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Too Many Tomatoes

My diary of gardening in Western New York

Updated: 2018-02-24T03:18:59.070-08:00


Finding My Christmas Muse


I was more than content to postpone Christmas spirit 2 or 3 weeks in favor of warm sunny weather, but this morning we woke up to snow.  Not a lot of snow, but enough to let you know that winter is on its way.  I've slowly but steadily going about my Christmas decorating and creative crafts.  No stellar results yet.  Decorating has consisted mostly of the scattering of spruce tips (fake), pine cones and candle (also fake).  Last year my main focus was fresh greens.  But this year it didn't seem anywhere near as important.  Due in no small part to the fact that after three weeks or so, sodden floral oasis begins to smell bad.Friday was a gorgeous sunny, dry day so I took my garden hod and pruners around and gathered more than enough fresh greens for a centerpiece (or two).  I decided to duplicate last year's arrangement in the wooden bowl.  That's pretty normal for me, repeating a successful idea.  Especially when lacking any exciting new ideas.  I'm not sure why last year I felt I had to cast my net so wide to get a variety of greens because I did pretty well within a hundred yards of the house.Grape Vine TendrilsThis year my brilliant new idea was grape vine tendrils.  I pulled a few grapevines out of the berry patch and cut out the sections with interesting curlie-cues.  I had several left over partial cans of gold spray paint which were all shot, so I dry brushed glimmery gold paint on each one and also on the edges of a few small pine cones.Last YearYou can start with all the same basic ingredients, and each effort produces slightly different results.Not necessarily an improvement, but a unique outcome.  I always keep notes each year as to what my inventory of decorations are and what I used where and what I want more of.This YearLast year's passion was fresh greens, and this year it seems to be bottle brush trees.  My inventory of bottle brush trees has tripled.  Which means I'm saving empty water bottles, because along with my obsession with decorating inventory is clever and organized storage.  Storage Tip: Empty water bottles with the tops cut off, stapled into six packs, allow you to neatly store the trees without them getting crushy bottle brush tree bed-head.So the seasonal decorating continues.  I have a couple of craft projects going on.  A paper putz house, paper-mache snowmen and "altered Altoids" which is what they call miniature shadow boxes created from empty Altoid Tins and scenes cut from greeting cards.  The beauty of all of these craft projects is that I already have most of the ingredients.  You can do a lot of interesting things with paper and glue.[...]

A Slow Start


Thanksgiving came pretty early this year and I'm not ready for holiday decorating yet.  The tree is up and that's about it.  Usually, on Black Friday, I put on Christmas music and probably a movie and spend 6 hours decorating the whole house ceiling to floor, no corner forgotten.  This year I spent the day really cleaning the house instead.  I usually clean the house well the weekend before because I don't want to decorate dusty shelves.  This year on Black Friday I pulled the area rugs, dusted the walls and corners, cleaned the wood floor and the tile kitchen floor, shampooed the area rugs and laid them out in the sun to dry and basically drove every dust bunny out of the place.  This morning when it was time to decorate, I developed a strong disinclination to glittering up my clean floors.But I did decorate the tree, after assembling it out on the front porch and carrying it inside.  I went slowly, with the hand-vac close at hand, glitter contained.  The only other decorating I did was bottle brush trees, ornaments and candles scattered amongst the china displayed in the pie safe which is something new, and therefore more interesting from a creative standpoint.Then I duplicated my favorite arrangement from last year which took all of three minutes, the amount of time it took to place batteries in the candles.One thing I'm totally drawing a blank on is the table centerpiece.  That is usually my most creative idea of the year.  Sometimes I do the same one two years in a row, but never more than that.  I usually find something online for inspiration.2005 For several years I used the centerpiece form I got from the Colonial Williamsburg catalog.  This is a neat cut iron form which holds a hurricane lamp glass or a pineapple in the center, and has rings to hold pears or apples, or just ornaments after your pears get over ripe.   You place a foam or oasis disc underneath to hold your greenery and I always made the effort to find fresh greens.2008 Sometimes a new collectible purchase inspires my centerpiece,  This oval enamelware roaster base is a great beginning and I replicated this arrangement at least once.  Again with fresh greens.2012-13 In the kitchen, my cheery red colander is my favorite starting point20142015 Sometimes I find an inspirational photo online and have to go looking for the components.  This sometimes leads to whole new collections.  My Campfire Marshmallow arrangement brought a lot of fun and the following year I amended it to add the mini-marshmallow tin. Double Decker Marshmallows 2016Last year's simple wooden bowl base is my favorite I think.  I may duplicate this.  I also bought a lantern for my autumn decorations this year so maybe I'll use that instead.2016Or maybe this year I'll just go buy a poinsettia....[...]

Turkey Party


There is something about a soaking rain that brings out the turkeys.  It seems like whenever we have a stretch of rainy weather I find a soggy turkey slouched miserably in the yard trying to air out.  Not a year goes by without us seeing a few turkeys, but they aren't as common since the coyotes moved in down the road.  Today we saw a whole flock of soggy but happy turkeys.  In fact, they were having themselves a little turkey party.

It started with a lot of airing out and preening and ended in a hoe-down.  They were dosey-doeing and promenading and popping up in the air like popcorn.  We tried to count them and came up with at least twenty.  

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Besides the turkey party, our two squirrels, one back and one grey were darting in and out, and a couple of cautious deer lurked in the edge of the woods.  The deer aren't as bold as they usually are.  We promised a friend of ours who bow hunts that if he just sat in the glider rocker on the garden patio, the deer would come to him, and that's exactly what happened.  I've been joking that when we opened her up she was full of Hosta.  And that's not far from the truth.  So we're down one large doe, and hoping to get rid of the medium sized doe as well.  

