Archive for category Vegetable Gardening
I’ve been away from the blog a bit, because I’ve been outside trying to catch up on gardening tasks. Those tasks achieved urgent status this week when it became clear that the first killing freeze of the season was imminent. In my region, it is supposed to be tomorrow night. But I live in a cold pocket, so I’m betting we’ll see temperatures below freezing in my yard tonight.
Yesterday afternoon, I picked all the greens that were big enough to eat, along with fresh chives, parsley, dill, and basil, and every pepper left on the plants. Peppers faint at the slightest sign of chilly air. I also picked a big bouquet of nasturtium flowers. They are another plant that melts into mush when 30-degree temperatures visit the garden. I love the fragrance of nasturtiums; they smell like heirloom roses — sweet, but not cloying.
I’ve covered the greens bed with a tent of garden fabric, and I expect they will mostly survive the two-day chill we’re in for. Warmer temperatures are predicted to return after that, so I’m hopeful more home-grown salads will be in our near future.
My tented broccoli loved the two-week rain. I don’t think I’ve ever grown such happy fall broccoli. Flower heads are just beginning to look big enough to harvest. After the cold snap, I’m going to fertilize these veggies and the greens in the hopes of encouraging some faster growth before prolonged cold settles in.
The drought had turned the chives into dry stalks, but they got a new lease on life after two weeks of rain. I’ve never had such a healthy autumn chive crop. And the parsley perked up too.
This afternoon, Wonder Spouse helped me drain the front water feature and relocate the partially submerged pots of plants that summered there. It’s slimy, mucky work, and we had to relocate four unhappy frogs down the hill to the small pond on our floodplain. These frogs were not born in our little water feature; they migrate up from the creek during rainy summer nights. The tree frogs and toads that start as tadpoles in spring in our artificial pool metamorphose and move out into the yard.
Earlier this week, I cleaned up my greenhouse, which had been vacant all summer. Then I weeded my way to where my potted plants had been summering beneath the Southern Magnolia, cleaned up all the pots, then loaded them into a wheelbarrow for transport to the greenhouse. By the end of summer, these pots harbor a wide assortment of weeds, slugs, snails, rolly-polys, and occasionally (but not this year) tree frogs or a Carolina Anole. This year’s biggest surprise was a cranky black rat snake that considered the area its turf. I posted some photos of it on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page. It has been quite annoyed by my weeding, and today it was very upset with us as we drained the water feature, even rearing up as if to strike when Wonder Spouse stepped closer for a look.
The good news is that the frenzy of activity prompted by the impending freeze is done — and a good thing, because I’m not sure that either Wonder Spouse or I will be walking fully upright tomorrow. We were pushing our joints and muscles pretty hard, and our “mature” bodies just don’t bounce back from that sort of abuse the way they did a few decades ago.
When I do recover and the warmer weather returns, I’ll resume my attempts to catch up on weeding. The prolonged rains caused every weed to quadruple in size, so it’s going to be a winter-long task.
That’s if the winter will let me. Weather scientists are saying we’re in the midst of a strong El Nino year, which for my region means average temperatures and above-normal precipitation. Frozen or liquid, precipitation impedes yard work. But perhaps that is just as well. I confess the idea of remaining warm indoors with books and my computer for a month or two is sounding pretty darn wonderful about now.
It’s been a week of appearances and disappearances in my yard and gardens. Last weekend, Wonder Spouse and I were checking out our sad little creek, which has morphed into a series of shallow pools separated by sand bars, when we noticed this:
That was a large branch of a buttonbush growing beside the creek. All the leafy goodness was removed recently by a beaver.
We figure it’s probably the work of a juvenile beaver recently expelled from its parents’ territory, because the only other damage we could find was to a stand of naturally occurring hazelnuts that grow downstream from the buttonbush about a hundred yards. If a pair or more of these rodents had moved in, we would be seeing much more damage. The other possibility is that a group has set up camp somewhere in the wetland beyond the creek, which is criss-crossed by a number of channels that eventually feed into our creek downstream of our property. However, if that were the case, I would have thought even our part of the creek would have higher water levels.
