What Was New In The Garden – summer 2018

I planted two new tomato varieties this past spring; San Marzano and Brad’s Atomic Grape (because Baker Creek was pushing them and they looked cool).

San Marzano, Celebrity, Brad’s Atomic Grape, Green Zebra

The San Marzano tomatoes grew well, we had plenty of hot dry weather. Do they ever need a lot of calcium! Yes they do. I have a specific tomato planting method and it includes, what I think to be adequate, eggshells. Additionally I do a foliar feed that includes calcium. All that and it wasn’t enough. I kept pushing the calcium and the blossom end rot was persistent. Finally after the plants had about all the blight they could stand (that’s another story and a successful one at that) the tomatoes turned around and came on like crazy – no blossom end rot. They are still pumping out lots of fruit even though the plants are a little on the scruffy side. Next year, more calcium, sooner. I’m loving these great little paste tomatoes. For a better look at calcium uptake in the garden you might want to read this article.

Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato

The Brad’s Atomic Grape – good and fast germination, sturdy plants in the garden. I was in love. Then I hated them – it was impossible to tell when they were ripe, the skin was objectionably thick and the fruits too small to peel, seedy, no flavor. I wrote a poor review. But I am back in love with them and will amend my review. These things have finally came into their own. One plant easily trained on a cattle panel arch and it is no less than ten feet high (but curved of course) and spans a good four feet wide. That plant has been COVERED in tomatoes for the last two months. I pick a couple pounds every couple days off that one plant. These plants have become less seedy, more flavorful and thinner skinned as the season progresses.

Amaranth

That was my new thing for summer ’18, along with some amaranth. The bugs loved the amaranth but the amaranth did not care one bit and grew any which way it could and decorated itself with big beautiful flower heads. For an in-depth look at amaranth surface anatomy check out this article.

 

 

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Summer Garden, Winding Down

This years irregular weather has provided a challenging garden season and pushed us to some creative solutions. We put tents made of cloth covered hardware cloth over the pots of mint and used window shade cloth to not only cover some windows but also some plants. Gene also put in soaker hoses and irrigation thingys to save us time in the hot sun. It was worth every dime and manhour that it took to install. We haven’t harvested as much as last year – but still plenty to fill the table daily and put some by.

Garlic chives flowers

I know chives can be invasive but I do love these garlic chives and their flowers. I may have allowed them to grow in too many places and will definitely have to start pushing back at them this spring. I will also not allow as many seeds to fall on the ground – instead gathering them to adorn the top of a loaf of rye bread.

Volunteer Celebrity tomato

We let four volunteer tomato plants grow where they stood this year. Three of them are Celebrity and one is a Green Zebra. All of them have done better than any of the other tomato plants. Coming up later means they had less problems with blight. We also used a foliar spray made with 1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a gallon of tepid water and sprayed lightly on the underside of the plants the minute we saw signs. IF I had kept up with it better I think we would have totally rid ourselves of blight ridden tomato plants. As it is, it is a much decreased problem this year and the four volunteers are faring better than the rest. The largest Celebrity of the three is covered with beautiful four-ounce fruits – I stopped counting at fifty. The first ripe one came off yesterday and we have had fried green tomatoes once from the same plant. Tomatoes… couldn’t we all just talk about tomatoes for days.

Okra flower with bug

Then there is the okra. I cut back to four plants this year because There Was So Much Okra last year! One plant up and died leaving us with three. There Is Still So Much Okra. I pick six to ten okra pods every day and about every three days I clean, chop, bread and freeze a quart size zip lock baggy of okra. We eat okra also, and I have shared a little. I once jokingly said the only reason I grow okra is to be assured of something to compost. Tsk, tsk… I have learned to Love it.

Bodacious corn

This is our third little patch of corn this summer. Spread the wealth I say. Yes we grow it in rows and Gene has become such an expert at hand pollinating corn. One day we were lucky enough to notice pollen shed and watch for a while. It was fascinating and beautiful. For a comprehensive article on the whole story of corn pollination click here. You can also look online for how to hand pollinate corn – it’s really very easy and very effective.

So our third batch of corn. We always chow down on all the corn on the cob we can eat the evening of harvest, then blanch, scrape and freeze the rest for all kinds of recipes and great eating.

Amaranth

Among the seed packets my sister thoughtfully sent for Christmas last year was amaranth. I know next to nothing about amaranth but we planted several seeds after a cursory online search. All the seeds came up. Most of them lived. I was only able to keep a few alive during the intense heat because, sorry to say, it wasn’t a high priority. Am I a bad gardener? Then a huge wind took several of them down. This one survived all that albeit flat on the ground with its’ roots barely hanging on to the soil. As plants will do, this one made a 90 degree turn reaching for the sun and has produced a big beautiful head of flowering seed pod. You might notice all the bug eaten leaves. These plants are hardy! If it was standing it would be in the six to seven foot range for height and the stalk is several inches wide. Next year I plan on putting them up against a support where they might be tied up with some twine. And definitely in the flower garden along with the Thai basil. And other things too.