In fact, here she is.  That's right! You'd better watch your back.

One Week To Live


The target date to shut down the garden is the first weekend of October.  There really isn't much left in the main garden except beautiful Marigolds and Nasturtium.  I have been admiring them daily knowing they now have only one week to live.I'm slowly pulling things out and cutting down stalks of horse radish and daylillies in preparation for leaf season.This is the time for cleaning the beds and evaluating the soilPreparing to plant the fall lettuceThe lettuce must fit under this frame so I can wrap frost cover around it.  This way it will be safe down to 26 degreesOne year we ate lettuce until it just stopped growing mid-December.I've learned not to plant anything where it will be hard to reach since I will mostly be cutting lettuce in the dark, in the wind and probably in the rain as well.  It's hurry up - snip and git.I'm bringing my big pots of bell peppers up onto the patio.  These will also be covered with frost cover not only to give it a personal greenhouse, but also to keep the deer from nibbling on them.After last year's poor showing I am so pleased with these big beautiful Blushing Beauties from Burpee.  They will turn through shades or orange and be red when completely ripe.The only thing really left growing in the big garden is the bush beans.  I picked some this morning for dinner today and even the immature ones are getting soft and pithy because we have had more sun and heat this week than any other stretch of days all summer.  Low eighties and nothing but sunshine symbols in the extended forecast.  We are taking full advantage of it and spending as much time as possible out of doors.  I think the remainder of the bush beans are candidates for an experiment in dilly beans.[...]

Low or No Maintenance


We spend a lot of time, planning and money trying to keep our garden and landscaping "Low or No Maintenance"  You can probably guess that there is no such thing as No Maintenance.  Anyone with  a gravel driveway knows that if you were to turn your back on a driveway for a year or two you would end up with a lawn instead.  Every leaf that decomposes and every twig that gets pulverized into the gravel is creating soil and where you have soil you will certainly have weeds.  Heck weeds grow quite happily hydroponically in gravel with no soil whatsoever.  But allowing soil into your gravel is just an invitation of LOTS of weeds.With our garden being surrounded by gravel and paver pads, we enjoy very low maintenance.  With raised beds there is no tilling, very little weeding and in my garden I can easily do half of my chores in my office clothes.  Which comes in handy when I need to skip out the garden in the morning and pick some lettuce for lunch.About twice a year we have to have a day of maintenance, usually straightening frost heaved posts and/or pavers, replenishing gravel and mending fences and patios.  Then every once in a while you get Mother Nature surprising you with an extra day of maintenance.  When the remnants of Hurricane Irma arrived here at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, she dumped three inches of rain in pretty short order.  That resulted in the bank, which recently had all of the summer squash plants pulled out, washing down into the walkway.  This will happen now and then on a small scale, but this week we got it in large scale.Surprise!Believe it or not, a shop vac will remove a decent amount of mulch from gravel without sucking up the heavier gravel.  But this was a lot more than the shop vac would have been able to handle.  But it really wasn't a disaster of epic proportions.  We always have pile or two of  gravel on hand.  It's best to just shovel out all of the contaminated gravel, use that for "clean fill" elsewhere, and put in some fresh gravel.The bunkers nearby store mulch, bank run and pea gravel for projects throughout the yearAnd hour later things were back to normal and even looked better than normal with fresh clean, perfectly swept gravel.I cut into the bank to give a little edge to stop regular runoff from cascading over the RR ties and raked everything smooth again.Speaking of constant maintenance - another challenge is keeping the destructive little chipmunk varmints in check.  Last year I killed fourteen.  This year I've killed ten so far, and the next door neighbor caught his ninth one this morning.  If you have a big problem with chipmunks, the key to trapping them is to find out where they like to run and putting a good heavy snap trap in their path.  In this case, they love to run behind this step close to the chicken coop.  So that's where I leave a trap.  You can see it tucked in there behind the step in the shadow.Chipmunks are awful cute and cheery and I hate to have to kill them all the time, but they are so destructive.  Not only will they eat every last strawberry, despite the strawberries being protected by a secure cage of 1 inch square woven wire - which the little buggers squeeze right through - but they will undermine and kill your shrubs and ruin your house.  There is absolutely nothing more aggravating than laying cozily in bed on a wintery Sunday morning, listening to a G-d D---d chipmunk gnaw on his breakfast in the crawlspace under the bedroom.  And who know s what else he's gnawing on before he goes back to bed in the insulation he's pulled down and rearranged.  So chipmunk control is another item of constant maintenance.I'm slowly going through and pulling out spent plants getting ready for autumn.I'm potting up things I want to over-winter for next year.  Spikes and vinca vine are fairly easy to keep alive and well.The Nastu[...]

