Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pretty Harvest

      What a difference a few hours can make!  It is so nice out this afternoon, a big change from being caught in a rain squaw in the garden this morning.  Both the temperature and humidity have dropped.  We will be complaining about the forecast high of only 59 degrees for Saturday, but it will feel nice.  And make for some no sweat gardening weather.
      And now we have a tale of two gardens.  The fall crops are doing fine at the Bellevue Park garden, but the tomatoes are suffering and there was not a single pepper picked all summer long for me.  Yet at home I am still getting tomatoes and peppers, but the harlequin beetles are trashing the newly planted cole crops.  I don't really have an explanation.  But I still have tomatoes!

Back yard pickings, 9/29/11

      The pepper on the left was a nice surprise discovered on the ground, but in flawless condition.  The yellow tomato in the middle is Dr. Wyche, and the purply one on the right is a Black Krim.  Dinner is going to be yummy.
      A few days ago I gave Bob King a small bag of Egyptian Walking Onion bulbs.  Today he returned the favor with a nice little supply of yellow onion sets.  They were planted at the park, in the west end of bed #2, on the north side behind my planting of the walking onions.

Yellow onion sets planted 9/29/11

Sunday, September 25, 2011


      It will soon be time to put garlic cloves in the ground for the crop for next year.  It can be done for another two months yet, so I am in no hurry.  Last fall I planted a lot of small garlic bulblets from the top of the curly seed heads.  At harvest time in June, the plants  were too small to pull, then dried and got lost to view.  But now they have come back on their own, so I have lots of garlic already started!

Garlic in two beds, 9/25/11

Garlic and kale, a natural pairing

Garlic clump

      I had wondered what would happen if I missed a garlic head at harvest time.  Shouldn't it make multiple garlic plants from each clove?  Sure enough.  Moving the dirt away shows the multiple cloves that have developed from just a single clove planted last year.  I suppose the individual plants should be separated and replanted with better spacing.  One more thing to do.

Each clove is growing, they should be split

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fall Vegetable Gardening

      As per usual, a timely start to fall gardening has passed me by, so that I am now in the catch up mode.  It is difficult to get motivated in the hot, muggy and oftentimes miserable days of late August.  Planting seeds of lettuce, broccoli, kale and cabbage just don't make it onto the garden radar.  Which results in a mad scramble in September to try to find veggie starts or figure out what just make it if started from seed.  The cold frames that I intend to get built are the ace in the hole, protecting many of the plants that might be started too late.
      But there was at least one gardener on the ball over at the park.  Lou Gallo.  The robin man from spring posts.  Lou started his patch of Black Seeded Simpson on time.  Please note the infamous robin nesting chair in the background.  The lettuce patch is a beautiful sight to behold:

Lou's Black Seeded Simpson Patch

      Well maybe Lou has slightly overdone it.  A patch 20 feet long by 18 inches across.  I suspect that adds up to more than 10,000 lettuce plants, maybe quite a bit more!  Lou has been very generous to let me trowel some of his few extras out of the bed, giving the remainders just a teeny bit more room to grow.

Lettuce starts

      The green lettuce above are from two small trowel raids I made across Lou's bed, with his blessing of course.  I did give him a couple of tomatoes, his having met the fall reaper.  The red lettuce on the right are volunteers I found atop the park compost pile.  So I kinda fell into those too.

Transplanted to cell packs, taken 9/21/11 

      The small lettuce plants from Lou's garden were transplanted to cell packs to have time to develop a better root system.  Moving them directly to my garden beds results in a very poor survival rate.  The serrated plants in the bottom right corner are kale volunteers from my garden.  They were growing in the paths, so will be transplanted back to the garden.  The taller plants in the upper left corner are Malabar Spinach.  Yep, volunteers from the compost piles at the park.  I will take cuttings from these plants to try to keep all alive in the house over the winter to be transplanted back to the gardens in June.  Malabar Spinach likes it hot, like 90 degree heat.  The more, the merrier.

      I have been driven to searching for volunteers and freebies because I was remiss in starting plants, and the local availability to buy starts is either minimal, or it is expensive to buy starts when found. 

