Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Ground Squirrels Just Keep On Attacking

There is no end to their damage. Every day something new is eaten or dead or both. I have moved two tomatoes to a backyard in our Paso Robles location that  is so far free of both squirels and gophers. I think I can handle the snails. Those tomatoes I moved were in containers. I moved the smallest of my recovering plants from the large raised bed, where they were all sick, into containers with organic potting soil. The first one I moved last week and it is already beginning to grow as it should. That was the Oxheart. Last night I transplanted the Hillbilly and the Cherokee Purple into containers and they are headed to Paso Robles this afternoon. At least there they will have a chance to grow unmolested.

Meanwhile, each day I've been finding a new tomato branch cut off at the ground and / or a half eaten tomato still hanging on what's left of the vine. I have resigned myself to the fact that's there's not much I can do to save all my best tomatoes from the new bed. Yesterday, I found an actual burrow size hole right under the squirrel's favorite tomato -- my Moskvich -- and they had cut the entire plant off at ground level. I suppose my yellow pear is next. You can see the barriers I tried to erect to make it challenging, but nothing helped.

Meanwhile, I'm getting a few squash, eggplant, and peppers which the squirrels don't seem attracted to -- yet. Meanwhile, almost every young green grape has disappeared from our loaded grape vine.

I ran into some people who have experience eliminating squirrels yesterday, and we will be checking into their advice. I understand there is a trap that works, but you have to drown the squirrels in the trap afterward. I was told by both advisers that the ground squirrels are not only destructive, but dangerous, since they carry plague, rabies, and other diseases. I just need to convince my husband that we need the trap now.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Worst Attack Yet

Rabbit damage?
This morning when I went out to water, the mystery animal, who I assume is one or more rabbits, had struck again. My lemon cucumber in the middle of the new raised bed had been cut to the ground. The tomato plants on either side of it -- The Moskvich Red and the Yellow Pear -- had each had one branch sliced off at the ground.This is a close-up of the gnawed ends. Below are the overviews that give you an idea of how many potential tomatoes have been lost in one night.

On the side of the raised bed where the cucumbers and tomatoes are growing (what's left of them), I saw a mound of dirt produced by a gopher right under where this one tomato still dangling from a surviving stem hangs over the edge. It, too, shows damage. I'm wondering if the green parts of the tomatoes are as poisonous to animals as they are to people.

It's obvious that hope alone doesn't prevent this damage. I have half the long green cucumber plant left on the right end of the picture above. I decided it needs to be protected. I found a bit of hardware cloth I had planned to make a gopher cage with and put it around what remained of that cucumber. See the results to the right.

But that won't help the two remaining lemon cukes which are in containers. One has always had a cage around it and thus far hasn't been harmed. The cage was supposed to be for the cucumbers to climb on, but has also served to protect it from whatever has been eating the rest. But next door to it in another pot something has been starting to attack. I can see the gnawing. It's finally starting to get baby cukes and I wanted to protect it. I found another bit of hardware cloth that was just the right size to go all the way around the pot, and it's two feet high. I don't think any rabbit will be able to get through or over it. But if it's an animal that can climb, it won't help.

I also decided that since today was overcast in the morning and cool, I would transplant my Oxheart tomato, which has been in a raised bed and not grown more than six inches high since I planted it on May 10. It's obvious it will not grow where I have it. I'm going to give it one more chance in a pot of fresh, new potting soil. I had high hopes for it. This is its new home.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Abundance and Disasters

For the first time in ten years our apricot tree has actually produced enough apricots for us and the critters to share. So far I've picked four medium baskets full and there are more to pick. We are very thankful.

But when it comes to cucumbers, the critters are not leaving much for us. This is what I found a couple of days ago. As you can see, half the plant has been separated from the vine and is dead. I removed it, and hoped that the new cucumbers you can see growing would soon be ready to pick.

