Tag Archive | garden

What’s New in the Garden


At the beginning of September, the weather still is in high summer mode.  Yesterday was nearly 90F with high humidity and today won’t be much cooler.  The garden plants are taking full advantage of these few remaining warm days, ripening their fruits and grains.  Today I will pick the wax beans and hope to get enough for dinner.  I leave the plants in the ground as long as they want to blossom.  They still produce some, just not the abundance of their main crop.

gar2The tomatoes are producing well.  I harvest them before they are completely ripe to stay ahead of rodent varmints that eat holes in the juicy red fruit.  Most of the foliage has disappeared from the tomatoes, I suspect hornworms have been at work.  They can strip the leaves overnight.  With the fruit so close to maturity, the foliage is not that important any more.

gar4I counted six big pumpkins ripening!  Plenty to fill our Halloween needs. The largest pumpkin must weigh about 15-20 lbs and is just starting to get an orange cast to the skin.  As temperatures cool the orange will spread quickly.

gar7gar8There are also winter squash, an acorn variety, and Jack-Be-Little miniature pumpkins coming along. It was a slow year for squash so there are less than usual. I planted seeds on the manure pile from a mutant squash that volunteered last year.  It was a cross of a pumpkin and summer squash.  Some fruit is visible, growing quickly.  Will have to wait and see what is produced.

gar6The Indian corn is loaded with large ears thanks to hot and humid days throughout much of July and August.  It looks to be a good harvest.  I will cut the corn in mid-September as soon as the ears ripen fully.

gar3I am happy to report three peppers grew! One has already been consumed–it was delicious.  This one is getting large and there is one more very small pepper coming along.  Next year I will grow peppers differently. They will be set closer together, better mulched and well watered during hot spells.

gar5The Jerusalem artichokes make a gorgeous display, all covered in yellow blossoms.  Here the horses graze the lawn in the background.  I am planning to move the artichokes from the garden.  They are too invasive and require excessive space.

From their humble beginnings as a few bare roots and stems pulled from an abandoned strip of grass near a stop sign in Waterville, these plants have become a major success story.  They will be established in an area that allows for their aggressive spreading.  I am convinced the plants emit chemicals into the soil that retard the growth of other plants.  Carrots growing within two feet of the artichokes are struggling.  This plant will hold it’s own against grass and weeds in a different part of the farm.

Another bright yellow, tall flowering plant, the sunflowers bloom in profusion.  They are visible in the background of the first photo.  Little birds visit the plants all day.  They clean the black oil seeds from the flower heads as quickly as they form.  The birds need this rich nutrition to get in shape for their long flight to warmer winter quarters.

Later today I will pick all the ripe or near ripe tomatoes and perhaps clip a few lovely zinna flowers for decorating the table.moth4


Garden News


Things are growing right along in the garden.  The second bean planting is blooming.  This evening I harvested the first picking of beans and we ate them up for supper.DSC08497  In the photo above, the winter squash are in the foreground.  These are acorn squash. The carrots are behind them.

DSC08502The bachelor buttons are lovely.  I never did thin them, yet the plants are producing bunches of flowers. They last for about a week as cut flowers, so pretty.  I’m glad I decided to try growing these.  They are very easy to cultivate.

The Jerusalem artichokes are in the background of the photo at left. They are nearly ready to start blooming.  These plants are tenacious about sending out underground runners with new shoots.  Baby sunchokes even try to grow in the lawn outside the garden fence.  I have to work hard to keep them in their area.

Hot, humid weather with plenty of thunderstorm rain continues, encouraging the corn and cucurbits. Indian corn is well over my head, must be about seven feet tall.  The tassels are formed and the ear silks are ready to receive pollen.  On warm, still evenings, the scent of growing corn fills the garden.DSC08493

DSC08501Pumpkin and squash blooms attract wild honey and bumble bees in droves.  The insects crawl inside the huge flowers and seem to just lie there.  I wonder if there is so much nectar to gather that they rest while they suck it up.

