Friday, August 30, 2013

Totally Tall Tomatoes

Our weather has taken a turn this week.  More heat and more humidity have been with us.  The nightly fog leaves the foliage still wet at noon.  We feel conditions are now favoring the reappearance of the dreaded late blight.  The above photo was taken eight days ago during a cool dry period.  Sucker removal and tying up new growth continues.  Both the Ferline and Italian Goliath are closing in on seven feet in height.  Tying up tomatoes that are well above my head is a new experience.

This picture was taken today.  The Better Boy had many lower leaves spotted with the disease that splashes up from the soil.  All of the dying leaves have been removed.  Next year I must remember to extend the grass mulch outside of the cage.  Preventing all splashing of soil on the plants seems to eliminate that common source of death from the base of the plant.

This harvest photo is also eight days old.  There are more tomatoes in the baskets than our total harvest last year.  Two tables in the basement are now covered with ripening tomatoes.  Nearly every meal features some form of fresh tomatoes.  We have learned that chicken, bacon, lettuce and tomato makes a great sandwich but we prefer the old standard BLT.

Keeping the plants open to the air seems to lessen the problem with blight.  Despite weekly sucker removal, I still find an occasional monster.  With a little help from the weather, our fresh tomatoes may make it to the September frost.  In the years before the late blight, it was that first frost that ended the tomatoes.

The late blight really hammered us on September 3rd recently.  We had just begun to harvest ripe tomatoes by that date.  This year our crop came in nearly one month earlier than that.  We started our seed earlier than usual planning to transplant into one gallon pots ahead of setting out in the garden.  Than worked well as we were able to set out large strong plants in early June.  If the blight does find us this year, at least we will have had a fair period of harvest.  Since we are reluctant to fight back with chemicals, we will start early and keep the plants open to the air next year.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Weeding Thyme

We got a lot of rain last night.  Judging from the water in the bottom of my purple trug, it amounted to several inches.  When it is that wet, weeds that would often be difficult for me to remove pull with ease.  There are many weeds and many places to choose to work in the garden.  This morning I chose one of the thyme covered stone patios.  I was having a lot of fun pulling the weeds from the patio and while I was doing it, I disturbed this lovely little toad.   I went back into the house to get the camera hoping he would still be around when I returned.

It took me a while to spot him. He was tucked under the woolly thyme that cascades over the edge of the center patio onto the one next door.  Look how brightly colored he was when he thought he was hidden from my view.

When I took the second picture, his beautiful color had faded a bit, but I wanted to get a shot that showed his head.  The edge of Ed's patio behind a cascade of woolly thyme for curtains is a delightful place for a toad to reside.  I hope he decides to stay!  

I was having so much fun weeding that I might have still been out there, however I felt a sudden burning sensation just above my navel.  In seconds I realized I had a bee trapped in my pants. Clearly it had flown up my pants leg and could not find its way out.  I dropped my pants to my knees and let the panicked bumblebee fly away.  Sometimes it's a good thing we have an isolated garden.  It is usually my habit to tuck my pants inside my socks to prevent that sort of thing.   I won't forget to do that again anytime soon.  It's still a beautiful day for pulling those big weeds.  I think I'll find my socks and head back outside.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Woodland Soil

When new owners moved into the house built adjacent to our wild land, they were troubled by the water that ran down the joint lane and then across their lawn.  Wishing to establish a harmonious neighborly relationship with these new neighbors, I diverted the water into my woods.  It did not take long to see that a result of my efforts was a deep deposit of fine woodland soil that used to be in the neighbor's woods.  Every year I remove several loads of this water sorted forest floor.  It is one component of the potting soil that is mixed here.  Dark and rich beyond description it is a wonderful soil amendment.  If I live long enough, the neighbor's hill will have been moved to my gardens.

Fallen leaves are collected and mixed with the water deposited forest soil.  This spotted salamander had made its home under the layer of old leaves.  These are the salamanders that have the bizarre night time mating ritual that takes place in our pond each Spring.  This specimen likely started its life in our pond this year.  We have seen adults that measured nearly one foot in length.  Following the picture the salamander was tucked under the leaf litter next to a large rock.

