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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!

 

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Baby Nectarine

Anyone with an orchard full of nectarines, please have patience with me.  This is my first nectarine.  These trees are not common in the northern clime of central Maine.  My baby nectarine has now survived four winters and appears to be thriving.  This is the first year it’s had flowers.  The variety is from Stark Bros, a Stark Crimson Gold, self-pollinating, heat tolerant, cold hardy and ripening fruit in July.  I can hardly wait to eat them!

The tree is about eight to nine feet tall.  The branches are covered with blooms.  Not sure how many of these will turn to fruit.  I suspect the fruit may require thinning. It is especially hard on a young tree to have a heavy fruit burden.The blossoms are large and have a light musk scent.  I thought they’d smell like apple flowers, but no.  Such a gorgeous pink display for the orchard!  This tree is attracting ruby-throated hummingbirds.  Soon the pears, apples, cherries and blueberries will all be in full bloom, plenty of food for hummingbirds. I stopped providing sugar feeders for hummingbirds due to the threat of the feeders becoming infected with fungus that can kill the birds.  If feeders aren’t cleaned religiously they can get contaminated.  I realized I couldn’t keep up with the necessary cleaning schedule.  Luckily, there is a good natural food supply for the birds here at the farm.

Home For Phoebes

Phoebes are friendly song birds who like to nest close to humans.  Perhaps they discovered that they can take advantage of the fear we instill in other birds to protect their nests and young.  They risk choosing the wrong humans when they build so close, but it must work for them because they continue to do it.  This particular pair of phoebes has built a nest for several years on the yard light beside one of our doors.

While it was sweet to have baby phoebes so close, having the birds there became a problem.  The constant fluttering as they came and went from the nest to feed the young attracted the attention of our six house cats.  The cats would climb the screen door trying to catch the birds.  When I found the screen partially dislodged and within seconds of allowing the cats out, I knew we had to keep the door closed.  Then the cats proceeded to climb the curtain over the window in the door.  I had to take the curtain down.  Very aggravating, especially since I’d like to leave the door open on nice days to cool the house and catch the breeze.

Last fall I decided the nest had to move.  During the winter I searched until I found this solid aluminum shower shelf.  It was under $7 with shipping.   In March I secured it to the house under the eaves far enough from the door so the cats would no longer see the birds.  Then I blocked off the area over the lights to prevent the birds from building there.  Phoebes build a large, heavy nest using clay mud.  They line it with soft moss, grass, hair and feathers.  This complicated nest takes a lot of effort so the birds return every year to the same nest, repairing it when necessary.

I didn’t want to destroy all their work.  I moved the nest to the new shelf.  It would be interesting to see if the birds accepted the new location of their nest, built a new nest or went off somewhere else to live.  In early April the birds came back.  It seemed to ruffle their feathers to find the nest moved.  After a bit I noticed them hanging around the new location.  Then late last week I found  mother phoebe on the nest.

It’s wonderful to have the birds nearby and still be able to keep the door open.  Phoebes like to have two broods per year so they hang around for most of the summer.  I will enjoy watching the baby birds grow up without worrying about the cats tearing the door apart.

Carrot Tops

Bunnies love greens, everyone knows that!  They especially need greens during the dark, cold days of winter.  Munching greens gives rabbits vitamins they need in a natural way.  Plus, they are delicious for bunnies.  Affording greens to feed hungry mouths in winter is another matter.

In the past my grocery store carried dandelion greens and they were right on the edge of what I could pay to keep the livestock satisfied.  This year they have no dandelions.  I’ve been substituting parsley, but that gets expensive.  The idea of growing my own greens became very attractive.  So I started an experiment.

The tops of carrots are generally cut off and tossed when preparing supper.  These are not wasted at our house, they go to the horses.  Sometimes the carrot tops will actually start growing in storage in the fridge.  I thought, why not try sprouting them for the bunnies?

So I cut off the top inch of a dozen carrots.  Roots grow from the eyes on the side of the tap root that is a carrot, so at least an inch is needed to provide enough eyes to support the sprouts.  I stuck the roots in a large pot of soil, put it in the south window and kept watered.  In a few days green began appearing at the tops.  It is slow going at first as the carrots develop roots.  Soon there will be a good feathery growth of sprouts.

The tap root will not regrow.  The pot provides plenty of room for this experiment.  If left to develop, these tops will eventually flower and produce seeds.

