Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Knee High By the Fourth of July?


Our popcorn shows promise. If the harvest is as good as this augurs, we should be able to go without buying our favorite treat for quite a few months. Maybe even an entire year.

In general, the squash is not doing all that well this year. I don't think they liked the heavy rain this month. But one volunteer vine that I spared seems to have bred true enough to be producing pumpkins. I'm optimistic that I'll get at least one triamble from the seeds Novella offered this past winter.

The comfrey plants have exploded in their second year and don't seem to have minded the rain at all. The beauty of this plant is that I can hack it back, and hack it back again to spread the nutrients it accumulates all over the garden. I just use the chop and drop method. The pretty but shy blossoms are much loved by the bumblebees and other bees. These plants will provide fertilizer and mulch to the rest of my plants for many years to come.

The chili pepper plants did not like the heavy rain at all. I think they were almost ready to call the whole thing off when the rain let up. My husband planted some early Anaheims that already have recognizable chilis on them. My poblano chilis are farther behind, with just a few tiny buds promising fruit. With luck, the plants will get weather they like better in the next two months. I'm hoping for a large harvest so that I can smoke some of the poblanos, thus turning them into ancho chilis. When fully dried, I'll try making my own ancho chili powder, like Hank did. This mild but flavorful spice makes it into a large portion of the meals I prepare.

One of the two varieties of soup bean that I planned to grow this year failed entirely. But the Cherokee Trail of Tears bean (which I also grew last year) did better. I've since learned that light colored beans in general are more susceptible to ground rot than dark colored beans. As it happens, the Cherokee Trail of Tears is a jet black bean, while the Hutterite Soup is a creamy pale bean. So I guess it's no surprise that one did much better than the other with all the rain we had. Nonetheless, I'm trying again with a different pale bean - the Flagrano, a flageolet type. Show above are some Cherokee Trail of Tears growing on one of the bean tripods I made with that bamboo we harvested early this year. This is an evening shot so the vines are shaded. But they're growing well. And look what they're sheltering behind there:

-My next crop of spinach. The beans will keep the worst of the heat off these little sprouts, which like cool temperatures.

Here is my experiment with potatoes this year. There are rumors of prodigious yields from individual potato plants if they are kept well hilled as they grow. Most of my potatoes are planted in trenches about 8" deep. Each time the plant gets 5"-6" of growth above the soil line, I bury them a bit more. But I can only hill so far before I run out of loose soil to mound around them. Thus the bucket experiment. Not only is it trivially easy to continue mounding a potato plant in a bucket, but harvest will be as easy as dumping the entire bucket into the wheelbarrow. No-dig potatoes!

Some people claim that only late season potatoes will yield significantly more if well hilled. Some say potato plants set all the tubers they will develop before they flower, and that hilling beyond that point is wasted effort. A few of my trenched potatoes are already flowering, so the hilling there is done. In the buckets I have German Butterballs, the only late season variety I'm growing this year, though I have German Butterballs in the ground as well. They haven't yet flowered, but the buckets are already completely full of dirt. I recorded the weight of the seed stock for these individual plants, so we'll see how they yield. Incidentally, the potatoes in the buckets didn't seem bothered in the least by the heavy rains, while those in the ground started to look a bit sulky. I drilled several drainage holes in each bucket before planting.

My Tuscan kale plants, which for two years have been very reliable and vigorous producers, just aren't growing for me this year. They were badly damaged by the slugs and then hammered by the rain. They don't seem to be bouncing back at all. On the other hand, the Brussels sprouts I put in a week ago where the garlic had just been harvested, just a few feet away from the kale, seem to be doing quite well. I'm going to try again with new seedlings of kale and some Savoy cabbage, hoping for a good fall crop. Tuscan kale has been a mainstay of our diet for the last two years, especially over the winter months. The prospect of no kale harvest this year is worrisome.

I'm quite the curmudgeon when it comes to flowers in the garden. It had better have some utility beyond looking pretty if it wants a spot in the best growing area on our property. Oddly, my husband likes pretty things just for the sake of beauty more than I do. Fortunately, flower mixes attract polinators and predator insects, so I will cede some territory to him for his pretty stuff. He drastically overseeded his allotment with all sorts of flowers. They are just about ready to explode into bloom. These are a few of the earliest blossoms. It should be quite a show in another week or so. I don't even know what's in there, but I hope some are perennials or accomplished self-seeders.

This is a small patch of the fall cover crop we planted last year that escaped destruction. It's a mix of hairy vetch (purple blooms) and rye (drooping grain heads) that we decided to let go, just to see what it would do. Turns out that hairy vetch is one of the few plants that harbor the minute pirate bug, a voracious predator. The rye looks like it's nearing maturity. Maybe we'll harvest a few stalks and see how the grain threshes out.

Finally, a mystery bug. Anyone know what this tiny iridescent orange - fly? wasp? - is that I found on a corn leaf this morning? There are a lot of them around, but I've never seen them munching on any plant. So my guess is that it's a predator of some sort.


Chile said...

Your garden looks lovely. We lost most of our corn plants last night in high winds, but we planted them too late anyway.

Pretty insect, but I don't know what it is.

