Thursday, August 16, 2012

One Thing Leads to Another

I've noticed this year how things are connected. In March we had some very warm weather that caused the fruit trees to bloom early. Then in April there were a couple of heavy frost days. One result is that there will be a much smaller crop of apples and some other fruits. That, in a chain of events in our yard, led to the partially eaten tomato in the photo.

What's the connection? The damage to the tomato came from a squirrel. I have even seen one trying to carry one of these nearly one pound Hungarian Heart tomato up our wooden fence. It was too much weight.

In the past squirrels have not bothered our tomatoes although I know that other people have had squirrel gnawed tomatoes. The reason we escaped was that we have a pear tree and an apple tree in our garden area. The squirrels strip both trees of their fruit during the season and apparently have had enough to satisfy their needs. We would often see them scampering along the fence or across the roof of the house with an apple or pear held securely in their teeth.

But this year we had no pears and no apples. We still had squirrels and they needed food. They ate the green berries on the pagoda dogwood trees, which meant that the birds who usually eat the dogwood berries when they are a little riper had to find something else. One of those something elses was our blueberries. But the pagoda dogwood berries were not enough for the squirrels. They were also into the raspberries. And, recently, the tomatoes. So that warm weather in March resulted in far fewer blueberries and early raspberries for us and fewer tomatoes. And I think they have their eye on the grapes.

I don't find squirrels quite as cute as I used to. But perhaps that is because they look a little gaunt this year.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Every year is different

The challenges each year change. Two years ago a major problem was slugs and snails. I have hardly seen any this year, perhaps due to the very dry weather.

The dry weather brings its own challenges and they are varied, with one thing leading to another. A major factor this year has been the early warm weather followed by a normal frost, the result of which was that both the pear tree and the apple tree had no fruit. This would not be a concern since we eat very few of the pears and none of the apples. However, the pears and then the apples are a major source of food to the squirrels that visit our yard. In the absence of the fruit the squirrels have moved on to other sources of food. In the food garden they went after the early raspberries (and probably will go after the later raspberries since it is probably fruitless to try to protect them). They have eaten the unripe pagoda dogwood berries, which would have become a major source of food for the robins and catbirds. I fear that as the Concord grapes ripen the squirrels will eat those. We are planning to put paper bags around some of the larger bunches in an attempt to protect them. So far I haven't seen any damage to tomatoes, which are beginning to ripen.

The dry weather has affected the productivity of the garden. Rain always seems to be in the near forecast but with few exceptions has avoided our gardens this year. On the Doppler radar screens we can see rain passing to the north or the south or sliding past diagonally in such a way that we are missed. But with the forecast of rain I have put off properly watering the vegetable garden in the hopes that it won't be necessary. The major effect that I have noticed has been on the blueberries and eggplants. The blueberries were small and some were wrinkled. We harvested very few berries. Even though I erected our deer fencing over the blueberry area we were frequently releasing catbirds (and the occasional robin) from the area. I never discovered how they got in. Chickadees also ate blueberries, perhaps more than the other birds combined. Chickadees would just fly over and land on the netting, go through the spaces, and fly to the plants and eat what they wanted. Next year I will have to replace the deer netting with bird netting and figure out how to tie it together without places for the birds to enter.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Combating groundhogs

Digging Prevention
After a few days of "groundhog induced depression" I began planning how to reconstruct the garden to effectively keep out groundhogs. I now knew from experience that they can easily dig under a fence and I also learned that they can climb fences. As I was watching one ground hog pulling collard leaves off the plant I could see another one sitting on top of the five foot wooden fence that surrounds our backyard. There are videos of ground hogs on top of twelve foot fences.

Climbing Prevention
I looked through a number of different websites (most of which can be found on under gardening, challenges, pests) and determined that fencing was my best option. But it had to be done correctly. Since ground hogs can dig under fences it is necessary to put a barrier on or under the soil at the base of the fence.  That is what is shown in the photo to the left. I used two foot chicken wire laid flat on the ground. I first raked as much of the mulch and soil as I could off the path and rolled out the chicken wire.

