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Dandelion Greens

My angora rabbits enjoy fresh greens.  In the winter here in Maine, fresh greens are usually acquired at the grocery store for a considerable price.  Last year I tried growing some greens for my bunnies by planting the tops of carrots, allowing the feathery leaves to grow then harvesting them.  This produced a few meals for the bunnies, but not in the abundance they crave.  This year I decided to try something different.

I captured several dandelions in the wild (dug them up in the garden) and planted them in a deep pot.  Dandelions have a long tap root, it can extend a foot into the ground on a very large plant.  I used a long, thin weed rooter to pop the plants out of the ground, preserving most of the length of the root.  These plants had already gone into hibernation mode, so it took a few days for them to wake up.  Here is how they looked soon after they were planted.

The dandelions think the house is springtime.  They have put on lots of leaves and several are showing flower buttons.  Now, if I can only keep the cats from sitting in the pot, these plants may provide some much appreciated nutritious greens for the rabbits this winter.

Killing Frost

Tonight we are supposed to get our first killing frost.  I hurried to harvest as much of the cold sensitive crops as possible.  Here are some beautiful rainbow chard leaves I picked today.  As I was cleaning them for dinner, I thought the colors were so pretty they should be shared.  Chard is a fairly hardy plant.  I hope to get at least one more harvest of these in October, if it doesn’t get too cold.  These even look nice in the kettle.  Sadly, much of the color is lost when the leaves are cooked.  As I write this I’m eating the chard with a little salt and butter.  So good!

The tomatoes did very well this year.  I rescued the last few that have hope of ripening.  A few green ones will go to the chickens.  They love tomatoes.  I got several large purple sweet peppers this summer.  These smaller ones managed to mature to the right color even if they aren’t very big.  The pumpkin crop was a disappointment.  The pie pumpkins and little decorative ones developed several fruits, but the large field pumpkins died.  Not sure what happened there.  Maybe the squash bugs killed them.  There was an abundance of bugs this year.

I also picked several bouquets of nasturtiums and marigolds.  Once touched by the frost, the lovely blooms will all wither.  I always miss my summer flower gardens when the season is over.  Next year I will try starting seeds indoors in the spring.  That should give me earlier flowers.

 

In the July Garden

It’s July, with lots of heat, humidity and showers, so the garden’s growing fast.  The wax beans have taken over their area and are full of blooms.  In about a week I should start harvesting beans to can for winter.  The corn did better than knee-high, it was belly button high for the Fourth of July!  The stalks are beginning to tassel.

The field pumpkins, pie and mini pumpkins are all enjoying the long, warm days.  They are rapidly spreading to fill any empty space in the garden.  I’ve seen a  few squash bugs and cucumber beetles, not as bad as some years.  Could be the plentiful rain does not agree with them.

I just finished the first thinning of the carrots, much to the rabbits’ delight.  The carrots and rainbow chard are coming along nicely.  Soon I will enjoy the first chard harvest.  Excessive rain when the chard was sprouting caused it to germinate spottily.  I will seed the empty space in the row with carrots.  They still have plenty of time to mature before fall.

The strange tendril peas are very happy growing up along the garden fence.  They are covered in blooms and will soon make the most delicious fresh peas for eating right in the garden.  The peas rarely make it up to the house to be cooked.  They are too yummy raw.

Purple peppers are starting to grow well now after a slow start.  Two were chewed off by something.  Both stems continued to live and are putting on leaves again.  Hoping to get at least one pepper each from those two damaged plants.  As you can see, I still have plenty of weeding to do!

This year the tomato patch is nice and orderly, not a jungle at all.  The plants climb up inside their cages, supported off the ground.  They already are producing lots of fruit.  I can hardly wait for my first taste of garden ripe tomato.

Now, if only the sunny weather with adequate rain continues.  And no hail storms wander our way as they did up in northern Maine a few days ago.  Quarter-sized hail hammered the area just below Moosehead Lake.  That kind of hail is devastating to gardens (and everything else in its path!)

