Monday, June 29, 2009

Back From Vacation.

I'm back from vacation. I didn't say anything before leaving because things were crazy right before we left and announcing to the internet that your house will be vacant isn't wise!
There was not a heck of a lot of prep that was accomplished before I left. I topped off the reservoirs on the containers, watered the rest and tied up as much as I could. I was hoping that the every other day pattern of rain would hold while I was gone and for the most part it did. My vacation casualties are few. I lost all the sweet pea vines in the balcony containers and a good chunk of the lower leaves of the middle tomato. The 16oz of water I left these guys with wasn't enough when the heat and wind arrived. They recovered with a lot of watering yesterday but it looks like quite a few buds are toast.
No losses in the circle garden, just a lot of work to do. One of the smaller untied tomatoes went nuts while I was gone and it has begun to sprawl and make the whole bed look messy. The peas are almost ready to come out as well. No real weed issues in this bed though, the cocoa bean mulch did its job. {man do I need to edge or what?!}

No casualties in the corner bed or weed issues either. I did yank a couple bok choi, some spinach and some lettuce though. It got bitter and big in the heat. This bed will need some work this week. The tomatoes in the back (unseen) have grown out of the top of their cages already and will need some stronger support. The only thing that did not have a lot of growth in this bed while we were gone was the beans. Still nothing much happening there. Dumb beans.
Harvest wise, there were a few treats. The first tomato of the season! It was Sungold. I met my goal of a tomato before the fourth of July and it was delicious! The cherries successfully avoided the birds. I harvested seven and ate six. I shared one with hubby. Heh.
I was pretty sure I would miss the peas while we were gone but was pleasantly surprised. Even the bigger, slightly wrinkled shells of sugar snap still tasted sweet. We had a big old meal of these and there are still more coming!
Other losses/concerns. One of the lemon cukes has gone poof. It's completely gone. I'm not sure if what ripped it out was of the two legged or four legged variety. The potatoes suffered a bit while I was gone. They are looking a bit wind beaten and chewed on but should survive. Something continues to eat the heck out of the peppers. They are suffering for it with still no buds.
Nice surprises: Huge growth on all the tomato plants and their fruits. The watermelons, cukes, squash and cantaloupe also made some nice growth. Heat arrived here while we were gone and it helped. I still have tons of greens coming. Only one variety has bolted and gone bitter. I think having that bed in the shade makes all the difference. Remember Persimmon (aka prima donna)? It grew! A lot! It unbelievably has buds on it now. Unfortunately, I didn't remotely expect that kind of growth from pokey in only a week so I delayed staking it. Now I have three plants in that container that are shaped like giant L's. Make that six, since the three pepper plants also fell down in a storm and are now crooked. Oh well, if Persimmon gives me fruits before Halloween, I'll live with lop-sided plants.
Vacation was great and I didn't think once about the garden while I was gone, but now that I am home, I'm anxious to dig back in and figure out how to make those dumb beans grow!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No More Hand Pollination

I've decided to stop the hand pollination of the tomatoes. The goal was to get some fruit before July fourth. There is a chance that might happen, especially with sungold. It has fruits that are nearly full size. If it matures quickly after that, mission accomplished!

There are so many baby tomatoes on these plants now, they don't need my help. I'm hoping that if I take a break for a bit, maybe there will be a lull in the yield and I won't be swamped with a zillion fruit all at once. Of course there is still plenty of time for things to go belly up. For one thing, I need more time to tie them up. Tomorrow I have to go get some ten foot stakes. The eight footers are not going to cut it for some of these. Matina will reach the top of that by the end of the week and has also started growing over the top of the yuck bush. Even the leftover plants I put in the wilds (area most likely to be ignored) are taking off. I wish I could get the same thing going on with my peppers and beans. Bean aren't growing hardly at all and the peppers are being eaten by some pest.

Shown here, the balcony tomatoes. Progress since June 3 has been significant.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Updates About Stuff I (Mostly) Never Blog About

I have noticed that lately my Monday updates have been a little tomato obsessed. Today, I'll break from that trend, lest it start leaning towards a sickness. Instead I'll update on some of the other pleasures and frustrations currently in my garden.

My roses have started. I don't know what this is named. I call it weather rose because it's color varies greatly depending on the weather the buds develop in. Last year my roses were dessimated by Japanese beetles, so I thought I get at least one picture of a before they begin to feast. I know they're coming soon.

