Tag Archive | growing vegetables

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!

 

 

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Return to the Garden

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It’s been a couple weeks. let’s check in at the vegetable garden.  I have been busily weeding, training vines, picking bugs, thinning rows and hoeing up the dirt around the bases of plants.  The weather has been quite warm with many days in the mid-eighties to nineties F.  Scattered thunder showers have provided adequate water.  Everything in the garden is growing with abandon.g2

Miniature pumpkin vines in the foreground and field pumpkins in the back.  Little fruit are already setting.

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This humid, hot weather is corn’s favorite growing condition.  If you watch carefully, you can see the indian corn get taller!

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A sunflower, winter acorn squash, red sweet peppers, beets and a row of carrots along the fence.  I have harvested loads of beet greens, eaten much and given more away to friends and relatives.  I even made some pickled beets!

The peppers are very happy this year.  Last year they mostly failed.  This time I planted them closer together, about 8″ apart.  They are in the shade of the corn for much of the morning and have the beets nearby for humidity.  Peppers like moisture and partial shade.  Several plants have good-sized fruit.  I may eat one now and not wait for it to turn red!

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The bush wax beans are in full bloom.  I expect to find beans waiting to be picked any day.

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The first tomato, right on schedule.  Think I’ll pick it for my salad today, before some slug or mouse can chew a hole in it.

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Lettuce, anyone?  This is head lettuce.  I let it grow close together and thin as I need lettuce until just a few large plants are left to make heads.

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Bachelor buttons, marigolds and zinnias to brighten the garden and provide cut flowers.  The Japanese beetles were devouring the zinnias.  Finally I dusted them with insecticide and the plants have started to bloom.  No bugs bother the marigolds, they have natural insecticides to keep pests away.

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Garden’s Popping Up

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Despite plentiful sunshine and rain, June was a slow month for the garden.  The plants seemed to lag.  The photo above was taken July 9th, right after I tilled with the Mantis to reduce the weeds.  Perhaps the weeds were exerting a dampening effect on the vegetables because the growth has been noticeable since weeding.

The photo below was taken this morning.  The corn, lettuce, zinnias and carrots have surged.  The squashes are starting to gain some momentum.  Weeds are also creeping back and will require hand removal.  It may be that once a plant reaches a certain critical mass, the growth is faster.  The early days could also be spent developing a root system that is not visible to the impatient gardener.g7The weeds were growing mostly in the pathways and open areas, I try to keep the immediate vicinity of the vegetables weeded by hand.  Just the presence of so many other plants could possibly affect my domestic babies.  We learn more and more of how plants do battle under the ground, emitting chemicals through their roots to impact each other’s growth.  Wild weeds have a determination to grow that their softer, coddled garden cousins lack.

Boston bib head lettuce

Boston bib head lettuce

g2Indian corn reaches heights of seven feet or more, adding inches every day during this hot and humid cornscateous weather.  After tilling last week, I hoed the soil into mounds six inches tall around the base of each corn plant to encourage the growth of their secondary roots. These help anchor the tall stalks during high winds from thunderstorms and freak tropical storms.

g4I also weeded and hoed the soil up around the wax beans. This plant does not do well against weed competition and requires plenty of support around its long stem to hold up the developing burden of beans.  Due to the spotty germination of the beans, I had to reseed, hence the marked difference in the size of the plants in each row.  The second planting was more successful than the first.  The rows should fill in nicely now.  The bean patch may appear small, but I have confidence it will produce a bountiful crop.

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In the tomato jungle, several plants have green fruits on them.  One tomato is even starting to get a whitish hue indicating it will ripen soon.  I can hardly wait to eat tomatoes from my own garden!  The flavor is superior to anything available in stores. In the background, the sweet peppers are visible amongst the weeds.  They are blooming and have formed a couple baby peppers.  I will hand pull the weeds and apply more mulch to the peppers and tomatoes.  At the very end of the pepper rows are massed plantings of marigolds that should soon begin to bloom.

g6This year I am growing more flowers with the vegetables.  The bachelor buttons that volunteered from last year are covered with blooms.  Zinnias are showing buds.  The straw flowers trouble me.  I am not sure that any sprouted.  That part of the garden may remain empty.  Since I don’t know what a baby straw flower looks like, I’ve been removing obvious weeds from the area and hoping the some of the unfamiliar ones might be what I want.  Time will tell.