Our pond is fairly close to the site where we mine woods dirt so we thought that we would check in on the ground nuts.  They have been able to establish themselves despite the intense competition from the other plants growing on the pond dike.  The smell of the flowers smacked my nose while I was still some distance away.  The ground nuts climb right up the goldenrod stalks.  Both will likely survive and that outcome is just fine with us.

These flowers were more out in the open but the picture only suggests their structure.  They deserve a closer look.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Arrivals

At this time of year it is more common to clean up the dried stalks of past flowers than it is to find new blossoms.   This Chicago Arnie's Choice was newly purchased this Spring.  It has had a good year and is rewarding us with a flower and a bud.  For the past several years this plant was considered for purchase but never made the final list.  It is here now and from the looks of things it intends to stay.

None of the daylilies in our collection are red.  That oversight has been corrected with this Roots and Rhizomes exclusive Flash Fire.  A different red and yellow plant was twice considered but its $50.00 price tag kept it off our order.  Flash Fire is bright and eye catching and we are pleased to have it.

Our onion plants are ordered new every year so technically they are new arrivals.  Red Marble is the varietal name of these cippolini onions and this year's weather favored them.  Our soil is contaminated with red root rot.  The recommended three year crop rotation has failed to eradicate this pest.  Our onions grow with only a few roots.  They store all Winter and taste great.  Perhaps the hardship of our contaminated soil produces a strong plant.  Next year I plan to sneak a few onion plants in among the flowers growing in the new bed down by the road.  We would like to see the size of these onions grown without the root rot.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Garden Guests Galore

A first look out the window at the garden revealed the local flock of wild turkeys, usually 4 adult females and eleven babies, were making themselves at home in the stone square.  They sit on the bench, perch on the wall, dig in any fresh dirt they can find and leave unmistakable calling cards behind.  The nicer ones are feathers as for the others, you just have to watch your step.  While they really are intriguing  to watch, all this activity is getting to be a bit much.  At least they leave when we approach them.

I took a few moments to watch a couple of hummingbirds challenging each other at the  rose of Sharon flowers just outside of the bedroom window.  I can't hear their chatter from inside, but the way they flare their tails wide showing its white edge  then zoom after each other is amazing.  They do this even though there are lots of flowers to share.  I guess it's a territorial thing.

These orange and white insects are unknown to me.  Good or bad they certainly are attractive!

A bumble bee is always a welcome visitor for Ed's lovely asters.

Our apple trees are covered with fruit.  I tasted one, but unripe it was beyond sour.  The apples are not yet ripe but many are showing lots of red.  I imagine this American dagger moth is not great for the apples, but he certainly is an attractive visitor.

The hummingbird moth adores Ed's Salmon star lilies.  Perhaps there are no pollen stains here because of all that wind turbulence from his continually moving wings.

A single white phlox flower holds this tiny little bee-type insect.  The number of bugs in the garden this year is astounding.

I saved the very best for last.  Finally I managed to find a monarch caterpillar.  This one is munching on a milkweed that came up in the garden.  I guess we won't be weeding any more milkweed out until later after the monarchs are gone.  The plain fact is you can't do anything in the garden with out disturbing something!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lily Winners

Our oriental lilies found this year's weather not to their liking.  Life under the tarp afforded protection from late frosts but moisture extremes left most of the leaves spotted brown.  Entire leaves soon turned completely brown and dropped from the stalks.  What flowers did open were at the top of a naked stem and could not have their picture taken in that sorry looking condition.  We must find a better way to grow these treasures so far north of their native climate zone.

These Simplon lilies are planted in a circle well removed from neighbors.  It was possible to place an inverted plastic trash can over the lilies without crushing nearby plants.  We will redo other planting areas to allow for lily covering in place.  Now, a row of lilies separates flowers and vegetables at the ends of many long rectangular beds.  There is no way to cover a row of lilies without mashing nearby companions.

Each morning now, my first task is to remove the pollen bearing anthers from newly opened flowers. These pure white flowers look better to me if they remain unstained by cinnamon colored pollen. When newly opened, the pollen is still tightly held in place and can be removed without leaving a stain. Later in the day, the anther drops nearly free, the pollen matures and stains follow.  Standing close to the plant removing these stainers, places ones nose in among the flowers.  There is no better way to start a day in the garden.

Salmon Star is our other lily success this year.  New bulbs were ordered because of uncertainty about the appearance of the old bulbs.  Last year's rodent attacks left most of the old plants in a sorry condition. The spring purchased bulbs are just now flowering while the older plants that did survive are past.  

