Before admitting that I really was going to plant the vegetable garden this year, I had made plans to spend the summer attending to the controlled chaos that are the flower beds.

We’ve got a strip of garden that runs along the side of the driveway.  It’s about 30 feet by 4 feet.  There are some good size trees that overhang a large portion of it.  When we moved in, it was lined with sickly looking  hostas.  Naturally, I couldn’t leave it alone. So I dug up all the hostas and moved them to the back of the house where they have been growing great guns, and needs dividing this year.

hostas

hostas

Now, I’m not necessarily a big fan of hostas.  I mean, they’re nice and all, especially of you’re dealing with a lot of shade areas. But to look around this yard, you would think I loved them.  We must have at least 200 hostas scattered about the property.  The thing is, the pesky things keep growing, and need dividing.  I think next year, I’ll pot a good chunk of them up and have a hosta sale.

The space the hostas used to occupy has become my ” Put it here temporarily until I make a place for it” space.  Because we always seem to get plants before we know where they’re going.  So I’ve got a hodgepodge of plants that are all waiting for new homes:

the catch all garden

the catch all garden

There’s a pretty white hydrangea in there, some day lilies, a Sedum tucked behind the hydrangea, because it was there first, some black-eyed susans, some volunteers that I think is german chamomile, a butterfly bush, two giant hostas that were babies when I stuck them there two years ago, all the raspberry bushes, and some asparagus that I missed when I transplanted them to their permanent home.

But I have a plan!

The front yard of our property  is on two levels divide by a hill.  The first couple of years we lived here, I mowed that cussed hill.  Let me say straight out, that mowing a hill is an exercise in stupidity.   No one walks on the hill.  We can’t put furniture on the hill.  Why oh why am I fighting with the lawn mower to mow the damn hill?

So two years ago, I started digging up all the sod on the hill, screening the loam and planting flowers.

The hill covered in flowers

The hill covered in flowers

I’m only half done. The other half is supposed to be the project of the summer:

The un-flowered side of the hill

The un-flowered side of the hill

I’ve made a start digging up the sod.  The black-eyed susans got plopped there because they were a gift and the side  catch-all garden was full, and I couldn’t very well turn away free flowers!  They’re going to need dividing this year anyway.  I’ve also started moving the vegetable garden down to the lower level.  The potatoes were the first to go.  I thought I was going to be able to make the whole of the space ready before I moved a single box, but the DH was hot to get the potatoes into the ground.  There’s a lot of leveling that needs to go on in the space before I can move the boxes.  That lower level is where we will plant the fence.

Further down the driveway ( it’s 200 feet long)  I’ve got another catch-all hodgepodge of plants.  Mostly day lilies  but there are also some creeping phlox, a real pretty peony that came with the house, an azalea and some little shade loving bells whose name escapes me.  All that,  are going on the hill, except the bells, which will go down by the mailbox.

The other catch-all

The other catch-all

We are going to take a few trees down in this area, then all the raspberries, strawberries & blueberries will go here.

We’ve also been busy making a shed for the generator. And since we’ve had the generator, we’ve only lost the power twice.  Had we known that was all it took to not lose the power, we would have gotten the generator years ago!  Full disclosure:  Tommy did the actual building, I did the painting.

The generator house

The generator house

I also have been busy making a wall with an awesome cache of stones we got.  It’s dry laid.  My first.  Not too shabby if I do say so myself!  Now I’ve got a new planting bed in the front of the house.  How cool is that?

The new stone wall

The new stone wall

The potting bench finally got moved to its permanent home and all the pots are in one place at last!

The potting bench's new home

The potting bench’s new home

Summer is hands down my favorite time of year. I love the heat, the thunderstorms, the smells and especially all the colors.  Summer is a feast for the eyes!

How are your gardens growing this year?  What are the plans for the rest of the summer?  Leave a message, don’t be shy.  I’d love to hear all about it.

