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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