I’ll wait until there are lots of stems before cutting a few at a time for my angoras.  Now that I see how easy it is to grow carrots tops, I’m going to start a second pot as well.  These should get the rabbits through until spring arrives with its abundance of green treats.

Apple Trees and Rodents

For the last few days I’ve been busy painting fruit trees before the cold weather arrives.  I bought 18 cans of flat white latex spray paint, a sizable investment.  My fingers got sore from all the spraying.  Most of the trees in the orchard got a coat of paint from the ground up at least 2 ft on the trunk, the average snow depth.

Painting the trunks is supposed to deter the ravages of rodents who crawl through the snow and gnaw on the trees for sustenance during the winter.  Last winter we had a glut of rodents and they killed several adult trees by chewing the bark off the roots, and girdled a bunch more.  This past spring I made bridge grafts over the worse rodent attacks to try and save the trees.  During the summer many of the grafts seemed to take hold.  They are full and robust.  The grafts that failed are shriveled.  The tree below has several healthy grafts.

To protect my work and, hopefully, the trees, I gave them all a good coat of paint.  Rodents are rumored to not chew on trunks covered with paint.  White paint is used because it reflects the winter sunlight, preventing the build-up of excess heat that can damage the bark.  After all this money and effort, my fingers are crossed that the paint does its job.  If not, we may need to say goodbye to our apple orchard.  The majority of the original trees have died over the years, many killed by rodents.  I hope we can save the hundred or so remaining trees.

 

Inversion Table

Here I am trying my new inversion table.  For those who don’t know, the apparatus holds your body by the ankles while you hang upside down.  This is meant to stretch the spine.  The model I have is the latest base model Teeter HangUps, although I do not endorse any particular product.  I found the barely used table locally for half the new price.

For years I’ve suffered with body pain.  My upper back was injured in a car accident, tearing a rotator cuff in a place so deep it cannot be reached for a repair operation.  The injury has caused me constant pain for twenty years.  My lower back was fine until pregnancy.  Something was moved out of place and has never been the same.  The lower back sometimes goes out, making it difficult to straighten.  There is a lot of pain.  My hip was injured in a winter fall.  I slipped on ice and my body landed with the front side of my hip hitting a concrete block.  Since then that side of my pelvis aches after moderate walking, climbing, etc.

I take NSAID pain relievers only when I have an acute issue such as a muscle spasm.  Otherwise I deal with the pain mostly by ignoring it.  A Theracane and self-administered trigger point therapy is helpful in reducing muscles spasms and alleviating pain.  For several years I visited a chiropractor, but found the continual trips for short visits didn’t address the issues for long.  I had to return every few weeks for another adjustment.  It almost felt like a racket.  I have also used four massage therapists and an occupational therapist over the years with minimal results.

Often I wondered if stretching my spine by hanging upside down might provide some relief.  The idea was:  straighten the spine and stretch the space between the vertebral discs with gentle traction provided by my body weight and it might put things back where they belonged.

Finally, after several years of thinking about it, I took the big step of splurging $150 on an inversion table.  The ankles are firmly clamped, then you use your body weight to control the degree of inversion.  The table will allow a body to hang completely upside down, 90 degrees.  So far I’ve gone to around 85 degrees.  I try to use the table at least every day, sometimes two or three times in a day.  The instructions recommend repeated daily use.  It only takes a couple minutes each time.

What a difference already!  I’ve been using the table about one and a-half months.  Immediately I felt my pelvis stretch and almost pop.  It seemed that something was evened out in the bones.  Since then there has been no pain with exercise.  I can hike all I want and the pelvis doesn’t hurt.  The lower and upper back also have improved.  I have less sore days and decreased intensity of pain.  With continued use, I hope to see even more improvement.

An added benefit I’ve found is that the table is helping to strengthen my core.  It allows a type of sit up to be performed that doesn’t put any pressure on the spine.  Using the stomach muscles to pull up against gravity is an excellent workout.

The biggest advantage is that the time spent on the table is minimal.  Just a few minutes per use.  As you can see by my face in the photo, the blood all goes to the head.  Not a terribly comfortable position for extended periods.  Because one of my legs seems to be slightly shorter than the other, there is more strain on one ankle.  Also, the stress on both ankles cannot be overlooked.  Since I’ve been going to nearly 90 degrees, I’ve been wearing pants and socks to pad my ankles.  This does help significantly.  Luckily, benefits are achieved through sessions of short duration so the discomforts I’ve mentioned are not unbearable.

Overall, I give an inversion table designed like mine two thumbs up.  It has really helped me!

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!