Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Garden is Shaping Up Nicely

The garden is going quite well. Almost everything that has been taken from the garden so far consists of lettuce and greens - the spring crops. [We did have a few scallions left over from last year, some rhubarb, and a few early garlic scapes.]

But, there are buds on the tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, squash (see above) and ground cherries. The blueberries are beginning to show some blue color. There are a few peas and I need to remember to pick them tomorrow. The beans are climbing up the trellises and I think I saw flowers on the cucumbers.

This is the first year spin
ach has really been productive. Actually too productive. One lesson I learned is to not plant all the spinach at the same time. I have always found it difficult to plant something like lettuce or spinach a little every few weeks. The result, though, is a large patch of spinach ready to harvest at the same time. I have frozen a fair amount but I did throw away a lot of the last spinach because preparing it for freezing was too time consuming. And, in the meantime, stuff like zen is getting overgrown, and that, being a large leafed green, it much easier to prepare in quantity for freezing. [Zen is the larger leafed green in the upper part of the photo below. The other is Italian dandelion.]

I was happy to cl
ear the spinach out and next year I will probably not have it regrow after the first cutting - unless I start it earlier under a row cover or cold frame. The regrowing this relatively warm spring resulted in most of it bolting. I need the space for more scallions, beets, zen and the various Chinese cabbages that I have started indoors.

I experimented with several new greens this year. Our favorite green is still zen (a Burpee seed) which I assume is a kind of Asian green. It is very mild, grows well and cleans easily. Among the new items was tatsoi, which is
very much like the zen in taste. I also grew mustard greens - not too bad - and mispoona. The latter has a rather thick central vein and so it takes more preparation for cooking that I would like. So that may be my last mispoona.

I say the following with the hope that it doesn't turn out to be a curse: pests have been at a minimum so far. We had only one sighting of a groundhog and that was probably six weeks ago. We had one sighting of a deer. With the plastic deer fencing on one side of the yard that deer left the yard by leaping over the back gate on the other side. I then attached metal 3 foot fencing to the top of the fence and gate in that area and have not seen any deer hoofprints or damage since. Slugs and snails are present but haven't devastated anything. The first Japanese beetles are showing up.

I have found row cover material to be very useful. I first used it to try to keep flea beetles off of those crops that flea beetles like - Asian greens mostly. But I have now been covering the two beds of lettuce with it. One bed is under the pear tree which is a favorite spot for the birds that visit our yard. The row cover material intercepts the bird dropping and the lettuce remains clean. In the other lettuce bed the row cover material has kept potential lettuce loving creatures from eating the lettuce and I suspect that it may slow the falling rain enough to keep the lettuce cleaner. It doesn't harm the plants and lifts off easily.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Toadly Successful

The dark speck to the left of the penny is a toad.

Soon after we created our first pond in the back yard toads began to appear in the spring and inhabit the pond. The males would sing to attract females and those who were compatible would mate and lay eggs in the pond. Then they would go back to their regular jobs. It was a delight to watch the eggs become tadpoles and the tadpoles grow, develop legs, and then, one rainy day, hop off into the rest of the yard.

Then we had three years when the toads would lay eggs, the tadpoles would develop, but, before they were around long enough to grow legs they would disappear. And not out into the yard - they just couldn't be found in the pond anymore. No little bodies either. This was a mystery. The first year we did see grackles around the pond frequently. They would go down to the edge of the pond and then come back up. Was it grackles? The next year we put a hardware cloth covering over part of the pond so that grackles couldn't reach everywhere. The toads disappeared anyway. Then we thought perhaps the chlorine in the water was killing them. So we started using only water from the rain barrel. The toads still disappeared. Until this year.

So what is new this year? No frogs. A friend brought us some frogs four years ago and we had a good population of frogs for two years but it dwindled to four frogs last year (the pond seems not to be quite deep enough for them to overwinter) but there was only one frog by the end of the summer. That frog did not survive the winter. Thus our theory is that the frogs were eating the toad tadpoles and now that there are no frogs we have little toads again.

They really are as small as the one in the photograph. They began leaving the ponds (we actually have two now) during the recent rains. We also noted an influx of birds - catbirds, cowbirds and grackles - near the ponds probably just waiting to gobble them up. But some of them make it. When they jump they jump about five times their body length and when I am in the garden weeding I only see them if they jump. Otherwise they look like a small piece of mulch. I saw 10 or 12 yesterday.

It still amazes me that these creatures develop in water eating vegetation and then hop out of the pond to breathe air and eat bugs. There have to be some really small bugs for them to eat.

What does this have to do with vegetable gardening? Slug control. Toads supposedly eat slugs and snails. We have lots of those. I have one older toad who spends the day time between two boards in the garden. I have been dropping snails down next to him hoping that he will eat them. The next day the snails are gone, but I don't know whether they have crawled away or been eaten. Next time I will watch to see which it is.