Zucchini

Five late zucchini plants in straw bales near a trap planting (ok it was a volunteer that I took advantage of) of butternut squash laying on the ground. Every. Single. Day. one of us attends the plants in the bales and on the ground, turning Every. Single. Leaf. over to look for squash bugs and their eggs. We remove them to a plastic jug filled with water. This is a lot of work. Do not mash the bugs as that attracts more bugs (from what I have read and I ain’t taking any chances), just drown them. We also used diatomaceous earth before the plants began blooming. So far so good. I think we are going to have some summer squash soon! For thorough info on getting rid of squash bugs read this Moonmooring post here.

Gene running the weed eater

Wait. What!? The last sunflower. It came up real late and was a volunteer to boot. I don’t believe it received much water. There are only so many hours in a gardener’s day.

What else is happening out there you might ask? Lots still. The last of the third planting of green beans. Pole beans kicking in. Watermelons still to harvest and the honeydew have been truly amazing. Five pounds of tomatillos from one plant yesterday (there are several plants… yikes!), the San Marzano, Black Krim, Atomic and mystery tomato all still kicking out more than enough every day. Peppers, peppers, peppers. Sweet potatoes are looking massive. The Brussels sprouts made it through the heat and some kale also. Time to dig up the volunteer leeks to transplant, pull the green onions from their shade. And we cut our first fall cilantro today for salsa. Life is good. Now it is time to start the fall plantings!

Do you plant a fall garden? If so what do you grow in it?

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Schrooms?

Several cloudy cooler  days brought forth scads of fungi around Moonmooring last week. These beauties tend to come up under some tall pines at the front of the house when the weather is right for them.

Please don’t eat the mushrooms unless you or a guide are 100% positive about their identification! What’s growing wild in your area?

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Being Rid of Squash Bugs

Prevention is the key.

You must start in the fall – that said I am starting in June. What can I say. If you start in the fall (and I will this fall for sure) it gets things off to a much better start with lower numbers of bugs ready to spring from the soil in the spring and do what nature intended – lay eggs – or go forth and multiply!

Once the squash are done (and that may be sooner than later if you had an infestation of squash bugs) clear up all the refuse and mulch and burn it! Yes burn it. Get rid of those eggs that will lay waiting all winter to attack in the spring. Many sources additionally recommend hot composting but I’m not taking any chances and we will burn the refuse about a month after the squashes are all dead and done.

Then plant a cover crop for the winter so the soil is nicely covered. You don’t want to mulch the squash ever again. More on this later. Also plant cover crop where you plan on growing your next summer crop so it is ready to go.

In the spring make sure your squash plants are big and hearty if you are transplanting them out. I’m going to transplant and will start my own. No spindly plants because they are too easily knocked down by just a few bug bites. There could be a whole conversation on seed starting so we won’t go there today.

It is without a doubt recommended by many if not all reliable sources that the single most effective deterrent to squash bugs is to cover those baby plants as soon as you plant them. Most sources recommend lightweight row cover. I also read about people using mosquito netting. It should work if you are in a pinch and that’s what you have. Make sure the covering is tight to the ground and as close to the plants as possible. You will have to reposition the cover as the plants grow.

You might be asking “what about pollination?”. One of two solutions; the first is to remove the row cover and start using other measures to keep the bugs at bay. The second, and this is my favorite because we are small time gardeners, is to lift the cover occasionally and hand pollinate. It’s easy (once again that is another conversation we won’t go into).

So about those “other measures”. There are some serious “must do’s”.

The second single most effective thing you can do is hand pick squash bugs off the plants along with any eggs you can find. Leave a lidded container nearby with an inch or so of soapy water. The bugs will expire in the soapy water. Here’s my favorite part… buy a pair of wooden toaster tongs for a couple bucks and use those as bug pinchers. We bought a dozen pack and hang them in handy locations all about the garden. They last for many seasons and take the ick factor right away. Great for tomato hornworms etc.

Do NOT squash squash bugs. The scent they exude attracts more squash bugs so I understand. And squash bugs can find a patch of squash as far away as half a mile.

Boards; a small thin board placed on the ground right next to each plant will provide a place for the bugs to take cover at night and every morning early you can lift it and kill the bugs. Use the soapy water in the lidded container. This method works best when nights are cooler. Here’s a neat trick I read about. Adhere a sticky trap to that thin board. Then lay the board sticky side down on a very short riser so it is just barely above the soil. It still gives the bugs a place to hide and a lot more squash bugs will be caught. I haven’t tried this yet.

Water; water somewhat vigorously in the morning around the base of the plants and see the bugs come scampering out and climb to the top of the plant. You can then easily pick them off. Remember the soapy water… 🙂

Chemical treatments include;

diatomaceous earth – kills squash bugs but do not apply it near the flowers as it kills a lot of other bugs including a lot of beneficials. It needs to be reapplied every time it rains or there is a heavy dew. It is safe for all pets etc as long as you do not breath it in. Please use a mask if it is windy.

insecticidal soap – kills squash bugs especially well if they are young (not so much for adults) and also especially well if it also contains pyrethrum which comes from the Chrysanthemum.

sabodilla, and neem oil – once again these can be dangerous to your garden

Sevin dust is now of little use against squash bugs and not environmentally healthy.

