the path will be sacrificed along with the "evil" weeds. 

Now I'm not saying I like weeds either, but I will take my time pulling out weeds between rows of carrots or lettuce, trying not to upset the surrounding plants.  But the biggest unexpected blessing I have received from our garden has been giving baskets of fresh veggies to family and friends.  I love making up a basket like the one above with squash, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, onions, peppers and what ever else is ripe and then passing it along to someone.  The smile on their face is a great blessing.  Our goal in having the garden this year was not to "put up" a hundred quarts of beans or "dig" 50 bushels of potatoes, but to get some exercise and enjoy some fresh produce.  I think we have met our goal well and learned a lot of lessons in the process. We will do some things differently next year, starting with trying to kill out all of the crabgrass over the winter.  But something we will do next year is continue to share our harvest with as many people as possible.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sunflowers and Hubbard Squash

Blue Hubbard Squash and Acorn Squash

Too hot to work in the garden for long but I did get out some this week.  We still have a few things that are doing fairly well.  The tomatoes are thriving.  The corn and sunflowers are shooting up.  The sweet potato vines are running all over the place.  We are still harvesting yellow squash and zuchinni.  Some of the winter squash are doing well.  We have about 18 butternut squash on the vines.  I picked a very respectable Blue Hubbard squash today shown in the picture next to an Acorn Squash.  Does anyone know how to cook a Hubbard Squash? 

I resorted to using RoundUp today.  I have tried to stay as organic as I can but the grass is going crazy in places.  The yard is trying to reclaim the garden.  I mixed up 2 gallons and sprayed the perimeter and some areas in the center that were just covered with grass and weeds.  One thing I will try to do better next year is non-chemical weed and grass control.  A patient this week told me he used newspaper between rows and it worked great.  He just lays layers of newspaper on the ground.  It smoothers out the weeds and eventually rot into the ground.  I am also going to keep a larger border between plantings and the yard.  This year I planted right up to the edge and that makes it hard to keep the yard at bay.  The organic police may forgive me just this one infraction, I hope.

Still trying to decide about late summer and fall crops.  I think it is just too hot to plant anything right now but I would love to do some late season brocolli and spinach and other stuff.  Any ideas?


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Heat

Neglect and drought have taken their toll.  We had been on vacation a couple weeks ago and I have been so busy I had not been to the garden in a while.  I went to the garden Friday night and was instantly depressed.  At first glance everything looked dead.  The potato plants are gone.  The lettuces and kale and chard have bolted.  Normal stuff I guess for mid July, but it looked bad.  I was kind of despondent.  This was not the fantasy gardens depicted in Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.   We got to work.  I pulled up the dead bean vines and bolted lettuces and dumped them on the compost pile.  I got out the small tiller and began an attack on the grass and weeds.  It was just not strong enough.  On Saturday I got back after it with the big rear tine tiller and worked for a hour or more tilling up all of the area that had gone to weeds.  It looks better now and I am less discouraged.  I had hoped to plant some late beans and maybe some other stuff but now I am not sure.  I hate to put good seed into the midst of rampant growth of crab grasses.

One the positive side the tomatoes are looking good.  They are loaded with green fruit and we have picked some very nice Romas and a couple huge Oxheart tomatoes that have a very interesting shape with a pointed bottom.  I planted them too close together though so it is just a single big mass of tomato vines.  The peppers however are not doing well.  The leaves fall off when you touch the plants and there are no blooms or fruit.  The vines, squash and melons, seem OK.  We have a few watermelons bigger than softballs and some winter squash, acorn, butternut and hubbard, that are looking great.  The corn is doing fine despite the drought so all is not lost.

After I got over my depression I have reconciled myself to the fact that the garden is not doing so bad, considering the weather.  This is the first year that we have tried to do so much at one time and much of it has succeeded.  We have harvested a lot of yellow squash and zucchini and shared it with many friends.  The blackberry vine that we rescued in the spring has given us at least 2 gallons of berries with more still to come.  So, I think I am going to focus the rest of the season on trying to improve the soil and get ready for next year but I'm not ruling out adding some late plantings.  We'll see.

I am researching cover crops.  Does anyone have any experience planting clover in a garden in the late summer or fall as a winter cover crop?  I think I'll give it a try.  Still learning, it will be better next year, right?


Friday, July 2, 2010

Our Basket Runneth Over

We returned from vacation to a garden overflowing with things to be picked...both edible and inedible.  The squash, zucchini, acorn squash and other squash/gourd plants have taken over the back half of the garden.  The tomato plants are loaded with green fruit and the green beans should be ready to pick by Monday.  The lettuce, spinach and other greens are on their last legs.  Most of them have bolted and need to be pulled up, but the kale and swiss chard still look good.  We had a good crop of broccoli to pick and even a few peppers were ready to pick.  We pulled the first planting of carrots.  There were white, yellow, orange and purple carrots. 

