Friday, July 29, 2011

Grubby and yay, humingbird!

This week I had a garden-related nightmare. I discovered a groundhog-sized grub churning in the soil of a raised bed. And if that alone was not bad enough, before I had to tackle the unpleasant task of killing it, it morphed into a human-sized grub and started chasing me. I have apparently spent too much time digging lately.
However, all that digging resulted in the completion (ha!) of the perennial garden expansion. The Agastache and Monarda were not even in the ground before the hummingbird showed up. I got to watch her from about three feet away--pretty exhilarating distance to watch a hummingbird. She's making multiple visits daily, also visiting the honeysuckle and stopping to rest in the mulberry tree and on the apple sprout. I love her. Given my photography skills, you'll have to settle for a pic of her favorite food, but I did manage to catch the goldfinch in action on my white swan cone flower--I never deadhead them all just so I can see that.
hummingbird favorite, Agastache (anise hyssop)
the goldfinch is a little easier to capture:
happy birding!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Squash Sighting!

Oh, the saga of the winter squash. Why did I plant this again? I like my raised beds neat and easy to maintain, but with winter squash I have this:
As attractive as those leaves are, this is getting out of hand. I have to watch to keep it from climbing into my cucumber bed. Because this just might be the year I finally get non-bitter cukes, and that is more important than any squash, no matter how pretty.
It might even entertain ideas of going up the tomato trellis, which is already contending with the supposedly bush beans:
I think the okra can handle it though--okra is tough like that.
But then in this weedy patch behind the squash bed I spotted this, and now it is all worth it:
My first "north Georgia candy roaster"! I put a bed of straw under it, which just seemed like the right thing to do. It'll age to a tawny pink, like butternut but with a blue tip (that sold me on it, natch). These things get huge, and if I get as many as someone more adept with squash than I am would get, then this will be hilarious. Have I mentioned that I live in a 900 sq. ft. house, with no root cellar? And by the way, Mr. Do does not really care for winter squash. We do have a shed "piggybacked" on our house, which we first called the murder shed because it looked like some place a serial killer would store implements ... or people. It has adopted the more cutesy moniker of the "bug-out cabin" (TM spoondaddy) If I can seal all of the vole access points, I think this would be the perfect storage place. But I'm not holding my breath--something destructive will surely befall this squash before I even think about harvesting. So let's admire it once more:
By the way, I needn't have worrried about the squash vine borer, as this plant seems determined to survive the mangling I gave it--growing side shoots with abandon.
I may regret pointing these vines toward the flower bed, where I'll have to worry about them tearing down my plants--Baptisia and some new Monarda (along with a scraggly looking old one I transplanted on a 99 degree day). But why I thought this squash could reside in a 4x6 bed I'll never know--it'll be taking over half the yard by September at this rate.
And there are more new plants for it to smother, thanks to a trip to the garden center, where I displayed no restraint in the face of Agastache. Who could? I picked up some in coral and some in pink, plus some Salvia for good measure. I need a large bee population to pollinate all those curcurbits after all!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Southern Gal

One of my distinctive childhood memories is shelling beans and shucking corn when my mema and pepa would go to the farms on John's Island, SC. Before farmers' markets as we know them now, people in the know would drive out to the source for those famous tomatoes.
Mema would also "put up" the most fragrant pears--something that I hope to one day replicate now that I am canning too.
So it is no surprise that some of my favorite things to grow are southern delicacies. Not only are they delicious, they perform well in the hot summers of Virginia.
The black eyed peas look freakishly healthy--so much so that I worried the soil was too rich and they'd be all leaf. This bed got a dose of Espoma organic fertilizer ("Garden-tone") when I prepared it. I definitely noticed how rich the soil appeared, compared to the clay soil in the beds I dug my first year, mere feet away. I am fairly certain my yard was farmland way back when (most likely hemp).
By July the plants had flowered just fine and have plenty of plump pods. I hope to harvest some for eating fresh this week.
The lima beans also have plenty of flowers and pods, but I am a little concerned about this leaf discoloration
My first impulse was rust, but that is just because of the color and the fact that it is a familiar bean problem. It just does not look like any of the photos of rust that I have found online, and nothing rubs off as I think it would with a fungus. So now I am thinking it is viral or bacterial, but I am not rushing to action since the plants are performing.
Okra comes in a trickle--a pod here and there until all of a sudden your freezer is full, if you're lucky.
Or course I've strayed pretty far from the south as well. I love north African cuisine, so I could not resist these Tunisian peppers:
They worked great in salsa with the cherry tomatoes that are coming fast and furious, and once dried they will eventually become harissa sauce.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Butterflies and Bees

