Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Now the garden is producing

One of this year's experiments was to grow carrots in compost from the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency to see if we could get straight, single root carrots.
The answer, as can be seen, is yes. These are cosmic purple carrots, one of two varieties that we grew. The other - purple haze - is longer and thinner and may have a tendency to develop a woody core. We planted carrots at four different times and the first planting, which was two rows each about 3 1/2 feet long, produced nearly six pounds of carrots. I thinned them to one to two inches apart and the rows were six inches apart.

I was interested to see how well carrots would grow just in compost, wondering if compost that was processed at 150-160 degrees would retain the microorganisms needed for good plant growth. I did amend the soil with a little green sand, bone meal and blood meal, but all of those take time to become available to the plants. It certainly appears that the carrots grew well.

We are now harvesting summer squash (and the patty pan squash has so far been much more productive than the custard summer squash), although both plants are huge. There is no sign of squash vine borers. I have planted more patty pan squash seeds (July 13th) in the area where I harvested the garlic. I will also seed that area with buckwheat as a cover crop.

We have been harvesting blueberries in every increasing quantities, some cucumbers (from the two plants that I started), beets, scallions, kale and lettuce, although the original three plantings of lettuce have now all been pulled. I did start more lettuce and transplanted it today. Who knows, I may finally have lettuce at the same time as tomatoes. The tomatoes and peppers are growing well. There is no sign of tomatoes ripening yet.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

End of June Notes

I picked the first blueberries on June 27 - twelve of them. The bushes are loaded with berries and the ones I picked were larger than last year. We have watered the blueberries several times (something we decided to do after last year's crop of smallish berries) and there has been plenty of rain this year. The netting is in place and birds have not gotten in yet. I expect we will exceed last year's harvest of 20 pounds, which also started on June 27th.

The two squash plants are getting quite large and have some tiny squashes on them. I have sprayed kaolin clay on the cheesecloth that surrounds the stems again. We didn't regularly get squash last year until mid-July.

The two cucumber plants are starting up the netting (mostly). I am using kaolin clay spray on them but don't know exactly how much of the plant should be sprayed. I don't know whether the beetles only infect through the original stem or anywhere in the plant. The radishes that I planted around the cukes are ready to be harvested.

We have picked a lot of rhubarb this year. We don't really need five plants and I plan to eliminate two of the green rhubarb in the fall.

The cherries are ripening but there are not very many and the robins and cat birds are helping harvest them.

The concord grapes, despite my pruning, are growing in abundance. Some of the bunches have grapes about the size of peas. It seems the bunches that are developing the best are hanging down the sides of the trellis and the ones that are not developing well are on top of the trellis. But there might be other factors at play - shade, age of wood they are growing on.

Raspberries are forming berries. Janet has found a few Japanese beetles in the yard. We usually begin to see them around July 4th.

Garlic is drying and more scapes were harvested. I planted 102 regular and 16 elephant garlic on October 10th. Harvest should be around July 10th and the plants seem to be on schedule for that.

The peppers are about 18' high. All four varieties have buds and the chocolate and garden sunshine plants have small peppers on them.

The leeks are okay.

Some of the blackberries are flowering but much of last year's growth did not survive the winter so there will not be a large harvest.

The dill is about to flower. We don't plant dill anymore since it is not necessary. It comes up all over the garden. While we use some dill, it is mainly there for black swallow butterflies.

The first kale (started indoors on March 16th) has been producing good helpings of kale for the past two weeks. The kale and collards seeded on June 9th are about ready to transplant, once I find space. The kale and collards I started from seed earlier (I didn't record when) have been transplanted. The kale looks very good and should be ready to begin harvesting in another week. The collards are biding their time. They are under the pear tree, not the best location, and some have been chewed off (and left) by something. I think that next year I will do what I planned this year and not plant collards until later. I will grow more kale in its place since the kale seems to do better. I planted Nero, rainbow, and winterbor. [The dinosaur I started didn't germinate.] As best I can tell from Google, Nero is what I thought was lacinato (and I think it is called Nero lacinato), rainbow has the purple stems (and I don't have very much of it) and winterbor is the crinkly kale. My choice would be the Nero kale with some of the rainbow.

