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One of the Joys of Maturity


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October 19, 2019

One of the joys of getting a bit older is having the time to putter around in the garden. Below is my garden blog. This site also contains sections of recipes and features about specific, and often obscure, gardening lore.


Thursday, October 17, 2019 - Lettuce

Lettuce uncoveredI pulled back the floating row cover that has covered our lettuce for a week. Other than one tall romaine whose head had broken off, the lettuce came through some frosty mornings in good shape.

I cut several heads, a mix of romaines and butterheads. I hadn't mulched this planting to avoid having to clean grass clippings off the lettuce at harvest. Unfortunately, one of our cats dug in the bed before it got covered and spread soil over the bottom leaves of a lot of the plants.

With our morning low tomorrow predicted to be 32° F, I re-covered the lettuce. The Agribon AG-19 floating row covers I use are supposed to protect things under them down to about 28° F. Heavier row covers are also available that give more protection, but they also transmit less light to the plants underneath them.

While messing with row covers, I pulled back the one over our hill of Sugar Cube cantaloupes. I didn't find any melons going to half slip, or even any that looked close to that stage. Sugar Cubes are a small, very sweet melon. Ours are currently a little bigger than a softball. The Sugar Cubes don't get much bigger than that when full sized, but are ideal split for two people.

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Saturday, October 12, 2019 - First Frost

Our Senior Garden - October 12, 2019Snapdragons and cauliflowerOur morning low temperature didn't get close to the thirty degree forecast, but it was cold enough to produce our first frost of the fall. While there was a coating of frost across some of the grass in our back yard, plants in our main garden bed seem to have come through the cold morning in good shape. Of course, it sometimes takes a day or two for frost damage to become apparent. And our extended weather forecast has changed to include several more mornings with low temperatures capable of producing frost.

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Friday, October 11, 2019 - Rain!

Our Senior Garden - October 11, 2019More rain than we've had in a long timeI checked our rain gauge several times today. While the photo at right shows just under and inch and a half of precipitation, it was at 1.55" by mid-afternoon. It was still sprinkling a bit when I finally emptied the gauge.

Our weather forecast for tomorrow morning hasn't improved any. The Weather Underground is now calling for a morning low of 30° F.

I didn't cover up any more plants today. I guess I'm a bit worn down from a somewhat unsuccessful gardening season. The frustrating thing with this frost is that our extended weather forecast doesn't call for any more frost for the next nine or ten days. But a killing frost can be somewhat liberating. It frees one from trying to nurse a last harvest out of crops. Then one can turn to preparing ones garden for the next season.

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Thursday, October 10, 2019 - Defrosting Day

Freezer defrostingTargetI defrosted our freezer today. I'd foolishly put off the job through an extended hot spell that would have easily melted ice and dried the interior of the freezer. But today's high of 81° F proved to be sufficient to get the job done.

I had prepared for the defrosting yesterday by gathering and cleaning several coolers. For the first time in years, I had more than enough cooler space to hold all of our frozen food while the freezer defrosted.

With the freezer emptied and turned off, I pushed the freezer to the edge of the apron of the garage floor where the sun could hit it in the afternoon. Sadly, things clouded up shortly after noon, so I ended up wiping out the last of the moisture in the freezer.

Even with the necessary annual chore of defrosting, I prefer a manual defrost freezer. The warming to defrost a self-defrosting freezer lessens the good storage time of the freezer's contents. That's especially important for the large volume of garden seed we keep in the freezer.

When sorting through the contents of the freezer, I found some real gems. There were a couple of packages of commercial vegetables with an expiration date of 2014, two bags of frozen, boiled kale from 2015, some pepper strips from 2016, and a bunch of broccoli and green beans from last year.

There were also a lot of meat items that I just didn't trust (chicken from early 2018, hot dogs and brats, etc.). They got boiled for a few hours and should make a nice treat for our dogs. A sample of the brew went over well with our four legged companions.

Ugly Surprise of the Day

A cold front has been predicted for this weekend for some time. The weather forecast changed today from a predicted low Friday night/Saturday morning in the 36-38 degree range down to 32-34° F. That's definitely in the damaging frost zone. So I pulled a huge (83"x250'), unopened roll of floating row cover I'd bought on sale years ago and covered our lettuce plants and Sugar Cube cantaloupes. (Hint: While our link is to Amazon, I got our roll at Johnny's Selected Seeds, who has the item on sale again this fall.)