Petunias in the watering can

Petunias in the watering can

gardenLast year, like every year,  I was all about the garden.  I laid my plans in January, I eagerly devoured each and every catalog that came in the door.  I plotted and planned and planted.

It really was a beautiful garden.

I’m not doing the garden this year.

Of course, the DH, who doesn’t play in the garden at all, but knows how much I love to garden has been pestering me about what time the potatoes need to go in, and shouldn’t the Brussels sprouts be in the ground now and generally trying to goad me into action.

Well yes, as a matter of fact, the Brussels sprouts should be in the garden right now.  As well as the lettuce, and the potatoes and all the other cold weather hardy crops.  They  should have been in the ground in April.

But I’m not doing the garden this year.

I’m still a little pissy about the chickens eating the garden last year.  Even though as I’m saying that I can feel the soil between my fingers and smell its rich goodness.

I’m  having one of those stubborn internal discussions between my head and my heart.   You see, I haven’t planted the fence yet.  So I have a choice.  Plant the garden, and keep the chickens penned this year, or let the chickens have run of the yard and look at all those forlorn empty boxes for the summer.

“Well,” he says, “At least let’s get some flowers for the planters.”  Fine.  We’ll get some flowers for the planters.  But I’m not doing the garden this year.  So off we go to the garden center.

Now I’ve known this man for going on a hundred years, and I know full well that this is all a ploy to get me into the garden center where I am sure to be greeted by the sight of an abundance of fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs all ready to plant in a garden that is in no way shape or form ready for plants.  The man knows my weakness.

Four hours and two garden centers later, we arrive back home with a car laden with flowers, veggies and herbs.

So of course, I am doing the garden this year.   :)

nochickens2

 

 

 

 

There’s been a little misunderstanding in the garden this year.  I thought I was growing all of this wonderful produce to freeze and can and give away to friends and family.  The chickens (and the ducks) think they’ve happened upon the biggest salad bar ever.

I planted  60 tomato plants this year.  Because we all know it takes a lot of tomatoes to make tomato sauce.  A lot of tomatoes.  I expected to be slaving over the stove for days.  I was actually looking forward to it.

I harvested exactly zero tomatoes.  Zero.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.

Chickens, and ducks absolutely LOVE green tomatoes.  Those little buggers will stand under the plant and JUMP in place to get at them.  The ducks, not being so acrobatically inclined, wait for the chickens to dislodge the fruit from the vine.

Well, you say, they couldn’t have gotten all of the tomatoes.  Some of those plants were over 6 feet tall after all.  Right you are.  But chickens are resourceful little wenches.  When they are not doing jumping jacks under the plants, they are  digging and scratching up the roots.

So all of the tomato plants got ripped out and tossed onto the compost pile.

I planted 72 pickle plants.  Chickens, and ducks absolutely LOVE pickling cukes.  They also love cucumbers.  I planted 72 of those too.  ( why would anyone want 72 cucumber plants?  we are a family of 2)  We were able to harvest less than a dozen of each.  I harvested a whole pile of half eaten cukes though.  The cukes joined the tomatoes on the pile.

Every carrot save 3 were pecked and scratched to death ( 93 out of 96).  The eggplant, which was looking real fine this year had a nice little bite taken out of each fruit as it emerged from it’s little bud.  The globe basil is hanging in there, but barely, it’s had it’s roots dug up and replanted too many times to count.

The gourds all looked wonderful, on the backside, but the fronts have all been tasted several times.  It seems to be come and come again with the gourds.

I did manage to fence off two of my prized pumpkins, but when I harvested them, I made the mistake of putting them on the picnic table.  chickens have no trouble jumping up on the picnic table for a taste of fresh pumpkin.  5 pumpkin plants, 1 pumpkin harvested rescued.

You would think the peppers at least would be safe.  Alas, no. Though I must admit, they seem to prefer the bells to the jalapeno’s.  Just a nibble here and there, thank you very much.

Of course it’s my own fault.