Rose Hill Plantery

      A week ago I had to travel south a bit to babysit, so took the opportunity to visit the Rose Hill Plantery down on Route 9 near the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  Their six packs are $2.99, probably a fair price as I was soon to learn.  They did not have broccoli, as I believe a fellow Bellevue Park gardener bought out their supply.  I did buy one pack of Savoy Cabbage, and one of scotch kale.  A little later I stopped into Willey's Farm Market on Route 13 south of Odessa, where six packs were $3.49.   They had kohlrabi and collards, so I got one of each.  The mesclun was sown pretty heavily, so even at $3.49, I bought one of those.
      It wasn't until the next day that I thought about Olde Country Gardens here in Wilmington.  I scored two four packs of broccoli at $2.99, but careful selection found me a pack of six, and one with seven!  These starts were planted out in both gardens on 9/8/11.  This might be the end of my purchased starters.

Bellevue, Bed #1

      Following Lou's example, I figured I would start some seeds directly into the garden.  Would sew them thickly, hoping to have enough to move to other places, like my daughter's cold frames. Planted so far:

      9/12/11 Bed #8: One row White Globe Radish, one row Easter Egg Radish, 4 rows Purple Top Turnips

      9/19/11 Bed #5, from East to West: Planted in 6 or 8 inch swaths: Fedco Tatsoi, Livingston Arugula, Lake Valley Mizuna, and Bloomsdale long standing spinach.

      9/20/11 Bed #1 pictured above, in 8 inch swaths from East to West: Fedco Space spinach, Fedco thick stem Chinese mustard, Fedco Beedy's kale, Fedco giant winter spinach, Heirloom early wonder beet, Livingstone white globe radish, and GWD pak choi

      9/21/11 Bed #6 from East to West: two foot block GWD 2011 Arugula, then 8 inch swaths of Fedco winter marvel bibb lettuce, Fedco Rouge D'Hivre romaine lettuce, Livingsone baby romaine, GWD 2011 red sails lettuce, Fedco tango lettuce, GWD 2011 four seasons lettuce, and Phil's 2011 Lush Arugula

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It Pained me to do it

      For the entire gardening season I have been able to compost everything back to the park plot other than harvested produce.  Then came August and 20 inches of rain.  Growth in a tropical rain forest is extensive.  As in weeds.  And more weeds.  Some weeds that I encouraged like Purple Basil and lamb's quarter.  Mistake.  Lamb's quarter may be edible, but that does not make it a desirable crop in a garden.  Nor the Purple Basil in excess.  Both turn into shrubs in just a year, with tenacious root systems to match.  Next year: no lamb's quarter, and maybe one or two Purple Basil.  Goodbye my little unlovelies.
      Tomatoes, peppers and most squash don't like that much rain, so gardening has taken a hit while the weeds are on a joy ride.  This late in the season it is also naturally the time to see a fade with the need to start some fall clean up.  But this is a little too much.

Veggie waste and weeds, 9/21/11

      I would normally try to cut this all up into small pieces to add to the compost pile, but this mountain is overwhelming.  It could take hours or days cutting it up, versus maybe an hour to run it over to the park compost pile.  Where they have front end loaders to do the mixing.  So, gulp, I gave into the time priority and loaded the pile onto my motorized garden cart.

Smarter gardening, 9/21/11

      Sometimes it just pays to bend a little.  After all, the plant material is being composted, and I will bring back wood chips, grass clippings and leaves to my garden.  So I am constantly adding more organic material to the beds.  And it shows.  I now have soil instead of clay, and big worms are now present to do the soil tilling the non motorized and quiet way.  There was not a worm to be found three years ago.

Same spot as above, now much prettier

Ready to start the fall gardening

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Still Pickin

      The tomatoes over at the park are nearly finished except for an occasional Chocolate Cherry.  Yet in the back yard garden, many are still in decent production.  I believe it is the result of 30 years of organic additions making the soil not only hold water better, but yet not compact so as to also drain better.  Best of both worlds?
      We went to a party Saturday morning and I wanted to take something.  What better than a selection of tomatoes and peppers picked that morning.