Garden In

I got the garden in about 10 days ago and things are starting to sprout.  This is the most exciting time in gardening for me:  the babies emerging.  We’ve had plenty of rain, although it’s not been as warm and sunny as most plants like until just recently.  A couple days of sun really made the seedlings pop.  Before I tilled the garden I saved the volunteers, little plants that sprouted from seeds produced last fall.  I got a volunteer sunflower, a head lettuce and two bachelor buttons.

The started plants I buy at a greenhouse are also in. This year I purchased Early Girl tomatoes and purple sweet peppers.  The tomatoes may look innocent right now but before long they will become a jungle.  This year I got some tomato cages which I will set soon.  These are designed to hold recumbent plants up in the air, keeping the fruit cleaner and elevating them out of the reach of rodents (hopefully!)

Something just happened to one of the little pepper plants.  There were six yesterday morning, but in the afternoon one had been nipped off about one inch above the surface and the leaves were left scattered to wizen on the ground.  I’m hoping the stub remaining might continue to grow.

Not sure what would have pulled a stunt like this.  There are no tracks, no evidence of the perpetrator of this crime. 

The corn is just emerging, the sprouts about 2″ tall.  With luck it will reach eight feet and produce two ears per stalk of indian corn for fall decorating.  The weather has been a bit chilly and damp for corn.  The crop likes heat and high humidity.  June is usually full of that sort of weather.  I hope so.  I need these to be knee high by the Fourth of July.

This year I’ve planted lots of wax bush beans.  They are emerging well.  Sure hope the pepper murderer doesn’t start on them!  I want to can a couple dozen pints of beans this year if the plants cooperate.  Here is a baby bean just beginning to unfold.

Once more I’ve planted those strange tendril peas.  My granddaughters and I love to eat the peas raw right off the vine.  These peas are masses of curling tendrils with hardly any leaves.  They hold on to each other and don’t require supports to grow off the ground.  I’ve planted mine right beside the garden fence.  They will quickly grab onto the slats and haul themselves all the way to the top.  These pea sprouts are about one inch high.

My garden is planted to three types of pumpkins:  field for Halloween, small, sweet ones for pie and mini Jacks for fall decorating.  So far the field pumpkins have begun emerging.  These can take a couple weeks to come up, with the mini ones being the slowest to germinate.

Rainbow chard is up.  These babies are about an inch high.  They grow to over a foot long in no time.  Can hardly wait, I love me some fresh steamed chard! Or raw in salad, or blanched with a little salt and butter.  Hmm, I’m starting to get hungry.  The rainbow selection is a mix of three different plant stem colors, white, red and orange.A surprise was that the carrots are also up.  It usually takes them the longest to sprout, sometimes over two weeks.  These guys are in a hurry, I guess.  Probably the ample moisture from the excessive rain has brought them on quickly.  The carrots are the light green plants.  There are also baby crab grass and one little pig weed among the carrots.  Also, there is what appears to be a white caterpillar wandering by.  Could this be the suspect in the pepper murder???  Not too likely; caterpillars usually eat leaves.Beyond vegetables, I’ve planted some flower seeds to bring a little color to the garden.  There are sunflowers planted along the perimeter.  Also, I dropped in some nasturtiums, marigolds and zinnias.  The flowers encourage bees and butterflies to visit as well as brightening the space.  The flowers have not sprouted yet.

There are feathers in a few of the photos.  These came from the chicken manure I spread on the vegetable patch last fall.  Chicken fertilizer is great for the garden.  It’s got a good nitrogen content and very few weed seeds.  Since I substituted chicken for horse manure in the garden, there has been a noticeable reduction in weeds.  Chicken manure=happy plants and a happy gardener!

 

August Garden Tour

The garden is in full swing and I’m barely keeping ahead of it, especially the wax beans.  The weather has been in the 90sF and 90%+ humidity for days on end.  It is hard for me to work outside in such hot weather due to breathing difficulties with asthma.  The weeds keep right on growing.  After the thunderstorms finish tonight, we are supposed to have at least three days of temps in the 70s-low 80s and much lower humidity.  I’m so looking forward to that!  Hope to get my garden in shape then.