And Autumn Came


Usually by August I am longing for the end of the garden.  But this year has been cool and pleasant so things haven't burned out as badly as usual.  I cut back so much I'm not tired of watering and preserving.  I've been able to easily keep up with deadheading and maintenance.  Mums are blooming.  I'm still enjoying gardening and not longing for frost.  If something get's too raggedy to manage, I just pull it out or chop it down and move on!The ragged part - I pulled out an early row of beans, leaving ugly but producing cucumber plantsMost people are saying this isn't a good gardening year.  Well, it hasn't been a great year for tomatoes but I still have too many and everything else is doing fine.The Purple Queen Beans are still beautifulThe tomatoes are holding their ownIts been a good, but late year for peppersSome things are worth caring for all summer.  The Nasturtiums look pretty bad by late July.  But it you clean them up and trim them back - then ignore their ugliness for awhile - they will have a nice second season in September and October.  Mine are just beginning to bud againAlaska NasturtiumThis month all of the news headlines have been about hurricanes and fires.  Harvey nearly wiped out Houston, and Irma is moving into south Florida right now. It seems that the entire Pacific Northwest is on fire.  I can't imagine trying to garden in such extreme climates.  I look around and count all of the things I would have to tie down in preparation for a hurricane.  A cold frame, wheelbarrows, planters, likely lawn furniture although ours weighs a ton.  We did have 60 mile an hour winds this week, but it was only for about ten minutes, and resulted in a lawn full of leaves and twigs.  The green tomatoes took a bit of a beating and some have been dropping in the days after the wind.We live in western NY, and whenever we say that, people think of Buffalo winters.  I think the American psyche was permanently damaged by the blizzards of '77 and '78.  But that isn't what our climate is all about.  We really are not that much further north than the Mediterranean, and the Great Lakes moderate our weather.  When asked to describe our climate I just list the things we do not have:HurricanesForest FiresEarthquakesMajor FloodsIce StormsHailNow and then we will have a tornado or some localized flooding but those only affect dozens or hundreds of people, not thousands.  Lately our winters have been mild.  Sure, we can get three feet of snow over night, but if you shovel your roof things will be OK.  Snow in general is much less damaging than hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes and floods.  I can't imagine working all season for a nice garden then have it wiped out by floods or fire or something as simple as hailThere is one more garden season for us.  We do not do much fall gardening, no peas or cabbages, but we do lettuce.  My lettuce babies are growing and waiting for the zucchini to vacate the garden bed up by the shed where they will be coddled until December when they will finally stop growing or finally be frozen out.We will enjoy the autumn colors until we have put everything to bed for winter.[...]

August Progress - the end of some things


How many rows of bush beans can you get into a three foot wide bed?If it's Purple Queen - One Row.They like to climb two to three feet tallI've been picking an earlier planting of yellow wax beans for two weeks, but the purple are going to be ready in a day or two.Back in June my father was the one who first said "my peppers are shaped funny".  And I knew exactly what he meant.  Most of my bell peppers are pointy.  The three below all came from plants in the same four pack.  The pointy ones seem to stay pointy and the nicely lobed ones seem to start out that way.  I haven't been able to find any explanation on the internet about that.  Some suggest that you wait to pick them until they fill out and the lobes push past the center point (as seen in the center pepper) but it doesn't happen.  As you can tell from the deep color of the pointy one on the left, it is very ripe and shows no sigh of reshaping.  If anyone knows the science behind this I'd love to hear it.The peppers are slow but still putting out a lot of blooms and baby peppers.  Luckily these are in pots so they will not have to be pulled out when we put things up for winter.  The pots can come up against the garden shed and be protected from frost for weeks after the garden beds would last.The summer squash bed is about done.  The powdery mildew has taken over and they are not putting out any new flowers or growth.But the zucchini plant on the other end in its own bed is still thriving.I am still getting cucumbers from the second planting, and PLENTY of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes but my Celebrity plant died last night. You can see about 8 inches up from the ground it has a very blighted stem area and the entire plant was suddenly wilted.  I harvested all the tomatoes and pulled it up.  I have enough Pineapple tomatoes to keep me going and the other varieties are still waiting to ripen. [...]

Japanese Beetles


How can you tell if you are running a Japanese Beetle Breeding Ground?  The skunks will tell you.  And the coons too.  They will come through at night and root up your lawn looking for the grubs.  And while it's great that they're willing to destroy the grubs for you, if you had a nice neat lawn you spent a lot of time on all this destruction could be very upsetting.

Now I can see which areas of our lawn have not been properly treated with Milky Spore.  I have a big box of it ready to apply and late summer/early autumn is the perfect time to apply when the new grubs are feeding getting ready for winter.

Tomato Maintenance


There are many different methods of supporting tomato plants.  You can tie them up on strings, cage them, train them up a ladder, twist them up a pretty colored spiral stake or put them through hog panels.  One thing all of these methods have in common is that you have to keep up with them every day.  You have to make sure your leaders stays in the frame, and any side shoots that you do not prune off need to be woven in as well or at least tied to the outside.If you don't your supports will be useless.  In fact, in this case I think having the ladder is actually doing more damage to the plant than letting it sprawl on the ground because now the side branches are broken over a rail resulting in the stem snapping.Here is one of my own determinate varieties, unpruned, but still contained within the ladder.There are soft tomato ties here and there supporting side branches.  Sometimes the tie needs to be repositioned to support the fruit as they grow.And here is an indeterminate variety, well pruned to a single leader and contained in the ladder.Sometimes the branch will lay harmlessly along the ground.But the worst case scenario is the branch will break off entirely and you will lose all the fruit on it.So maintain your tomatoes!  You don't want all your hard work and hopes dashed because you didn't keep up on simple maintenance.[...]

