Garden Update

Already there are big changes to the plans for the garden. The bit of land out back in the power line cut where I gardened a couple of years ago is still lying fallow (although I still hope to get it ready for planting some time soon). But this year, I now have the use of the much larger area where my neighbors had gardened in previous years. The last of the neighbors to garden that land decided that he didn’t have time for it any more, and it just sat there with woody old turnip plants and broccoli plants going to seed. I only learned that it was available a couple of weeks ago, but as soon as I did, I started to think about how to utilize this patch of land. My neighbors had been rototilling the soil, and they have not practiced organic gardening methods. So the food I grow there will not be entirely organic if there are residues of any of the chemicals they used still in the soil.

I don’t have regular access to a rototiller, and I didn’t really have time to go that route anyway, because this is a fairly sizable garden plot. And I had been reading some information that is new to me about the soil ecosystem, and how it is disrupted by tilling. So instead of doing that, I covered the entire plot with landscape cloth and then I covered that with several inches of wheat straw. When I plant there, I will cut an opening just big enough for a stalk of corn, a cucumber plant (or cantaloupe or watermelon plant), and a bean plant. This plot will utilize the “three sisters” method of gardening. I figure most people know what that is, but in case any don’t, the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere (or Turtle Island, for the indigenous peoples of North America), developed a method of agriculture that involved planting a corn plant, and at the base of that, a squash plant, and growing up the corn stalk, a bean plant. This is a pretty ingenious method, because the corn provides the bean plant with something to grow up, and the squash plant provides some shade to the ground, helping to retain moisture and deter weeds. I don’t expect to have any weeds, but I would like to try to keep the soil under the landscape cloth from getting too hot.

This garden plot will be for corn, beans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and watermelon. Along the bottom edge of this area, where the soil tends to be a bit wetter, I have already planted sunflowers, okra, nasturtiums, and butterfly weed. These are outside the area that is covered with the landscape cloth and straw. I will be planting more okra at the far end of the garden area also, and this will likewise be outside of the area covered with the cloth and straw. I didn’t till up the soil for these plants. The ones I already planted, I just stuck in the ground in the paper cups in which they were started (with the bottoms removed). The okra at the far end of the garden will be planted with seeds, and I’ll just stick them a little way down in the dirt and let them essentially fend for themselves, although I will be watering them as needed.

I expect to be getting a lot of free wood chip mulch from the Asplundh people, and I will be using that over where the straw bale beds are to try to create a nicer substrate for that area, and to hopefully build up some good soil with a lot of organic matter. The soil there is essentially just clay (and random bits of the road that was torn up when they put in the pipeline). The private contractor who was responsible for doing the landscaping after the pipeline was put in never showed up to do any work. I’ll also use the chips for pathways through the trees to the back gardens, and possibly on the herb garden, depending on what sort of wood is in the chips. Herbs don’t like an acid soil, so they prefer hardwood mulch rather than evergreen.

All of the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are in the ground now, with the exception of the ones that are growing in pots. The cucumbers, watermelons, and cantaloupe are currently in cups waiting to go on the ground. I decided to start the corn in cups to give them a fighting chance against slugs. When they’re maybe about three inches high, I’ll put them in the ground with the cukes and melons, and plant the beans next to the corn. The lettuce is starting to bolt with the heat. If it hasn’t already, it’s probably going to start going bitter soon. The bug garden is planted, and the cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower are growing. I’ve been having a problem with the broccolis and cauliflowers forming only very small sized heads. I’m not sure what’s up with that. I need to research it a bit. The cabbages are doing well, although there was a problem with slugs for a while. The cabbages are all growing in straw bale beds, and it appears that they make very nice slug hotels. I picked dozens of slugs off of the plants in those beds recently, and the problem seems to have abated somewhat. I also found slugs in the bags for growing carrots, eating the tiny new seedlings. I put crushed eggshells around the perimeter of one (that was all the crushed eggshells I had), and I put used and dried coffee grounds that I had been saving for this purpose around the perimeters of the rest of the bags, and also in the long boxes that contain the beets and a very short variety of carrot. The eggshells and coffee grounds do appear to be doing a very good job. The problem is that both things are not so easy for me to accumulate enough of to be able to use them reliably. So I picked up some diatomaceous earth at the farm supply today in the hope that it will perform as well.