I had hoped it would be just right this morning, and it was. But someone else found it first and this is what was left for me when I picked it. My prime suspect is a rabbit, but I haven't seen it, so I'm not sure. I've never had a coon go after cucumbers before, but there are also possums and skunks in the area, so who knows? I sprayed Liquid Fence on the mulch under and the leaves on the cucumbers and summer squash that remain.

I planted bronze fennel where the other cucumber plant was cut off right above ground level three days ago.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mostly Maintenance This Week

Cucumbers are beginning to form, and I've already picked and eaten one of the long ones. The lemon cucumbers are also setting fruit that are almost the size of ping pong balls. The patio peppers are also starting to fruit. The garden is finally starting to produce something I can eat.

It has been hotter that usual, so I've continued to add mulch. The temperatures have been in the triple digits for three days and should be so again tomorrow. I practically melt when I go to the garden. I need to water every day when it's over 100 degrees.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Still addressing tomato problems.

Yesterday I tried adding an Epson salt solution to my tomatoes and a couple of the squash to see if they would improve. I watered it in well and then mulched with dry grass. Only time will tell now. Did not have a chance to check them today, but I'm sure they don't recover and start growing overnight.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

First Yellow Squash Picked Yesterday.

Though I haven't had much time to blog lately, I have been in the garden watering every day and trying to provide what my ailing plants need. On Saturday I gave anything that looks unhealthy some tea made from my worm castings. The tomatoes are getting a bit greener, but they aren't getting any bigger. Many of the tomatoes in the pots and new raised bed have green tomatoes, but some have yellowing leaves, and that worries me.

The weather has been in the high 80s and into the 90s this last couple of days, including today. That appears to make the squash and cukes happy. Still have to hand-pollinate the squash, but at least that works.
Gopher Poster print
Gopher Poster by naturalphotos
View other posters at Zazzle

It appears that the gophers aren't my only enemy. The raccoons have been nosing around the raised beds at night, too. My neighbor heard them, and things keep getting moved or broken (two loaded apricot branches snapped), and I find little holes dug in the edges of the containers and raised beds. I am not happy to think that I'm spending money and working hard to provide the coons with delicacies -- especially when they are so wasteful with what they eat and so unwilling to leave enough for us.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

First Little Tomatoes.

On Sunday I discovered my first baby tomatoes on the Taxi Yellow. The Kerlick Red also has a tiny tomato.

That was the good news. But when I walked outside today, I got the really bad news. Half of our loaded Red Delicious Apple Tree was on the ground. It had split right down the middle. Here are the sad pictures.   These are three different views of the tragedy. 

For contrast, the bottom picture shows the same tree, happily in full bloom in April. I don't know if we will be able to save the tree or not. We will try to call a specialist tomorrow. I hope we can at least save the half that didn't fall. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Still Have Tomato Problems

There is still no significant growth in my tomatoes in the tallest raised bed, and their coloring still leaves a lot to be desired.  

The Hillbilly is only about 5.5 inches high after a month.

The Oxheart is only about 5 inches. The Brandywine has grown to about 10 inches and the Japanese Truffle to about 11 inches. The other two are somewhere in between.

Tomatoes in the other beds or containers are about a foot at least and most are about 18 inches. These were planted at the same time or later. See right and compare to bed pictured at top. The mesh is to keep birds from eating a tiny seedling. The upside down strawberry basket is protecting a borage from birds until it's big enough to fend for itself.

I'm not sure what to do at this point except keep watching, watering, and hoping. I'll probably try mulching next.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Bees are a Buzzin' in My Herb Garden

The bees especially like these plants now. You can hear the lamb's ear plant (front, next to what's left of the irises) as you walk  by it. And the bees are also all over the tall butterfly bush in the back and the sage plants on either side of it.

The plant on the left side of the tall butterfly bush is California Black Sage. You can see a close-up of the black sage flowers and leaves below. 