The Mid-Summer Slump (not)


The mid-summer slump is late.  My garden looks far from slumpy.  In fact, it looks pretty fresh and new.  Maybe not June-new, but still pretty good.  Despite the fact that in July we went almost three weeks on only 1/4 inch of rain.Shabby old vines The first planting of cucumbers was dwindling off and beginning to show signs of age.  Instead of letting the leaves deteriorate and foster diseases, I pulled them out.  I  have a row of Goldmine Bush beans planted there.Cucumber bed before removing old vinesThe Goldmine Bush Beans now have the bed to themselvesThe second planting of cukes is just coming on.  This plant was a spare from the first planting which I kept in a pot until the peas were out and the second planting was ready to go in.  It has already been a great producer and will bridge the gap between the first and second plantings.A perfect CucumberSecond Cucumbers and Bush BeansI am still waiting on my first ripe tomato.  It is WEEKS late.  I have been getting one or two ripe Sungold cherry tomatoes each day from each of my two plants.  Which is barely enough to garnish a salad.  I am waiting for the time when I have handfuls to make tomato, cucumber and feta salads.The tomato bed is NOT a jungle this year.It is also not blighted yetCelebrity TomatoesThe bell peppers that were setting as I planted them this spring are beginning to ripen.  The plants that I pinched back pretty vigorously in June are setting a good amount of fruit.  Luckily these are in containers so if it takes them forever to mature, I can protect them from frost.Baby bell peppersPowdery MildewWe have had dry weather, hot weather, cool weather, damp weather and still the garden is weathering it all.  There is a little mildew showing up on one of the yellow summer squash plants, but nothing to be alarmed about.  As I've often noticed, it is the varieties with plain green leaves that succumb first, and squash with lighter lacing running through their leaves hold out the longest.  If it gets too bad I will just pull it out.  We've had very few bad bugs this year.  So all in all it has been an easy year so far.The Dunja squash has lighter lacing in the leaves and will be the last thing affected by mildew[...]

The thing about bush beans...


The thing about bush beans is that you always get one smart-alec in the group who thinks he's a pole bean.  These are the neighbor's green beans this week.  I think they may be Burpee's Tenderpick.  I've had bush beans do that every year, but it is usually the Purple Queen.  It is interesting to see that I am not the only person who has run into this.

Purple Queen "bush" beans on pea-fence.
Goldmine beans to their left
The plant specs say that they should grow to 15"-20" but taint so.  They will be 24"-36".  So I always plant them around pea-fence, and the neighbors also planned wisely this year and did the same.  Normally, my Goldmine bush beans do not get as tall, but this year they are also getting way too tall and flopping over.

The reason this is undesirable is that the plants cannot support a heavy load of beans and they will stub the beans against the ground giving you curly, unattractive beans instead of long straight bundles of beans.  That will be particularly true if you have enough dry heat to cause your plants to wilt each afternoon.

See, that's the thing about bush beans.  They don't know they're supposed to bush.  They would always prefer to climb.

Not My Broccolli


We have a friend who grows the most perfect broccoli I've ever seen.

Most years he will call and offer us broccoli and/or cauliflower 
(which will be even bigger)

This broccoli was a work of art
I think it is a point of pride.  
The only way he can show off his awesome produce is to bring me some.
Tim sent him home with some equally nice zucchini.

It was beautiful from every angle

Next week the cauliflower should be ready.

Pinch Me


I mentioned in one of my recent posts that my annuals are getting a bit tired.  July is the time when things begin to get a little over grown and lanky.  The first push of blooms is done and the plant may be covered in seed pods.  Having achieved its purpose, it may just give up and die.  Heat or excessive rain will also take it's toll, as will pests.  Now if you are super organized and ambitious, you could replace the spent plants with fresh backups you've been coddling in the wings.  Or, you can do some maintenance.  It gets to the point where you can't make it look any worse, so just go in there and cut.Last week this planter full of Nasturtium was yellowing and fading.  I considered dumping out and replacing itYou can do this with surgical precision, taking just a little bit off the ends.  Or you can take drastic measures and whack them off at the knees.A dose of fertilizer and a trim and this week the plant hasperked up and put out some fresh new growth an bloomsBlack AphidsIf you have pests, it is best to take drastic measures, cut as much out as you can, and destroy the infected foliage or wrap it up and put it in the garbage.  Don't try composting it and don't cross contaminate it with your healthy plants.  One week you are perky and in your primeAnd a week later you are worn out and bedraggledSome things should be pinched back right when they are planted.  Often, a pack of annuals will have one or more weedy inferior plant.  I pinch these way back, re-pot them in a gallon pot and store them in the garden where they will catch up and be available to replace failed plantings or add color to an area where the perennials are past their bloom time.This row of Portulaca was looking pretty pitiful before I pinched itSometimes the whole pack of plants is a bit too weedy and lanky.  This year I bought Portulaca from two different sources.  The first variety was Sunseeker and a week later I saw some really nice Happy Hour and I decided I need more.  When I planted the Happy Hours, they immediately made the Sunseekers look like crap by comparison.  I carefully pinched back all the Sun Seeker plants to the point of new growth,  They were left as tiny little nubs that pretty much disappeared into the background.  And now they are bushy, compact and blooming almost as prolifically as the Happy Hours.  I love Portulaca.  I never plant enough.  The blooms are so iridescent and intensely colorful.  Because they have succulent leaves, they withstand heat and dryness.  And they volunteer.  I am always finding cheerful little Portulaca volunteers popping up in odd corners.  Maybe next year I will plant them in large groups instead if neat little soldier rows.This plant started out with three long bare stems and hardly any leaves and now it is round and full of buds.But not everything is tired out and needing maintenance.  The Coleus are looking great.  They will begin to bloom now, and if I want them to stay compact and bushy I will need to pinch back the growing tips to prevent the tall blooms from forming.  Coleus is grown for its lovely foliage, not its sparse spikey flowers[...]