I’m hoping it was a juvenile just passing through. If I had a hundred acres, I’d happily share ten with beavers — that’s the average size of the impoundment they prefer to create. But I only have five acres, and they’re full of trees and shrubs that I planted with love and have labored and watched over for decades. So I’m hoping this one moved on after decimating the tastiest woodies it could easily access.
My bronze fennel and parsley plants were playing host to about three dozen caterpillars four days ago. They were growing fast, and I was looking forward to searching for their chrysalises when they were ready for that transformation. However, I think they were instead transformed into dinners for my local bird population. I’ve been grateful all summer for the steady work of bluebirds, wrens, gnatcatchers, and warblers as they prevented tomato hornworms from inflicting any serious damage to my tomatoes.
But I should have realized that the same bright eyes that spotted the hornworms would eventually notice the swallowtail caterpillars. A few mornings ago when I came out to inspect their progress, I found one lone caterpillar on a fennel. Thinking it was too exposed there, I moved it to a parsley plant disguised by chive leaves. The birds must have been watching from the trees. My relocated caterpillar didn’t last the day.
This is a tough one for me, but if forced to choose between aiding the reproduction of a beautiful pollinator species and nurturing a healthy horde of insect-devouring feathered flying machines, I think the birds are doing my landscape more good than the swallowtails. Still, it was a jolt to see my fennels suddenly devoid of caterpillars.
As if in compensation, Red-spotted Purple butterflies are suddenly back in my yard. This one was sipping the moist bed in my vegetable garden that I had enriched with compost and deeply watered before I planted it with spinach, lettuce, baby kale, and beet seeds. As of yesterday, germination was evident for all varieties. I see much transplanting and watering of small seedlings in my future.
I am gambling big time with direct-sowing these veggies, but I had the seed, I’m craving good spinach and lettuce, so I planted. A possible hurricane may get close enough next week to make temperatures soar, but odds are we won’t get any rain out of it. I’ll be lucky to keep the seedlings and the broccoli transplants I’ve added alive until more autumnal temperatures arrive. And if the rains don’t come soon, lack of water may finish them off. But even the faint chance of sweet fall broccoli, savory spinach, crisp lettuce, and maybe even more sugary red beets was more than I could pass on. As any vegetable gardener knows, once you’ve grown — and eaten — your own, it’s very hard to go back to the grocery store.
Another sign of summer’s waning is the appearance of increasing numbers of soldier beetles. They are mobbing my flowers almost more than the bees.
Sky dragons sporting an array of colors and patterns patrol the skies from dawn till well past sunset. Given their numbers this year, it’s a miracle I’ve seen any butterflies flitting about at all.
Autumn fruits are also coloring up on a wide array of shrubs and trees in my yard, but I’ll save those for another post. For now, I advise my fellow gardeners to keep close eyes on your charges during this transitional time of year. Otherwise, you’ll almost certainly miss some of the comings and goings in your patch of green.
A note to my NC piedmont region readers:
I post a number of links of local interest on my Piedmont Gardener Facebook page. Along with many extra photos of my yard and gardens, you’ll also find links to relevant local events and to articles of interest. Check it out, and if you like what you see, follow me there.
Although summer heat and drought continue unabated, the quality of sunlight at dawn and dusk has changed. First, dawn is coming later, dusk earlier. But also the angle of the light is changing. Now the sun’s rays spend more time slanting through the trees, golden arrows that spotlight lichen-covered bark, a bit of mossy ground, or a bright cardinal posing on a branch.
Both pole and bush beans are losing leaves to time and fungus, but still their growing tips actively push out new shoots and flowers. I’m doling out water to them from the shallow well about every third day, and picking tasty beans about as often. It’s been a good year for the beans.
The tomatoes are also still producing, albeit much less enthusiastically. As usual, Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes win the prize for prolonged productivity. If I could give them more water, I’m sure they would produce even more heavily, but a handful of fruits every other day is more than enough to quell our tomato hankerings.