Unknown said...

I love your potatoes in buckets! I put mine in an old (huge)composting contraption and am running out of dirt to fill it with as the potatoes grow. Can't wait to see how they turn out.

Kate said...

Chile, thanks. I realized after I posted it that I didn't post pictures of any of the plants that aren't doing well. It's not that I meant to present only the successes. But gardeners are so eternally optimistic that I think we focus on the positive.

BTM, thanks. I'm very eager for all the reports on the various potato growing experiments as well. I'd love to read a report on your harvest!

Wendy said...

Your garden looks great.

Here, we've had a lot of rain, and we've had, maybe, one day of above 80°. Your post (above) about keeping cool is kind of funny, given that being "cool" is not an issue for us here ;).

With all of the rain and cool temperatures, I'm concerned about my corn. I experimented with growing a "field" corn this year. We'll see how it does.

The tomatoes and peppers aren't incredibly happy right now, but all of my cool weather plants are loving it! Thankfully, with the exception of tomatoes (for sauce and salsa), we've successfully changed our eating habits to mostly include things that grow well in a cooler climate, which is good as we live in a cooler climate :).

Anonymous said...

That's weird about your kale. his is the first time I've grown the Tuscan kale --really, the first time I've successfully grown any kale, come to think of it. Kale was a favorite of Fisher' my Golden Retriever. It took us a while to figure out what "pest" was eating the kale to the nub!

I LOVE the bamboo poles. I wonder if I could grow some clumping bamboo that would provide poles? Hmmmm

Kate said...

Wendy, thanks. I've thought in the past about growing field corn. You're growing it for grinding? Or perhaps as animal feed? I chose popcorn because it's our favorite snack, and we don't eat very much cornmeal/polenta. Odd that. I'd love to hear how your field corn does for you. And yeah, it looks like the whole year is going to be a cool season for us, if the weather continues as it has been. It's only gotten above 80 a few days so far this year, and here it is, July already!

Ali, yes, I'm very perplexed about the kale. It really is my favorite green vegetable. I'm just hoping, hoping that the seeds I'm starting now will grow and produce like gangbusters. We had a similar pet problem with my can (who died last year) and asparagus. He LOVED asparagus, and would climb up your leg for it. So I never dared to grow it while he was alive. Got some in this spring though.

I enjoy looking at the poles too. I'm curious as to how long they're going to last. If I get two or three years out of them, I'll be happy. Look to permaculture/forest gardening books to tell you which variety of bamboo will work for you. If we had more space, I would definitely plant some, and harvest those shoots for eating! I'm told in Asian countries people harvest the shoots so assiduously that bamboo doesn't get out of hand like it does here, where few people are willing to or know how to harvest them.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Your mystery bug is the Longlegged fly, indeed a voracious predator of soft bodied insects. I find them most often in my potato patch, I assume, eating Potato Beetle larvae.

Kate said...

F&BF, thanks!

Kimberly said...

The blue flower looks like a cornflower/bachelor button. They dry well and are edible. I sprinkle them fresh in salads and all over in the summer and dried in the winter. See-it's more than just pretty! BTW-Both the cornflowers and the cosmos you've got will self-seed.

Kate said...

Kimberly, you're right there are now tons of bachelor's buttons in there. Most of them are blue, but some are pink or white too. Good to know we can eat them, and that they'll come back next year. I saw a hummingbird checking out that flower patch this morning!

gardengrl said...

Not really a comment on this post, but I have searched the site and cannot find anything on composting. As luck would have it I have recently come across 2 rather large black plastic garbage cans. They have holes in the bottom, probably from taking them to the curb and back for many years. I would like to use these for compost. My problem is I am not sure how to begin, or if I should find some other use for them. Any ideas? Please help, I do not want these to end up in a landfill.

Kate said...

Gardengrl, I'm far from an expert on compost, especially these days. Very little goes into my compost bin anymore, since my hens do most of my composting for me. I followed the "compost happens" school of composting when I did compost. That is, I didn't turn the pile, water it, or do much of anything to it, and I was content to wait a couple of years for it to mature.

As for your garbage cans, it seems you could use them at least theoretically. My question would be whether or not they're stable enough to stay in place during a storm. You could check out the UK site recyclethis.co.uk, and see if they have suggestions. Might have to look for "rubbish bin" instead of "garbage can" though. I think you can post the question over there too, and with luck you'll get some answers shortly.

gardengrl said...

I love the idea of growing potatoes in buckets. I am definitely going to do that next spring. My soil is hard and clay...so I think even putting my carrots in buckets would be so much easier. Now, I just have to find some buckets. Any ideas on where to get them, for little or no cost?

Kate said...

gardengrl, I got most of my five-gallon buckets by dumpster diving around construction sites. The kitty litter or kitty food buckets mostly came through an ad I put on craigslist asking for buckets. I can see that the plants in the larger 5-gallon buckets are larger, so that's what I would aim to use if I continue this method.

I recommend though that you stay tuned to this channel to find out what my yields look like before doing it this way. It may or may not turn out to give much advantage over growing them in the ground. I'm certainly having to water them a lot more than those growing in the ground.