Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Morning in the Garden

Due to a flare up of my back problem, I've not been able to get out in the garden the past several days. DH's been doing a bang-up job tending the crops, harvesting, and watering when needed. He has managed to break the moisture meter, overlook the inception of two (yes TWO) muskmelons, declare the Straight Eight cucumber plant "retarded", and left several pods of okra on the plant for too long, though. Nothing's died (yet) under his care, so all is well and I haven't killed him yet.

This morning, I really needed to be out in the garden, though. It's been hard for me to stay inside away from all that's going on. It brings me such pleasure to be out among the growing things, watching their development. There's also something so very peaceful about being outside in the morning or late evening. The smell of the air and the dirt, feeling the warm (hot) sunshine on my face, and hearing all the sounds of the outside world invigorate me and lower my stress level. We went out well before 9 o'clock this morning, and it was already oppressive out. The thermometer read 86 degrees with absolutely NO breeze or hint of a breeze. It was very icky-sticky out there. Perfect for a swim in the pool, if we had one!

The cantaloupes I planted are really muskmelons, but we call them cantaloupes because that's what they're called here in the states. I planted 2 varieties, Hale's Best which has a normal orangey/salmony flesh of cantaloupes, and Israeli cantaloupe which has a pale green flesh. It'll be interesting to taste that Israeli melon! Here are the vines taking over the space between the back of their bed and the storage shed.
We discovered two new muskmelon babies this morning during our stroll, one of each variety. This one's a Hale's Best, poking out on the backside of the bed, resting on the frame of the bed.This one is another Israeli melon, hiding in plain sight on the top of the bed near the front. I don't know how either of us missed it!
The bush beans that didn't get taken out when the pole bean trellis fell on them during the last rain & wind storm we had are finally producing like they should. These beans are really quite tasty.
The pole beans that survived the fungal infection, overwatering by me, and the sunburn from being watered at the wrong time of day are looking quite lush and really taking off on the trellis DH engineered for them.These two okra plants have finally taken off! They were plagued incessantly by aphids during the spring; I thought they were going to bite the dust! Even after taking this pic, I had to spray some soap water on the okra to kill the aphids. Sheesh!! Anyway, there's two more pods of okra on these two plants that are ready for harvest. All of my okra's doing great during this heat.
I can see these red peppers from my bedroom window and it's been fun to watch them start to ripen. They are really putting on their red color and will be ready to harvest soon. The plant on the far right in this pic was the one tormented by the hornworm, so the peppers are sunburned on the other side. I'm happy to report that the plants are putting on new leaves and I even saw some baby buds on them, too!

We also set out the plants for the new flower bed DH dug for me. These poor plants have been waiting for 2 months to go in the ground! Under my direction, DH placed all the plants in their soon-to-be permanent homes. Maybe early in the morning (like at 5- or 6 o'clock), he can get out there and actually plant them without suffering from heat stroke. Of course, they'll definitely need to be babied until they're established, but thankfully this spot gets the early morning to early afternoon sun and then they're totally shaded by the late afternoon sun.

I was almost to the point where I needed to go back inside and sit down, but I had to see the flowers in the front bed. I so enjoy the blooms from these plants and seeing them grow and flower. I wasn't disappointed as the bed was alive with little butterflies and bees! I love the honey bees that come to feast on the pollen of my plants. Here's a bee on the Monarda (aka Horsemint, Lemon Mint, Bee Balm).
A Zexmenia bloom tangled in the Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea).The delightful and cheerful California Poppies, white Sweet Alyssum, and the pink Scabiosa Daisy are doing well in the heat. I winter sowed a package of a low-growing mix and was delighted to discover the California poppies made the cut. I thought this Katie's Blue Ruellia had been destroyed by the slugs earlier this spring, so I'm so excited to finally see some blooms. These are the same color as the Tall Mexican Ruellia that bloom along side the garage. Lastly, the Blanket Flower (gaillardia aristata) has really taken off and bloomed like crazy over the past couple of weeks. I'm so happy with this plant!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's Hot!

We've had temps in the low 100s for the past 4 days. Today's high was 105º and now at almost 10pm, it's "only" 93º. The garden is suffering and our water bill is getting higher. We've had to water just about every other day or so.

The jalapenos are loving it, though! Go figure! LOL However, DH did some work in the bed near the jalapeno plant and I think that he must've gotten too close to the roots. The plant hasn't died by far, but it wilts very, very quickly and comes back to life when the hot sun cools off. Still producing, though, so I think it'll eventually be okay. We're trying to devise some kind of shade cover for it. The bell peppers also need some kind of shade. On a good note, the bell peppers are starting to ripen. That's been fun to watch!

The melons and cantaloupes are absolutely loving the heat! The cantaloupe vines are taking over the yard near their bed and really producing lots of little boy and girl flowers. We have at least 2 cantaloupes that I've found. One is a Hale's Best Jumbo and one's an Israeli cantaloupe. Never had an Israeli cantaloupe, so it'll be interesting to taste it.