The astible are at their peak too. I finally figured out how to grow the brightest varieties. Plant them under the drippy hose connection. That's the only sure way to guarantee they won't dry out! I have no trouble growing the more tolerant varieties elsewhere, but a beauty like Rhineland needs it moist all the time or it's frizzle city.
The peas have gotten way taller than I remember peas getting and they are now covered with buds. My staking of these is pretty much of a joke. Thankfully they are doing a good job supporting each other. It's amazing to me how fast this plant goes from bloom to decent sized pod. After all those weeks complaining about zero pea progress all of a sudden they are bed bursting and covered with pods!

The leeks also seem to have finally decided to wake up. I am reasonably confident that they are now safe from my helpful family members ripping them out and calling them grass. I have leeks planted in five different locations in the yard because I wasn't sure what they liked best. These are my largest which apparently means leeks like growing on the edge of a sawdust pile under a norway maple. My plants are weird.

I'm still harvesting broccoli. I know most people pull these plants when all they keep putting out are these little heads. I really like they way these little guys taste though. To me they are even better than the big heads, so for now, they stay!
Broccoflower was one of my few purchased plants. It was an impulse buy. It's very healthy looking but is very slow. It probably needs more light than it gets in the green bed. I've never grown this before so when to harvest will be a bit of a gamble. For now, I'm putting row cover on it. I don't like the paint job the birds are giving it.

In the fruit department we are where the peas were a month ago. Nothing much happening. Here is a honeydew melon. Underwhelmed? Just wait until you see the watermelon!

But first, what's this? One of my seven cherries has a tint of red on it! Whoo hoo, it's almost ice cream time. I know I really should cover these now to protect them from the birds, but I won't. Covered trees look sad to me, and well covering them is a lot of work! I'll take my chances and hope the blueberries divert the birds long enough that they leave me a few cherries.

Finally here it is, the new Persimmon. Blacktail watermelon. That white thing is the tip of my shoe for a size reference. I am not a giant. Blacktail is pathetic. At least it has two leaves which is one more than my watermelon attempt had on it last year. Hopefully the arrival of something resembling heat will get this guy to grow. I'm not holding my breath though. I have a ways to go before I figure out watermelons.
I'll end with a pretty flower. Delphinium. I finally figured out how to keep these alive too! What you do is buy new plants every year until you find one that will tolerate your neglect. That plant is a keeper!

Oh, wait speaking of Persimmon. (You didn't really think I wouldn't mention a single tomato did you?) On my entry on the third I threatened it with one more chance and put it in a container. It is wisely responding. Several inches of growth since then. Not bad for about a week's growth!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Front Bed Rehab-Before and After

At last, sun and warmth! The morning started with a bath for the dog and a meal for the plants. We have had so much rain that I've been worried about my trace nutrients washing away. Today everything got a dousing with Neptunes Harvest, Organic Fish and Seaweed fertilizer. It's a gentle 2-3-1 natural fertilizer that smells horrible! It reeked bad enough to convinve me it was time to attack the front bed and leave the back beds to air out!

The bed in front of the garage is designed to be low maintenace with four seasons interest.
I've been spending so much time out back that low maintenance became no maintenance and the curb appeal has started to suffer. The issues:
1. Dogwood needs pruning.
2. Deal with winterkill on boxwood.
3. Pauls Glory eating the Rhododenrum.
4. Barberry needs some shaping.
5. Mulch looks uck.

6. Lots and lots of weeds.
7. Juniper needs trimming.
8. Water feature, needs redesign (its the pile of pebbles.
9. Lots and lots of bindweed needs to be removed from the juniper.
10. Tulip remains need to come out.
11. Silver mound artemesia needs relocation.
12. Need some color.

It took me from 11am-5pm to get it done. The biggest hang-up was the water feature. It was basically a water pump in a buried bucket covered with a grate and pebbles and waterproof membrane.

The design flaw was that the bucket was too low, so with every rainstorm, soil, mulch and leaves washed into the reservoir, fouling the water. I had to dig the whole thing out and start over. I moved it forward and then left the bucket roughly six inches above grade. Then I added a colorful pot to help keep the toads and squeeters out. Stone hides the bucket. It works much better now but still needs a bit of tweeking. I don't like the way the inside of the pot looks. I need to either fill it with some stones or paint it. There is also a bit of silocone work that needs to be done with the pump. It's cracked. For now though, this is a big improvement!
On examination, I found that the hedge was not completely dead in the center. There are a ton of green branches low and in the interior of it. I cleaned it up with some trimming and hacked out a bunch of dead so the light can get in. It will get some Neptunes Harvest this evening as well. I also lopped up the bottom limbs of the dogwood to get it more light. Hopefully, it will recover soon.

There was a lot of green debris that came out of this bed. Every plant needed some big trims and the amount of weeds was not small. I always hate trimming the barberry, it chops off the bright red that works so well in this bed. The new foliage will change over soon, but for now, still lots of green in the bed.