Last weekend at the local farmers’ market, a gentleman was selling vigorous seedlings of a number of broccoli, chard, and collard varieties. I never get around to starting fall crops in time, because my little greenhouse is too hot this time of year. I couldn’t resist the healthy broccoli babies. I got 6 Packman — a southern standard in these parts — and 6 Arcadia — a variety I’ve never tried that is supposed to be very cold-resistant, thereby extending the broccoli season into late fall — theoretically, anyway. We love fall broccoli at my house, because the frosts seem to sweeten them, but there’s a fine line between frost and freeze, and you can’t always predict when that line will be crossed.
Enter my little tent above. Yesterday, I planted my broccoli babies, mulched them with compost, and watered them very, very thoroughly. I draped spun garden fabric over metal hoops to enclose the plants completely. Right now, that’s mainly to keep out the cabbage moths that love to lay their eggs on broccoli, resulting in green loopers chomping the plants to stubs. As cooler temperatures arrive, the tent will protect the plants from frost damage; sometimes it even deflects the first few freezes. I leave one side loosely tacked down so that I can lift it easily for watering, because even though the fabric does let water through, much does bounce off. And the rains continue to avoid my house anyway. We are so very dry here that it hurts me to walk around the yard and see all my suffering, wilting green friends.
The Writing Spider whose web was draped parallel to the tomato trellis relocated herself. Now she has anchored her home to the trellis on one side and a tall basil plant on the other, stretching across a garden path to optimize her chances of catching unwary fliers. I think it’s working for her, as you can see.
Of the five sunflowers (Sunflower ‘Birds and Bees’ from Renee’s Garden) that managed to grow for me this dry summer season, four produced single large flowers on top of their stalks, while this one, which bloomed last, produced multiple, smaller heads. The pollinators seem to feel that size doesn’t matter.
A few insect species that I normally see by June have only just recently appeared in my garden this year. Case in point: Black Swallowtails and their caterpillars. Finally, the bronze fennel I plant especially for their caterpillars to dine on is covered in these colorful, voracious critters.
After only seeing the Chinese mantises all summer, I was quite relieved to spot this native Carolina Mantis staked out on my Autumn Daffodil daylily in the front garden. They are much smaller and differently colored. This one did not like being photographed and kept jumping about, hence the slightly blurred photos.
That’s the tip of a daylily petal, so you can see how relatively small this one was. I don’t think it was full-grown, but this species never attains the size of the Chinese mantises that often displace them from their preferred habitats.
The most abundant dark swallowtail butterfly in my yard is the Spicebush Swallowtail, probably because the shrub for which it is named grows all over my yard. Finally yesterday I spotted my first Pipevine Swallowtail. The shimmery blue of their hind wings is unmistakeable, but it is very hard to get a decent photo of them, because they drink nectar while hovering — just like hummingbirds. In photo after photo, I end up with motion-blurred wings.
I planted some native pipevines two years ago in the hopes of attracting more of these beauties. I suspect the drought may have damaged them; I’ve been afraid to look, because I just don’t have any water for them.
This dragonfly showed up a few days ago and posed on one of my ornamental grasses. I’ve never seen dragonfly wings edged in gold before.
Tall Formosa Lilies lean from the weight of their enormous white trumpets. Their sugary fragrance perfumes the humid morning air.
I’ll close with this somewhat fuzzy shot. The point here is that I managed to get two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in one photo. For most of the summer, even this common species has been sparse. Finally, in the last week, they are everywhere, drifting from blooming abelia to bright lantana to Joe Pye Weed and Cardinal Flower. Finally, I am having to walk carefully to avoid colliding with these floating lovelies.
It’s been a long, dry summer, and we’ve more to go before autumn arrives. It lifts my spirits to see these recent arrivals. Better late than never, as the saying goes.
Now if we can just persuade that tropical system out in the Atlantic Ocean to send its moisture — but not its winds — our way, that would be a fine ending for this season, and a great opener for the next.
The Writing Spiders have grown large enough to make their presence known throughout the landscape. The yellow-and-black beauties that scrawl squiggles in their webs are probably about half grown now — big enough to spot, sited strategically among bean vines and trellised tomatoes. They know where the tasty bugs are to be found. I don’t argue with them, as long as they don’t cast their webs across the rows where I must walk. There’s nothing like a face full of spider silk to wake a sleepy gardener from her early morning harvesting tasks.