Of course, we returned to find a healthy crop of crab grass and weeds filling in the open spaces.  I'm glad we put down landscaping fabric under the squash plants or we wouldn't be able to keep the weeds out.  The sunflowers Caitie and Kevin planted are about 3' high and have begun to set blooms.  We even found a watermelon the size of a tennis ball and several other fruit about the size of ping pong balls.   Caitie picked over a cup of huge blackberries and the vines are loaded with more.  It's a good thing we covered the bush with netting or the birds would have had a feast.

Things have been very dry lately so Steve watered everything but we really need a good soaking rain.  The potato bugs are doing a number on the potato plants, except for the blue potatoes.  Maybe those taste different to the bugs.  Anyway it felt good to be back in the garden and playing in the dirt for a while.  It really is relaxing and fun to watch things grow.  The deck garden is doing well.  The tomato plants we have out there are thriving and loaded with tomatoes.  We even picked a few scallions and baby carrots from the deck boxes.  The eggplant and peppers that Steve started from seed are doing well in the deck boxes.  Now I just need to find a few recipes to use up all this zucchini.  One can only make so much zucchini bread.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pick a Peck of Peas, or Three

The rain kept us out of the garden on Saturday.  Frankly I needed the rest.  Sam and I ran up there tonight and were able to get some work done.  It is amazing how stuff has grown in the past week.  Overall things are looking good.  Some casualties, a few potatoes lost to the bugs, a ravaged cabbage that may not survive but all in all I am pleased.

We picked the second patch of peas tonight.  We let them go too long and even though they are edible pod sugar snap peas we are shelling them because they are so full and the pods are tough.  When you are a weekend and evening gardener you must accept that you may not always get to harvest at the optimum time.  We are still tickled with the results.  We pulled up all the vines and added them to the compost.

The ducks look great.  I included some pictures below and on the photo page.  I think it really adds some color and interest to have the flower pot and ducks in the center of four squares.  The way Mom arranged the ducks is great, they look like they were alive and were just captured in action.  Cute.

Next year I am only growing blue potatoes.  It is driving me crazy to see perfectly good potato plants completely destroyed by the bugs.  There seems to be a definite difference between the four varieties planted and their susceptibility to the potato bugs.  The blue ones are faring the best followed by the red skin.  The yukon gold seem to be suffering the greatest injury followed closely by the little Swedish fingerling potatoes which were also the slowest to get up out of the ground.  Next year it is blue all the way.  Also the purple flowers on the blue potatoes are very pretty compared to the plain white blooms on the others.

We have about 8 or 10 zucchini that are about 2-3 inches long.  By next weekend they will probably be a foot long if they keep growing and it keeps raining.  The squash vines are all going like gangbusters.  I love to see the size of those vines and how big they can get so fast.  The only failure, the pumpkins.  We planted seeds probably more than a month ago now and have had not a single one to germinate.  The watermelons on the other hand look great.  Caitie's sunflowers are doing very well and the corn I planted last weekend are even up.

Next weekend, zucchini....?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

White Eggplant and Sweet Corn

Yesterday I worked in the garden about 3 hours before the extreme heat set in but it was still hot and humid.  I weeded just about the whole garden, some by hand, some with the little tiller.  I stopped at the Scott County Farmers Co-op to see what plants they had left and bought a couple white eggplants.  I also bought some sweet corn.

Connie didn't want to plant any corn.  She is not a big fan of corn on the cob and felt like it took up too much space and that you need a lot for it to germinate well.  I on the other hand, love corn on the cob and the thoughts of laboring in the garden all summer and not having the experience of an ear of sweet corn eaten minutes after it was pulled from the stalk was just too much.  So I caught her out of town and planted some corn.  We had an area left in front of the compost bins about 10 x 10 that was still empty.  After getting as much crab grass out as I could by hand I tilled it all up and raked it smooth.  I divided it into 6 closely spaced rows and planted the seeds fairly thickly.  They will have to be thinned but the idea is for a small intensely planted "square" of corn plants all bunched up together rather than a long row across the garden.  I hope it works but don't tell Connie.

We have new guests in the garden.  Three ceramic ducks have taken up residence next to an earthenware pot planted with flowers.  The look is really quaint.  I'll post some photos of the duck soon.  Thanks to Ron and Andrea for the donation of 3 ducks from the collection of Ron's mother Jill who passed away a few months ago.  It is a nice touch.