Hale's Best Jumbo baby (Isn't it cute?)

Israeli Cantaloupe

The Sugar Baby watermelons are also loving this weather. I've learned that watermelons are a desert plant, so they don't really need a lot of water. A couple of weeks prior to harvest, withhold watering them excessively to sweeten them up. We've not been watering them very often, so they should be pretty sweet! LOL Here's the latest pic of the "Three Muskateers" as I've been calling them. They're about the size of bowling balls.

Our first pole bean, finally.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Some Things I've Learned So Far

Since this is the first year we've had a vegetable garden, I knew that there were going to be lessons learned along the way. I was totally clueless when we decided to start this venture, but I had high hopes that we'd be overrun with vegetables to share with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. However, that hasn't happened, but I have learned a thing or two.

1. Start with good soil. This is absolutely crucial. We have horrible soil here, so we have added lots of good finished compost from our compost pile, mushroom compost, cotton burr compost, a little bit of horticultural cornmeal, a little bit of dried molasses, some lava sand, and some composted soil mix from a local company. We've found that the veggies from the beds with just the composted soil mix don't taste as good as the veggies that are grown in the beds with some native soil.

2. Mulch is absolutely necessary for your plants to survive and thrive in the HOT Texas weather. Not only does mulch keep the weed population down and help with water retention in the soil, it helps cool the soil and protect the roots of your plants from getting scorched. There are a variety of mulch alternatives, but my three favorites are shredded native cedar, grass clippings which can be turned into the soil at the end of the season, and straw.

3. Do NOT overwater and water at the appropriate time of day! This was a hard one for me to learn and came only after losing more than half of my pole beans to disease because I'd overwatered them. Most veggies don't require a lot of water. It's better to water deeply about once a week than to water daily at a shallow level. I marked my moisture meter at 2" from the tip of the probe. When it's on the moist side of the dry line, I water to a depth of about 1" or 1.5". This means I'm only watering about once a week.

I like to water late in the evening, just before dusk. (I figure if God can make it rain at night and my plants survive, then I can do it, too.) If you water during the day, any water left on the leaves is subject to burning the leaves. I also try not to get water on the leaves as this can cause burning and disease.

4. If you want enough to share with neighbors, friends, and family then plant accordingly. We never harvest enough of anything at one time for a complete serving. That's very frustrating for me. I now understand why people plant 5-10 squash plants, 40 tomato plants, 10-15 okra plants, and etc! It's the only way you can harvest enough at any one time to actually use for dinner that night!

5. Pay attention to optimal planting dates and varieties for your area. Here in Texas, we are fortunate to have an excellent agricultural program through Texas A&M University. Almost every county in Texas has some kind of AgriLife program carried out by Master Gardeners and the local county extension agency. There's tons of online resources that list appropriate planting dates and best varieties for the various areas of Texas.

6. Start thinking about the next season's crop now. I've already purchased seeds for my fall garden and am waiting for the appropriate time to plant various crops starting next month. I've even started thinking about where I want to plant various veggies once all the current veggies are harvested.

7. Be prepared to battle pests. It's inevitable and they will show up.

8. Even ants have a purpose in the garden. They're great pollinators!!

9. Some shade is good for some plants. Many plants can withstand the harsh blistering heat of the afternoon, but some shade is okay for them and for the fruit they produce. If peppers don't have proper leaf protection, they get sunburned, which starts rotting the fruit. Some plants wilt in the hot afternoon sun, but will perk back up in the evening and be fine.

10. Have fun and don't be too disappointed when you lose a few plants for whatever reason. Sometimes it's a disease or bug problem, but sometimes it's because the plants weren't planted at the appropriate time. Sometimes the variety planted isn't truly suited to the area in which you live. For example, we can't grow lettuce in the summer here. It's strictly a late fall and early spring crop. Long day type onions won't grow in Texas. We need the short day varieties like the 1015 (super, super sweet and HUGE), Yellow Granax, and Vidalia.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What a Wild Week!

We found another SVB in the zucchini earlier in the week. I look for frass on the stem of the plant during my daily inspection of the crops. Frass is "a sawdust-like substance made up of plant material and insect waste. Excreted by borers, it is a tell-tale sign of the presence of a pest in a tree, shrub, or other plant." (Definition compliments of Terry on Dave's Garden, This time, rather than yanking the plant out, my very dear husband, sliced the stem open, removed the borer, then closed the stem up with a piece of pantyhose tied to the incision site. The plant is looking great and we harvested our first zuke yesterday. Sweet!

See that yellow ooey gooey looking stuff? That's the frass.

Not exactly a pic of the zucchini plant, but it's there on the far left. This thing has really taken off in the past couple of weeks. It must love the hot temps we've been having.