Butterflies continue to increase in numbers and species diversity — finally! The online butterfly group I follow seems to think they are the result of a second reproductive wave that has been vastly more successful than the first one. Whatever the reason, I am happy to see them animate my landscape as they float from zinnia to anise hyssop to abelia to coneflower.
Recently, flowers of one Purple Coneflower and one Black-eyed Susan morphed into blooms that looked as if they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book. A quick search of the Web revealed they were afflicted with a disease called Aster Yellows. This disease is spread by leafhoppers; they inject the responsible organism when they feed on the plants. No cures are available. To avoid spreading the disease, the experts advise removal of the plants — and disposal in the trash, not the compost pile.
The disease can affect over 300 plant species, and grasses and weeds can act as reservoirs for the disease. Two of the most likely weed reservoirs are plantains and dandelions, both of which abound in my “lawn.” Symptoms of the disease vary with the infected species, but the Dr. Seuss-like flower tops are apparently key clues. The infected coneflower also had green, sickly petals — another sign.
The leaves of the coneflower looked green and healthy, and even the flowers didn’t look too bad, just strange. However, the infected Black-eyed Susan was clearly sick. Like the coneflower, it had the strange growths in the centers of its flowers, but the leaves were also yellowing and dying.
I photographed the infected flowers and then disposed of them. The link above also notes that the infection can be spread between plants via dead-heading, if you don’t wipe off your clippers with alcohol between plants. The disease was probably isolated to only these two plants in my garden because I don’t dead-head coneflowers or rudbeckias. I prefer to let them set seed, so the goldfinches and other seed eaters can enjoy them.
The Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) that I planted last fall is blooming. Compared to the showier butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), it is a demure plant. But I find I like the pendulous pale pink flowers. Alas, so far its flowers have attracted more ants than bees or butterflies. Still, it’s there if the Monarchs manage to find my garden.
I’m picking tomatoes and beans daily again, now that the temperatures backed down to the low 90s and we’ve had some rain. And the basil is having an excellent year. I cut whole stems of it for a vase in the kitchen, so that Wonder Spouse has leaves handy as inspiration moves him to add them to his culinary masterpieces.
The rains have also inspired the weeds to new heights and numbers. Truly, a gardener’s work is never done. I do the best I can, as I observe and enjoy the comings and goings of flora and fauna through their seasonal dance.
The heat and humidity have begun to wear on plants as well as humans in my patch of Piedmont. I saw a notice from a local extension agent that dreaded basil mildew disease has been spotted. I think it held off longer than usual — as did most of the fungal diseases — because our June was unusually dry and hot.
July has brought heavy, but scattered rains, and lingering humidity and heat. Fungal diseases are certain to soon plague my tomatoes, and perhaps the beans. The vegetables, while still producing well, are looking a bit tired. Many flowers are still blooming well, which the abundant insects are clearly appreciating.
The nearly butterfly-free summer continues at my house. Iridescent members of the dragonfly clan dominate the thick air, causing me to worry about the fate of the few butterflies I am seeing. The rains have finally brought around a few butterflies, I’m happy to say.
No clouds of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails this year, but a few are passing through from time to time. Pearl Crescents (I think that’s what they are) are easily the most numerous butterflies on my flowers.
I spotted a couple of dark swallowtails over the last few days.
And this one high up on a dogwood yesterday was drying out after a bit of rain from the previous evening.
My happiest butterfly moment of the summer so far was this Red Admiral sunning itself on my driveway yesterday. This is the first one of this species I’ve seen all year.
More numerous — by a bit — than the butterflies are the sphinx moths, also called hummingbird moths, because their mostly clear wings vibrate as quickly as those of hummingbirds as they hover beside flowers to drink nectar. As an amateur photographer, I find them very frustrating to capture. But I’ve gotten a few almost decent shots over the last few days, if you’ll indulge me.
Yesterday, I saw one spread out on a tomato leaf sunning itself in the early dawn light. We had very heavy dew on the ground, and I think it was drying itself.
And a final profile shot as it rested on the tomato leaf:
I’ll close this photo post with a few flower shots to show you what the insects are enjoying.