Bee on Black Sage Flower in Early April

You can see that the flowers are grouped in little balls the length of the stem.  What amazes me is how much it has grown in two or three years from the four-inch pot transplant that went into the ground here. It's at least six feet in diameter, and that's after a brutal pruning last fall. It's almost completely covering the new white butterfly bush I put in last fall.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Heat Wave, Planting, Maintenance and Attack

This past week has seen temperatures rise  into the triple digits on more than one day, and high nineties on most of the rest. I have watered faithfully each morning. Sunday morning, against all moon planting advice, I planted one of my green pepper seedlings. Monday morning I planted the other two.

On Sunday my first group of radishes in the ground by the Patty Pan Squash was overtaking the radishes in the raised beds in size.  When I went out to water this morning, they had all disappeared and were replaced by a large gopher mound. The good news is that the other Patty Pan seeds had sprouted. It appears that a cople of nasturtiums are in the process of sprouting, as well. We'll see when morning comes.

Vegetables planted in the two oldest raised beds are still struggling and not growing much. I gave them some more fish emulsion to encourage them. The two weakest zucchini plants are on the right on either side of the wire cage in the middle. The two strongest in this bed are in the corners on the left. You can see the difference in size, though all were planted at the same time. The eggplant sits squarely in the middle of this picture, and it appears no bigger than when I first planted it.

The gophers have rejected my bubble gum and throw it out of the holes. I have put it back and plugged the holes from my end.

Monday, May 31, 2010

This Week's Notes on Growth and Problems in the Garden

Events inside and outside the garden have kept me too busy to keep up with this blog since the last post, but that doesn't mean nothing has happened. The temperatures are rising and have been approaching or in the nineties for the past three days after cooler temperatures at the beginning of the week and a light rain on May 27.

 That was the day I planted another batch of radishes close to the ones that had sprouted both in the ground and in raised beds. I also planted lots of seeds that evening, including nasturtiums in various pots and beds. I broadcast assorted flower seeds on the ground, as well, just to see if they would grow and to provide habitat for beneficial insects and added beauty. They may or may not grow, since it's hard to keep them moist all the time in this weather. I might have planted more, but the rain intervened and sent me inside. 

I do't know if I noted it here before, but one of the four Patty Pan squash seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago has sprouted. It appears it will be the only one of the four that will. 

I have been concerned that many of the plants in the  two older raised beds are not thriving as are the plants in the new bed. Here are three of the sickest plants in the middle and most shallow raised bed. the first is a Simpson lettuce, and the last two are Yellow Summer Squash.

The next plants are from the deepest and oldest bed. The ailing plants are mostly tomatoes. I have always grown tomatoes in this bed, and that might be part of the problem. The first picture is the Cherokee Purple. The second is the Brandywine, which appears to be getting worse.

After doing some reading, I decided not enough nitrogen might be the problem, so I poured a fish emulsion solution over the ailing plants (except for the lettuce, which I just poured around them), letting a good amount go into the soil. Then I watered everything in. We'll see if there is any improvement. Almost all of the tomatoes in this bed, including the Amana Orange, Oxheart and the Hillbilly, are having problems. The only one thriving at the moment is the Japanese Black Truffle

I'm not sure what's wrong with the squashes, since they look wilted. Maybe tonight I'll check for insect problems, but I also gave them some fish emulsion. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Video Tour of the Food Garden as of Today

This morning I watered everything that needed it and planted some more seeds as companions for the vegetables. These included some nasturtiums, dill, basil, and Pastel Carpet Alyssum.  These are not only supposed to help the vegetables by attracting beneficial insects and repelling  or attracting the pests away, but they also make the garden look beautiful. The dill seed is eight years old, so we'll just have to see what happens. 

I suppose gardeners are always seeing in their mind's eye how the garden will look, not just how it looks at the moment. That vision of tomato vines loaded with plump red and orange tomatoes,  squash and cucumbers and sweet peppers growing large enough to eat, all surrounded by colorful flowers -- that what keeps us watering, weeding, and and hovering over our gardens as often as possible. 