Parsley has been growing well and Janet has been harvesting some of it for pesto and other parsley dishes.

The tomatoes are doing very well this year. I haven't looked carefully but I haven't noticed any browning of the leaves. The plants are mulched with OCRRA compost and I will add more in the next day or so. Some of the tomatoes are tennis ball size but none of them are turning color yet. Although I check them every few days some plants manage to sneak second main stems past me.

Lettuce is abundant from the indoor plantings and two outdoor plantings. My favorite by far is the merlot lettuce - very dark red and leafy. The earlier plantings are bolting and some have been removed. I planted more lettuce than we can eat, especially without tomatoes to go with it. I started more merlot lettuce a couple of days ago.

The beets are growing but not big enough to harvest yet. I doubt that they have been properly thinned.
Scallions - some are ready for us - the few that were started indoors. The ones started outdoors have been mostly transplanted but some are still awaiting transplanting. They are in a difficult far corner of the garden to get to.

The peas are now producing but they were planted much too thinly and never produce enough to justify the space allotted to them. Kale and collards will soon be there.

Ground cherries - I don't plant them any more. They come up so easily on their own that I can move them to where I want them. But they are slow this year, partly because I transplanted anise hyssop thinking they were ground cherries, until I later noticed that the leaves smelled like licorice.

The basil is growing well and needs to be harvested again.

Pole beans are growing nicely up the trellis and into the pear tree but there is no sign of flowers yet.

I harvested some of the fava beans. Twenty-four ounces of pods resulted in 4 ounces of useable beans. Not a great ratio. They also need support or the plants topple over. The experiment this year is to see if, after the first harvest, the plants will grow back from the base. If not, or maybe even if they do, fava beans will be out of the mix next year. Like peas, the harvest doesn't justify the space.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Current State of the Garden

Friday, June 13 - Not that I am Superstitious

While I have records of when produce is picked I don't have anything to look at that tells me what state other crops were in on a particular date.

Summer squash - have buds (not flowers). I wrapped and tied cheese cloth around the stems yesterday to try to keep away the squash vine borer moth, which is due around mid-June. I plan to spray them with kaolin clay soon when it is a dry day.
Cucumbers (only two) - have flowers but are under row cover material. They were sprayed with kaolin clay when planted more than a week ago and will be sprayed again when we have a dry day.
Blueberries - the berries have filled out but are not turning blue yet. The bird netting frame is up but the netting still has to be attached.
Cherry tree - the cherries are beginning to yellow. The tree near the screen porch has very few berries this year compared to last year. Generally this very cold 2013-2014 winter was hard on fruit trees.
Rhubarb - growing very vigorously and needs to be picked again.
Grapes - not affected by the cold winter. Once again there are far too many bunches of grapes forming and I need to cut some of them off.
Asparagus - this is the one known disappointment this year. The original 25 (and very weak looking) roots that were planted four years ago developed into 22 plants. I believe the number was less last year (the number 16 sticks in my mind) but the harvest was fine. This year the harvest has been very poor and very few shoots have been coming up. Part of the bed, near the grape arbor, is devoid of asparagus.
Blackberries - these were planted last year. There is little or no growth on last years canes, which would produce the canes that flower and fruit this year. What growth there is is in flower. Growth from below the soil surface is fine, but won't produce any fruit this year. The dead canes need to be pruned out.
Garlic - good growth as usual. Scapes are forming and the leaves are just beginning to yellow. Time to stop watering them.
New raspberries. - Similar to the blackberries. Little growth on the mostly dead canes from last year. Flowers on what growth there is. New growth from below the soil.
Old raspberries - Some of last year's canes were cut at the level of the horizontal fencing and those canes are flowering. And there is new growth from soil level and it seems that some of that growth is flowering also, but closer examination is needed.
Basil - growing nicely, needs to be pruned to encourage side growth.
Leeks - look good, growing well. Could they have been closer than 6 inches?
    Bullnose - just a few buds. These are outside the fenced garden.
    Purple and sunshine have buds.
    Chocolate have tiny peppers starting.
Tomatoes - all are in flower but no little tomatoes yet.
Kale - growing well. We have been eating it.
Parsley - growing well. We need to begin harvesting some.
Pac choi - we are eating it. Will it regrow after most of it is cut off?
Scallions - if the chipmunk would stop digging holes in that area with would be better. But it is growing well and I am still transplanting some of what I had started in the garden.
Collards - I didn't start any early and the ones I seeded in the garden are not quite ready to transplant.
Lettuce - after a slow start the lettuce is growing nicely. My labels have faded but the merlot is a very deep, dark red; flame is leafy and red tinged; lolla rosa a also quite red but green deeper inside the plant; Yugoslavian red is red and green and is or is like a bibb lettuce. Merlot will become the lettuce of choice.
Beets - growing slowly but are taking off now. I haven't grown many beets before so I don't know if their slow growth is typical or caused by being chewed on when small.
Fava beans - have been in flower for about a week.
New kale - this is kale started from seed in the garden. It was transplanted recently and looks fine.
Ground cherries - I collected ground cherries from various places in the garden where they have appeared and put them together. They are small but are beginning to grow. I have lots of replacements if necessary.
Peas- the peas are flowering but I plan to pull them out because they will not produce very much and I need space for more productive crops.
Gooseberries and currants - both a developing berries and since neither was pruned early in the year, access will be a problem.