Yesterday's harvest. That zucchini is really big! It's much bigger than any zucchini you'd find in the stores. I think I should make some zucchini bread with it since we're not big squash eaters here. I might end up taking it to my co-worker who loves zukes, though. We'll see!

This past Wednesday brought a powerful storm to our area. We had winds in excess of 40 mph, maybe even as high as 60 mph! The trellis on our small bed of pole beans blew over. DH went out during a break in the storm and propped it back up until he can make a more permanent support.
We lost a couple of pole bean plants and some bush bean plants. Losing the bush beans was tough. Some of them were loaded with buds and baby beans. While I'm thankful for the rain and thankful that we didn't suffer any damage to our home, pets or ourselves, it's disappointing to lose something that you've babied along and have been so looking forward to harvesting.
Some of the tops of the tomato plants got bent, too. They kinda look like they've got broken legs! I've clipped the tops off and stuck them in a bucket of water for the time being. I'm going to root them and plant them in the fall to have some more plants for fall harvest.
The zucchini that had the squash vine borer in it got blown around pretty good. We were afraid that we'd lose the plant to the harsh treatment of the wind since the plant was a bit delicate and recovering from surgery, but it survived. In this pic, it looks like it's been through a wind storm. We harvested the zuke on it yesterday.

Earlier in the week, I was on the hunt to find whatever pest left this evidence behind. If you can't figure it out, these are balls of poop from some little critter. I'm telling you, they were about the size of a pea, so whatever was chowing down on my peppers was pretty big. I diligently searched under the leaves, down the stems of the plant, and around the base, but I couldn't find anything.
The next morning, while doing my inspection of the gardens, I stumbled upon the culprit, a LARGE hornworm. Ewwww!! It was very well concealed on the underside of an eaten leaf. These things are like teenage boys. They're constantly hungry and eat all the time!!
Again, DH to the rescue! After proclaiming, "He's a big 'un!", he quickly discharged the pest to hornworm heaven.
Still, his damage has been done. Thankfully, the plant is okay, even if it looks a little nekkid. There's no harm done to the peppers, and the leaves should grow back. Tonight, I need to spray both the peppers and the tomatoes with Bt, an organic, good-bug friendly product that will kill the hornworms, but not destroy the plant, the good bugs, or the soil. I've been trying to do this for the past 3 nights, but rain has altered that course of action.

The jalapeno peppers have finally started setting fruit. Now we can start planning some serious Mexican cooking!! I'm thinking these would taste great as a topper on some nachos or on some homemade enchiladas. They'd even be great in some salsa or pico de gallo. This plant was just a wee seedling when I got it at the plant swap in early April. Now look at it. It's producing some great looking peppers!!

The two Sugar Baby watermelons we planted have started taking over the universe! Seriously, the vines have almost reached to the other end of the raised bed and that thing is 10' (that FEET) long!
Nestled amongst the twining vines going all over the yard, I found these three little babies.
In addition to these three babies, there's another one just down the vine from these. On the other side of the bed, there's at least one other baby and perhaps two. The first watermelon is still growing nice and fat and sweet. It's turned a very dark green, almost black. We're waiting for all the signs to show it's ready for harvest: a nice yellow spot on its underbelly and dry tendrils near the top of its stem. Maybe it'll ripen in time for 4th of July!

Also discovered in the garden this week:
Blooms on the pole beans. We should start harvesting in the coming weeks! I'm ready for some tasty green beans!
Another yellow squash. This guy got blown up into the bed with the strong winds the other night. He's resting peacefully near the edge of the bed and will be harvested today.
Our first burpless cuke. He's been growing steadily for the past couple of days. Not sure when he'll be ready to consume, so I need to do some research on that.

The flower beds didn't suffer the same damage as the vegetable beds, thank goodness! They actually have flourished under the bits of rain and cloud cover we've been having. The natives and the adapted plants are thriving in the hot temps we've had this past week.

My daylily 'Capernaum Cocktail' opened for the first time yesterday. Ain't she a beaut? Just a gorgeous color in the garden.

The Blanket Flower (gaillardia aristata) seeds I winter sowed are getting ready to bloom. I love these flowers and think every garden should have some!

My sole surviving Lemon Mint (aka horsemint or Monarda) has started blooming this week. I have a feeling this is going to be an invasive plant, but I love it anyway and will tolerate it spreading. Here, it's hiding behind the blue salvia and in front of the pink hummingbird sage. It's a very dainty flower head.
I know there are all kinds of colors of Monardas, but I'm a purist and love the original, old-fashioned variety.

I leave you with a pic of the girls watching me work out in the front yard and waiting for me to come back inside to feed them. It's all about the food with these two precious girls. The cat from outer space is my precious Callie and the other one not paying any attention to the camera is Hannah. Actually, I think she was paying attention to a bird in the yard, daydreaming of stalking him and pouncing on him for a delicious little treat.