It’s not like we’ve never had chickens before.  I know they can jump and fly and generally be under foot and a nuisance.    But I feel bad for them if they are stuck in their pen all day.  I want them to be free to roam the yard and eat the bugs.  Plus, they lay that heavy guilt trip on me, all squawking and crying at the door to be let out.  The ducks are no better, conniving little fowl.

So I let them out of their pen when I get home from work.  As soon as the door is opened,  they don’t give me a second glance, they don’t stop to see if I have any scratch for them, they don’t stop to chat.  They are on a mission.  It’s time for a stroll around the salad bar.

So the first thing I’m going to plant next year, is a fence.

ripe zucchini. photo courtesy flowers.vg

Ah zucchini.  Favored vegetable of gardeners and cooks everywhere.

Except when you’ve run out of ways to cook it, you’ve got tons of it in the freezer, and your friends and neighbors run the other way when they see you coming with an armload of the stuff.

Zucchini and its yellow cousin, summer squash are prolific bearers in the garden.  Everyone should grow it.  Especially if you are new to gardening and want something reliable that’s sure to grow.  Unless you’ve got a huge family, a single plant of each will more than do.  Trust me.

Cooks like zucchini because it’s such a versatile vegetable.  You can bake it, fry it, stuff it,  saute it, slice it  and dice it.  It can go with so many other foods.  It can be the star of the show, such as in  fried zucchini slices or it can play a supporting role as when it is combined with other ingredients such as in zucchini bread.   It doesn’t really have much of a flavor on it’s own, rather it enhances other ingredients flavor as well as adding body and texture to recipes.

Around here, we  make a dish called “orzo, tomato & zucchini toss”.  It uses  a whole zucchini, and a summer squash ( because we can’t seem to grow one without the other) and cherry tomatoes from the garden.  Toss in some seasonings with some orzo and you’ve got a great little side dish that is good both hot or cold.  Try it and tell me what you think.

Orzo Tomato & Zucchini Toss

servings: about 4

Ingredients:

1 tsp olive oil

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1 cup each sliced then quartered zucchini and summer squash

2 minced garlic cloves

1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cups orzo, cooked

1/4 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Cook orzo in a medium saucepan in boiling water. While the orzo cooks,
  2. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. add  cherry tomatoes,  zucchini, summer squash and minced garlic.  Saute 2 minutes.
  4. stir in Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes.  Saute 1 minute or until the zucchini is crisp tender.
  5. Drain the orzo.
  6. Combine tomato mixture, orzo and salt.  Toss well.  Enjoy.

 

The tomatoes are growing great guns around these parts.  Nothing turning red just yet, but another week or two and we’ll be seeing the first blushes.  I’m a little excited to tell you about my solution to the inefficient tomato cage dilemma.

The problem with conventional tomato cages are they are just too damn short. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an indeterminate tomato just two feet high.  Hell, even the roma’s will get three feet tall at least, and they really only need a stake to help hold them upright.

So my solution to the problem was this.  Rather than put a cage around the tomato plant when it’s young, I would build the cage around the plant as it grew.

building a tomato cage, one level at a time.

I stuck 8 foot rebars into the boxes at each corner as my uprights.  Then each week, as the tomatoes grew I added cross bars of bamboo.  they are spaced vertically about a foot apart.  I attached the bamboo rods with zip ties and added some cross bars  between the plants to lend support.

This has proven to be an awesome way to support the tomatoes without worrying about them flopping over the top of a cage.  Those babies are over 5 feet tall now.  I can go another foot before I’m out of vertical rebar.  Sweet!

The 1 foot vertical spacing gives me plenty of room to get into the plants to check on how things are growing and the fruits are not crowded and  get plenty of light.

Which brings me to the other little surprise in the tomato patch.

The horn worms have arrived.

There I am, admiring my handiwork, and congratulating Mother Nature on another fine looking tomato crop when Holy Crap! There, on the backside of a leaf, proud as a peacock, and chewing to beat the band is the biggest honkin’ caterpillar you would ever want to see.