In short, the garden is doing well. I doubt that it will produce as much as last year (over 600 pounds) because there may be no pears and I am planning to have fewer grape clusters. Tomatoes, however, could weigh in quite well. The plants look great and I have somewhat more than last year, especially considering that I had three plants last year that I pretty much ignored.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Grape Notes

To help understand how my Concord grapes grow (so that I can prune them effectively) we have been taking periodic photographs of one little spur. This is part of last year's new growth and will produce the grapes for this year.

On May 3rd there were three buds on this spur, the middle one facing toward the camera.
 On May 11th the left and middle buds have enlarged somewhat but there seems little change on the right bud.
 By May 19th the new spurs were lengthening and it is clear that what I thought was the right most bud was not a bud. The actual bud in that location is just beginning and is growing up, not down.
By May 25th growth has continued and it is not clear how many nodes are forming on each of the three spurs. Something is eating holes in the leaves. Inspection just now (May 28th) shows that this spur is not a great specimen. What bunches there are seem to have only a few future grapes per bunch, and this spur has been eaten more than the others that I looked at today. I pruned away other growth that has moved into the photo area.

I have also noticed that there are buds on some of the older growth and I tagged them with orange tape so that I can see what they become.
On one of what I think is a 3rd year vine (this now being the 5th year) there are two buds in the axils where last year's new growth comes off and one bud that is not in an axil. I also marked four other buds at various locations on old growth, some of which seems to be 2nd year wood. Now at least I know that new growth is not all on last year's growth. Apparently if you severely pruned an old vine, perhaps even removing all of the prior year's growth, the vine would send out new growth somewhere.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Garden is Getting Started

Conditions have been pretty good for getting vegetables started. I transplanted kale, parsley and lettuce on the 21st just before a couple of days of nice light rain. Then on the 25th I sowed seed for scallions and more spinach, carrots and beets and it rained the following day. I haven't had to water those seeds since. Except for the spinach they are covered with burlap to keep the soil moist.

The first carrots are coming up and so are the peas (close to three weeks for them to show themselves). The April 9th beets and lettuce have been visible for about a week. No sign of the fava beans (seeded over two weeks ago).

On the grape front I have been checking every other day, searching for some sign of buds beginning to swell. I would think it is hard for Concord grapes not to do well, but today is the first day that both Janet and I see signs that they are beginning to start. I plan to watch them carefully because I have to figure out how to get this year's new growth to go back over the arbor. Grapes develop on the past year's growth, which grew from the previous year's growth, and that from the growth of the year before that. This would seem to mean that the new growth is always farther and farther from the original vine, but there has to be a way to cause new growth closer to the original vine than that.

I recently re-potted the tomatoes and peppers and today re-potted some of the basil. The tomatoes and peppers seem to be growing quiet well and should certainly be ready to transplant by May 20th (assuming there is no frost in the forecast then). We are not supposed to have any frost after May 10th - except, of course, for that 100 year frost - although we used to take May 10th as the average last frost date. Seems to be a small change in the climate.