Then I began putting in 3 foot metal fence posts about every five feet. The posts were five or six inches from the edge of the chicken wire.
These posts have a 3-4 inch stabilizer that needs to be pounded into the ground and so it was necessary to cut away some of the wire around where the post was going to go so that the stabilizer didn't "hang up" on the wire as it was pounded in. I found it useful to take a two foot piece of rebar and pound it in where I wanted the post to go to make sure that I wasn't going to encounter shale. If the rebar went down as far as the post needed to go I knew it was okay to pound in the post. I used a level to make sure each post was as vertical as possible.

The next step was to add the four foot vertical chicken wire, attached to the posts. Four foot fencing on three foot posts was intentional. Groundhogs are good climbers. But they don't like wobbly fences. The top foot of the chicken wire is not connected to anything and it tends to flop backwards toward the path. It is secured to the post near the top with zip ties so that it can't easily be pulled off the post by a ten pound ball of climbing fur.

The next step was to crawl around the fence and connect with vertical chicken wire to the horizontal chicken wire with zip ties every six to nine inches so that the fencing effectively becomes one piece.  The final step was to pull soil and mulch over the chicken wire on the ground so that the wire was covered.

There is only one entrance to the three garden beds that are enclosed in the fencing. It is where the black pot is in the photo. I slid a piece of plexiglass on the inside of the fencing using rebar to keep it close to the two fence posts and I slid an old bike route metal sign (gathered some years ago from Onondaga Creek during a clean-up) on the outside, again using rebar to keep it close to the other side of the two fence posts. Presumably ground hogs cannot climb up either of these surfaces.

The only potential weakness I see is that around the opening and at the corners the fencing is taut and could be climbed. At the top the animal would then have to jump into the garden. I plan to add a few aluminum pie plates in these areas because apparently things that move frighten ground hogs.

Nothing is more disheartening than animals eating our food.

We had seen a groundhog in the back yard from time to time. It had been living under our rain barrels at some time because when I finally got around to leveling the slightly tilted rain barrel there was a huge hole underneath it. Too large to be from the rain overflow when the barrel was full. Plus the soil was pushed up against the wood fence, not something that water would do. I filled in the hole but a couple of days later it was there again. Ground hog, I concluded. I called the trapper and he set a trap on either side of the hole. No success. I filled in the hole again and put wire fencing on the ground over the area.

Having learned previously what ground hogs like, I planted our greens (collards, kale and some Asian greens) along with parsley, peas and pole beans inside a fenced area. The ground hog was still seen in the yard outside the fence. I believed my greens, etc., were relatively safe although I knew that ground hogs could dig under fences. This fencing only extended a few  inches below soil level. The fencing was three foot rabbit fencing.
Dinosaur Kale

I haven't studied ground hog psychology but it seems to me that it didn't attack my garden until I ticked it off by adding wire fencing around the bottom of one side of the wooden fencing that runs around our back yard. As soon as I did this the ground hog (or hogs as the case seems to be) went under or over my fence and laid waste to the kale, collards, and parsley and started on the beans and peas. The dinosaur kale, seen here, was wiped out because not only the leaves but the growing centers were eaten. This was not true of the white Russian kale (below) either because they didn't find that so tasty or were interrupted before they could clean that out.
White Russian Kale
Not only were some of the leaves left but the plants have their growing points intact.
The parsley was also chewed down but looks like it too will grow back.

I had two trellises of pole beans. I put a circle of fencing around one of the trellises. Next morning the beans that were not protected were eaten.

In the fenced area I have a wooden frame with screen covers. The purpose was to grow Asian greens inside protected from flea beetles. One of the two screens had been pushed aside and a few of the greens eaten.

It is hard to explain how annoying/irritating/depressing it is to find plants that were growing nicely and producing daily meals of greens devastated overnight. I just felt helpless. There is a fence around the yard. There is a fenced in garden area. I was working on making the wooden fence more secure. I was outwitted by a fat little (at 10 pounds probably not so little) rodent. And it didn't even share nicely.

