Archive for the ‘garden’ tag
… summer, that is. Hi there, summer is gone, it’s fall, and where did the last three months go anyway?
Work has been very busy. Stuff at home has been very busy. It feels like I haven’t really sat back and relaxed enough to appreciate the summer.
House and garden
The two big trees in our front yard really were hit hard by last year’s drought, so in June John decided to take down all of the dead branches in order to give them as good a chance at recovering as we could give them. “All of the dead branches” turned out to be a lot of branches indeed… both trees lost a significant portion of their canopies, and I am still getting used to the fact that the front yard is much less shaded then it used to be.
The garden did great…is still doing great. The tomatoes are almost done at this point, but I am not going to complain too much, given that we have been pulling 10-15 pounds of tomatoes a week out of the garden since mid-July. The green peppers, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, and eggplants are still going strong, however. We will probably be getting peppers and eggplants for at least another month. The only thing that we really botched with this year’s garden was the plant spacing. It is really difficult to move around in the garden, as the plants have all grown all over each other.
For John’s birthday weekend (this year was the big 42) we went to Cedar Point for a couple of days. We had been talking idly about wanting to go to Cedar Point for a while, and decided that it was finally time to stop talking about going and actually go.
I can remember staying at the Breakers when my family went to Cedar Point for a vacation when I was little, and John and I stayed there when we went this summer. Being right in the park, it was really convenient, and the early admission for hotel guests was also nice.
Going when we did – right after the 4th of July holiday weekend – was a good call, because the park was not quite as crowded as it might otherwise have been. I think that the longest that we ever waited in a line was maybe 45 minutes, the first time that we went on the Millennium Force. Most of the time we were in line less than 10 minutes. It was great. It was also a touch rainy in the evenings… a couple of quick bursts of rain here and there, but not enough to get us to go back to the hotel. However, the rollercoasters (and a couple of other rides) don’t run when it is raining… they stop wile it is raining and once it stops, they run a test through to make sure that the tracks and brakes are safe, and then resume. So the bursts of rain were great for clearing out the crowds and eliminating the lines in the evenings.
We went on every ride at the park. (Seriously, we had a checklist.) Many of the rides, especially the rollercoasters, we went on multiple times. Okay, we went on all of the rides except the kiddy rides and that one ride that is basically just pretend driving a model-T car around a fixed track.
It was an awesome vacation. Something we should have done a long time ago. Now we need to go to King’s Island (down near Cincinnati) for comparison. And more rollercoasters.
It has been almost seven months since Merlin died, and almost five months since we adopted Vena.
You can tell when Vena is really enjoying being petted, because her eyes roll back a little bit, her nose starts to run, and she starts to drool. It is simultaneously adorable and kind of disgusting. She doesn’t purr very loudly, not like Merlin (Merlin’s purr was like an idling diesel engine) but she loves attention.
She is getting slowly cuddlier, and if I am lounging on the couch reading or watching TV she doesn’t need much encouragement to jump up into my lap. It does take her a little while to calm down and get settled once she is there, though. And god help you if you try to hold a book with one hand and pet her with the other. She doesn’t appreciate the divided attention, and has been known to bite at the book (or tablet or phone) in order to ensure that all attention is on her. Once she is settled, though, she doesn’t mind if you read while she naps on your lap.
She is still a bit wary and shy around John, and won’t stay on my lap if he enters the room of joins me on the couch. It will just take time.
So, we put in the garden over a month ago, and I am just now getting around to talking about it…
We did the whole “start stuff from seeds” thing again, and in general it worked out a lot better this year than last year. Mostly because we figured out why everything died a couple of days after we planted it last year – sunburn. All of the seedlings last year got sunburned to death because we took them out of the basement grow chamber and put them right out into the sun without giving them any time to acclimate and toughen up a bit. So this year before we planted the seedlings we spent a week getting them used to sunlight by putting the trays on the back porch for a couple of hours at a time. And then after we planted them, we rigged up sunshades out of some tarps, and left those up for a week or so.