I’ve just managed to stay ahead of the wax string beans.  So far I’ve canned 6 pints with 6 more to do and another big bag to pick tomorrow.  Beans love hot, humid weather.  The only problem is they can’t be harvested if they are wet.  It causes the beans to get rusty marks on them.  Timing bean harvesting between thunderstorms can be tricky.

I like to place my rows of plantings close enough together so that when they are mature they fill the whole area, choking out weeds.  The plants shade the soil and retain moisture without the need to apply mulch.  Above we see pumpkins on the left, beans in the middle and tomatoes on the right.  There are a few weeds in the tomatoes.  I’ll get rid of those this weekend.

The tomatoes have formed a jungle and are producing more fruit than I can eat.  Soon I will be freezing tomatoes for winter soups.  Fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes right from the garden are so much better than the store-bought variety.  Store tomatoes should be sold under a different name, like cardboard tomatoes.

The indian corn started out slowly this year due to a month of drought in June.  The lack of rain was also hard on the grass.  The hay harvest is poor.  The corn looks better.  Rain, mostly from thunderstorms, has help the plants reach for the sky.  They are about six feet tall and busy tasseling and making ears.  I plant pumpkins as companions for the corn.  The vines run around the stalks where they have plenty of space to spread out.  The large squash leaves shade the ground around the corn, discouraging weeds and helping conserve moisture.  Sunflowers like to grow with the pumpkins as well.

In June I went to a clearance sale at a local greenhouse and saved the last two pots of straight-neck summer squash.  They were very unimpressive, root-bound, yellowed pitiful plants.  I figured, give’em a chance and stuck them in where the carrots failed due to the drought.  In no time they had taken over that spot and are now flexing their leaves over my bed of sweet basil.

From struggling seedlings, the plants have grown into squash making machines.  I pick the squash when it’s very small, about the length of my middle finger, to keep ahead of production.  Small squash are tender and delicious.  Any that get away to grow to monster proportions are fed to the chickens.  They love garden extras, especially squash and tomatoes.

Last year I planted sweet basil near the edge of the garden, right beside the fence.  Something ate all my plants and I never got any basil.  This year I made a bed near the center of the garden.  The basil is growing unmolested and I have harvested a bunch already to dry.  The fresh leaves are also yummy tossed in a salad with tomatoes and summer squash.  The new growth is pinched back by about 6″ or so to encourage branching and prevent the plants from going to flower.  I make bundles using four spears of basil then hang them upside down in a dark, airy room to dry.

This year I again planted the crazy tendril peas.  I didn’t give them any support since they are supposed to hold themselves up with the luxuriant over-growth of tendrils.  It works pretty well.  They do lean over a bit, providing perfect cover for a mouse who is stealing pods and eating my peas before I can pick them.  I guess there’s plenty for everyone.  I’m just worried the rodent will move on to the tomatoes when the peas are gone.  Once I harvest the peas, I’m going to replant carrots in that spot and hope for a fall crop.

By planting sweet peppers in the shade thrown by the corn, the plants get protection from strong sun and the extra moisture they need to perform well.  There will be lots of nice peppers this fall if all goes right.  Last time I got a good pepper harvest, I roasted the excess on the grill, sliced and froze them.  When I needed pepper for topping pizza or tossing in pasta, I just chopped some off the frozen block.  That worked very well, so I plan to do it again this year.

When I was a kid, I did not like chard.  Now I love it!  The drought was tough on chard, but I got several plants that I transplanted to fill out a small row.  They seem to be having a competition to see who can produce the largest leaves.  I particularly like rainbow chard, such a pretty mix of colors when it grows.  