Things are in good shape now, but there is a bit more to do. There are two little landscape roses in front of the dogwood that need to come out. They have not performed well enough to get to stay. I'm yanking them out. Also, I planted a persian sheild for a bit of low maintenance color in front of the rhodies today but will probably add some additional color in front of the hedge. I don't like annuals in this bed. I like it kept neat and low maintenance. Wnen I stand back and look at it though, my eye is going to the dead parts of the hedge. I may need something bright to keep them focused elsewhere! I'll wait until the barberry reds up and reassess.

I'm glad to have this out of the way for the most part. Next task, the bed in front of the front door. You thought this one was in bad shape to start. Ugh. that will be a project!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Self Watering Container Tomatoes One Month Later

I built and planted my first self-watering container on May 10th. It was planted with three tomato plants, Carbon on the left and Matina in the middle and right.

Tomato growing conditions have not been ideal, rain nearly every day and little heat. Average temp in the last month has been about 68 degrees.

Those conditions have not held back my plants at all. All three plants already have fruit on them, and as you can see, growth has been exhuberant! I've never had baby tomatoes this early in the season before. I am thrilled with how well these containers are working. To the right of them, the purple potatoes seem equally pleased with the container I made them.

Now if I could only get that dumb watermelon to grow!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Climbing Hydrangea: What You Should Know

My climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris ) was purchased for primarily one reason. I wanted a non-invasive flowering vine that could self support without a trellis. It is a nice plant, but I wish I had studied more than the nursery description before selecting it. If I had, I would have gone with something else.

If you are considering the purchase of this lovely species, let me help translate nursery speak for you.

"a bit slow to establish"
By this they mean that it will take six, yes six years to flower. Oh it will have lots of pretty glossy leaves before then, but don't expect flowers anytime before your newborn enters kindergarten.

"vigorous growth once established"

Translated? 60-80 feet, but not just up. It also grows OUT. It grows fast and furious even if you never fertilize, water or otherwise care for it. It will do this even in shade. In other words, once it does establish, stand back for the plant explosion.

See above, this also means good luck trying to kill it.

"striking exfoliating bark"
In winter your friends that are inexplicably examining the hydrangnea's bark even though it is 20 degrees outside will say, "what's wrong with that plant's bark?" I'm underwhelmed with the bark. To my eye it looks gnawed on. It's not a reason to purchase the plant. A tangled web of gnawed on bark is not my idea of seasonal interest.

"plant needs no support to grow upward -- so you don't have to worry about tying the vine! "
Don't attempt to remove it from the side of your house unless you are planning on repainting and possibly replacing the siding entirely. Those little feet attach themselves firmly. I ripped a branch off the side of the balcony and took wood chunks with it. This plant laughs at strong winds.

Climbing hydrangea is a magnificent plant, but it is one of those where placement is key. It will attach itself to anything near it and if that item is not able to withstand significant support, it is toast. It is also a plant that you need to be willing to wait sometime for. If you have the perfect spot, and some time, it is a plant you may well grow to treasure. I currently have a love hate relationship going with mine. I love it in bloom and I hate having to chop it to smithereens twice a year to keep it from eating my house. One day, it will have to go, but for now it is a reminder for me to study a bit before purchasing anything described as "vigorous".

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday Status Report

Color: Some of my garden beds are designed so that they have different color themes going on at different times. In the corner bed, the spring cool colors, blues, purples and pinks are starting to peak. It's my favorite time for that bed. Soon it will change over to hotter colors which are nice, but the blues are my favorite.

Bean Update: Sigh. In desperation today, I tied one of these poor little seedlings to the teepee. I'm hoping it will be inspired to grow. Currently, the bush beans are twice as tall as the pole beans and the nasturiums are giving them a run for their money too. My beans are frustrating me.

Bee Update: I started seeing honeybee's today! Still not nearly as many as it typical, but at this point I'm glad to see them at all. They are loving the nepeta and the lupines too!

I continue to hand pollinate for now. The weather is absolutely perfect for it and I want to get as much going as possible before the heat arrives. Tomatoes don't pollinate well when temperatures get above 90 degrees, especially if it is humid. In this area, you never know when that will happen so you take advantage of the good stuff as much as possible.

Pest Update: This is a new one for me, toads! We have a ton of them this year. They are all over. This little guy has been pooping in my garden boot! I'm loving what the toads have done to my slugs and earwigs. They're gone! Toads are not the perfect garden friend though. They like to dig. Toads particularly like to dig in the soft squishy soil that surrounds freshly planted plants. I've had to do quite a bit of replanting thanks to these guys. At least they don't rip them out and eat them though right?