We still lost some plants, but not to sunburn. A day or two after we planted them, something – probably a rabbit – come along and bit the tops off of every single green pepper, half of the hot peppers, and half of the eggplants. So we had to go to Home Depot and Loews for seedlings to replace the green peppers and eggplants. We still had some hot pepper seedlings in the starter trays, so we used those to replace the ones that got eaten. And then we put down rabbit and deer deterrent around the garden. We haven’t had any problems since then, though I have seen plenty of rabbits around the neighborhood.
We had to replace a couple of tomato plants as well, because some of the seedlings got washed away in some torrential downpours just after we planted them. Since then we have found a lot of tomato “volunteers” (tomato seedlings that we didn’t deliberately plant, that just grew from remnants of last year’s tomato crop) that we have been slowly replanting into the tomato cages.
So we ended up with about 3/5 of the garden being leftovers from last year and stuff that we started from seeds, and about 2/5 seedlings that we bought from Home Depot or Loews. Not bad. And the stuff that we started from seeds is finally catching up to the greenhouse stuff.
We are looking forward to the eventual harvest. Hopefully we will start to get stuff in about a month.
We have already passed through the nice, Indian summer portion of fall (temperatures in the upper 70s here last week) and now are firmly in the cold, rainy, and miserable portion of fall. I spent a lot of the last couple of weeks traveling for work, so I didn’t even get to enjoy the nice bits of fall.
Today has been so gloomy and overcast that it has felt like it was early evening since about 11am. In other words, it has been a good day to stay indoors and do chores.
The weekend before last, John and I retired the garden for the year. Despite the fact that there were still green tomatoes on the vine and some of the vegetables were still trying gamely to product flowers, we had had several frosts. And frosts equal the effective end of the growing and ripening system. We removed the irrigation system of weeper hoses and coiled them up in the shed for next year. Ditto the tomato cages. Those were pulled up, cleaned off, folded neatly, and stacked in a corner of the shed. All of the vegetables and herbs, with the exception of the rosemary (which is an evergreen) and the sage (which is also used to colder climates) were pulled up and chopped into the soil, to provide fertilizer for next year. A couple of rounds of fallen leaves have also been shopped up (via the lawnmower) and layered over the fallow garden as well.
We even ripped out and dug up the blackberry and raspberry vines. Those were pretty much a failed experiment. We never got enough berries off of them to make them worthwhile (the birds saw to that) and they were so aggressive that it was a constant battle to keep them from overgrowing the vegetables.
I also brought my houseplants back inside, which I honestly should have done weeks ago. The two Christmas cacti are just fine, but the African violets were pretty frost nipped. One of them has died, but the other might still be able to recover from its extended sojourn out of doors.
The weekend before that (so three weeks ago) we were up in Cleveland visiting with my parents, and celebrating my brother’s newly-minted PhD degree. The parts was a very enjoyable all-day buffet while friends and family came and went. By now my brother has probably moved out to California to join our other two brothers while he looks for a job in industry. (He has no desire to do a post-doc or to stay in academia, and I cannot say that I blame him.)
Right now, I kind of wish that I were out on the west coast as well. Sunny skies, warmer temperatures, and better weather than here.
Now that we are well into September and the days (and nights) are finally turning cooler, the garden has started to slow down for the year. Make no mistake, we are still pulling a lot of produce out of it, but not quite as much of it and not quite as frequently as we were doing from June through the end of August.
At the height of the growing season we were getting 7-9 pounds of tomatoes out of the garden every day. When we got back from a weeks worth of vacation, the tomato yield was close to 25 pounds. There are 23 quarts of marinara sauce canned and waiting in the pantry for the next time that we crave spaghetti and meatballs, with a huge mixing bowl full of sauce ready to be canned waiting in the fridge, and several dozen near-ripe tomatoes outside on the vines, just waiting to be picked and sauced.
We ate tricolor salad multiple times a week. We sliced up and salted fresh tomatoes and ate them as side dishes and snacks. A favorite summer lunch of mine was a cracker with a schmear of cream cheese, a fresh basil leaf, and a fresh slice of lightly salted tomato (times about 10). We stood next to the garden, picked handfuls of cherry tomatoes and popped them right in our mouths. Heaven.