Other stuff…

Tape a small mirror to a hoe to easily inspect the underside of leaves which is where the eggs are most likely to be – we have two long handled mirrors that we bought a few years ago and this is a really handy tool!

CHECK YOUR PLANTS DAILY or at least every couple days and stay ahead of those squash bugs!

Praying mantis eat squash bugs but they also eat ladybugs so it’s your call. They are available commercially.

Tachinid flys also eat squash bugs – I have not seen them for sale.

Some anecdotal evidence that lizards eat squash bugs. Lizards eat a lot of insects. They also like bark mulch hence our lizard population with all the shredded wood and bark in our garden walkways.

Companion planting may have some benefit. It is reported that the flowers of alyssum, calendula, daisies, dill, fennel, and mustard greens all attract tachinid flys. Marigolds, nasturtiums (which can be somewhat invasive), radish (especially white icicle), tansy and mint are reported to be offensive to squash bugs. 

A bug collection funnel/containment can be made from two gallon milk jugs. See the link below.

DO NOT MULCH SQUASH PLANTS – unless it is with fresh hot composted compost and only a light layer.

ROTATE your squash plants on as long a rotation schedule as possible and as far away as possible. Some people claim skipping a year will help but we didn’t grow squash for about five years and then had squash bugs, so who knows.

One person stated on a board that she used a dab of clear nail polish on squash bug egg clusters because it was too much effort to remove them. I see some validity there.

OVERVIEW

Prevention is the most important thing you can do. Handpicking bugs and eggs is the next priority. Resort to chemicals only if you have to (even organic ones have negative effects).

The best comprehensive article I have read lately about growing squash without squash bugs is at this link, Squash Bug Controls . It is best to use preventive measures rather than wait until there is an infestation and then have to resort to harsher methods. I hope you read this article as it is quite comprehensive and very readable. https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/download.php?id=138

Wikipedia, pyrethrum, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrethrum

https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening-blog/beetlemania

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Protected: Hamburger Cows pics, 6-1-18

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A Garden Update

It’s May and finally there is warm weather. It has been a cool, dry, windy, cloudy spring. Things were trying to green up but it was taking a lot of effort. Then it rained. It rained over three inches in a couple days and the sunshine came out and it was a balmy 80 degrees (F). It is now officially green and spring and summer is fast on her heels.

My favorite garden plant – peas. They have started blooming just the last couple of days. Last year we were eating all the peas we could stand by now.

The garden is a full month behind what was happening last year because it has just been too cool/cold and dry.

A view of the Kitchen Garden and Hugel Section from above. Onions, potatoes, kohlrabi, several kinds of greens, Brussels sprouts bolting, cilantro and fennel and peas.

A side view of the herb bed. Several varieties of thyme, dill, sage, chives, lovage (yes it will need to be moved when it reaches full size), parsleys, lavender, French tarragon, winter savory, Mexican oregano and ageratum will fill it to overflowing by summer. Lemongrass will be planted in the big black pot.

We had some creatures getting into the garden very early this spring and eating onions of all things and the lettuce and kale. These are scarecrow bunnies. I think the bad guys were either mice, rats or voles. We did catch and release a racoon but everything else took the bait and escaped the live trap. ALSO – important to note – we have not seen our in house black snake this spring. Not once. The vermin are rampant. We may have to import a snake.

Onions; Candy, Red Candy and Copra. You might notice the close double row. Those will be pulled first for green onions leaving enough space for the rest to bulb out.

Our first red strawberry this year. Now that the turtles aren’t eating them all up it looks like we will get a great harvest this year. They are covered!

The last handful of parsnips and carrots until more carrots are ready.

That headboard looks crooked. Don’t tell Gene.

I believe the potatoes have grown over a foot this week.

Still a couple dozen tomatoes and a few peppers to plant. The extras have mostly been adopted out. Mostly started from seed this year, they did great.

The last of the leeks and broccoli (under cover). Tomatoes will go in this bed soon. You know we haven’t seen any cabbage moths since the last cold snap.

Peppers planted today. They were very happy to set their feet in the soil. I planted these with all the bells and whistles I could find reference to – Azomite, bone meal, aspirin, and a pinch of Jobs Organic vegetable fertilizer. Scattered compost around and stuck three wooden matchsticks head first into the ground. Topped them off with a small tomato cage because they will be needed. Don’t mulch much if at all until the soil warms more. I have made that mistake before. A great lesson – tomatoes – cool feet, peppers – warm feet.

The far bed in the Cornfield garden, L to R more peas, collards, beets.

If you look carefully there is a big bumble bee (I think) upper right hand corner. Doing his job.

This Purple Russian was about three inches tall and a bit frail but well grown when we acquired it in February at the seed swap. I have taken six cuttings from it and started new plants which are also hardy. It will likely need to be planted plenty deep or have the top cut out to make a new plant. It is being passed on and I’m keeping the midsize plants to set out. We also have Black Krims, Green Zebras, San Marzanos and Atomic grape to grow this year.

There’s more to come soon! What’s going on in your garden this spring?

 

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