Finger-sized Horn Worm

Did I mention they are finger sized?  Now I’m not usually squeamish, but the first time I ever saw one of these babies, I jumped.  Mostly because I wasn’t even looking for something the size of my index finger.  I just saw some poo on a leaf, and started to investigate. I accidentally grabbed it while trying to move the leaf!  Holy Moses!  I’m not sure who was more startled, me or it.

So, I’ve learned a bit more about these little creatures in the time since my sudden introduction.  there are two kinds actually, the tomato horn worm, and the tobacco horn worm. Each gets just as big.

The tobacco horn worm has  single white stripes along it’s body.  The tomato horn worm has little V shaped stripes.  Technically, I believe I’ve got the tobacco variety.   ( we don’t even grow tobacco in this part of the country)  In either case, it’s an adult moth that lays the eggs.  Usually one per leaf, but today, I found a leaf with 3 on it.  They must be working overtime.

Three horn worm eggs on a leaf

 

The’re tiny.  Like little glass beads.  Very easy to overlook.

Now I’m not opposed to sharing the garden with critters.  I don’t mind a nibble or bite or two here and there.  Let me tell you, these guys are voracious eaters.  When they’re small, and they are really small to start with, maybe 1/8 inch, they munch a leaf here, a leaf there.  As they grow, so does their appetite.  The full grown ones will happily eat your tomatoes.  And not just eat a whole tomato, I guess that wouldn’t be so bad, but they take huge chunks out then move onto the next one.  That my friends, is completely unacceptable.

Hand picking is the best way to remove them.  If you can remove the eggs from the leaves, so much the better.  There is only one instance where you do not want to pick them off of the plant.  You may find one, with little white sacs hanging off of it’s body.

braconid wasp eggs on a horn worm

The braconid wasp lays it’s eggs on the body of the horn worm.  When they emerge, they eat the horn worm.  As an added bonus, all those newly hatched wasps will be looking for a host to lay their eggs on.  They will find all the little buggers you missed!

Now in all fairness, I have to say, that some folks actually find these little creatures endearing, and go to great pains to ensure their survival.  The caterpillar you see, pupates into the  “sphinx”, “hawk”, or “hummingbird” moth, depending on if you’ve got a tomato or tobacco horn worm.

(courtesy University of Minnesota)

This moth is big.  Very big.  With narrow front wings. It’s got a mottled gray-brown color with yellow spots on the sides of the abdomen and a wing spread of 4 to 5 inches.   It’s a pollinator.  OK.  I get it.  But so are bees and they don’t do nearly as much damage.

The horn worms feed only on solanaceous plants, namely tomatoes. But, larvae can also attack eggplant, pepper, and potato. You could plant trap plants, other solonaceous weeds like horsenettle, jimsonweed and nightshade. Which means, I have to go inspect my Datura.  Darn it.

 

 

I have been remiss.  The past six weeks have been a whirlwind of activity around here and I have not been keeping up with the blog.  I’ve got posts in draft, but that’s not the same thing is it?  During that time, Shannon, over at dirt n kids nominated me for the Kreativ Blogger award.  So I owe her an apology for being such a cad.

So here is what I must do in order to accept it, which I humbly do.

1. Thank and link back to the giver.
2. Answer the questions below.
3. Share 10 random facts/thoughts about yourself
4. Nominate at least 7 other blogs for the Kreativ Blogger Award.

First, a big thank you to Shannon over at dirt n kids ( see the link above).  If you haven’t met Shannon, I suggest you head over to her blog and check out all the great things she’s doing in Texas.

Now the hard part.

10 Questions: 
What is your favorite song? Freebird. Skynard rocks.
What is your favorite dessert? ice cream. Chocolate, of course.
What ticks you off? injustice. In all of it’s forms.
What do you do when you’re upset? get very quiet.
Which is/was your favorite pet? My doberman, Greta.  She just exuded joy.
Which do you prefer, black or white? neither.  I prefer green.