Clearly, we are tomato gardening masters, and tomatoes are something that we should stick with and expand on.
We also do well with herbs – you should see the wild bushes that are our basil, sage, and rosemary plants. The oregano did not do nearly as well, but to be fair it grows close to the ground and did not have a chance once the tomatoes grew tall and broad enough to overshadow it. Next year the oregano will go in a pot on the deck, leaving room in the main garden for more tomatoes.
Nor can we go wrong with peppers. The jalapeno and green bell peppers did just as well this year as they did last year.
The eggplants didn’t do quite as well, but we have no real complaints.
Then we get to our personal failures… First, the zucchini. Between the root borers (again) and the blossom end rot, the neither grew very big nor lasted very long. I think that we got one decent sized zucchini and several small ones out of four plants. Lesson learned. From now one we will get all of our zucchini at the store and not bother trying to continue cultivating it anymore. Third year trying, third strike… zucchini, you’re out.
The broad beans and sugar peas, new additions to the garden this year, also didn’t do too well.
The peas started out really strong, and then inexplicable died and dried up from the roots up. We got one, maybe two meals worth of peas out of them. Since we had started them from seeds (and had a lot left over from the initial planting) we kept trying to re-plant and regrow then, but to no avail. John’s theory is that since we were growing them in a little plot off to the side of the deck, and not in the garden proper, they were not getting enough water. And since we had a nifty automatic watering system with timers and drip hoses set up in the main garden, and nothing at all set up in the little side plot, this is a distinct possibility. Next year we will try the peas in the main garden and see how they do.
Something, some kind of bug or snail, decided that it really loved the broad beans, and ate away all of the leaves, leaving behind only the delicate traceries of veins. None of the other plants (with the exception of the eggplants, which were nibbled on a little bit) were touched at all. What few beans we were able to get off of the bean plants before they dies were not impressive. I doubt that we will be doing beans again next year.
The first frost is coming soon, but I bet that we can get more out of the garden before then.
Last weekend was the first in about three weeks where we did not have grey, dreary rain all weekend, so it was a whirlwind of outdoor projects.
(Seriously, the weekdays – when we are stuck in the office staring out the window at the lovely weather – have been gorgeous, and the weekends – when we are supposed to be enjoying our lives – have been miserable. No fair.)
The vegetable garden is now planted. If all goes well (and we hope that it does) we will have more vegetables than we can eat in a month or so.
- 24 tomato plants:
- 4 Black Prince
- 4 Lemon Boy
- 4 Phoenix (heat resistant variety – which will be useful if this summer is as hot as the last one was)
- 4 Sweet 100s cherry tomatoes
- 4 Roma (for sauce mostly)
- 4 Mr Stripey
- 3 eggplants (2 purple and 1 white)
- 3 sweet green peppers
- 3 mucho nacho jalapeno peppers
- 3 ancho chili peppers (started from seeds, and honestly not looking like they will survive)
- 2 greek oregano
- 3 sage
- 3 basil
- rosemary (left over from last year and still doing quite well)
- 3 bush beans (started from seeds, 2 are doing well, and one looks like it is slowly dying)
- 4 zucchini (3 in pots on the deck, and 1 at the corner of the house)
- 6 sugar snap peas (planted next to the deck and provided with a string trellis so that they have something to climb)
We ended up with fewer eggplants and more zucchini than we intended because I grabbed a flat marked “eggplant” at the Meijer’s Garden Store without actually checking that all of the plants on it were in fact eggplants. Oops. But at least we like zucchini.
Since we have planted in this patch for several years now, and since at the end of the growing season we just turn the dead plants into the soil and cover the whole thing with burlap for the winder, we have a lot of what we call “volunteers”… things that we did not plant this year, but nonetheless plan on nurturing. We have no less than 5 volunteer tomatoes, which will hopefully survive long enough to bear fruit so that we can see what variety they are. We also have several volunteer basil and sage plants.