Fall lettuce Lettuce covered with Agribon AG-19

Hill of cantaloupes coveredThe Agribon AG-19 material is supposed to protect stuff under it down to 28° F . We've successfully used this product through mild frosts in years past. It's biggest drawback is that dogs seem to love to lie on it!

Frequently, a first frost may be followed by days or weeks of frost free weather. That's where covering crops with blankets, row covers, cold frames, Hot Kaps, or whatever you have available may extend ones growing season for some time.

Pumpkins, Melons, etc.

While defrosting the freezer, I noticed a line of moisture running from under one of our pumpkins on our makeshift drying/curing table. Sure enough, I found that one of the pumpkins was rotting. Rather than venting some profanities I'd have to beg forgiveness for in my evening prayers, I saved seed from the pumpkins and moved its rotting flesh to our compost pile.

With pumpkins in mind, I checked our pumpkin patch. I ended up cutting the last four pumpkins there. I hauled them along with some watermelons, grape tomatoes, butternut squash, and some dwarfed red peppers to our local food bank.

I'd thought with everything out of the big freezer for defrosting that I'd do our annual seed inventory today and tomorrow. With the saved pumpkin seed in progress along with several other types of seed still drying out, I decided to wait until our more traditional November time for doing our seed inventory.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Goliath broccoli in bloomBumblebee on broccoli bloomsOur row of Goliath broccoli for a seed crop is continuing to bloom. While the first plant to bloom didn't have any other plants to cross pollinate with, it's large sideshoots are in bloom and getting pollinated along with the newly blooming plants.

It appears that bumblebees are doing most of the pollinating. I've seen just a few honeybees working the blooms. We also have several small white cabbage moths working the blooms. A Maryland Ag in the Classroom fact sheet said, "Adult cabbage white butterflies pollinate plants as they feed on nectar from many flowers, including dandelions, red clover, asters, mint and strawberries," and, apparently, broccoli. I'm still spraying our kale, cauliflower, and the broccoli leaves with Thuricide every few days to protect them from the worms that hatch out from the eggs small white cabbage moths lay.

Our last Hungarian Spice Paprika PeppersREI OutletWe still have tomatoes (both regular and grape), cantaloupe, peppers, pumpkins, and butternut squash growing in and around our East Garden plot. I discovered a couple more pumpkins ripening, which brings our total for this year to twenty! The Sugar Cube cantaloupe vines look healthy, but it's touch and go if they'll produce usable fruit before a frost takes them. I picked what probably will be our last Hungarian Spice Paprika Peppers yesterday. With our jar of ground paprika full, these peppers will probably get used for saved seed. And a few more butternut squash have dropped their green stripes and adopted a tan, ripe color.

Our raised beds in our back yard still have some crops in them. In one of our narrow raised beds, we have yellow squash ripening. Some spinach in the bed looks stunted, and I doubt we get anything from it.

Our main raised bed is still in full production.

Main raised bed from south to north

From near to far in the photo above, we have lettuce, kale, cauliflower, peppers, and the broccoli seed crop (hidden from view by the caged peppers). I'll cut a few lettuce later this week. The kale appears to be well on its way to producing a good crop. The cauliflower is iffy as to whether it will beat our first frost. The Earliest Red Sweet red pepper plants are producing mostly small peppers, probably due to the dry spell we experienced this fall.

Gardening this late into the season is a bit of a mixed blessing. I love being able to still harvest stuff from our garden plots. But when our first frost and fall rains finally arrive, it will be a struggle to get all the garden plots tilled and prepared for next spring.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

With a bit over a half inch of rain Sunday and Monday and much cooler temperatures, I'm finally getting around to some jobs that needed doing. Our dead watermelon vines got composted today. I also scuffle hoed the few weeds that had germinated in the unmulched areas of our raised garden beds.