What is your biggest fear? never being debt free.
What is your attitude mostly? realistic, logical
What is perfection? unattainable.
What is your guilty pleasure? chocolate croissants for breakfast.

10 Random facts:

1. I ride motorcycle.  I’ve had my license since the mid 90’s.

2. I’m a Taurus. Loyal, reliable, lover of beautiful things.

3.  I read anything Stephen King writes.  His books hold “pride of place” in my library.

4. I commute 2 hours a day. And I’m not happy about it.  Time is way to valuable to waste like that.

5. I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve had several small businesses, and plan to have another in the near future.

6. I don’t watch TV.  I can think of 100 things I’d rather do.

7. I have a butterfly tattoo on my ankle.

8. I believe in alien life.  It’s arrogant to assume we are the only intelligent creatures in the universe.

9. I quilt.

10. I prefer to live in the country rather than the city.

Nominations, in no particular order:

1. Town and Country Gardening.  Pobept has a truly wonderful blog.  You’re bound to learn something new or be entertained.  Please stop by and say hi.

2.Mikes Garden Top 5 Plants.  Mike has a great blog, and some beautiful pictures.

3.Collingwood Farm. Want to learn all about CSA’s?  This is the place to go.

4. Attempting zero waste lifestyle in a military household. Jennifer is really walking the walk.  She’s got some great ideas and recipes to help you reduce  your eco-footprint.  Check it out.

5. Under Southern Skies.  Sandollar has a beautiful blog and a gorgeous garden.  Please do visit.

6. Garden Booyah. A fellow gardener from Wisconsin.  Great posts, beautiful garden.  Check it out.

7. Eden Hills’s Blog.  Life on the farm, and all the fun you can have!  Please do visit.

 

Not all plants occupy the soil for the entire growing season.  Take advantage of that fact when planning your garden to maximize your harvest. There are two methods of succession planting.  Either stagger planting times for a single crop or plant a different crop after one is harvested.

Some plants like chives and horseradish are perennial and will occupy their spot in the garden all year. Other plants are quick to mature and are only in the garden for the first part of the growing season.  Plants like early peas, radishes, and lettuce are ready to harvest before the growing season is fully underway.

You could get a second crop of lettuce out of the garden before the heat of high summer sets in by planting your second crop near a slower growing plant like eggplant or squash that will be bushed out when your second crop of lettuce is getting ready for harvest.  This will give the tender lettuce some much appreciated shade from the summer sun, and will help to prevent it from bolting.  Once the lettuce is done, the space can be planted with a late season crop like carrots to be harvested in late fall.

Radishes, which mature in about 28 days are so reliable you could tuck them in here or there around other slower growing vegetables.  by the time the main plant needs the space, you will  have harvested a whole bunch of radishes.

Succession planting also let’s you spread out the work of planting and harvesting over a longer period of time.  It’s much more enjoyable to harvest a handful of radishes or peas every other week or so, rather than having the whole crop ready to pull from the ground all at once.

You’re more likely to eat the fruits of your labor if you are not inundated with so much extra crop.  A good rule of thumb is to estimate how much you can reasonably eat ( or give away) for a two to three-week period.  Plant that much crop.  Then two weeks later, plant a second crop in another space.

Spring crops  are in the ground early and are done growing early in the season. They’re usually planted as soon as the ground can be worked. Plants in this category include: spinach, peas, radish, carrots,  rutabaga and turnips.

Summer crops  are in the ground for most of the growing season. They’re usually planted after the last frost.  Plants in this category include: cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, corn, zucchini, pumpkin and watermelon.

Fall crops  can be planted late in the growing season for a fall harvest. This could be a second planting of early, cool weather crops or plants that have a short time to maturity.  Plants in this category include: kale, lettuce, chinese cabbage, carrots, radish, rutabaga and turnips.

Of course, we have a chart!

