Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Progress Report

Recently, we have received quite a bit of rain. 

I would estimate over 7 inches in the last 10 days.  This is good and bad at the same time.  It is good because the plants love the rain water because it is superior to city water, but too much rain negatively affects things like ripening tomatoes because it causes them to split.  I am planning on nursing my tomatoes plants through to the Fall when it cools off to see how much production I can still get from them.  They don't produce well in the hot weather because they can't set fruit and the leaf footed and stink bugs are rampant. 

Cucumber is a vegetable that loves the rain and I don't think you could over water them.  I planted a new variety of cucumber called Sumter and it is starting to produce some nice, flavorful cukes, especially after the rain..  I was beginning to think this will be my new goto cuke, but the aphids love them too and are really attacking them.  The Burpee burpless are still producing nicely with no aphids at all, but aren't as flavorful and can't be pickled.  I am going to try and plant some Sumters where the Burpees are to see if the aphids follow.  The aphids are a real pain and I have tried a lot of the organic remedies in the past like releasing ladybugs, jets of water, and insecticidal soap with minimal success on a heavy infestation.  As I am typing this my daughter brings home a ladybug she caught at her faith formation class.  We just let it go on the cucumbers.  She is learning early!

The purple hull peas are looking great.  I can't wait to get fresh peas.  My family absolutely love these!  They are rather expensive in the store or farmer's market at $4.99 to $5.99 a pound and usually aren't organic.  These are the same two areas I got over 40 pounds of Derby green beans earlier this year.

Purple Hulls

I planted too many hot and sweet peppers this year.  I am trying to find time to go pick a huge harvest and pickle them.   I am trying a new recipe because my last round of pickled peppers aren't that great.  In fact, I really don't like them at all.  I've been using peppers in any recipe possible and can't keep up with them - fajitas, k-bobs, sausage and peppers, stuffed peppers, stuffed pepper casserole, grilled peppers, pickled peppers, salsa, etc.  I am starting to dry some for later use.

The sweet potatoes I planted in May are taking off, at least the vines are.  Building a trellis for the vines has been on my plate now for a couple of months, but I haven't been able to get to it.  I planted 3 varieties:  Centennial, Georgia Jet and Vardaman.  I thought one plant meant one vine, but I was wrong.  There are several vines per plant.  I just placed newspaper and mulch under the vines so they don't root along the vines.  If they root along the vines you will get a lot of small tubers.  These are planted about 12 inches apart in soil that is 18 inches deep.  They don't require a lot of water at all so are great for our hot, usually dry summer environment.  These will be harvested in the Fall/Early Winter.  I hope to get about 4 to 5 pounds per plant and I planted about 12 plants or so. 

Sweet Potato Vines

Finally, my Garden spiders are growing and eating.  I have 5 now that I know of.  They have doubled in size and almost always have something in their webs.  Here are a few new shots I took today.  Looks like I have a new arrival.  Check out the new baby - at least I think that's what it is.

Until next post.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Green Beans Out, Purple Hulls In

A couple of weeks ago I decided to cut my green beans out of my garden to replace them with purple hull peas.  The heat ended the green bean production so it was an easy choice.  The timing on this works out great.  The purple hull peas do well in the warmer weather so I hope to get a decent crop.  My green beans were the Derby variety and yielded over 40 pounds out of two 5 x10 areas.  We ate a lot of them, but also canned a bunch.  Here are a few shots.

Derby Green Beans at their peak

Canned Green Beans

Purple Hull Peas Coming Up

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tomato Sentry

Much to my delight I have at least 3 Garden Spiders in my tomato plot.  They are also known as Argiope aurantia.  I have observed them with Leaf Footed bugs and Stink Bugs in their webs.  The Leaf Footed bugs and Stink bugs are harmful to tomatoes among other fruits, vegetables and nuts.  They use their mouth like parts to inject their saliva into the food material, dissolve the contents and suck in the digesting mixture.  This negatively affects the flavor and causes cosmetic damage to the object they are feeding on.  They are no match for the Garden Spider.  It is fascinating to watch the Garden Spider pounce on their webbed prey and spin them up in their silks so they can't escape.   These spiders are very beneficial to a gardening landscape.

Garden Spider with Brown Stink Bug

Garden Spider with Leaf Footed Bug (right)

I have to admit one thing.  The second picture was a result of my experiment where I caught a Leaf Footed bug and tossed him in my female Garden Spiders web to see what would happen.  Wow .. that was fun!

Until next post.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A New Path

My obsession with "lawn" is officially over.  A green, healthy lawn looks great, but why do we spend so much time and money on it.  I read a statistic that we have 16 million acres of lawn in the U.S.  Like many people, I used to jump through hoops to follow a lawn fertilization schedule.  Is it time to winterize again already?  I discovered the best fertilizer for the springtime and man it worked great.  After spreading this stuff, I got to mow every 3 or 4 days in the hot, humid weather of Houston, Texas.  In July, it was time to fertilize again.  Mowing in July is torture.  I refuse to hire someone to mow my lawn.  That would be totally throwing in the towel on exercise, and so I mow on.  Don't get me wrong, I do get a lot of satisfaction when I am finished mowing, edging, raking, weed eating, blowing, sweeping, bagging, etc.  There is something therapeutic about it.  I do like hard work, but instead of putting that effort into mowing I would rather be pulling some weeds or mulching a raised bed or planting some new variety of cucumber I researched.  Of course, I will keep some lawn and a play area for my kids, but I plan to minimize the lawn.  My new scheme is to add flower, vegetable beds, fruit trees and any other idea I come up with that will add additional biodiversity to my landscape.  Like many endeavours, I don't know where this will end up, but at least I know where I am starting for now.

The first thing I learned when I built my original raised beds is that I needed more space.  As I expanded I realized that mowing and weed eating around the raised beds was a pain.  One day as grass, dirt and dust was flying all over me and my tomato plants from my weed eater, it occurred to me that I was killing my tomatoes with potential airborne fungal diseases and bugs.  If fungal spores weren't on the tomato plants yet, this would certainly accelerate the pace of my tomato demise.  At that moment I realized, I need improved garden pathways around my raised beds.  That will minimize the amount of mowing and weed eating, protect my plants and look a heck of a lot better too.  So after a little research and a couple of phone calls, I bought some weed block, edging, and 3 yards of mulch.  Here are a couple of before and after pictures.



I am pleased with how my pathways turned out.  It was a lot of work to set it up, but in the long run it should reduce my overall maintenance and my garden will be more healthy.

It is time to mow again.  I am several days overdue and it just stopped raining so I doubt it will happen today.  It is interesting that even without fertilize my grass still grows moderately fast and looks great.  I assume this will drop off over time.  When this occurs, I will hit it with some balanced organic fertilizer to maintain it. 

Until next post.