Greens etc: Here's the weekly shot of the greens bed. I think this may be the peak pretty week. The chard was getting ahead of me this week. I don't like to let the leaves get huge. Today in a flash of brilliance I picked all the big leaves and chopped them up and added them to the peppers and onions in the bbq beef. It sounds weird but it was good and it passed the munchkin test too!
Hot bed: In the hot bed, fast growth has been the name of the game. These tomatoes gained another six plus inches of height this week and the purple potates have maxed out their bag. All three tomatoes in the container have fruits on them and many many blossoms. They sure are sucking up the water though. The reservoir in this container is huge and I have to fill it once a week.

Watermelon: I still have the watermelon in the wall-o-water to try to keep the heat on it. It has made no real progress to date. Maybe on little leave, lol.

Circle Bed: In the circle bed, the chives are about ready to have their heads lopped off. I don't let them go to seed. I did sprinkle a few of the blossoms on the grilled potatoes tonight. The kids got a kick out of it. The peppers in this bed are getting chewed on a bit. I think it may be ants but so far, I can't find the culprit.
The peas are finally blossoming out and the tomatoes had to have some emergency short stakes stuck in today because of high winds. I haven't been able to get to the store for the tall stakes and the wind was crazy today. Black Krim has a big fat fruit on it and I didn't want to risk damage, so some trim pieces got pounded into the ground for temporary support.

I'll finish with a pretty color combo. The forecast this week is more of the same, essentially perfection! Moderate warmth with intermittent big rains. A bit more heat would speed up the melons and peppers but that would be at the expense of all the greens we are enjoying so for now, I'm not complaining about what we are getting. This has been the best spring gardening weather I have remembered in a long time! It's been really wet, but not flooding and that's good. I hope I don't jinx myself with this! LOL

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Staking Tomatoes and Bed Rehab

I'm not a fan of tomato cages. Yes, they are important, but they are so darn ugly! That's why in places where tomatoes are in full view, I stake them instead.

I finished up my staking chores for the most part, today. I found these thick metal rods that are covered in a ribbed green plastic that work perfectly. The green helps them blend in with their surroundings and the ribbing helps keep the ties from sliding down them. Here's a view of the corner bed with lots of the stakes in place. To the left of the pink peonies there is an area where eight tomatoes are caged, but I have things planted so you can't see them from the yard. Cool huh?

Here's another look at the same bed. Even up close, the stakes aren't too obnoxious and as the plants grow, they will become even less noticeable.

In the lower right corner is a circle staking thing. If you see it in the store, avoid it. It's flimsy and already rusting! It has attachments that make it taller and there is a net that is supposed to go with it. The whole thing is so homely and tippy when assembled, I'm not using it for anything more than the lower circle and the stake.

In the containers, there was a different staking problem to be dealt with. The poles in the containers were starting to cave in towards the center of the container from the weight of the plants. The eventual plan for these containers is to pound some stakes into the ground next to the container. For now, I rigged a temporary solution that is working really well. I drilled a large hole through the lid and hand section and tied the stake low and high thru it. It feels very sturdy now. This should work fine until I start having some serious weight from fruit.
This afternoon I started work on a bed I call the balcony bed. This is a tough area. It only get's afternoon sun, but not tons of it. The dog likes to walk on the brick edging and occassionally chase chipmunks under the hydragnea and it's a dry spot since the whole back two thirds of it is has a balcony overhanging it.
The basic weeding of this area was quick. It's an area where I typically toss some annuals and it hasn't seen a lot of soil improvement so there isn't a lot of rampant growth in it from weeds or anything else.
How much there is to do is more apparent from the other angle. This fence is getting replaced this summer. It's a half fence for privacy in the patio area and it's seen better days-abot 25 years ago by my estimate. The brick edging needs to be raised here. It has settled below the grass line over the years and because of this, maintaining it has become a tedious chore.
The bed itself needs soil amendments, and some evergreens and other perennials. It's in full view of the foyer thru a sliding door and right now there isn't much to see, well unless you are into worn grass and drying pots! I'm going for year round appeal here, with pooch friendly, not water nedy plantings. I'll be breaking out the plant encyclopedias for this project. LOL
Stay tuned! This one will take a bit of work and since my dumb pager keeps going off and the forecast is for more storms, it is unlikely to happen in the next 24 hours. : )