Succession Planting Guide
plant
estimated
days to
harvest
time
between
plantings
notes
arugula
30
2 weeks
Plant as soon as the ground can be worked. Plant 4 weeks before first frost. Bolts quickly in warm temperatures. Seeds can be collected for next years crop.
Bush Beans
60
2 weeks
Plant first crop when the soil is at least 60 degrees. Plant last crop 8 weeks before first frost.
Lima Beans
60-90
all season
summer crop. Needs soil temp of at least 65 degrees.
beans, pole
60-80
all season
frequent picking encourages more production.
beets
55-70
3 weeks
can withstand cold weather short of a hard freeze. Avoid seeding during daytime temperatures of 80 degrees F
broccoli
60-70
2 weeks
develops best during cool seasons.Plant as soon as the ground can be worked from transplants, and then again in fall.
cabbage
75-85
3 weeks
Plant in spring from transplants & fall.  Hardened plants are tolerant of frosts.
carrots
50-75
3 weeks
Plant in spring as soon as the ground can be worked. & fall.  Direct seed.
cauliflower
40-65
2 weeks
Cool weather crop.  Plant in spring 2-3 weeks before last frost. & fall. Does best as a transplant.
collards
60-100
all season
cool-season crop. Can withstand frosts and light to medium freezes.
corn, sweet
70-100
2 weeks
Plant in late spring or early summer.  In the ground for the whole season.
cucumbers
60
4-5 weeks
summer crop.  Plant when the soil temperatures have reached 70 degrees F.  Does not tolerate cold.
edamame
70
all season
summer crop.  Wait until soil temps reach at least 60 degrees to plant.
eggplants
65-80
8 weeks
summer crop.  cold-sensitive. Requires a long warm season for best yields.
kale
40-50
2 weeks
spring & fall crop. Harvest very young leaves in salads or allow plants to mature and use as a cooked green.
kohlrabi
65-75
2 weeks
spring & fall crop.   Require cool temperatures and plenty of moisture and sunshine.
lettuce, head
45-55
2 weeks
does best in cooler weather. Plant early in spring and late in fall when temps are in the 50’s
lettuce, leaf
45-55
2 weeks
Plant in early spring & late fall. fairly hardy, cool-weather crop.
muskmelons
80-90
2 weeks
summer crop. Tender, heat-loving vegetable.
okra
70
all season
summer crop. plant seeds after the soil has warmed in the spring crop.
onions, dry
90-120
all season
 planted as soon as the round can be worked in the spring, from sets.
onions, green
85
2-3 weeks
 Can be grown from seed or as sets. Plant seed as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.
peas
55-70
all season
Plant in spring & fall. frost-hardy, cool-season vegetable.Early plantings  produce larger yields than later plantings.
peppers
60-70
all season
Tender, warm-season vegetable. Plant after danger of frost.
potatoes
90
all season
cool season crop.  Plant when the soil is 60-70 degrees.
pumpkins
90-120
all season
warm-season vegetable. easily damaged by cold. Plant after all danger of frost.
radishes
25-30
2 weeks
best in cool weather.  Plant in early spring and late summer for a fall crop.  Fall radishes are more pungent.
spinach
48-60
2 weeks
Plant in spring & fall.  Very cold hardy.
squash, summer
45-60
4-8 weeks
cold tender.  Plant in early summer, then again in late summer.
squash, winter
90-120
all season
seeds are cold sensitive.  Plant in summer after danger of frost.
tomatoes
60-90
2 weeks
Plant in early summer from transplants after danger of frost.
turnips
35-40
2 weeks
best in cool weather.  Plant in early spring, late summer or early fall.

Some  gardeners plant the whole garden in the spring and are done with it until late summer or early fall when they harvest the crops.  But you can grow more food in less space by planning your planting according to the plants natural life cycles, and temperature requirements.

Using this method, The garden is more productive and more efficient.  There is always something going into the garden or coming out. Weren’t you looking for another excuse to putter in the garden anyway?

 

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