Why the orange pollen leaves no stain is a puzzle.  Replanting this area to allow for covers in place will present some puzzles.  The nearby chrysanthemum may be a treasured mammoth pink.  Moving it after it flowers will be too late in the year for it to establish roots.  Perhaps we should snip off all of the buds and move it now.  We won't see flowers this year but the plant might survive.  Another choice is to leave it in place and simply place the plastic pail on some of the plant.  Transplanting some of the mum could be done in the spring.  That sounds like the best solution.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Early Signs Of Autumn

Our choice remains to live in a region that sports four distinct seasons.  We find that the cycle of seasonal change adds spark to our lives lived in tune with nature.  The end of summer is expected but it was a bit of a shock to find red and yellow leaves alongside of the lane.  These colors are always present under the cover of the green outer layer and seeing them may mean nothing more than recent fallen leaves were seen.  Still, it was somewhat sobering to see so many colorful leaves this early.

Fall flowers are beginning to show in the garden.  The first Clara Curtis chrysanthemums blossoms are slowly opening as are the wild goldenrods.  Soon our untended fields will become a sea of bright yellow flowers.  Here is the first of what will become many.  Some believe that goldenrod is the cause of fall allergic reactions but its pollen is heavy and does not travel far.  A more likely explanation of the irritation is ragweed pollen lodged in the goldenrod.  Goldenrod and New England Asters can make a stunning floral arrangement but how common are indoor bouquets of wild weeds?

This photo shows Sweet Goldenrod, Solidago odora.  Its flowers are arranged along one side of the stem.  Leaves held up to the light will show small translucent dots on their surface.  These leaves are reported to make a flavorful tea that aids with flatulence. The crushed leaves give off a licorice scent.

When we first began to scour these acres to discover their secrets, Becky identified five different kinds of goldenrod growing here.  Long leaves and a rough stem help distinguish Stiff Goldenrod, Solidago rigida, from four other similar goldenrods.  We might have the identifications wrong.  We need to go a feel the stems and brew some tea.  These two are first to bloom.  Some of the more showy goldenrod  flowers have not yet opened.  It's not just the yellow flowers.  You can feel fall in the air!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Where Are The Monarchs ?

Our nearby river, the flat muddy Unadilla, is a south flowing stream.  A diminishing finger of bedrock ridge sends the river on a westward loop here.  Migrating flyers ignore this jog in the river and fly directly over us.  Once a National Guard cargo plane on a training flight below the ridge line flew directly over our home at a frighteningly low altitude as it followed the straight line down the valley. Geese and Monarch butterflies provide more pleasant visual experiences as they migrate directly over us.

Our fields of milkweed stand ready for the Monarchs that enjoy summer here.  This year they have been almost completely absent from our place.  An occasional tattered individual has been seen dining on an Echinacea flower.  The milkweed flowers are long past but the Monarch needs only its leaves to receive their eggs.  All is ready but for some reason the butterflies are not here.

This stand of milkweed is growing in an area that I mow.  It was last mowed mid July so that the milkweed would re sprout growing tender young leaves and late flowers.  The young leaves are intended for use by the butterflies, but the second flush of flowers is intended for me.  I find their fragrance deliciously sweet and I have a longstanding personal connection with this plant.  For many years I would enjoy the first week of my summer vacation from school while surrounded by newly opened milkweed flowers.  Now the flowers remind me of wonderful first days of summers spent free of employment.

The many weeks of rainy weather no doubt impacted the northern Monarch migration.  It will soon be time for the summer butterflies to lay the eggs that will develop into the young ones that make the southern migration.  With so few butterflies seen here we will likely not find any caterpillars or cocoons on our milkweed plants.  Our last chance to see Monarchs this year will be during the migration when topography works to funnel the fliers directly over us.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

No Close Ups Please!

All day yesterday was clear and sunny.  For the first time in a long time the night sky was cloudless and one thing we have at the stone wall garden is an amazing overhead view of the sky.  I turned off every light in the house, even the computer.   It is "country dark"  here, so we used a flashlight to find our way to the bench on the patio.  The dark sky was filled with so many stars it was hard to pick out familiar constellations.  We stayed in the garden, gazing up at the ocean of stars, until each of us saw a meteor. It was spectacular!