Japanese Beetles


This year is a comparatively bad year for Japanese Beetles.  Not catastrophic by any means, but fairly annoying.  Over the years we've put down Milky Spore over pretty much the whole property which has cut down a lot over the years.  These days they concentrate around the porcelain vine next to the side door.  It's sort of like a beetle round-up.  They don't bother the beans and rarely even the raspberries but they still love this vine.  I keep a Bag-A-Bug nearby which draws them to that side of the house and then they spot the party vine!This is what a Beetle Party looks likeThis makes them sitting ducks.  Every day I collect them up in a cup of soapy water.  It's easier to catch them in the morning when they are cold and dewy and sluggish.In five minutes I can clean the vine of 4 or 5 dozen beetles.  A few will startle and decamp but if I wait 5 or 10 minutes they'll be back.  There's not much fun stuff to do away from the party vine.I put Castile soap in the water which kills them almost immediately.  I leave them for a bit then I pour it out on the pavers of the compost area and crush them with a shovel to make sure they're very dead.  Beetles are controllable but like most pests, you have to do it every day every year to keep them in check.  You are never really rid of them.[...]

The Ups and Downs of Home Improvement


The two car garage is up in the air and scheduled to come down in a matter of days.This has been a matter of great discussion in the neighborhood. Our elder statesman stops by each evening to check on the progress. I won't do a play by play of all the ridiculous challenges we've faced getting this thing up in the air and the walls poured, because I think at some point, my husband would prefer to forget the pain of childbirth and just enjoy the results.  No Amish were killed in the raising of this garage, although one came close (twice)  Thank you GFCI!  Amish and electric just don't mix.After the garage is set back down, the center "post" will be removed and the two narrow doors will be replaced with one wide door.  This will require relocating the electric panel around to the side and jack-hammering out the floor and replacing it with a new floor.  Then, a drain line must be dug to take gutter water away.  Which brings us to project #2, which is the house foundation.For weeks now one wall of the office has been held up by a bottle jack.  Which, honestly, is a lot more than was holding it up before.  The dry fit blocks will be replaced with poured concrete.  And if possible, a sort of dry well under the new deck will be created allowing access to the crawlspace through a mini-door.  But that is contingent on the amount of fall (grade) we have from here to the woods behind the garage.  Because the "dry well" will not be very dry unless we put a drainline in. The house sat about a foot higher than the garage as it was.  Now we've elevated the garage over a foot but the surrounding surface still slopes away from the house.  Although we have not gotten the transit out yet, it looks like there is plenty of slope.Then we will be replacing our side steps with a nice wide deck and some decent landscaping.  Because right now it's a construction zone.So what is happening in the garden?  We are in the heat of July, which isn't all that hot this year.  Regardless, some of my decorative annuals are past their prime and looking tired, but other things, like the Portulaca, are just coming into their prime.  It is hard to get rid of something that is past it's season.  I've found if you cut them back and ignore them for awhile, you may get a second season in the fall. My garden routine every evening is this: Water any wilty pots.  I cut out over half a dozen container plantings for just this reason. Kill 5 dozen Japanese Beetles.  At least. Pick up the windfall apples so the deer won't have a reason to stop by Do at least one chore that is bothering me mostThese day lillies are doing their best to dress up our side entranceNo matter what routine I have in the garden, there will always be one thing that is picking at my brain.  Something that needs to be done but I don't want to do.  I make myself do one thing each evening.  It may be grubbing the purslane out of the beans, trimming the dead stems on the tiger lillies, or harvesting a tub of potatoes.  But one dirty sweaty chore must be done every day.  I save really big jobs like renovating the strawberries for weekends.  I can't spend every evening just strolling around with a glass of wine picking dried lily blossoms. [...]

Change Over


July 9th, the last of the peas and lettuce came out and the bush beans and second planting of cucumbers went in.Baby Marketmore cucumbersThe cucumbers are doing awesome this year and I'm pretty proud of them.  I've been snipping off any poorly pollinated or curled fruit leaving the plants to put more energy into the nice ones.The first cucumbers and a new row of bush beansI love cucumber season.  The tomatoes are doing well.  It feels a little weird not to allow the jungle to take over.Very orderly tomato plants around the monster zucchini.  Fruit the size of cherriesCelebrity Tomatoes now about the size of baseballs  This is a good year for apples.  The tree kept over 30 fruit this year.  Today I bagged them and removed five inferior or damaged apples.  And oops, knocked one nice one off in the process of bagging.  I watched several YouTube videos on it and went with zip lock plastic bags instead of paper.  This is to keep insect damage to a minimum.  But actually, I'm hoping they just turn out cleaner than usually.  Our rain carries so much dirt with it, by harvest time the apples will be grey.  Also, it should discourage the deer from trying to pick them and knocking them down.  This Northern Spy is about as deer-proof as you can get.  Now and then I will find a fallen apple with all kinds of tooth marks on it, but they are evidently too hard to chew.A previous year's harvest.  See what I mean about the dirt?  That grey all rubs off.That is also the color our white shed doors always turned.Once they're bagged, it is easier to see how many there are.  I bagged 25 and there are two, maybe three, I did not get bagged because I ran out of bags.   If there is a brand name on the bag, or if you write on the bag with marker, that will block the sunlight and supposedly, you will get a pale mark on the apple.  So you could personalize apples if you wanted to.The apples bagged with plastic zip bagsWe are still enjoying DaylilliesThe Dry Creek BedLast year's project "the Big Drain"[...]