We have a few days of rain coming up, then some warmer, and hopefully, sunnier weather.

I planted half of the potatoes on the 19th but don't expect to see them coming up for about another week. They, like the carrots, are in a frame filled with compost. I didn't sift that compost because potatoes ought to be able to handle the woody content of the compost. I did buy more finely sifted OCRRA compost for the second carrot frame but still need another couple of cubic feet before I start carrot seed.

We harvested our first produce yesterday - a little less than an ounce of asparagus.

Basically, things are coming along, although slowly.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Seems Like A Slow Start

Maybe I have unjustified expectations, but this gardening year seems off to a really slow start. It has been cold. Today it is in the low 40s at best. Ten days ago I seeded out peas, beets and lettuce but so far there is no visible sign of germination. On two of those days there was snow on the ground again. Not much snow but it was really quite cold - in the low 20s on Wednesday. The poor toads mating in the pond somehow survived being under a layer of ice. They know something is unusual because they arrived, paired up and mated much more quickly than in past years. We usually have a couple of weeks of male frogs singing in the pond. This year was limited to about two days.

The raspberries are clearly budding out but it still is not clear whether the grapes have viable buds. And, despite a couple of days around 70 degrees, there is no sign of asparagus. The rhubarb continues to push its way through the compost that I dropped over the plants last October.

On the 13th I seeded carrots, fava beans and spinach. Except for the peas I have placed burlap over the seeded areas, hoping that the burlap will help keep the soil moist - it has also been pretty dry - and, in the event of a heavy rainfall, keep the soil from washing off the seeds. It also keeps the house sparrows from taking dust baths in those areas.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


I almost never add fertilizer to my vegetable garden, relying almost solely on compost and occasional green manure. I have not noticed any deficiencies in the growing plants.

This year, however, two of my experiments involve using just compost as the growing medium. I will be growing carrots and potatoes in 12 inch deep wooden frames filled with compost. I would expect that the nutrients available to the carrots and potatoes would be limited, especially early in the growing season, since the compost in essentially sterile. To remedy this I will be adding green sand (for potassium), bone meal (for phosphorus) and blood meal (for nitrogen). My supplies are from Lee's Feeds.

The bags do not each provide the exact amount for 100 sq ft, although the bone meal does. I added the recommended amount of green sand and blood meal for 100 sq ft to the bag of bone meal and ended up with a mixture of about 34 cups (presumably 22 1/2 cups of bone meal - I didn't measure but relied on the bags statement that one pound was 2 1/4 cups - 6 2/3 cups of green sand and 4 1/2 cups of blood meal). Since this is the recommended amount for 100 sq ft then I would add the 34 cups to 100 sq ft. For the first carrot frame, which is 1.5 ft by 3.5 ft, or about 5 sq ft, I will add around 1.7 cups of the mixture.

We will see what happens.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gardening has started

Finally the snow is gone from the garden. Nothing survived the winter and the remains of the leeks, kale, parsley and collards - all things that did overwinter the year before - have been removed and the garden beds raked to an even surface.

Two days ago (April 9) I sowed seeds for lettuce and beets in that part of the garden that gets sun later in the day and also planted peas. The soil temperature was at least 44 degrees Fahrenheit.

There was a report in the newspaper a week or so ago that the very cold winter killed many grape buds and so I am wondering whether our Concord grapes were affected. I think there are buds on what remains after my pruning but won't know until I see buds actually swelling, opening and growing. Perhaps nature did the pruning for me.

I am building frames from old fence slats to fill with compost and use to grow carrots and potatoes. They will be near or on the driveway. I will fill the potato frames with compost from OCRRA but for the carrot frame(s) will first sift the compost through a screen of 1/4 in hardware cloth. It is a tedious process. OCRRA also sells 1/4 inch screened compost through some of the garden centers and I may decide to buy some of that to make the process easier.

We will open the pond today or tomorrow - that is, install the pump and get the system going. After this harsh winter we did not expect any of the frogs to have survived and their bodies have begun to appear. But they did a little better here than in the swimming pool from which they came.