This afternoon I took a tour of my vegetable garden, as well as the orchard and the flower and herb gardens, video camera in hand. Over the next few days I'll be sharing some of the videos with you. Today we will look at the raised beds and the container gardens, with special attention to new growth. Let's start with the container garden and the vines. I would like to correct one error in the video. I accidentally called a coreopsis flower a calendula in that first group of three container herbs.

The raised bed tour is much shorter, since there are only three of them and you've already seen them in still pictures earlier.

Hope you've enjoyed my tour for today. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mostly Maintenance

Yesterday and today I mostly watered, checked my vegetables  to make sure there were no problems, and pulled a few weeds in the herb garden. (part of which is pictured here. )

Today I planted my remaining seedlings in pots -- catnip and  Greek basil. My borage in the tall raised bed has sprouted, and a few more radishes in the ground have raised their heads through the dirt. Haven't found any dead gophers yet from the bubble gum, but I did put a few more pieces down some holes in the herb garden.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Experiments and Outwitting the Jays and Gophers

When all other things are equal, I try to plant by the moon. My husband is razzing me about this. He's a scientist and thinks it's all based on superstition. Because the people I talk to in nurseries and at farmers market are divided on the issue, I have tried to stay on the safe side. If there's nothing to it, I haven't lost anything. But to humor my husband without risking too much, I decided to plant the remaining three lemon cucumbers in a six-pack tonight (Actually May 22, since I'm writing this after midnight), not a great day for moon planting. These three plants were in dire need of planting, and were already beginning to yellow, so I felt they would gain more by being set into more nutritious soil than they would lose by being planted on the wrong day. Time will tell. 

When I was at Farmers market this morning, one of my favorite vendors who supplies many of my tomato and pepper seedlings, Ralph Johnson, confirmed something I'd read about getting rid of gophers. He says he killed eight large ones by putting bubble gum down the gopher holes. I immediately went out to buy some, and put it in a lot of holes this evening. Time will tell whether this experiment will work. 

Today my first borage seeds have sprouted and so did a couple of radish seeds. I knew if they are to remain, I would have to protect them from the hungry blue jay (See picture)who has been supervising my planting from the top of the fence. I contrived a way to prop an old screen door over the largest seed bed, and I propped a couple of flat gopher cages over the radishes about to sprout in the raised beds. I'm hoping these measures will insure that we will actually get some radishes this year. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

What I'm Growing This Year

Every new season I am eager to try new varieties of tomato, as well as the ones I've been happy with in the past. Since nothing -- not even tried and true varieties -- grew for me last year, I'm not counting their failure against this year. So once again I'm growing one each of these: Cherokee Purple, Principe Borghese, Yellow Pear, and Anna Russian. I'm going to give Brandywine another chance, even though I've had trouble with it two years in a row and it's so far not looking as healthy as the other plants this year.

Note: For the first time this year I am going to keep a photo record of each important plant about every two weeks. This will help me not only record progress, but should give me a basis of comparison at each stage of growth with the last so I can catch problems early and begin to deal withe them. The Brandywine has only been in the ground for about ten days. I am watching it carefully and trying to understand why it is not seeming to thrive as the other tomatoes are. 

Tomato varieties I'm trying for the first time this year are Royal Hillbilly, Amana Orange, Japanese Black Truffle, Oxheart, Tigerella, Zapotee Pink Ribbed, Moskvich Red, Taxi Yellow, Korkik Red, Ace 55 Red, Roma Rio Grande, and New Big Dwarf Pink. The ones I'm growing in containers include Taxi Yellow, Korlik Red (which is an early cluster tomato, Anna Russian (which did well in a container in a previous year), Ace 55 Rd, Roma Rio Grande (I've grown other Romas in containers successfully), and New Big Dwarf Pink. The rest of the tomatoes are in the raised beds. 

Traditionally, tomatoes grown in the raised beds have not produced as much as those in the containers. I'm blaming the soil, since I've normally used a potting soil in the containers, but a mixture of soil, compost, steer manure, and sand in the raised beds. Although I've not emptied and replaced all the soil in the raised beds this year, I am adding plenty of Miracle Grow Organic Choice Potting soil to each raised bed and mixing it with whatever is there. The one that has the least room for amendments is the middle and most shallow of the raised beds. I have not put any tomatoes in that bed this year. 