Morning harvest, 9/17/11

      The big yellow tomato is Dr. Wyche, a most welcome volunteer from last year.  I am trying to save seed this year from three different tomatoes from the Dr. Wyche vines.  Just below and to the left are Brandywine tomatoes and just below and to the right are Cherokee Purple.  The dark cherry tomatoes to the right of the Cherokees are the Chocolate Cherry tomatoes.  The little tiny ones to the right of the picture are unknown annual volunteers that I like to think of as Wessie do tomatoes, after my Grandson Wesley who loves to pick them.  Basil, bell peppers, Cayenne. and an unknown pepper round out the harvest.  Simply scrumptious.

Well Worth the Effort

      Sunflowers have a way of lifting my spirits.  Even on a gray day, they seem to shine with stored up energy.  As the rest of the garden is ready to tuck it in to sleep at night, the sunflowers still have the glow of the day till all is dark.  The packets of sunflower seeds deliver fantasies of beautiful yields of sunflowers in many different hues and sizes.  Yet I have lost track of the number of times I have tried to grow sunflowers from seed.  Many seeds fail to sprout.  Those that do are most often so leggy that their fragile stems collapse on the first day out in the garden.  Or some pest trades the long term potential harvest of sunflower seeds for the immediate gratification of tender sunflower shoots.  So after many failures, I gave up on trying to grow sunflowers.
      Three years ago in the spring as I was leaving the park community garden to go home, I passed one of the bare spots in the grass that had been a pile of discarded plants and weeds from the year before.  These spots are often a great place to search for volunteers for transplant to my garden.  Never do I refuse a bargain.  There to my delight were several nicely green stubby little plants that I believed to be sunflowers.  Whoopee, time for a transplant.  Digging them out resulted in the plants being bare rooted.  No problem, they all took to their new home quite easily.
      In the first year, I had quite a crop of sunflowers, and even harvested some seed heads to maybe try to eat the seed or at least to grow on for next year.  Meanwhile, the birds, particularly the beautiful gold finches, were eagerly stripping any flower head that I didn't pick.  But alas, some little larval worms, most likely some moth, decimated the store of seed that I had saved.
      Out of business again?  Not so fast.  Remember the birds that had so eagerly attacked the flower heads last year.  Apparently they are pretty sloppy eaters.  So late spring of the following year presented me with sunflower volunteers growing right in my own garden.  The ones in the spots I deemed correct were left to grow on.  The others were offered to other gardeners to start their own stand.  So last year produced a good crop of sunflowers, and as you can now guess, there were volunteers this spring for the taking.  So if I could have sunflowers at the park, why not at home?  Six or seven plants made the trek home to the back yard garden.  They took well.  Then August hit with its nearly twenty inches of rain.  Sunflowers are top heavy and have a shallow root system.  Plus they are brittle and often snap off somewhere along the main trunk.  So I was down to just one tall plant that had its first bloom two days before Hurricane Irene's arrival.  I blogged previously about that plant and our efforts to save it.  Save it we did, and it was worth the effort.  The following pictures were taken on 9/7/11, near the peak show of this sunflower.

Back yard sunflower, 9/7/11

Sunflower in its glory!!

      So this sunflower survived Hurricane Irene and lived on to become quite a beauty.  I lost count on the number of blossoms when I got to twenty five!  Hopefully the birds will be sloppy again and spring will deliver lots of new volunteers to carry on a beautiful tradition.  Hint: If you don't have a source of volunteers, I would plant seeds outside in January or February as the survivors should grow out big and strong.  After the first year, hopefully the patch will reseed every following year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Volunteer Veggies

      This fall, like many, came too quickly, with many summer projects left undone.  Not surprisingly, planting seed for the fall garden was one of those projects gone awry.  To make it worse, none of the nurseries or box stores around here are carrying fall veggie starts.  In little more than an hour, I will drive down to Willey's Farmstore to see what they have.  But this morning I was over to the park garden to look for volunteers in my plot and in the three compost piles.
      The pickings were fairly slim.  Black Seeded Simpson lettuce that I got from Lou Gallo early this year was great fresh, then went to seed.  Some of the babies are just poking through the mulch.