All the pumpkins, squash and gourds are vining.  The plants grow so fast I have to keep on top of pointing the vines in the right directions so they don’t spread across the lawn or into the beans and tomatoes.DSC08494

The first nearly ripe tomato has been produced by the tomato jungle.  I pick the first fruits early and finish the ripening in the house so little rodents won’t steal my tomatoes.DSC08499  Mice or voles have been helping themselves to my beans, eating large portions of any pods near the ground.  For many years we had a canny in-and-outdoor cat who hunted the rodents in the garden and kept their numbers at bay.  She passed away a few years ago at age eighteen and we have yet to find a replacement barn cat.  The rodents have been working their way back into the garden ever since.  I will have to try to trap the little devils because they steal lots of tomatoes, beans, squash and even carrots.

Wonderful Wood Ash

Here in Maine the rain can be acidic.  Power plants and other coal-burning enterprises in the Mid-West and South produce sulfur that mixes in the clouds to form sulfuric acid which then drops on us. The rain is not so caustic that it burns holes in things, but the lower pH makes a noticeable difference in the soils and waters of our state.  To combat the acidification, we farmers must sweeten the soil by raising the pH so certain plants will grow better.

Some plants love low pH:  blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, all thrive on more acidic soil so don’t sweeten around those plants.  Many garden plants and trees need soils closer to neutral pH and in this area require soil amendment to do well.  The primary additive for raising soil pH is lime.  Finely ground or pelleted, farmers and gardeners spread this mineral liberally.  Lime can get expensive, especially if there are large areas needing attention.  Here at Phoenix Farm we have a free neutralizer:  wood ash.

Our efficient, low emission, wood burning stove heats the whole house all winter and produces a plentiful supply of ash.  Ash is the powdery, whitish-gray residue of wood burning, not the black chunks that are coals of incompletely combusted wood.  Wood ash is a very potent pH neutralizer. The alkaline properties of ash were discovered thousands of years ago when people first learned to extract lye from the ashes of their cook fires.  Ashes are more efficient at neutralizing than lime and are spread more thinly on the soil.

My pear trees are an example of the power of wood ash.  For years they bloomed and did not fruit. Pears require boron in the soil to set fruit so I added borax around the bases with limited results. Then I learned that too much acid in the soil can damper fruit set.  I spread wood ash around the bases of the trees during the winter and as soon as that following spring, the fruiting improved. Now, several years later, the trees produce copious harvests, more than we can use!pear

I’ve spread wood ash on grass areas where moss is trying to take over.  If moss is allowed to grow, the built-up layers of dead moss will leach more acid into the soil until only moss and other acid-loving plants will grow there.  The wood ash effectively ruins the soil for moss, killing it and encouraging grass to grow.  I have greatly improved places in the lawn and pastures where moss was trying to take over.

Lilacs, fruit trees, grapes and most garden plants benefit from wood ash application to the soil. I’ve found that the best time to apply the ash is in the winter.  The snow catches the powdery ash and prevents it from blowing away.  At the spring thaw, the ash causes snow to melt more quickly.  The ashes rapidly settle onto and then into the ground.

An example of the power of higher soil pH in the garden is my experience with tomatoes.  When I began gardening, the tomatoes I got were very acidic tasting, so strong that they were nearly unpalatable.  The next year I added lime in the holes dug for the transplanted tomato seedlings.  The tomatoes grew better and their fruit was sweet and tasty, the way it should be.  To keep the garden pH up, I broadcast wood ash over the plot in the winter.  The ashes improve my tomatoes, corn, beets, carrots and squashes and cause the snow to melt more rapidly in the area, warming the soil sooner for earlier planting.

So, don’t throw those wood ashes away.  If you burn wood, save the ashes and use them yourself or give them to local farmers and gardeners.  Wood ash is not trash, it is a valuable commodity.