The blackberry and raspberry vines along the side of the house are spreading faster than ever. I hope that this year I will be able to at least make one pie, or at least a small tart, with the berries. My primary competition for which will be all of the neighborhood birds.
We even (mostly) finished the work on the front bed around the new Japanese Cherry. The soil has been turned over several times (and many, many roots from the crabapple have been discovered and removed), topsoil has been added, daisy seeds of several varieties have been scattered around the tree, and other new plants have been added. Most of those new plants are hostas, as we have been planting, transplanting, and replanting a lot of hostas this spring. Hostas are just amazingly hardy and versatile. Their only drawback is that they die back to the root ball and regrow completely every year, so there will always be that span of time over winter and into early spring where the flowerbeds are completely barren and empty.
We also planted three rosebushes at the corner of the house. We have fewer deer wandering through our yard here then my parents do up in Cleveland, so they may survive, and even (hopefully) thrive.
Despite the fact that nothing (other than the pea plants) have visibly grown since we planted them, there are already flowers on a couple of the tomato plants and one of the green peppers, and buds on all of the roses.
First, the good news. The flowering Japanese cherry tree that we planted in the front of the house to replace the crab apple tree is finally budding and putting out leaves and flowers. Hooray! For the longest time after we planted it, it just sat there, looking like a dead stick and stubbornly doing nothing, even as all of the other trees in the neighborhood grew leaves and flowered. It is a slow starter, but at leave it is still alive.
If only the vegetable seedlings that we intended to use in the garden this year were doing so well.
We had the brilliant idea several months ago that we should start seeds and then use those for planting the vegetable garden. We would save money (as buying the seedlings from Home Depot or Lowes is not cheap) and we would be assured of being able to get exactly what kind of vegetables we wanted. So we ordered a bunch of seeds, John built a super-cool germination area (that looks remarkably like a chemical hood) in the basement, and we put the seed in the little starter trays and waited.
We didn’t have to wait too long. They started out so well. After a little while it became pretty obvious that there wasn’t enough room in the starter trays for them, and that they would need to be re-potted in order to give them more room.
Easter weekend, it was nicer and warm and sunny, so we decided to re-pot everything on the back deck, and also plant some of the little seedlings right away and see how they would do.
They didn’t do so well. Everything that we re-potted and planted died. And almost everything that we re-potted and took back inside died also. The only exceptions were two ancho chili seedlings and three zucchini seedlings. I guess that the re-potting was just too much of a shock to their root systems.
Lesson learned. We may try starting seeds again next year, but we will start them out in the large biodegradable pots instead of in the too-small plastic trays.
This year we will once again be going to Home Depot for seedlings. We will probably try re-planting the garden in another week or two.
Not that I should really complain. It has been sunny and in the 70s the past couple of days, and in the 50s-60s before that. I have been coming home from work and changing into shorts. John and I broke out the bikes and went for a couple of rides around the neighborhood. We opened the windows. Last night we even talked briefly about turning on the A/C because it was so warm and stuffy upstairs.
(In Ohio. In March. Where in a normal year we would still have grey, slushy snow and temperatures in the 30s-40s.)
Perhaps this is the upside to global warming?
We have started to do some of the traditional springtime work of cleaning out the flowerbeds.
The ivy which I planted back when we bought the house in an attempt to get some ground cover started in the area around the crabapple tree has to go. It has just been too aggressive in spreading and taking over other parts of the flowerbeds, the lawn, the end of the porch, and may even have been partially responsible for the decline of the tree’s health. We pulled out a lot of it by the roots.
We also made use of a weed-burner, which is a nifty tool that John picked up some time ago. Basically this is a flamethrower. That you can use in your garden. (Can you believe that you can just walk into a Home Depot and buy one of these things?) It is… a whole lot of fun to use, but since it is an area effect item, you do have to be careful that you don’t torch things that you want to keep… like “good” plants, the porch, the deck, the garden shed, and drainpipes. We managed to confine our fiery destruction to unwanted weeds and ground-cover and the aforementioned ivy.
This weekend we have yet more yard work planned, if the weather continues to cooperate.