I've seen pictures of this pink color mixture of Supertunias on the web for a couple of years now.  I always do pink on the east side of the house, and nowhere else, so I go to great lengths to coordinate my pinks, especially the petunias and geraniums.  In years past I have, on impulse, purchased and planted something outside of my color palette (like orangey red) and it has always stuck out like a sore thumb.  Made worse by the fact that I am walking past it several times a day because it is right by the door!When I first visited the mega-greenhouse in our area, I saw that they had this combination potted up in two sizes.  Big and Bigger.  And of course they looked wonderful.  But even if I paid the $$ for the potted up version, how would I get the potted plant home (won't fit in the trunk of my car for sure) and once home, how would I get that big root ball out of the pot and into my whiskey barrel without breaking the tender petunias?  Not worth the hassle.  So for the same price, I could by twice as many plants and pot them however I wanted.  Yes, I groped the potted plants and counted, by feel, the number of plants in each size pot.Supertunias Vista FuschiaThe tag stated that this combination is Supertunia Vista Fuschia, Bubblegum and Silverberry.How convenient.  A shopping list.Supertunia Vista BubblegumThe Mega-greenhouse had two colors, and Home Depot had the Silverberry.  And before I left the mega-greenhouse I was careful to take my pink petunias into the geranium house and get two pink geraniums which looked nice with these shades of pink. Supertunia Vista SilverberryBecause not all pinks are created equal, and I assure you that in this half acre selection... there are more than a couple of pink geranium choices.  Salmon pink, lipstick pink, fuschia pink, medium pink, pale pink, pale pink with dark eyes...The 4 main geranium houses at the mega-greenhouseSo now I have the plants I need to spruce up the driveway and doorstep.  This is my first year with Supertunias.  They are similar to the Wave varieties, but the blooms are a little smaller, and their expected overall spread is a little bigger.  Also, the blooms hold up well under rain/watering and they do not require deadheading.  They are produced from cuttings not seeds.  So the seed head thing is bred out of them.  And anyone who has spent an afternoon deadheading sticky petunias will appreciate the difference.And this is my result:A couple of weeks agoLast WeekI do have other types of petunias scattered around.  Deep Red Wave along the chicken run.  Then your standard petunias in a purple palette in the barrel on the far west side.  That one doesn't have to coordinate with anything so I get to experiment with colors and varieties.[...]

The Difference in Soil?


 Take a look at these two separate zucchini plantings.  These plants were all from the same seed pack, planted on the same day, transplanted on the same day.Zucchini Bed ABed A is on the side hill where we originally grew potatoes.  We added soil to this area from the same top soil as we did Bed B.Zucchini Bed B I have amended both beds with the same compost and amendments.They both get full sun all day,  They are essentially in the same longitude in the garden area, about 40 feet apart.  They have been fed the same fertilizer at the same times.Zucchini B And Zucchini B, just like last year, is a monster.I think they like that particular bed.  I've done something different, and more right whatever it is. Supertunias Elsewhere in the garden, today was a beautiful day.The Tomatoes with Nasturtium Ground CoverThe Tomatoes with Nasturtium Ground Cover[...]

Happy Independence Day


Happy 4th of July

*Note:  I saw one of these flag holders in Pinterest and thought it would be fun to make.  I don't usually decorate much for the 4th.  I found out why they are not readily available on craft sites.  Even with a drill press getting those holes drilled at consistent angles turned out to be a couple's team building exercise!  But it turned out to our satisfaction.

Okay, so I fibbed - June Progress Report


In my last post about simplification, I said that I had, for the first time ever, restricted myself to the planned 5 tomato plants.  And then the very next day, I planted the 5 backups I had.  Because they were small, but too nice to throw out.  When you've cared for a seedling for two months, it is hard to give up on it.  I also have one backup each of cucumber, yellow squash and zucchini in gallon pots.  Those make a little more sense.  The gallon pot slows down their maturity, and you can plant them much later and have a second crop up fresh, healthy plants.  However, last year I was so good at maintaining my zucchini that I didn't need a backup.  So...The five spare tomato plants are rooming with the zucchiniNo deer protection.  But that's what you get when you're a spareBut the tomatoes are under strict supervision.  I am suckering them and keeping up with the lower leaves, and generally following all of the accepted practice of tomato training.   I am pinching off any fused blossoms, because last year I had such a mess of ugly fused fruit.Celebrity TomatoesThis is the first year in a long time that I have planted a determinate hybrid variety.  I chose Celebrity because it is a great producer, and the fruit are round and beautiful, and just perfect for sandwiches.  They are also earlier than my heirloom varieties - apparently.The small zucchini to the right was not pollinated and is already beginning to shrivel. The larger one to the left is newer, but filling out quicklyThis year the zucchini put out a lot of female flowers before any male.  I let them go because who knows if a bee may manage to cross pollinate from some neighborhood garden.  But in the end I could tell that none of the squash would amount to anything, so I pinched them all off.  I've also been carefully policing up the spent blooms.  I was very thorough about that last year and had no sign of mildew or other disease until the end of August.  It's just good housekeeping.The Neighborhood Squash PatchI have five zucchini plants planted.  Technically ten because each "one" was two seeds.  I mentioned this last year.  I like planting zucchini seeds in pairs because one will grow left and the other will grow right and you will always have a compact looking zucchini bush and never a sprawling naked vine.  Which I hate.I always have a few spares hanging aroundThe reason I have so many is that we let the next door neighbors share our garden and I want to be able to choose the variety and maintenance schedule on the mildew prone summer squash (I planted some yellow as well) so I told them I would plant and manage all of the zucchinis and they could help themselves to as many as they want.  I have my own private zucchini monster planted separately.  And I bought a spiralizer and pinned a bunch of recipes so bring on the zucchini noodles!The pea anchors for windy days. The twine is tied to the top of the tall pea fenceMy Wando peas are so tall I have to reach way up to pick the later pods.  They are also catching a lot of wind so I straightened the fences and anchored them down a bit.  An ounce of prevention and all that...  We've had a lot of cool windy days and the ground is saturated, so things can easily topple over.The Tomatoes are surrounded by Nasturtium and BasilIn fact, I had a Nasturtium plant twist off in the wind.  I have them planted thickly here around the tomatoes to prevent soil from splashing up [...]