Black Seeded Simpson starts, 9/7/11

      I saw Lou this morning over at the park.  He has a fat 20 foot row of Simpson coming up right now.  He offered me to thin out some.  Solves that problem.  Thank you Lou.  I forgot to take a photo of the nice little Frisee plants coming up at the park.  They look like I had put them in, as they are already in a bed, no transplanting required!  There is a nice batch of what looks to be Rainbow Lacinto Kale coming up.  It could also be Red Russian Kale, but no problem as either is great.

Kale, either Red Russian or Rainbow Lacinto

      Next it was on to a walk around the park compost piles to see if anything of interest was growing for transplant to my garden.  Whoopee, spotted at the top of one pile was a sole sprout of the red stemmed Malabar Spinach!  I had tried unsuccessfully to grow malabar from seed this spring, having planted 18 seeds to have only one sprout.  That one did not make it to size either. 

Malabar Spinach find, 9/7/11

      Malabar Spinach likes hot weather, as in the nineties.  It will not get that here in September, but it will grow to where I can get lots of cuttings.  I have at times successfully rooted them over the winter, to have plants to put in the ground in June.  I will try harder this winter to succeed with it, as it is difficult to even find the seed.
      Having scaled the compost pile to dig out the Malabar, I was rewarded with a bonus!

Red lettuce, 9/7/11

      A handful of red lettuce seedlings!  Oh how sweet it is.  I would not have even seen them at the top of the pile if it had not been for the malabar scavenge.  The lettuce was transplanted to cell packs to grow some better roots before going into their fall spots.  A total count of 11 nice little seedlings.  I love it when a plan comes together.  So between Lou's generous offer and my red lettuce find, I may not buy lettuce later this morning.  More to spend on broccoli and cabbage.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Welcome Visitors

     Some wild visitors to the garden are welcome.  Some are not.  After thirty years of gardening out back, the deer discovered us last year.  This year they have grazed most varieties of beans down to nothing, but for some strange reason don't seem to like the yellow wax beans.  Though also not my favorite, some beans are certainly better than no beans.  So the deer are a not, as are the voles that nip at the squash.  I even watched a vole climb a yellow wax bean plant to snip off a bean.  The voles don't seem to do well against rat traps baited with peanut butter, so that problem has been cut back.  But here are two new visitors to the garden that I do welcome.

Box turtle

Double click pictures to enlarge

      This box turtle came for a visit one day, maybe to get a drink from the water bowl.  Cindy got home from an errand maybe twenty minutes later, but when I tried to make introductions, Mr. Box was nowhere to be found.  And he hasn't been seen since.  Well at least the visit was documented on film.
      The next visitors are leopard frogs.  I keep the concrete mixing vat both to collect rain water and to give me a spot to easily soak potted plants.  A good soaking in the vat is much more effective than a watering can.  The soil in a pot shrinks as it dries, and then water just scoots down the inside of the pot.  A good soaking fully hydrates the soil.  But back to the vat -

Living on the edge

       You can see a leopard frog sitting on the edge of the vat, just left of the fish tank frame.  His buddy was a little more nervous and had just performed a froggy dive into the pool.  Our house is probably three hundred yards away from the creek, but that must be where they previously called home.   I suspect they live on mosquito larvae in their new digs, as I never see mozzies along with the frogs.  There is a third frog in one of the big clear plastic pretzel jars.  I need to liberate that one as I don't think he can get out.  These little guys are way too small to dream about frogs legs as a crop from the garden.  Just kiddin...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Good Riddance Irene

      The hype for Hurricane Irene started at least a week before the storm arrived.  Unlike most storms however, she held pretty much to the anticipated path, which put Wilmington smack in the way of a big storm.  So preparations needed to be made to harvest veggies, move potted plants, tie down outside furniture, and clear off the porch.  I expected the gardens to be pretty much trashed, so I took pictures before Irene to compare with the later damage.

Backyard garden, 8/26/11

      The morning of Friday, August 26th, was misty and humid, lending an eerie feel to these pictures.  The sun flower in the background in the middle of the photo had finally had its first bloom on August 25th, the plant having grown to a height of about 12 feet!  Surely its days were limited with the hurricane coming in.  The plant was tied to a 4 x 4 pole at about the 5 foot level.  I expected it to break off there, as the sunflower plants are fairly brittle.