The rain made the weeds explode into productivity, of course. My gardening to-do list grows ever longer, while my enthusiasm for working in the summer weather continues to wane. Still, for fresh-picked blueberries, juicy tomato sandwiches, and a dazzling array of pollinators, I’ll endeavor to keep up as best I can.
Stay cool and hydrated, ya’ll. Fall planting season will be here before we can turn around twice.
This summer growing season has been a tough one for me. It started out slowly, because colder-than-normal temperatures lingered into early May. Then it stopped raining at my house for six weeks. During that time, my garden never saw more than two-tenths of an inch of rain, and that only every few weeks. We’re talking dust bowl. Add June temperatures that — for 16 days in a row — hit 90 degrees or better, with several well into the low 100s, and you’ve got seriously stressed vegetables.
My zucchinis quickly expired. One day they were lush and productive; the next day they were wilted and dying. When I pulled them, they had almost no roots. I’m fairly certain the voles did them in. They also got one of my Carmen Italian pepper plants in the same bed. I’ve still got three pepper plants surviving, I’m happy to report.
Finally, a few days ago in 48 hours, we got 3.5 inches of blessed precipitation. A tiny bit of dime-sized hail also hit us, but not enough to hurt anything severely. Strong thunderstorm winds also knocked things around a bit, but again, nothing that a bit of re-staking couldn’t repair.
My beans and tomatoes had quit growing when the heat wave/drought hit. I was keeping them alive by doling out my limited supply of water every other day, but they were not happy plants. Then the rains finally came, and you could hear the beans shouting, “Yippee!”
In the foreground of the photo above, you see the bean trellis. My Fortex pole beans on the right side have scaled the top of the trellis and are heading back down the other side. I grow Jade bush beans on the left side of the trellis. I long ago learned that so-called bush beans are not really bushy, by which I mean they don’t stand sturdily upright on their own. You must provide some kind of support. The simplest solution for me is to grow them on either side of a trellis and gently tie them to it as they grow tall and floppy.
I have grown the same two varieties of beans for a number of years. I’ve tried plenty of others, but I haven’t found any that match the consistent quality of Jade and Fortex. The Jades produce a typical-looking green bean — a deep Jade green color. The flavor is rich, but lighter than the meatier flavor of Fortex pole beans. We eat them both lightly steamed, and the Jades are excellent cold in salads. This time of year, we eat beans almost every night — not just because we have so many, but also because they taste so darn good.
We’re also eating tomatoes every day. This year, I limited myself to only four varieties (in my youthful years, I’d grow 8-10 varieties):
- Sweet Treats — the only cherry type I’ve grown for a while now. It is just too perfect to replace.
- La Roma II — this paste type is the latest version of a Roma. It is more disease-resistant, astonishingly productive, and this determinate tomato stays short, but bushes out in all directions to produce a fabulous abundance of fruits. The foliage grows so dense as the fruits ripen that I can’t take a decent photo of ripe fruits on the vine. The one above was taken before the leaves covered the developing fruits.
- Early Blue Ribbon — this was a new one for me this year. I always try one early slicer type, always eager for summer tomato sandwiches as soon as possible. This one has been OK, but I won’t grow it again. My quest for an irresistibly tasty early tomato continues.
- Amelia — this is the larger slicer type I’m trying this year. The fruits are only now beginning to redden. I think the heat wave stopped them in their tracks for a while. They look promising, but our taste buds will be the final arbiters of this tomato variety’s future in our garden.
I still have a few sad-looking carrot and beet plants in the ground, but the heat wave really pounded them. I’ll be amazed if they produce anything edible.
Wonder Spouse has not pulled his potatoes yet. The Purple Vikings still look vigorous, despite the heat. The Kipfel fingerlings and the Dazocs are looking kind of ragged. Wonder Spouse is planning to dig into them this weekend to get a sense of their tuber size and condition. Stay tuned for further developments.
The flowers I grew from seed have hung in remarkably well with very little water from me. Some of the perennials are actually going to bloom this year, which doesn’t always happen.
Early cold combined with prolonged heat and drought have very negatively impacted my large butterfly population. Finally, in the last two days, I’ve begun to see just a few, very ragged-looking larger butterflies. Here’s hoping their number — and appearance — improve soon.
Have a great Fourth of July, ya’ll.