I have long been interested in gardening for wildlife, so Asclepias was one of the first seed packets I ordered. Unfortunately I had no luck with my haphazard scatter-the-seeds approach, so I was thrilled to finally pick some plants up--and see the results, a visiting monarch.
Not only are the multicolored blooms gorgeous, they are the host plant for monarch butterfly larvae. I hope to see some of the cool striped caterpillars, but I hope this is not a dangerous spot, as it is near the vole habitat, and I read that mice eat monarch caterpillars. A marauding neighborhood cat has taken a toll on the voles, who feast on my compost and bird seed but seem to leave the garden alone (but a sad aside, I think the cat killed a baby robin the other day).
Surprisingly, I have not seen many butterflies on the joe pye weed, but I am enjoying the tall blooms.
But it is all about the bees lately. Look at the gobs of pollen on this one (on a blazing star):
They also really dig the summersweet (Clethra). Clethra takes forever to leaf out in spring, so plant it it the back of a border, but it more than makes up for that with its fragrance, so put it where you'll enjoy it.
I hope the bees are visiting the cucumber and winter squash flowers:
Look, recovering from the squash vine borer attack just fine!
They certainly love the lavender.
I need many more small flowered perennials to attract the good guys. My plan is to fill out my beds with Agastache and yarrow, or maybe Salvia and Penstemom too, but it will have to wait until early fall, when this heat wave and drought breaks--and hopefully some nurseries will be having sales then too.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Just an Update

It was one of those busy summer weekends, when I did lots of little mundane things, like continue to move plants in the expanded border, thin and transplant summer squash, and edge around the vegetable beds.
Speaking of which, I need a long-term plan for these paths. Mowing it is a drag--well not so much the mowing (since I don't do it) as the edging. I hate to lose any amount of clover though--it is like crack for bees and rabbits, keeping the latter out of my food plants. It is soft to work on, and low maintenance otherwise--versus digging up any more sod and covering the ground somehow.
This eggplant got a little bigger. I ate it.
It is that brief time of year when the day lilies look good.
Their days are numbered. After I get a light meter and determine just how many hours this spot gets, it'll be mine. The shed will get new windows one day (maybe even french or sliding glass doors), so it's going to be edibles or easily transplanted herbs here for now. It is a mucky area that gets waterlogged (in addition to hiding voles), so it needs amendment. The day lilies will go to the curb and get snapped up.
I have entirely too many cherry tomatoes (not a bad problem)--and just enough slicers. Next year, canning tomatoes!
My main project was beginning to take down the finished blackberry vines (floricanes) so I can tame and train the new ones (primocanes, which will be floricanes next year) The fence-as-trellis was not working, but I thank my neighbor for his tolerance. I have wood and wire, and a loosely constructed plan for a trellis.
I only wish the weekend were longer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beautiful Beans, and What Is Worth It

In my third year gardening, I continue to evaluate what is worth growing and what isn't--for both financial and other reasons. Lettuce (all greens really), herbs, and tomatoes are all no-brainers, as they are easy and economical. So are berries, asparagus (worth the wait!), and rhubarb.
Another favorite of mine is beans. The last two summers I had a fair amount of success with lima beans, and this summer I added black eyed peas. Look how gorgeous the flowers are:
The great thing about beans is they don't need much fertilizer (they fix their own nitrogen). They also can be eaten/frozen fresh or dried.
I'm still on the fence about peppers, cucumbers, and squash, but it is fun learning in the process.

Down With SVB

Earlier this week, I saw my first squash blossom. So excited, I took a picture and all.
This is a winter squash called candy roaster, reputedly a "smaller version" called North Georgia, though I had no idea what I was getting into trying to grow winter squash in a 4x6 raised bed.
As you can see, it is rapidly running, which is working out just fine.
There are bolting lettuce, cilantro, parsley, and arugula in the bed to attract beneficial insects, and some okra that I am hoping will just tower over the squash on the perimeter and withstand the snaking vines.
So far so good, the vines look exceedingly healthy. But I have been busy and, as I soon learned, not checking the leaves as carefully as I should have. For eggs.
A few days later, I saw my first squash vine borer. Or it's frass rather, oozing out of a stem. I knew there was a reason I have avoided growing squash. I sucked it up and prepared to extract the larvae by slitting the stem with a knife. When I have something like this to do, I rarely stop to document--I just want to get it over with.
I don't exactly have the sure hands of a surgeon, so the stem was fairly mangled. But I got it, and buried the affected section of stem with compost and soil. I'm keeping it damp, and a few days later it still looks fine, as does the second of the three plants on which I also spotted the SVB. Now I just have to hope that this bed isn't full of eggs and larvae. Hopefully getting to it before the plant wilted means better chances for the plant, which can re-root along the stem.

