Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer Time and the Garden is changing

It's been an interesting Spring. We harvested scores of tomatoes, at least all the ones we could nab before the birds punctured holes in them. I found that if I picked them just as they began to color- we got them, if I waited for them to turn a little more red - the birds got them.

We've probably picked 12 cucumbers off the bush cucumbers I started from seed. I've had to learn to wait until they plumped up a little before picking them, otherwise they tasted a little too green.

The swiss chard is doing well, as is the Malabar spinach - which is actually a vine with edible leaves. It's in it's second year, I bought it last year at the farmer's market and planted it in the half wine barrel with the ailing tomatoes. Just as promised, it reseeded itself and is going to town.

I planted string beans but for some reason only four out of the 9 plants came up. I don't know whether the birds got them or I planted them too deeply or what. It's been wild to watch them grow, they are in their second or third blossom cycle. 4 plants only produce enough green beans to snack on.

I've got a volunteer basil plant growing in the garden near the cucumbers. The birds must have planted it cause I certainly didn't. The parsley is struggling along, I really need to soak the soil, they aren't getting enough water. The stems are rather hard - it is definitely rabbit parsley.

I tried an experiment this year and made my own upside down tomato planter out of a plastic, 5 gallon bucket you can get for free at any bakery. There seems to be natural, circular indentations in the bottom and lid of these buckets - so I drilled those out, sat the bucket on two chairs, put my baby tomato plant upside down through the hole and filled the bucket with potting soil. I put a coffee filter over the hole in the lid, secured the lid and flipped the whole thing over. I left the tomato grow upright for a week or so, then I hung the whole contraption upside down on a securely mounted hook on my patio roof. The plant was determined not to grow upside-down and for awhile it looked like it was heading for the top of the roof. Eventually, as the fruit began to grow, it forced the stem to come down and now reluctantly it's growing down towards the ground. This one seems to be a little trickier for the birds to pick the fruit - I think they must have to dive bomb it, as there is no place to sit and peck daintily at the ripening fruit.

I made a second bucket and placed a basil plant in it. The basil has had not qualms at all about growing upside down. It immediately just turned it's leaves over and has had no quarrel with the pull of gravity. I discovered at the beginning of the project that it was definitely advantageous to use a potting soil mix and not a dirt type mix. Potting soil is lighter, a bag of garden dirt from the garden store is way too heavy. Also, when asking for the buckets be sure to say you want to keep the handles. I had to put rope handles on my buckets but would have much preferred the metal handles that came with the buckets originally. Also, I learned that when purchasing potting soil, smaller is better. It takes less then you think to fill a 5 gallon bucket.

This summer, I've covered the garden bed with several layers of newspapers in an effort to control the weeds. So far it's working. I've planted a few cantaloupes and hope that they trail all over the garden to fill in the empty space. I'm hopeful we can keep the tomatoes alive during the long summer months. I know some people pull them up and start fresh in the fall but if we can keep them going we'll have earlier fall tomatoes. We grow the best fall tomatoes here in South East Texas.

Linear Composting

Thirteen years ago, we constructed three 4 x 16 grow boxes. Two of those boxes are still unused, but this spring, just before the open house reception we pulled up the big weeds and covered them both in a thick layer of hay. Some very determined but easy to pull out grass has poked through and morning glory vines have grown up around the edges but the thick layer of hay compost has successfully stifled anything else from coming up.

I decided I wanted to add more organic matter to at least one of these beds; so I've been using my Vita-mix to chop up every bit of vegetable matter into a mash and pouring it under the hay to rot. Well I thought this seemed to be working quite well until one day, as I pulled up some hay near where only a few days before I'd added the last batch of mash - I discovered that I had created conditions perfect for the production of meal worms. You know the kind, the big fat meal worms they feed to lizards and birds at the pet store and that fishermen use as bait. There squirming in the mash was a large mound of meal worms. Uck!!! Now what!

It took several phone calls to the folks at the cooperative extension service before I was able to find someone who could give me some advice. The recommendation was open the bed up to the air so the birds can get fat and happy and probably don't make mash of the vegetable matter. The only problem was when I pulled the hay back I didn't know where my squirming mass of meal worms had moved on to. Oh well. Maybe the 7 toads I know are living in those garden beds will find them worms or the resulting beetles and have a fine meal and they can get fat and happy.

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