Saturday, August 22, 2009

Big Mulching Job Today.

I acquired about 17 bags of mostly dead grass from dethatching a lawn at our other house this week, and I finally had a chance to spread it today. It hasn't been a great year for gardening this year because of our wacky weather. I have written about my poor frostbitten tomatoes and their slow recovery here. They only really began to get as green as they should be after I used some organic tomato food, watered well, and added some mulch. But I didn't have enough good mulching material because there haven't been any grass cuttings to speak of. That's why we had to get rid of the thatch.

As soon as we brought the first batch of about ten bags home, I applied mulch immediately (after a good watering) to the raised beds on Thursday. Today was overcast, so I watered well again and added more mulch to the container plants, which hardly had any.

I just reread my blog from July of last year, and it's interesting to compare. Almost all my tomatoes have blossoms, but only two that had been set back by the frost have produced ripe fruit so far. We do have lots of peppers about the size of ping pong balls and smaller, and lots of blossoms but few fruits yet on the cucumbers. I'm hoping the lemon cukes will start bearing fruit soon. We had two very small cukes which resemble picking cucumbers, one of which was bitter. I can't remember what variety they are, but I think they were supposed to be bigger. The leaves have never looked healthy, and I don't expect I will get much from it. We have a large variety growing in one of the raised beds, but it isn't producing yet, either.

I have had to slip parts of old pantyhose over my green tomatoes because something -- probably a bird -- is eating them from the top before they start changing color. I'm hoping this will protect them somewhat so they can ripen. I'm not trying to grow anything else but the tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet bell peppers at the moment. The lettuce and radishes I planted in the spring never sprouted. When I bought some lettuce seedlings, we had a heat wave almost as soon as they were in the ground and they bolted. I did harvest some garlic that I planted last fall, and it is very good. As usual, the zucchini is only pretending to grow, so I'm not even counting it as a crop this year. Maybe someday I will learn to grow summer squash here, but not yet. The picture at top shows the attempt to grow summer squash (left pot) and the lemon cucumber as of last week (August 15). The lemon cucumber is about twice as big this week and full of blossoms. The summer squash is still sick, but it is a bit bigger than when this picture was taken. I'll be taking more pictures with the added mulch soon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Preparing the Raised Beds for Planting

This has been a busy weekend. Our handyman was available to help me recondition the two raised beds I've been using for about four years now. He also finished a new one that wasn't quite ready to use yet. I think today I will focus on the before planting part of this, even though I did the actual planting on Saturday. The picture above shows Larry working on the new bed. We use four boards to make the frame and then, because we have lots of pocket gophers, we put wire mesh on the bottom and attached it to the sides to keep the gophers out. Larry had to work in the shade because it was very hot out.

After he finished the frame, he took it to the garden and leveled the bottom. It appears he used rocks to get the bottom level, filling in with dirt. This is different than the way the other two beds were leveled, and I hope it works. For the other two, we actually worked on the ground until the dirt itself was level. This new way saves some of the work we had to do for the others.

After setting the frame in place, we had to start filling it for planting. On the very bottom of this one we put some freshly pulled weeds. Over that layer we put about an inch of steer manure. Then we hauled in about three barrow loads of compost . Now it's half full. We need to add some sand and mix with more compost before planting.

The soil in the first two beds, which have been in use for at least four years, was depleted. I couldn't get seeds to sprout at all this year -- not even radishes. When I put my tomato seedlings in last year, they just didn't grow. I finally added milk and fish emulsion and that helped, but I knew I'd have to completely replenish the soil this year. My husband used a pick to break up the compacted soil I couldn't get a shovel through. I had to remove some lettuce I had transplanted in one of the beds earlier and move it into a pot temporarily to facilitate this.

After the soil was broken up, I mashed the clods to break them up. Larry then added steer manure, compost, and sand, and I mixed them up. This brought the level of soil up about four inches to replace the volume that was lost. This is how those two beds looked before I had them all raked level and ready to plant. I will cover the planting next time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's Apple Blossom (and Tomato) Time

After a day of amending soil in my raised beds and planting tomatoes at dusk I'm too tired to write much. I feel my eyelids drooping, as well they should, since I had only about an hour or two of sleep last night. I just lay awake, thinking about the garden chores that needed doing today. Finally, at 4:40 AM, I jumped out of bed and made a list, thinking that if I slept in, my husband could go and buy the items on my list before I got up.