Grape tomatoes

I had a bit of fun picking grape tomatoes today. Rather than hand picking them, I used my pruning shears to snip clusters of grape tomatoes off our Honey Bunch plant. After soaking and rinsing the tomatoes, it was easy work picking them off the small vines and sorting out bad or split grape tomatoes. I could have picked more grape tomatoes, but what cleaned up today filled four pint bags (three for the food bank, one for us).

Sam's Club

Saturday, October 5, 2019 - Fall Lettuce

It's late in the season, but I went ahead and transplanted more lettuce into our main raised garden bed. The lettuce already there from a September 6 transplanting is doing well, if growing a bit slowly. Hot dry weather coupled with a good bit of shade each day has slowed the growth of the lettuce. On the brighter side, no rain has kept the unmulched area almost totally weed free. A few light passes with a scuffle hoe have removed the few weeds that found enough light and soil moisture to germinate.

Fall lettuce.

I transplanted three Majestic Red, four Jericho, and four Coastal Star, all romaine types.

I hope to begin harvesting some baby lettuce next week, filling in the harvested spots with the few lettuce transplants I have left. While lettuce transplanted at this time of year would usually get caught in a frost, I'm hoping for a late first frost. I also have a roll of floating row cover that may help extend our growing season a bit.

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Watering

With our current dry spell, watering parts of the garden has become a daily chore. Today, I watered our yellow squash, kale, and cauliflower. I followed that up with another spray of Thuricide. Besides the kale and cauliflower, the leaves of our broccoli seed crop got a good spraying as well. We still have lots of white cabbage moths and cabbage loopers flying around the broccoli. I've avoided using a pesticide to kill them, as I don't want to hurt the bees pollinating our broccoli blooms.

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Friday, October 4, 2019 - Watermelon

I went to our East Garden this morning to see if any of our remaining butternut squash were ready. Unfortunately, all of them still showed green lines at the top (near the stem) indicating that they are not quite ripe yet.

Blacktail Mountain watermelon

On the positive side, I brought in a Blacktail Mountain watermelon that was on our now dead vines. It "thumped" pretty good. When I washed and cut it, I was surprised to find lovely red flesh with fair, but not great, watermelon flavor. As I cut up the melon, I saved about fifty seeds. Blacktail Mountain is an open pollinated variety, and we had no other watermelon varieties planted that could cross pollinate with it.

None of our Sugar Cube cantaloupes have ripened as yet. I look for them going to half slip to let me know to pick them in a day or so. The hill of Sugar Cubes got about five gallons of water as soil conditions here are still quite dry.

Our late melons are because I didn't get our usual bunch of melons planted in May. Mechanical breakdowns compounded by some physical problems prevented our usual planting of a row or two of melons. Disgusted with the situation and myself, I transplanted two ragged looking hills of melons in mid-July. The Sugar Cube plants promptly died. I direct seeded more into the hill. The Blacktail Mountain watermelon vines thrived, bloomed and set fruit. But several weeks ago, they were infected with anthracnose, probably from a row of tomato plants that had fallen to the disease.

So at this point, I'm thrilled with any melons we may get.

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Thursday, October 3, 2019 - Asparagus Seed

Our Senior Garden - October 3, 2019Asparagus seedEven though we tend two asparagus patches, I pick and save some asparagus seed every few years. Maybe it's the color of the ripening seeds, or maybe I'm a little paranoid about possibly losing a patch. For whatever reason, I picked asparagus seeds today.

Unlike years past, I focused on picking asparagus seed pods that had dried a bit. Instead of a tray of bright red seed pods, my picking today was a mixture of some red, but mostly gray, tan, or white pods that had dried down some.

I made three trips around our raised asparagus bed, pulling back the heavy foliage to reveal ripe pods from a bunch of different plants. I didn't pick any seed from our second patch, Bonnie's Asparagus Patch, as it was apparently planted with all male crowns...some thirty years ago!

Most of the berries or pods on our plants were red, but I also found a good many somewhat dried pods. I even found a few pods that had already split and dropped their seed. The asparagus seed pods may hold several seeds each. Once they've dried down, it's pretty easy to rub off the dried outer shell to reveal the black seeds. The black seeds shown below are from our 2008 picking.