Initially John wanted to either plant a new tree to replace the crabapple we pulled out last fall or edge the front flowerbeds. I argued for doing both, since one is a very simple job (plopping a tree into an already existent hole and then dumping in a couple of bags of topsoil to fill it) while the other is somewhat more involved (digging a trench to define the border between lawn and flowerbed and then placing bricks in said trench and re-filling the gaps with dirt to hold everything in place)
I also would like to think about filling in some of the gaps on the front flowerbed that we created last week by pulling/burning out the ivy.
We will see how much we actually get done. The forecast calls for continued warm weather and intermittent thunderstorms.
Because the jalapeno plants are producing like crazy, and because John and I both love poppers, sometimes we take 2 dozen (plus a few more, and maybe we also throw some banana peppers in the mix as well) jalapenos and just make a meal out of poppers.
We don’t bread them, or fry them, or do anything especially crazy with them. We slice them in half, and core them. Then we stuff them with a cheese mixture (4oz cream cheese mixed well with 4oz cheese of choice – we prefer blue cheese or smoked Gouda) and them throw them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
We don’t do this all the time, because halving and coring jalapenos by hand takes a while.
No matter how careful I am when I am cutting and coring the jalapenos, and no matter how many times I wash my hands afterward, the juice from the peppers always leaves my palms burning and itching for at least a day afterward.
I like to think that I have a reasonable green thumb. When I plant things, they tend to grow more often then not.
Most of the garden has been doing really well. The herbs, especially the basil, are growing faster then we can use them. There are more then a half a dozen eggplants that are going to be ripe enough to eat this week. We have dinners made up entirely of poppers made with the jalapenos from the garden almost weekly. We have already been able to start canning the (ones that we are not able to eat right away) tomatoes.
The exception, just like it was last year, is the zucchini. Once again, despite all of our best efforts, the zucchini has fallen to the squash vine borers. Of the four zucchini plants, I pulled out the two worst effected last Friday. The remaining two are compromised as well, but I left them in place for now. There are a couple of half-ripe zucchini on them, and I would like to try to give them enough time to fully ripen before I have to destroy the plants. Very frustrating. Next year I think that any zucchini that we plant will be in separate pots on the deck. I am rather loath to cede precious garden space to something that has a good chance of dying halfway through the growing season. I would rather plant something with a better track record of productivity.
And obviously I need to do better research on how to prevent squash vine borer infestations. Obviously the insecticide we used this year didn’t cut it.
(Of course, aside from the zucchini issue, there are some aspects of the garden that have not been doing as well as they did last year, but the blame for that can pretty much be laid at the feet of the drought that our area has been in most of the summer.)
In other plant news, earlier this summer I decided to re-pot some of my indoor plants – the Christmas Cactus plants in particular hadn’t been re-potted in a long while and were looking to me like they needed it. So I went out, got the kind of soil that they need, re-potted them , and …. they decided to reward my efforts by promptly losing almost all of their leaves and most of their branches. I thought that they were going to die. That would have sucked since they are both from cuttings my Mom gave me from her Christmas Cactus, which is a huge plant and is older than I am. Fortunately, I have seen some new growth, so there is hope that they will survive and pull through yet. I suppose that I could still manage to kill them somehow, but at this point it seems less likely.
The jalapeno peppers, which were disappointments last year, are making up for it, and were the earliest producers this year. We have been using them, as well as the banana peppers, in stir frys for a couple of weeks now.
Last night for dinner we had poppers (for which we used 14 jalapenos), half of which were blue cheese poppers and the other half of which were smoked gouda. Yum. We also cut up, salted, and ate the first couple of the ripe Black Prince tomatoes.
There are zuchinis and green bell peppers and eggplants that are almost ready to eat.
There are a lot of green tomatoes that should start to turn red very soon. The Sweet 100s, a cherry tomato variety, have already been ripening, and we have just been eating them straight off of the vine.
The basil is finally tall and thick enough for us to start using it for pesto.
The vegetable explosion, it should happen any day now. We have so much stuff that is right on the cusp of being ripe.