Fat chance! I finally gave up trying to sleep about 5:30, ate, and got out to the garden as soon as it was light. But I'll talk about that more next time, when I've had time to edit today's pictures.

For now, I'll go back to the apple blossoms, which are finally in bloom this week. I was almost afraid the tree wouldn't bloom this year, since we performed some major surgery on it after a main branch split off in the fall winds. Then we pruned it for the very first time while it was still dormant. We were anxious to see if it would produce again this year. As you see in the picture at the top, it is loaded.

For the first time this year we have set traps for the little moths that lay the eggs which turn into worms in the apples. We had rather gotten used to eating our apples in pieces after worm removal. We hope we will have more worm-free apples this year.

You are seeing only half this tree. It has another side which is just as large and just as load with blossoms. I think we really will have to thin the fruit this year. For some reason the picture is not loading for me today, but if I click on the blank spot where the picture is supposed to be, it takes me to the picture. If you don't' see the picture at the top, try clicking that empty space.

I think I'd better go to bed now, before my eyes just close on me.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Quick Botany Lesson in the Field in Early Spring

Every year after the rains, the weeds become lush and everybody but me around here starts thinking about chemical weed abatement. That's   why I intend to give the men a quick botany lesson in the field so they can identify the real weeds. 

I prefer to pull the weeds by hand as I have time, since it provides good exercise and lots of material for the compost heap (except for poisonous plants). When the men around here see weeds, they automatically think about Round-up and mechanical sprayers. I make one concession -- the path to the garden -- since I do have to get out there and be able to get the gate open. Other than that, it's a race to see who gets to the fields first -- me or my weed abatement man or husband.

John, our weed abatement man, bless his heart, doesn't seem to know what a wildflower is -- or for that matter, an herb or flower not yet in bloom. They are all weeds to him. He has two ways to deal with what he perceives are weeds -- the sprayer and the tractor. A couple of years ago I made rock borders around my garden areas and told him to leave them alone, since he sprayed my sage that year and I made him wash it off before it was too late. He sprays first and I notice him when he's about half through. It may be a race again this year, since the tall grasses have overgrown and covered up the rock borders. When we pruned and cut branches from the fruit trees last month, I dragged the large branches to border the area where I seeded the poppies so that John would not be able to easily get the tractor through before I could notice him.

Weeds Be Wildflowers apron
Weeds Be Wildflowers by gardening
Many more gardening aprons online at zazzle

So that left Hubby to instruct. He, at least, did appreciate the beauty of the poppy field last year, so he's willing to be dragged out to learn to tell the difference between flowers and weeds. I took him to the herb garden, almost completely overgrown, to show him what a California poppy looks like. He confessed to having sprayed some along the garden path. I showed him that Poison Hemlock, which I want him to spray, is different. I also tried to teach him the difference between wild mustard and Flanders Poppies, and what lupine looks like before it blooms.

California Poppy Plants Not Yet in Bloom, © B. Radisavljevic

Just above are California poppy plants which will bloom soon. Below is poison hemlock, which smells sickeningly sweet if you pull it, and which will get to be six feet tall if you don't.

Poison Hemlock Seedlings,  © B. Radisavljevic

Below is a Flanders Poppy, beside the black pot. It will have lovely red flowers. There is a photo of a Flanders poppy in bloom in my Memorial Day post. Below it is wild mustard, which will grow to six feet in good soil and will send its roots deep.

Flanders Poppy Seedling beside the Black Pot, © B. Radisavljevic

Young Wild Mustard,  © B. Radisavljevic

Young Lupine before Blooming, © B. Radisavljevic

To the left is lupine, growing up and getting ready to bloom. I collect seed from the poppies and lupine each year, but I also let a number of them reseed.

Herb Garden in Early Spring, © B. Radisavljevic

I am looking forward to another field of poppies this year. It should appear in the herb garden (above), in front of the two tall shrubs (butterfly bush and sage), where you can already see their green tops, and for a long way behind them. The poppies are also growing all around the patch of ground above, so it ought to be a great view from my kitchen window later on. Meanwhile, I need to work on all those weeds that are trying to swallow the herbs, irises, and daffodils. Today I also planted some Lilies of the Nile in this bed this morning, but they are too small to see. How I love spring! 

For more on important weeds you need to pull in early spring, see my more recent post on California Weeds You Need to Pull Now
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