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify


Last year I wrote a blog about Cutting Back and listed everything that I can grow which I no longer bother to grow.  Well, this year is the same theme.  Having already finished the epic dry creek bed project, we are moving on to refurbishing the two car garage and building a deck at our side entrance.The garage with its old shake shingles and house wrap hides in the backgroundThe garage is about 70 years old, has been routinely ignored in favor of all our other renovation projects and is in need of a major face lift.  I always try to leave it out of garden and landscape photos, but sometimes it sneaks in. "Needs to be refurbished" - ya think?What it needs is a whole new foundationOur side entrance has been on hold for years and has been dug up a few times in the past few, first to replace the septic system and then just last year to run city water into the house.  It presently consists of a non-glamorous set of steps, deteriorating railroad ties, an expanse of bare gravel, and a stalwart Porcelain Vine which does a lot towards covering up the air conditioner and distracting from the general lack of landscape.The side entrance last year mid-water projectThis is the year we plan to remedy all that, so the garden has been tightened up again to be low(er) maintenance.  I cut out more than half a dozen planters which are very time consuming as they require almost daily watering.   I successfully (for the first time ever) restrained myself to 5 tomato plants and no eggplants.  And that's really about it. Still, it will be a lot less daily work.  Here is a list of what is in the garden this year:Zucchini and Yellow SquashOut in the open the plants have to be protected with a wire cage until they are mature enough to be prickly and not appetizing to deer and rabbitsLettuce (lots of lettuce)StrawberriesPeasPotatoes (in containers)Zucchini (way too many)CucumbersTomatoes (only 5 plants)Bell Peppers (in containers)Bush Beans (still to come)Various HerbsTomatoes surrounded by Nasturtium to keep soil from splashing up onto the tomato leaves.  Cucumbers shading the third planting of lettuceBell peppers in large landscape pots.The Gro Thru grid will support the plants when they become taller and heavy with peppers.Right now, the strawberries are in their prime.  I pulled many runners to open up the bed, and to keep the plants away from the sides which is what caused my Strawberry Problem of 2016 where all of the plants grew through the cage making it almost impossible to remove for picking.  I am picking a couple of quarts every other day and what does not get eaten fresh goes into the freezer for Strawberry Crisp .Peas are about ready to pick.  There are enough for nibbling but not yet for two servings at dinner.  I think probably if I feel around in the potato pots, I will find enough new potatoes for supper.tall Wando peasMaestro peas almost ready to pickPotatoes in tubsTo harvest, I just dump one tub.  And I never damage one like you might when diggingIn addition to refurbishing, we also have a lot of seasonal maintenance.  The garden shed has been washed down and the doors painted.  The doors are white fiberglass, and you would not believe how much dirt they collected just from rain and atmosphere.  Within a couple of months, they would be grey with grunge.  This bronze color which matches our outdoor furniture and deck boxes will hide a lot of that.So that's what' going on in the [...]

Planting the Dry Creek bed


A couple of weekends ago we planted the dry creek bed project which finishes it.  I knew I wanted grassy looking plants.  Flowering at different times.  Deer resistant.  Easy to maintain.  And I also wanted it to coordinate with the tiger lilies along the front fence, and the plantings in the "Big Drain".  One thing I know about myself is that I prefer simple repetition in landscaping.  That is what makes things look tidy and well planned out.Day lilies - these are super easy to maintain and come in a wide variety of color combinations.  I stuck with a "hot" palette of yellow, orange and red.Siberian Irises - also easy to maintain.  It seems like the universal color for Siberian Irisies is blue.  If you buy a mix, over time, the other colors will dwindle and the blue will take over.  But I have at least 4 different shades of blue/lavender in the landscape right now.  We already had clumps of irises planted along the driveway on the one side of the spruce row.  I had leftovers "stored" in an out of the way edge which I dug up and re-potted.  I am now over run by blue Caesar's Brother irises and on the lookout for white or yellow plants.  There were some available last year, but so far this year my search has come up short.Blue Oat GrassFountain Grass FireworksI saw gorgeous, mature plants potted up and selling for an awful amount this spring, and was happy to find  the baby version in 4 inch pots.Fountain Grass Cherry SparklerTo coordinate with the all red FireworksNow the trouble with planting this area is that it is several inches of stone over stabilization mat = no soil.  Also we do not want the soil filtering through the rocks and out of the planting area.  The solution I came up with was large, 2 gallon peat pots.  These will contain the soil until a root ball develops and then slowly break down into soil, allowing the plant to expand naturally. I began buying plants as soon as the greenhouses opened in April.  I potted them up as I got them and set them in the garden where I could water them easily allowing them to become established so when I planted them in the creek bed they would not require daily watering and maintenance, and also so that when they were watered, the soil would not be loose and spill over the edge of the pot and wash away into our stones. Each pot had to be dug down into the landscape.  This meant moving a lot of rocks, cutting the mat and digging down into the base layer.  The base layer varies from gravel, to clay, to regular top soil full of tree roots.  I thought about taking photos of this process, but I thought maybe I wouldn't want to remember this part.  And I was right. After 5 hours, I was tired of chipping away at the sides with a hand tool.  When I closed my eyes, all I saw were empty holes.  I wore out two pairs of gloves.  We removed two and a half tractor loads full of fill dirt. Then I had to replace the rocks around the plant and top it all off with gravel. I placed fist sized rocks inside the top of the pot to disguise the edge. I was quite happy with the results of our efforts. Towards the end of this five hour session, Tim had lost patience and was wondering aloud why we go to all this effort because no one ever seems to notice.  I appreciate the end product. But sometimes it does seem a little excessive.   Shortly, one of the neighbors who also has a very tidy, ni[...]