      The patio furniture was taken off the deck and tied to the ash tree.  The picnic table was flipped onto its back on the deck, and the little kids playhouse to the right of the picture was lashed to the maple tree.  A good move as it was to blow over in the storm, but it remained tethered to the tree.

Pre-storm back yard harvest, 8/26/11

      I picked most of the acorn squash for fear of them absorbing too much rain water.  Same for the white "Casper" pumpkin.  I was given the Casper seed, so tried it out.  The plant has been much hardier than the normal orange pumpkins, and looks to give me five or more nice little ghosts.  The cucumber plants have also lasted much longer this year, knock on wood.  The yellow tomato at the bottom right corner is "Dr. Wyche".  I was thrilled to see this first fruit develop, as I had grown Dr. Wyche last year from a gift plant.  It is a nice tomato, and I had unwisely failed to keep any seed from last year.  When a couple of volunteer plants popped up in the area where I had the plants last year, I transplanted them into the tomato row.  I now have two plants, and have already saved some seed for next year.  The tomato is big and meaty, has great flavor, and has an appearance that reminds me of a fruit like a mango.  Glad to have it back.
      It has been a good pepper year for me already, with many different varieties coming in.  The only hot one is the cayenne, and we actually ate one of the red ones last week and enjoyed it.  I found a recipe for green pepper soup which looks delicious, and am anxious to try that one.

Temporary indoor shelter

      All of the harvest from the porch had to be moved into the dining room.  The porch furniture came in too, and the shelves on the porch were put on their sides.  Now it is off to the park to document some shots before the storm.

Bellevue Park community gardens, 8/26/11

My Bellevue plot #84, 8/26/11

      Hurricane Irene finally hit on August 27th.  We in Wilmington were hit with 6 to 8 inches of rain, but did not seem to get the wind that had been expected.  We lost our power for 11 hours, just shy of the time to panic about our freezer.  The sunflowers at the park faired about as expected, with most of them toppled over or broken.

Bellevue Park, 8/28/11

My plot, 8/28/11

      The sunflowers on my plot got beat up pretty badly, and the pole bean trellis on the right side of this picture got snapped off.  It was repaired by strapping on a new upright to the piece still in the ground.  The beans seemed not to care, though there is a heavy infestation of Colorado bean beetles.  Unlike my peppers that have done well at home, there seems to be something at the park that kills off the plants at my plot.

My back yard sunflower, 8/28/11

      My sunflower out back made it through the storm without breaking or toppling!  Cindy and I went out the next morning as it was still quite windy, and put up an emergency 10 foot metal pole as support.  You can see the yellow crime scene tape put to good use.  For a couple of days the plant wilted as a result of too much water, but it looks to be recovering nicely.  The "too much water syndrome" has hit many of the tomato plants, so I think the tomato season will be downhill from here.  But overall, we were extremely lucky with what little damage we had.

This Casper made it fine on the vine, 8/28/11

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Enjoying the Ride

      Two weeks ago we had lent our daughter Barb a car while their car had a little work done.  Afterwards I drove down with Cindy to pick up the car and decided to take the slow way home.  A little road near Barb's house leads down to three access dirt/gravel roads along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  Maybe the busiest canal in the US.

A calm and misty morning

Lone single man paddleboat

      That dot in the middle of the first picture was a person out in a little paddle boat.  I could actually see their knees churning up and down to make progress along the canal.  You wouldn't catch me out there, as one, there are huge ships, and two, the tide changes can cause fierce currents.  And yet, all was peaceful as the water was dead calm, and the mist was rolling along the canal.

Railroad draw bridge

       The view to the west shows the railroad draw bridge.  The whole bridge is lowered down to the track level when a train comes along.  I have yet to see that happen, but am still hoping to catch it.  In the distance you can see a small motor yacht about to come under the bridge.

Railroad track at both bases of the bridge 

      Turning east, it is time to head home.  I will take the slow way home along route 9 so as not to blow away the morning stillness with the trek on I-95.

Heading into the day, and back into the world