Just for fun and a splash of brightness in the veggie patch, I always grow some flowers.  This year bachelor buttons volunteered from seed dropped last year.  The mass of plants has to be tied up to prevent it flopping into the path and all over the neighboring plants.  These make lovely cut flower bouquets for the table that last over a week.

The zinnias have just started to bloom.  I almost got a picture of a hummingbird on the big red zinnia flower, but I wasn’t quite quick enough.  Hummingbirds also like the sunflowers.  Sometimes when I stand in the garden, the aerial hummingbird battles going on around me make me duck.  The tiny birds are very territorial and don’t like sharing even when there are plenty of flowers to go around.

Female ruby-throated hummingbird on the sunflowers, taken in 2017

This year I planted nasturtiums in the garden for the first time. Some didn’t do well, I suspect the drought got them.  A few have thrived and are producing orange, yellow and red flowers. So pretty. The flowers are supposed to be edible, but I probably will leave them in the garden rather than toss them on a salad.

Now we’ve reached the end of the garden tour.  Time to can some beans!

 

 

Painted Lady Butterfly

It seems to be a good year at the farm for butterflies.  Little yellow Sulphurs are everywhere.  I have seen several Monarchs.  The past few years, Monarchs were becoming rare sightings.  Perhaps the nationwide attention and emphasis by private individuals on planting milkweed has helped this species.  Another butterfly that sometimes feeds on milkweed is the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui.)  This insect has orange wings with black and white markings.  There are four eye spots on the outsides of the bottom wings.

We have a good supply of Painted Ladies this year.  Here at the farm the caterpillars feed on thistle, mallow, milkweed and aster, among other plants.  They are not such specialized feeders as the Monarch, perhaps helping their numbers to stay more plentiful.  The Painted Lady larva need to finish munching on the fall asters soon, turn into butterflies and head south.  The very mild weather we have been experiencing the past week, with near-record warmth, will not continue.  The butterflies migrate all the way to Mexico to over-winter.  They need to get started before the frosts come to Maine.

Already our tree leaves are turning color and beginning to drop.  There has been no frost yet, but the decreasing light has triggered the trees’ autumn show.  As long as the heat continues, the zinnas will bloom in abundance in my vegetable garden.  When frosts hits, they die immediately.  Painted Lady butterflies seem particularly fond of zinna nectar.  I often find several of these insects on the flowers at one time.

Sunday the temperatures soared to near 90F, yesterday we hit 86F at the farm and today promises more of the same.  This is idyllic weather for the two week period that comprises the life span of the adult Painted Lady butterfly.  As they begin their trip south, the insects will continue to feed, mate, lay eggs and die.  The progeny will progress toward warm Mexican winter homes, sustaining the Painted Lady population for another year.

Garden End of July

This spring was a rough start for my garden.  Right after I planted we had over a week of rain.  Many of the seeds must have just rotted in the ground.  I replanted the beans when only three sprouted and the second time got better results.  Slugs ate every one of my lettuce sprouts during the rain and something will not leave my basil alone.  Not sure if I will get any basil!

The mystery peas are doing the best of all the garden veggies.  The indian corn is also fairly happy with the frequent rain and hot days.  Lia is about 46″ tall.  The corn is well over her head and not tasseling yet.  Lia has discovered the joy of eating raw peas right off the vine.  She is very proud of the peas she helped plant.

Even the flowers I sowed in the garden did poorly this year.  I have a few zinnias and bachelor buttons, but not as good as previous years.  The rain was really hard on the seeds.  Beets and carrots suffered similarly.  The tomatoes are producing a few yummy fruits and the pumpkins that managed to sprout are coming along well.  The volunteers are all the sunflowers we have this year.  Not a single seed came up and I planted nearly 20.  Depressing.  Yet, the weeds always do so well.  Here are my first Early Girl tomatoes.

On a bright note, I saw a monarch butterfly on the 27th in the apple orchard when I was mowing.  Perhaps people’s efforts to plant milkweed are paying off.  This seems to be a good butterfly year, there are many varieties present in the gardens and on wild flowers.