The harvest is well under way.  I’ve picked pears and apples, winter squash, pie and field pumpkins, mini pumpkins, and indian corn.  Still lots to do, just some of the harvest is in.  Also I need to make apple sauce and pear jelly.  The sunflower is looking beautiful, just before the frosts hit and kill it.  The bees love the fragrant blooms and the pollen.

sun1 sun2 sun3

Vegetable Garden


As summer draws to a close, the vegetable garden burgeons with produce.  Otto, the German Shepherd, is eager to greet visitors to the garden.  A fence of plastic lattice half-sheets lashed to pressure-treated deck stair balusters keeps dogs, chickens and strays of all sorts from the garden.

The indian corn grows to heights of eight feet or more.  Each stalk produces at least two large, colorful, decorative ears.  This high starch corn can be hung to brighten a doorway, ground into meal, popped into flavorful kernels, even fed to livestock.  The stalks are bundled for autumn décor.

garden2 garden4

My garden always overflows with various squashes.  Summer eating squash have tender skins and are consumed raw or cooked and are kept cold until they are eaten.  This year I grew Sunburst summer squash, a bush variety having yellow fruit with green end decoration.  They are very yummy!  The flowers can also be eaten raw or coated with batter and deep fried.garden8

I grow tiny, Jack-Be-Little miniature pumpkins for decorations. These may be eaten and are quite sweet and fine textured.garden9  Mini pumpkins like to climb the garden fence.

Also, there are pie pumpkins, especially sweet and tender fleshed without a lot of heavy stranding, just what you need to make the perfect pie.garden5

The garden giants, the carving pumpkins for Halloween jack-o-lanterns, are still green, but will soon turn deep orange.  Carving pumpkins are called field pumpkins and can reach sizes of 40 pounds or more.


The squash compliment is not full without the winter variety. These are Carnival acorn squash and have beautiful white and orange stripes. They make lovely fall ornaments, but really are for eating. Their tough outer shell will allow these squash to be stored for use during the long winter. I like to cook these whole in the oven or microwave, then scrape out the seeds and flesh. The seeds can be roasted with a little salt for a fiber-rich snack. I use winter squash to make nourishing soups and hearty vegetable side dishes.garden7

For the rabbit and horse friends on the farm as well as for our winter supply, I grow several rows of carrots. These are near harvest, and some of the stalks are beginning to die back. The carrots are between 4″-8″ long when I pull them. I like to get them before they grow too large and develop a woody texture.


Most years I have yellow, wax string beans and I can 20 pints or more for winter eating.  This year the crop failed, even after two re-plantings.  The weather was too wet and cool for the beans to grow well.  Any plants that did sprout quickly shriveled and died.  That’s part of farming life, sometimes you lose the crop.

In the past I also grew tomatoes, but have stopped.  The neighbors always give me more than I can use.  Tomatoes seem to draw small rodents to the garden.  Once they’ve eaten the tomatoes, the mice and voles chew pumpkins and carrots (right in the ground!) so by removing the enticement of tomatoes, perhaps the rodents will be less of a problem.

This year there is a new addition to the garden.  It is a perennial and has a whole corner dedicated to its growth.  Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes, are actually a member of the sunflower family.  They produce a plethora of showy yellow blooms and their tuberous root is edible.  It has a taste that reminds me of sunflower seeds and can be eaten raw or cooked just like potatoes.garden10

The garden also has decorative sunflowers, one can be seen towering on the right side of the top photo.  These produce masses of small, fragrant flowers and black oil seeds the birds devour.  The plants can reach heights of 10 feet or more and are susceptible to the violent winds that come with the early fall tropical storms.

The leaves of the trees are beginning to show a hint of fall color beneath their green.  Soon frosts will arrive, light at first, then deep and killing.  By the end of October the garden will be completely harvested and resting in anticipation of next year’s abundance.