The rhubarb has begun to appear through the gallon bucket of compost that was dumped on top of each plant last fall. Oops! I forgot that there is one rhubarb plant at the end of one of the beds. I just raked that compost into the bed the other day.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Most of the snow is gone. A quick look at the garden beds suggests that almost nothing survived the winter even with the blanket of snow that covered the garden throughout the season.

I was surprised that the leeks didn't survive. They are there but they are very mushy. When I tried to pull one up, even after loosening the soil under it, it just broke apart and left the mushy top in my hand. I did not mulch the leeks and I don't think that I did in prior years. I know that we harvested a lot of leeks after winter last year. I suppose the cold, cold weather just did them in.

A Google search brought this:
In colder areas, extend the harvest season by mulching deeply around plants (up to 1 foot deep) before a hard freeze. You could continue harvesting leeks until they are locked frozen into the ground, but don’t let that happen. Dig them first and store. Freezing would be the method of choice - a minute of blanching first.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Grape Pruning

This is the year to figure out how to prune our Concord grapes. Despite my concern last year that there were too many bunches of grapes for proper development, a lot did mature and I processed more than 70 pounds of prepared grapes. That is a lot of grapes to squeeze to separate the insides (pulp and seeds) from the skin. Except for the seeds, the rest is used. There are still jars of frozen processed grapes in our freezer even though we have already enjoyed an abundance of grape pies throughout the winter. Not to mention the jam and the grape juice.

Nonetheless, the grape arbor is an unruly tangle of vines of various sizes crossing each other at various angles, the newer ones mostly heading from north to south. (The vines were planted on the north side of the arbor.)

I know the basic drill, which is to find last year's new growth and cut those canes back to leave three buds per cane. The buds will develop into the new grape bunches. But I don't want as many bunches as last year. The bunches did not fully develop. That is, while many of the grapes in each bunch developed into nice purple grapes, quite a few others didn't. And the grapes seemed smaller. I want fewer bunches but completely formed and ripened bunches of large grapes. My goal is 80 to 100 bunches. That would mean pruning back to 30 to 35 pruned canes since three buds are left on each cane.

It occurred to me that instead of trying to start with the new growth I should go back to the two original plants (planted in 2009) and see what is growing from them (presumably in 2009 and 2010). Then follow each of these "secondary" vines and see what grew off of those, and so on. Sort of create a map of each vine. That way I can try to divide up the canes I prune this year somewhat equally among the vines they come from.

So far, trudging out into the snow of this winter, I find that each of the two plants divides into two vines at the top. Originally these vines were trained along a wire about six feet above the ground. I suspect that each of these vines was supposed to run so that one from each plant met one from other plants in the middle and the remaining vines going in the opposite direction would continue to the end of the structure. That would provide a vine covering the whole length of the wire, like two big Ts next to each other. Each plant also has a lower vine that goes along a lower wire that was part of the original structure. I suspect those vines could be removed because very few, if any, grapes develop there. But I will leave them this year to see.

All might have been fine if I had not decided to build an arbor early in 2012, I believe, so that the grapes could grow over the path next to where they were growing. But I did and I basically abandoned the wire structure (although it is still there). Then I started encouraging the new growth to go over the arbor. In 2011 all of the grapes harvested (25 lbs) were to what would be the north side of the arbor. In 2012 presumably because of the same conditions that wiped out the apple and pear crops, we harvested only 9 lbs of grapes and they also came from off the north side of the arbor . But then came the gangbuster crop of 2013. The grapes were pretty equally divided between the north side, the arbor itself, and the south side, though somewhat heavier on the south side. That means that I should be able to find some of last year's growth all over the arbor and be able to prune so that I get grapes again this year from all parts of the arbor.

Now it is time to read what I have accumulated earlier about pruning grapes and see if I can figure out the one question that has bothered me for several years. It seems to me that new growth and each year's grapes will continually be farther along the vine than the year before since the grapes are on the prior year's growth, which was on the growth of the year before that, etc. How do I get new "spurs" to form that will be the basis of next year's new growth?

On the Our Edible Garden webpage for grapes I wrote about last year's fruiting canes, which are to be removed, and last year's new shoots, which is where this year's grapes will grow. Obviously I didn't look to see what these were during the year.