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Done! {insert mini-dance}

Whoo hoo! I did it! All 120+ cold frame plants are in the ground. I got out of work early today and got the last twenty plants finally planted. I had to get brutal with the last ten tomato plants because of space issues. I placed them in less than ideal spots and way too close together but none of them are in such bad locations that they don't have a chance.
Forty six tomato plants, as anticipated was too many for my yard, but not by as much as I originally thought. The containers really helped. I may have tomatoes coming out of my ears in August but lots of disasters can happen between now and then so for now, I'm enjoying my back-up plants having back-ups.
Next year though, I'm going to save myself a lot of work and start things three weeks later. Growth in the frame was not that fast when the temps were really cold and continually moving plants in and out of the house was a bunch of work. Of course if I do get maters before July 4, I may start just a few early...
Some of the peonies have started to open. I love these flowers. They look great at a distance and amazing up close. I can't remember the name of this hot pink one but I love that it only needs a stretchy tie around it's belly to keep it up. This plant is only three years old. It got big fast! I wasn't sure how it would do being placed so close to the arborvittae, but I'm glad I took the chance. They really compliment each other nicely.
This goofy peony is quite old. I ordered it from a cruddy mail order nursery before I knew better. It was supposed to be a brilliant red tree peony for $1.29. They sent me a half dead stick but I planted it and this is what I got, a bashful peony. Every flower on this plant looks like this and they never open all the way. I threaten to rip it out a least once a year but then I take pity on it's goofiness and let it stay.

This mess on the ground is my fault. This plant does this every single year I don't take some serious measures to prop it up. This year I took the lazy way out and it didn't stand a chance against the inch of rain we had two nights ago. All is not lost however. This plant is highly scented. It looked bad outside but wonderful in a vase. Most of these blossoms are now in vases all over the house!
Today's moment of adventure occurred a couple of hours ago. I took a walk at the arboreteum and came across a baptista that was in full bloom. I was fondling the blossoms (because I couldn't help myself) and ended up grabbing a big fat bumblebee. It didn't sting me but startled me enough that I fell off the path and into a bush. Sometimes I can be such a dork!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Making Tomato Babies and Getting Them to Grow

Most of my tomatoes have taken off. The one exception is Persimmon, aka prima donna. I last blogged about this plant in April. It has seen about one inch of growth since then.
Today I decided that I would give it one more chance, some hard core babying to see if I could get it to, er grow! I started by constructing another self-watering container. I have the construction of this container down to 35 minutes now! Learning how to work the new drill makes a big difference!
I'm hoping that the additional warmth the persimmons get in this container will help them catch up to the other tomatoes that were planted at the same time. Today, I helped them further by giving them a dose of worm tea, and some Neptune's fish and seaweed fertilizer.

The small plant in the rear container was started several weeks after the two big guys planted at the sime time as persimmon. It's growing, the three persimmons in the new front container are not. To help them further, and since the weather has cooled, I put a jug of warm water in with them tonight and covered them up. Heat will be the name of the game for awhile.
On the left of this container I crammed three red belgium pepper plants that got stunted during a cold spell weeks ago. I'm hoping the container perks them up too!
Also on the agenda tonight was making babies, tomato babies that is. Sixty degrees and dry is perfect weather for tomato pollination. Since our bees remain few and far between, I spent some time in the garden today helping with pollination.
For tomatoes, this is done, in this by giving plants with blooms a few good shakes. This is fun to do to tunes, just make sure no one is watching or ack, taping!
Kids can be enlisted to help with this task if you have a lot of plants, or they are making you nuts asking what is for dinner. For kids it's better to give them something soft, like a fly swatter and tell them to wiggle the blossoms a bit. If you tell them to shake the plant, you risk broken plant! The tempation to out shake each other is just too much. It's also prudent to threaten your hockey loving son a bit that before you give him the swatter. Lest he be inspired to practice slap shots.
Check out this picture. I'm in zone 5 and I have baby tomatoes on June 3! I'm pretty good at making the tomato babies if I do say so myself. ;)
Last item on the agenda tonight was trying to further secure the balcony tomatoes. The handles that are currently holding them up are ripping.
I secured two of them with chains and heavy gauge electrical wire. This was not easy. The options were doing it from below while standing on a tippy lawn chair or doing it from above hanging over the balcony. It took me an hour to finally get it right!
The bag on the right hasn't started tearing yet, but I need to get to it soon. These plants are growing fast! Pretty soon I need to figure out how I will support the plants once they start stretching above the balcony rail. I have no idea how I'm going to do that.
Also of note, the sweet pea's that were supposed to grow down and help cover these containers? They like to grow up just as much as the tomatoes. I'm close to giving up with trying to disguise the ugly that is these containers. I guess if they eventually allow me to roll out of bed, step out on the balcony and grab a tomato, I can deal with a bit of green plastic for a season.