Another loss in the fenced-in garden was some of the soybeans. They had been recently planted and were just emerging and were under the rectangle of hardware cloth that is seen in this photo. The covering was not nailed down and the groundhog just pushed under the edge of it and ate about half of the seedlings.

 The groundhog(s) apparently entered the fenced area from the path to the right as there were three or four places where the soil had been moved and there were also bits of fur on the path, perhaps from a hasty retreat when I saw them and came screaming into the back yard. I wanted more than just fur!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Grapes and Vermicompost

Growing grapes has been one of my recent new things. We had a good harvest last year, somewhat surprising since I have been blundering along in terms of pruning, one of the essentials of grape growing.
This year I am trying to observe how they grow so that I have a better idea of what to do at the end of next winter (and also during the year as the grapes vines spread all over the trellis).
At the end of winter I cut back last year's growth leaving about four buds on each of the many spurs and removing the rest. What I noticed yesterday (May 20th) was that each bud has grown out to about 4 "nodes", although I assume they will continue growing longer. At each node (except the first one) there is a leaf and opposite the leaf is what I expect will become the bunch of grapes. This projection has short side branches with little blobs at the end of each. In the axil of the leaf is another small (currently, at least) leaf. This photo is typical. The grapes are closest to the camera and the large leaf, with the little leaf in its axil, is on the opposite side of the vine.
The first node of the vine (and sometimes more) does not have the bunch of grapes branch, but just the leaf with a little leaf in the axil.

We started a new bed of raspberries three years ago and although all three new plants were supposed to be the same it became obvious that one was different. It had thorns and did not develop raspberries in July when the other two did. I began cutting it as if it were an early fruiting variety. It produced early raspberries last year and it is now (May 20th) beginning to flower while the others are still growing taller. In terms of pruning I have always cut our raspberries to the ground in the fall. But the early fruiting one produces berries on the previous year's growth, so that one is cut back to about three feet and berries are produced on the new growth off those three foot stems.

For years we have had composting worms in bins in our cellar from which I periodically harvest vermicompost. This ends up somewhere in the vegetable garden but I have never kept records of what effect, if any, it has on our vegetable production. It is supposed to be very nutritious for plants.
This year I mixed some of the vermicompost with compost from the OCRRA site and applied it to part of the pepper bed. In this photo there are twelve plants of three different pepper varieties. From the right of the photo they are garden sunshine, bullnose, and pepper king. Somewhat unscientifically I applied the vermicompost to the right side of the  bed so that all of the garden sunshine and six of the bullnose plants are affected. But all of the pepper kings and half of the bullnose just have regular OCRRA compost. The pepper kings are also spaced a little bit farther apart than the others. Later I will try to determine whether there is any difference in the growth or production of the plants. [This photo is taken looking west.]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's a New Season

Nothing posted since November, but that happens in the winter.
The winter was not much of a winter and one of the results was that vegetables (like kale) that might overwinter didn't survive. Without a good snow cover they were subject to cold drying winds and freezing temperatures.
But I haven't been totally idle. Beyond making plans for what to grow this year I began starting seeds back on March 5th and 15th. Here are some of them out for a little "hardening off" before being planted.

The purpose of the screens (one was removed for the photograph) is to keep off cabbage white butterflies and their progeny - one of my nemeses last season.

Seeds are starting in the cellar, under lights, but there is other activity out in the garden. I did have some lettuce and a very small amount of spinach in cold frames. We have eaten two meals using lettuce so far. Most of my leeks and scallions survived the winter and we will be using some of them soon. The garlic is coming along nicely.

With the perennials, there are signs of rhubarb and some raspberries starting. The other day, while on my hands and knees pulling weeds (which survived the winter very well), I noticed the beginnings of asparagus. Now they will wait until we get some warm weather at which time they will shoot up. This is their 3rd year so we should get a few weeks of picking. Last year we only picked from May 2nd to May 8th for a total of 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.

Other early season activities included pruning the Concord grapes (I'm hopeful I did it right) and restoring fencing around part of the vegetable garden with the hope of keeping any neighborhood groundhogs away from the things they especially like.