If no straw flowers show up, I might put a few more carrots in the area. Carrots can be seeded throughout the summer because they grow fast and will make a fall crop.

Preparing The Vegetable Garden

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Gardening time has arrived, along with the swarms of blackflies.  A perfect combination.  Here in central Maine we can get frost right through late May, so it doesn’t pay to plant vegetable seeds too soon.  I no longer grow the cool weather plants like peas, radishes, chard, lettuce or spinach.  They are too much work, especially the peas, since I’m the only one who eats them.  So I can wait until late in the month to start.

The garden lies fallow for the winter, although we do spread wood ashes in the area.  Any vegetative garden waste such as vines, stalks and roots are removed in the fall so insect pests can’t winter on them. When the soil dries and is no longer a mud pie, I use my manure fork to pull any large weeds that established last year.  Then I spread composted hen manure and wood ash on the area.  I once used horse manure, but hen contains much less weed seed.  It is also a very potent manure so less is required.

Our trusty old Troy Bilt 8 hp Horse rototiller makes short work of tilling the soil to an 8″ depth.  The photo above was taken after the initial 5″ deep pass.  The next pass with the tiller will dig 8″ or more down, breaking up and spreading the manure and giving the soil a uniform fine texture.a3

One year I tried no-till gardening and it was a disaster.  I mulched everything heavily with old hay and planted all the rows and hills of seed without breaking up the soil except right where the seeds were planted.  Sprouting and growth were slow.  Many of the plantings failed, including the indian corn which is nearly impossible to kill. I harvested a few pumpkins and beans.  Only the tomatoes did well, to be expected from mulch-loving plants.

The concept of no-till gardening is that the network of mycelia of essential fungi and the beneficial bacterial colonies within the soil are not destroyed.  By maintaining the structure of the natural flora and fauna in the soil, the vegetables are supposed to benefit.  My experience is that tilling somehow gives the seeds a necessary advantage.  The fungi and bacteria seem able to re-establish themselves very quickly after the soil is broken.  My vegetables perform much better with tilling. I mulch, water and weed and never have an entire garden fail.

Following the final tilling, it’s time to install the fence to keep hungry, digging chickens and rampaging dogs out of the garden.  For years I used chicken wire and stakes.  The set-up was difficult to work with.  It took hours to erect every year, and in the fall was a nightmare to remove.  Weeds grew through the wire, binding it.  Pulling it loose caused tears in the wire weave.  Then the wire had to be cleaned of weeds and re-rolled for next year.  Baby chickens were small enough to squeeze through the wire and scratch in my seed beds.  Finally, I decided to find a better way.

After much thought I developed a simple system that takes a lot less time to install and remove, stores well, is more attractive than wire and doesn’t develop holes for chickens to exploit.  At the garden center, I bought several 4′ x 8′ white plastic lattice-work panels and sawed them in half length-wise.  Also, I found pressure treated wood balusters for deck stairs.  These are the perfect length and are pre-sharpened on one end.a2  The panels are supported by one baluster stake at each end and one in the center.  Baling twine holds the panels to the stakes.  I also run a line of baling twine along the top of the stakes to add height and dissuade athletic dogs from leaping over.a4

This system has been working for, I believe, four years now. I’m still using the original parts, they appear strong and ready to go several more years.  There have been no problems with animals getting in the garden.  The lattic hides the tempting open soil and juicy vegetables from the chickens’ view, so they don’t even bother to get inside.  I imagine pressure treated wood lattice would work as well as the plastic, but I was looking at cost and longevity when I made the purchases.

Now, the garden is tilled, the fence is in place and I’ve planted the long season vegetables:  indian corn, decorative sunflowers, gourds and carrots.  Today I’m setting out the tomato seedlings and planting wax beans, winter squash, pumpkins and a decorative top border of bachelor buttons.  The Jerusalem artichokes are a perennial and have already sent up shoots in their corner of the garden.

We have had exceptionally chilly, damp weather, slowing the warming of the soil.  Many seeds, like beans and squash, require warm soil to sprout.  Today there is supposed to be some sun, that will be nice.  Then rain is predicted for the weekend.  A good time to plant, nature will do the watering for me.