There is a lot of die back in one of the potted tomato plants, and a smaller amount of die back in the other two. I suspect that some of the roots that were very close to the surface were exposed when I was watering, although I don’t know for sure. I’m keeping an eye on that situation. I have so say that I didn’t expect the tomatoes that are in pots to get as big as they are. I don’t know why I’m surprised, since plants tend to get very big in my garden. But the seed company said they were suitable for planters, so I figured they would be smaller than they are. I don’t know if I would grow either of those varieties in pots again. I probably should have done some judicious pruning early on in their growth. I might try them in pots again and prune and see what happens.

I have a Meyer lemon tree now, which lives in the herb garden in a pot. It has to go in the greenhouse during the winter. I have two kiwi vines, a grape vine, and eight or ten passionflower vines, as well as a dozen or so malabar spinach seedlings. Malabar spinach is also a vine. I’m anxious to get the arbor up so I can get all of those vines in the ground.

The fig tree started making figs a few weeks ago, but then they turned brown and fell off. I didn’t know if I was going to get any figs this year. I’m guessing it was a cold snap we had that caused them to do that. Since then, new figs have started to form. If all goes well, it looks like we’re going to have figs this year.

The strawberries are in hanging baskets on the porch. The blueberry bushes are making a lot of blueberries. For several years, volunteer blackberry vines have been wanting to take over the yard and gardens. They never produced any fruit to speak of, and I have pulled them up as weeds. This year they are producing fruit, so I have left them. This is a bit inconvenient because I need to do some work on the substrate under the blueberry bushes, but I guess it can wait for now. I still don’t know if the rugosa roses are going to produce rose hips. In past years, the hips have partially formed, and then they, along with the rose, would turn brown and fall off. Someone told me that her rugosa roses didn’t produce any hips until the third year she had them, so I gave them until this year to make hips. If they don’t, I’m going to dig them up and put them somewhere out back, and put some Virginia roses in their place. If the rugosas don’t produce, I think it will be because it’s too hot here for them. The Virginia roses are more suited to a southern climate. Unfortunately, the rugosas have sent underground runners to other parts of the yard, and they’re coming up through the landscape cloth in several places. It might be a bit of a challenge to remove them.

The basil, marjoram, pineapple sage, and chamomile did not come back this year. I will replant the basil and pineapple sage in the herb garden. I don’t really feel a need for the marjoram. We hardly used it at all. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the chamomile plants that I have in pots. I don’t think they do well in the herb garden. I think it might be too hot for them. I might keep them in pots in a more shady part of the garden. The new addition to the herb garden (so far) this year is the caraway thyme, and also some creeping thyme I started from seeds. The lemongrass died in the cold weather. It got so big, I couldn’t fit it in the greenhouse. I don’t think I will replace it. I didn’t use it much.

Both of the avocado trees also died over the winter. Like the lemongrass, they got too big to fit in the greenhouse. I think I’m going to see how all of the plants I currently have that require above freezing temperatures fit in there, along with perhaps a couple of pepper plants, a couple of small tomato plants, and maybe a couple of eggplant plants. If there is any extra room after that, I might try starting another avocado and then prune it to keep it small enough to fit in the greenhouse. I think I might keep the miniature roses outside the greenhouse next winter. Maybe if I insulate the pots with straw or something, they’ll survive the winter. That would free up a little bit of room in the greenhouse. I don’t think I’ll take up any space in the greenhouse with potato bags next winter. If I have a choice between the potatoes, or tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, I think I would prefer the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. The patchouli survived the winter in the greenhouse and it’s still doing fine. I really like having a patchouli plant.

I think that pretty much brings us up to speed in the garden for now.

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