Next time I grow squash--in a different bed--I'll use row cover until the SVB is done doing it's thing (laying eggs), around July, which is coincidentally when you need to have the flowers exposed for pollination.
Read about organic controls for SVB and squash bugs at the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service website. A blog I just discovered, Virginia Naturals, has a good photo of the damage the larvae do to stems as well as the adult SVB. VegEdge also has good photos. I also found this newspaper column helpful.

My other cucurbits seem unscathed so far, but I know I desperately need to thin (and transplant) this summer squash. From the reviews in the link below, it sounds like they may need trellising too.
another heirloom, "lemon" squash:

"lemon" cucumber--hoping these will be less prone to bitterness compared to the variety I tried to grow before.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Found a Cosmos

I love Cosmos, so it was one of the first seed packets I purchased and attempted to grow in the garden. But alas, my soil was too rich/heavy and I never had any success. Fast forward to this summer, when I just assumed that this pink flower was a wonky coneflower. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was a cosmos growing under a coneflower. They can't grow in the same place forever, so a delicate operation is in order--and hopefully lots more cosmos in the future!

Irrigation, stat

This year it finally hit home what a huge job I have made for myself by um, landscaping more than half of my yard. It's not the digging, it's the watering! Without all of the new plants, I would not be bothering to water the lawn, so I dread the next water bill (they come every three months, so you notice the amount).
I finally found a watering system that helps, though it isn't the magic I need. For the perennial beds that are pretty much static, I bought a kit that has 50' of tubing and 5 "sprinklers" that you attach to the tubing once you decide the right placement (they even include nifty plugs in case you need to move one).
For $40, I don't think this system can be beat, but some minor improvements are in order. If there were at least 2 more sprinklers it would be much better. Also, the spray can be weak at times, but adjusting the water flow usually works that out. For larger plants that need a true soaking, like the service berry tree, this doesn't cut it, so I drag the hose over for that.
I do like that the 360 degree spray can be made one-directional by adding a plastic piece. It seems rugged enough, but will have to come in for the winter.
The positive ending is that once my perennials are established (and the ones I have moved get re-established), they won't need watering quite as much. And all that mulch is certainly helping.
I am still watering the vegetable garden with a hose--it is faster and easier, but not ideal--and I don't know what would be ideal with raised, cedar-lined beds. That is something that I'll have to work out in the future. For now, I am just thankful for the inch and a half of rain we got last weekend.


Just more random ranting about animals...My lovely sunflower, where last year I observed a woodpecker dining on seeds, was unceremoniously dispatched by a squirrel. I spotted the decapitated flower through the fence.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Looking better already--bigger beds!

The ornamental (mostly) garden expansion process has taken longer than I thought, since I am not super human or anything. After contending with the mulch--and recovering--I had the energy to complete the last of the remaining digging over the three-day weekend.
Here is a reminder of how the too-skinny border looked before:
Eliminating this perfectly round tree island around the Magnolia was a nice bonus:I went in stages. After I conceived the plan, realizing that just widening the border was not going to give me the space I needed, I began by creating a large bed at the right end of the back border--extending out from the lilac corner. This preserved the expanse of lawn that Mr. Do likes, and that I agree makes the yard feel spacious.
I made a walking path across the bed so I can access plants, most important the blueberries. In this new bed, I moved the Amsonia (bluestar), Baptisia (false indigo), Liatria (blazing star), and some of my coneflowers (Echinacea). I admit I do not like the neat, "plant island" mulched look, but the whole point was to give the plants room to grow, and the mulch is smothering the grass (along with a layer of cardboard)--no more sod digging for me! I will eventually plant low growers in between them--maybe more yarrow and Veronica, plus some Agastache, following the advice of this excellent post by Nancy J. Ondra of Hayefield.
Now the blueberries and coneflowers along the fence have ample room to grow, and bulbs like Allium keep it from looking too sparse.
The Liatris in the front are looking gangly because all growing season so far they were crowded and in too much shade--they will bounce back. This combo was partially inspired by the cover of The American Gardener, but you'll have to use your imagination until they fill in.
Some cooler (relatively) and cloudy weather cooperated so I could transplant some large bushes with minimal damage. First to go were the suffering hydrangeas, which found a new home in a bed to the left of Betty the Magnolia, where they now get afternoon shade provided by the garden shed, along with some new Veronicastrum (Culver's root), with sun-loving Scabiosa, lamb's ear, and butterfly weed (Asclepias) in front. I killed (tear) the seedlings I had growing under the Magnolia with leaf mulch, but there's always more seed.
Neither Hydrangea was blooming much before, but I am expecting to see lots more of this now that the shrub is getting the shade it needs
I rearranged a few other plants along the long border over the past few weeks, and this weekend I widened the entire bed about two feet, giving me space to stagger plants (and add two more blueberries!). This part is still in progress, and some transplanting will have to wait until fall, but it is looking much better already. I love it when a plan comes together--now I just need a chaise or hammock to sit in and enjoy the view.