Today was another sunny day.  I had been waiting for a dry day to gather seed heads from my pink poppies.  I collected a lot of seed, but a whole lot more had already been spread in the garden.  Once the pods open, every breeze scatters a little more seed until the pods are empty.  It was while I was busy cutting poppy seed heads that I felt the breeze and heard the buzz and chatter of a humming bird right there next to me.  I had the camera in my pocket but I didn't bother to try to get it out.  With the hummingbird so close, I wanted to watch her.

It's a rare chance to observe one of those little birds with their  gorgeous green  iridescent  feathers right under your nose.  Yesterday Ed  weeded the bed next to the stone wall where these cardinal flowers grow.  I watched as  she flew from red flower to red flower sipping nectar.   The drooping flower had been accidentally uprooted and she took special care to get any nectar she could from that stalk. She  even perched on the stem to gain access to some of the more hard to reach flowers.  I stayed there transfixed until she eventually flew past my head speeding to another part of the garden.

You would think having such a wonderful experience would be enough for me, but after lunch, I decided to take the camera and sit in the shade of the smoke bush, hoping that the hummingbird would make another appearance.  It did not take long for me to hear the familiar buzz of hummingbird wings, but this time with the camera at the ready, the beautiful little bird stayed on the other side of the wall visiting the cardinal flower there.  You can see her there, three stones down from the top of the wall, sipping nectar from the stalk of cardinal flower on the left.  Don't forget to click on the picture to make it larger!

After that she flew even farther from me all the way to the opposite side of the stone square.  She sits perched on a wire cage near the center of the picture. Her little white tummy is just visible among the red cardinal flowers.  She doesn't stay perched for long.  She will spend her whole day sipping nectar or chasing other hummingbirds at incredible speed.  In a flash she was gone.  It was a such thrill  to have her spend a few minutes of her speedy day with me!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Year Of The Weeds

At this time of year we are licking our wounds, cleaning up failed garden sections and trying to prevent new weed growth.  The first photo was taken on July 19th.  Peas that had tried to emerge during a hot dry period and the weeds that followed were cleared.  Two hills of squash were surrounded by dry grass clippings in an attempt to limit weed growth.  Two days of gentle rain followed with the squash quickly sprouting.

By August 6th purslane also freely sprouted.  The grass clippings prevented any weed growth under their thick blanket.  The area where the seeds were planted was intentionally left bare so that the squash could germinate.

Now the weeds are gone and the grass clippings blanket is continuous.  Additional grass may be added when time and rain have compacted the weed barrier.

My first attempts to use grass clippings as mulch were only partially successful.  Fresh wet cut grass fills with mold.  Now I follow the farmer's practice of cutting hay one day and gathering it the next. Time to dry allows the piled grass to remain light and airy.  Mold is less prevalent but the layer does require replenishment.  With any luck these squash will bear ahead of the September frost.  When the ground is cleared to bare soil for the winter, there may be no weeds to contend with.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Splendor In The Grass And The Weeds

This year with all the rain, the weeds and particularly the meadow grasses  have outdone themselves in our garden.  We have managed to get some areas under control, but in others the plants have to duke it out with the invaders waiting for us to come to the rescue.  Here the anise hyssop and black-eyed Susans are looking terrific!  Either could be considered a weed but we consider them cultivated plants.

Earlier in the summer this bed was well weeded and Ed planted asters. They are starting to look good, but are surrounded by invaders including the Chinese forget-me-nots that came up from self planted seed.   These lovely blue flowers are unforgettable indeed. The way they make sticky seeds that catch on your clothes or anything passing by guarantees that should you forget about the beautiful blue flowers, new plants will spring up to remind you!

 Gloriosa daisies that have self seeded can be found in many places in the garden.  The color variations in the flowers are amazing.  Ideally we should allow our favorites to form seed and pull the rest.  Perhaps we will get to that.  In the meantime they all add a little more splendid color to the garden.

My scarlet runner beans are blooming to delight me and the hummingbirds.  I'm thrilled to see the beans develop.  I love to save the shiny pink and black seeds to replant next year and to share with friends.

I have had evening scented white Nicotiana come up from seed here ever since we first started this garden.  Here for the first time just one red plant has appeared in the garden.  It was a splendid surprise.  We are wondering out loud what we can do to increase the chances that this color sport will return next year.