I am also trying to make the most of companion planting in the raised beds. Here's what's in them. First, the oldest raised bed, and the deepest. It contains these tomatoes: Cherokee Purple, Royal Hillbilly, Amana Orange, Japanese Black Truffle, Oxheart, and Brandywine. At the near end of this bed you will see a stone between the two tomato plants marking where I've planted some borage, which should be sprouting soon. This bed also contains two Simspon lettuce (not yet in bed when picture was taken), two French marigolds, and two Italian sweet basil plants. 

In the middle bed, which I believe has the worst soil mix, is a clump of chives that is left over from previous years, four Yellow Summer Squash, one Melrose sweet pepper, one Italian Sweet Basit, two marigolds, two Simspon lettuce, two rows of seeds for French Breakfast Radishes, and two very tiny Calendula transplants from the herb garden. 

We added a new bed this year, though it was mostly filled last summer after the planting had been done. I noticed the man we hired did not mix the soil well as he was instructed and most of the potting soil was on top with almost a one-to-two-inch layer of sand underneath. I mixed as best I could as I went along. This bed now contains one Burpless Cucumber, one Principe Borghese tomato, one Lemon Cucumber, one Tigerella tomato, one Zapotee Pink Ribbed Tomato, one Moskvich Red, and one Yellow Pear tomato. Companions include two marigolds, one basil, and two of the tiny Calendula transplants. 

Although the potting soil is supposed to feed the plants for two months, on the advice of nurserymen, I also added a shake or two of Natural and Organic Dynamite Mater Magic in the hole of each tomato and a a tablespoon or two of Whitney Farms Tomato and Vegetable Food (Organic) to the hole of each squash, cucumber or pepper plant in the raised beds and more if in the pots. 

Weather has been mild since I planted. Lowest night tempertures were in the high 30s, but averaging in the 40's, whereas lowest day temperatures were in the high fifties, but averaging in the 70's, hitting low 80s on a couple of days. Today is in the mid seventies. I'm hoping for a great season this year. If I get it, I'll need this mug. You can get yours by clicking on it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Time to get back to the garden.

This has been a busy year with many unexpected pressures. Much of my writing about last year's garden (or lack of it) appeared on Squidoo in this lens: My Tomatoes Were Hit By a Late Frost In April. That article shows detailed pictures of every stage of the tomatoes' growth, or lack of it, during 2009. The weather was just not favorable to tomato growth last year. I shared in this article what I learned.

This year I was not very optimistic about starting a garden, either. As April began, after a long and much needed rainy season, this is what my gardening area looked like. You can barely see the raised beds behind those mallow plants that are taller than me. I cut down the mallows, which were too big to pull and growing through the mesh on the bottom of the raised bed that is supposed to protect it from gopher invasion.

As you can see, it would take hours, days, or weeks to remove all the thorns, grasses, poison hemlock, invading coyote bush, and other weeds that had completely taken over. When you consider that I work full time and have other important tasks that leave me short of time, you can understand my discouragement. Normally I start pulling the weeds in January, but when it wasn't raining this year, it was too muddy to work, and meanwhile, the weeds just kept growing with all that rain. I was seriously wondering whether I would have time to do more than clear a bit of space to grow a couple of tomato plants. 

Then, a couple of  weeks before Mother's Day, my husband gave me a wonderful gift while helping someone who was out of work. He hired him to clear the garden and haul in the soil amendments I would need. This last week, I've been planting. Here's what those raised beds look like now: 

Tomorrow I'll show you the pots that supplement the raised beds, and we'll go over the varieties I have planted this year so we can see how they do. You will notice I waited until well after the predicted last frost day to plant this year. I started the week after Mother's Day. It's taken me that long to get all this and the pots planted. 
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