Asparagus seed pods on plants Seed picked today on cookie sheet to dry Shelled out and dried asparagus seed (from 2008)

For folks planning to start their first asparagus patch, I recommend in our how-to, Growing Asparagus, "buying the best one year old asparagus roots (crowns) you can find." Crowns produce a first crop years sooner than a patch started from seed. I also tell how to start the plants from seed.

The seed I brought in from our big freezer for the shot above is now soaking in water in our refrigerator. I thought I'd start a few plants this fall in case I need some to fill in bare spots next spring. I'll move the seed to the freezer in a few days before returning it to the fridge. Asparagus seed is a hard seed that usually requires scarification and stratification to germinate well.

Hot Weather Spell Ends

Our hot spell ended today with a high temperature of just 80° F. Tomorrow's high is predicted to be 70 as a cold front moves through our area. Now I'll begin watching the weather forecast for cold nights that could bring our first frost.

Renee's Garden

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 - Pumpkin Harvest

Pumpkin patchPumpkins destined for the food bankWe had another record high temperature yesterday, 93.4° F! As I write this posting mid-afternoon, it's 92° F, another record high for this date!

Despite the heat, I got out and cut pumpkins this morning. The leaves on our pumpkin vines are mostly dead, but apparently the vines themselves are still transporting water, as most of the pumpkins turned orange from Monday's watering (or whatever). So far, we've gotten sixteen good pumpkins ranging in weight from around fifteen to thirty-five pounds.

I had to pick up my new glasses in Terre Haute yesterday, so I dropped off a couple of big pumpkins at one of our daughters' house for the grandkids. (I was rewarded last night with a "thank you" phone call from a granddaughter who lived with us until she was two.) Ten of the pumpkins cut today went to our local food bank.

I still have four pumpkins on our drying/curing table in the garage. There are two more greenish pumpkins still on the vines that were showing just a bit of orange this morning.

This year's pumpkin crop is the best we've had at this site. There was that one year when I was farming that I grew a test crop of a quarter acre of pumpkins! I attribute our success in growing pumpkins mostly to dumb luck, but also to growing them on the site of a previous compost pile. The Howden pumpkin plants had all the nutrition they needed.

Since I planted the pumpkins well away from our butternut squash this year, I may try saving seed from one or two of the pumpkins. Howdens are an open pollinated variety. It would be nice to begin adapting the seed to our growing conditions, one of the advantages of using saved seed.

Watering

After my pumpkin picking, I moved on to watering the crops in our main raised garden bed. Everything there needed watering, so it took a bit of time to get it all done. Since most of the bed is planted to fall brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and kale), I followed up with a thorough spraying with Thuricide. While I'm not too worried about worms in our broccoli for seed crop, I really want clean crops of cauliflower and kale.

Main raised bed from north to south

Main raised bed from south to north

Charity: Water

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

It's October, but you wouldn't know it by stepping outside today. We set a record high for the day yesterday of 92.9° F. Today and tomorrow are predicted to top out at 91°. A cold front arriving on Thursday or Friday should give us a taste of fall, a slight chance of rain, and some nicer gardening weather.

I still hope to harvest some crops this month. I hauled about twenty-five gallons of water to our East Garden yesterday to encourage our cantaloupe and pumpkin vines to finish ripening their fruit. We should also get some nice fall lettuce, possibly some spinach, a few peppers and tomatoes, kale for table use and our annual batch of Portuguese Kale Soup, and maybe cauliflower if it beats our first frost. We have a bush yellow squash plant struggling to produce a few more delicious squash and some butternuts still ripening.

A lot of our gardening effort this month will be in preparing our garden plots for next season. As crops come out, crop trash (leaves, stems,mulch, etc.) that can carryover insect eggs and diseases are removed and composted. Where soil levels have dropped, peat moss will be added and tilled in. Getting all of our garden plots tilled is always a fall goal, but weather conditions and my proclivity of pushing crops as late into the season as possible sometimes prevents such tilling.

I always aim to get our garlic planted just after our first frost in October. But some years, our first frost doesn't occur until near the end of the month or into November. (Our first frost date is October 17.) The idea is to get the garlic into the ground to begin forming roots before the ground freezes hard. So I may or may not plant garlic this month.

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