This striking pink catchfly is really surrounded by grass, but it is still beautiful and attractive to the hummingbird moth.  This is another weed that we moved into the garden.  The brown sticky sections on the stems and the color of the flowers combined to make these a must have plant.  Many are weeded out each spring but many are allowed to flower.  It's the gardener who decided which plants get to stay and which have to go.  We are working on it!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Beating Back The Wild Things

It's a plain fact that we are being overrun here.  All the rain has served to keep us out of the garden and it has given the weeds the opportunity to run wild in the garden.   Somewhere hidden beneath the grass and other weeds are Ed's beautiful planting beds and  stone paths.  Ed worked on this area today.  He plans to replant peas here.  We have the seed and sometimes we can get a late crop of peas if the weather cooperates.

I chose  to search for desirable plants in this bed .  I uncovered some dianthus, wood betony, closed gentian and a hollyhock.  I caught sight of Ed's rose, but I did not get it uncovered yet. Digging out the grass is slow work and looking for hidden treasures slows progress down even more.

It's not only the weeds that have gone wild.  The trumpet vine has completely engulfed the golden glows.  A few small golden flowers have managed to break through the vines to catch some sunlight anyway.  Other plants in the area of the trumpet vine have not been seen at all.

Trumpet vine tendrils are marching across  our gravel parking spot.  New runners are popping up in the gravel at some distance from the original plant.  One can't help feeling that parking there for too long will result in a car covered with vines.  However, I can't deny that I love to watch the hummingbirds  zip around the trumpet vine chasing each other at dizzying speeds.  As long as the red flowers that they find so attractive are blooming, this vine gone wild is safe.

Still there is great beauty in the garden.  This Salmon star lily and its tantalizing fragrance is so attractive to a hummingbird moth that I was actually able to get this great picture.  We feast on fresh summer squash, basil, lettuce and the now ripening tomatoes.  Today in the garden was great!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Sun Ripened Tomatoes

Tomatoes fresh from the garden on a warm sunny day are a taste experience that defies description.  That is one reason why we garden.  The quality of home grown can wildly surpass anything offered for sale at the market.  For the past two years, late blight has taken our tomatoes soon after the first tomatoes ripened.  Our choice was to give up or try something different.  Not ready to quit, we tried something different.

Starting our own plants from seed gives us total control over both variety and condition of the plants. This year we started our plants earlier than normal planning to move them into one gallon pots well in advance of the June first frost safe date.  That size container allowed the new transplants ample room to grow.  Cold nights found us carrying the pots into the warmth of the basement.  May 30th is the date of the wall picture.

This close up was taken three days later.  Good thick stems with generous leaf growth put these plants well ahead of nursery stock.  Dowels were added for support after a strong wind bent the plants.  We decided to try transplanting without cut worm collars since the thick stems seemed beyond their bite.  We lost no plants to cut worms.  A quick final weeding and these plants were ready for the garden.

Our first ripe tomato was harvested on the last day of July.  We may have had ripe tomatoes earlier if there had been more sunny days and fewer rainy ones.  If the weather cooperates, we may have weeks of sun ripened tomatoes.

At this time of year our valley fills with fog nearly every night.  All plants here start the day with wet leaves inviting fungus growth.  It is also common here for August days to be Alabama hot and humid.  That combination of heat and moisture can allow the plant leaves to remain wet all day.  Fortunately this year, our days have recently been cool and clear.  If this weather holds for some time, we may avoid the blight.

Our blight response plan has us harvesting green tomatoes at the first sign of blight.  If the tomatoes are moved inside while clean, we can continue to eat our tomatoes after the blight has ended the plants.  Tonight's meal will consist of BLTs made with lettuce and tomatoes from our garden.  We will enjoy this for us seasonal treat, as long as the harvest can continue.  We have not given up hope that the September frost will end our tomato harvest instead of that @*!# late blight!

Accurate record keeping is perhaps our weakest skill.  As luck would have it, the card showing the planting date and the varieties planted just turned up.  On April first Better Boy, Italian Goliath, Ferline and Red Siberian varieties were planted.  A more traditional seed starting date would be mid April here.  The early start followed by the transplant to one gallon pots allowed us to plant out large healthy tomato plants.