Container Gardening - combination pots


We interrupt this season's search for the perfect petunia for an absolutely brilliant tip on potting up combination pots.  I have three whiskey barrels and a couple other large containers to plant in my landscaping and it's not a process I've ever really enjoyed because of all the planning and placement and respacing and adding and subtracting of soil.  It always ends up being a bit of a messy business, especially if you are working with spreading plants that are mature and filling out.

  • Just take spare empty pots the size of the ones you are removing the plants from.  
  • Place them in the larger container the way you want them.  
  • Fill the potting soil around them and firm it up.  
  • Remove the small pots one by one and replace with the plant itself.
How easy is that?  Now I'm looking forward to potting up all those containers!

Salad Bowl Gardens


I've seen photos of this idea on the web for a couple of years now.  And it seemed a nice idea for someone in the city who only had a balcony or a doorstep on which to garden.  Not really practical of course when you are in the habit of growing bushels of lettuce....

My Lettuce Mid-June 2015
And then, on one of my annual agri-tourism/reconnaissance missions,  I spotted salad bowls at the local mega-greenhouse.  And I wanted one!  Really badly.  No, do not pick up two dollars worth of lettuce for ten bucks.  No.  Put it down.  Even if it is really pretty and lush and colorful.  I already have fourteen lettuce plants at home which, within a week or so, will be supplying us with all the lettuce we can eat for the next month.  And I have another thirty six or more seedlings waiting in the wings.

Now, if you have neglected to seed or plant lettuce yet this year, this may be a fun way to start your summer garden.  But if, like me, you have dozens of plants waiting for you at home, I suggest you grab a pot and plant up an assortment of colorful lettuces now so if you do run across these expensive little works of art, you will be able to resist too.


Leave no stone unturned - The Dry Creek Bed


We have a lot of mulched areas in our landscape.  Frankly, we are tired of mulch.  Right now, we're into rocks.It all started last year with the Big Drain.  Well, actually, it probably began long before that.  We've always used boulders as landscape accents.  We prefer gravel over lawn.  We always have a lot of rocks on hand.  Big rocks, little rocks, flat rocks, round rocks, pretty rocks, and ugly, muddy rocks.  Rocks covered with snow and frozen together...There are a lot of inspirational pictures of dry creek beds on the Internet, but very few instructions or plans.  This is a pretty good one.  So I will give you a step by step how we did it.  We started with 4 loads of rock. #2 stone.  One big truck load.  This was for the french drain as shown in my last post.Straight (unwashed) bank run. Two loads. It would probably be a lot easier if you bought pretty, washed river rock of sorted sizes.  But we work on a budget.  So we got plain, muddy, mixed up stone scooped straight from the creek bank.  That will give you the entire spectrum of rock types to work with.One big truck load of boulders.  From basketball size up to steamer trunk size for decorating.When you are ready to decorate your french drain and turn it into a dry creek bed, first you must organize your rocks.Tim laid out a bucket load of assorted rocks at intervals along the creek bed.We had half a dozen really big rocks that we had to move with a sling.  Very handy tool.  Once you get it UNDER the boulder.Step two is to arrange clumps of  rocks along the sides of the creek bed.  In a natural creek, large rocks will get caught up in bunches and then the smaller rocks will flow around them, catching in a pile around them.  We wanted our creek bed to meander in a fairly uniform serpentine.Step three.  Dump a bucket load of muddy, ugly rocks on top of your pretty, carefully arranged rocks.  Take a deep breath and try not to look discouraged.Yuck.  Thanks a lot.Really yuck.  Since this is unwashed stone, five minutes with a garden hose will improve the look of things a lot.  Rinse the top layer of rocks, get down there on your knees and start sorting.  One at a time.  You can push things around with a bow rake, but really, this is a lot of hands on work.It's really pretty simple.  You just toss stuff around and dig down until you uncover your pretty rocks.  Flat, broken, ugly or otherwise atypical rocks get tossed downstream to fill in the bottom of the creek.  Large flat stones get moved to the center of the stream. Larger irregular rocks become new, smaller focal points.  Pretty rocks colored or interesting shaped rocks get set aside so they end up on top.  Rinse.  Repeat.This photo shows the area after the second bucket of ugly muddy rocks have been dumped and distributed.Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.I'd say that looks like a pretty natural creek bed.The entire creek bed took three days of rock moving.  We estimate that including the #2 stone in the french drain below, we shoveled, moved, washed and sorted about fifty tons of rock.  On day three, Tennessee Ernie Ford kept looping through my brain: You load 16 tons and whadda ya get?  Another day older and deeper in debt...One thing I will say is that days of lifting rock[...]