Celebrating Nature

Here are some of the pictures I took in celebration of nature in 2014

A rare ice storm for this part of the world

2-11-14 Ice Close-up    2-12-14 Ice 2

2-12-14 Ice 4    2-12-14 Ice 5

2-12-14 Ice 3    2-12-14 Ice 6

Closeup of a dandelion and a green tree frog on some bubble wrap in the greenhouse

3-24-14 Dandelion Closeup    4-5-14 Frog on the Bubblewrap

White poppy, which is indigenous to this area and which grows in our yard, and a passionflower blossom.  I planted the passionflower in a pot, and it has yet to be put in the ground.  Hopefully this year.

6-14-14 White Poppy Close Crop More Contrast    6-17-14 Passionflower

A little toad that was living in one of the grow bags that I planted carrots in last year and what I believe are probably assassin bug larvae

7-14-14 Toad in the Carrots    9-4-14 Assassin Bug Larvae

Some of the numerous monarch butterfly larvae that lived on the butterfly asclepias that seeded itself in the side garden last year.  There was a lot of butterfly asclepias and even so, the poor monarch larvae had slim pickings toward the end because there were so many of them and they were voracious.  I am hoping that I was able to help slow down the decline of the monarch population if only just a little bit

9-4-14 Monarch Butterfly Larvae 4    9-4-14 Monarch Butterfly Larvae 2

9-4-14 Monarch Butterfly Larvae 3

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The 2014 Garden

I didn’t post any updates during the 2014 garden year, but here are some pictures from 2014 to show where things were going in the garden before I had to stop .

Peppers and Jerusalem artichoke

6-14-14 Peppers and Jerusalem Artichoke

Potted plants in the side garden, including potted cucumbers and the Meyer lemon

6-14-14 Side Garden Potted Plants

New Zealand spinach, lambs’ quarters, and onions

6-14-14 New Zealand Spinach Lambs' Quarters Onions

This is the back garden.  Those are the supports we built for the tomatoes.  It was the first year my tomato supports were tall enough for the plants.

6-14-14 Tomato Supports 2

Patio Princess, Black Plum, and Early Girl tomatoes

6-17-14 Patio Princess Black Plum Early Girl

Neptune tomato

6-27-14 Neptune

Black Krim

7-1-14 Black Krim

This variety of tomato was just called Black

7-1-14 Black

Cherokee Chocolate tomato.  I liked these way better than the Cherokee Purple I grew the year before

7-1-14 Cherokee Chocolate

This is an artichoke blossom.  I discovered too late that you have to pick the globes before they blossom.  😉

7-7-14 Artichoke Blossom

Baby pineapple.  I had two pineapples growing on the plants last year.  They were both very small

7-7-14 Baby Pineapple

Eggplant and Lambs’ quarters.  The largest of the lambs’ quarters reached 7 or 8 feet in height, and probably six feet in width, with a trunk of 2 or 3 inches in thickness at the base.

9-4-14 Lambs' Quarters

This is the side garden in July.  I was already working the desk job by then, and not too long after this, the garden started to really fall apart.

7-7-14 July Garden

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The Furniture Garden… Yay!

This is work that I have for years been wanting to do, but didn’t have time because most of my time was being spent taking care of the food gardens.  Once the decision about whether or not to put my time into the food garden was essentially taken out of my hands for a while, and now finding myself no longer tethered to a desk for many hours a day, it was a much easier decision to just say, ok, it’s time to put the food gardens on the back burner for now, and put my energies into the furniture garden.

I already have several designs that I plan to make, using plywood, reclaimed barn wood, twigs, pieces of corrugated metal (recycled/repurposed from food cans), and copper.  I have one table made – a prototype – and I’m very happy with it.  I hope to be going into production with tables to sell some time in the next couple of weeks.  The finishes are milk paint, tung oil, carnauba wax, and polywhey urethane on the wood and copper paint with an oxidized verdigris patina on the metal.  The twig is held on with copper wire.

Here is the first table prototype.  I’ll go into more detail about how it was made in subsequent entries.

4-4-15 First Table Crop4-4-15 First Table Crop 2

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We Begin Anew

It’s hard for me to believe that I haven’t made an entry to this blog since 2013.  Life got upheaved for us here toward the end of 2013, and a lot of changes happened as a result.

The 2014 garden was doing well, and I was just entering the stage where I was going to use the products mentioned in the last entry when it became necessary for me to get a job that involved being tethered to a desk for many hours each day.  The vegetable and herb gardens fell by the wayside by necessity.  Since I didn’t have time to apply the things that would protect the plants, the whole vegetable garden became a bug garden.  It was theirs to do with as they willed.  The herb garden suffered a lot of die back because the irrigation line to that garden was severed and I didn’t have time to fix it.  And also for some reason people kept weed whacking the area where the mints grew, particularly the chocolate mint, which was and still is my favorite mint.

This year I am not having much of a garden.  I’m not currently working tethered to a desk, but I could find myself in that situation again at any time, and in the meantime, I have started to build furniture.  I would like that to become my full time job.  So this year I have started just a few tomato plants of two varieties that are fairly small – Black Sea Man and Bush Early Girl, a few starts of eggplants – Listada de Gandia and Pingtung Long, and two varieties of peppers – Carmen and Jalapeno.  I wanted to grow Douce de Espagne peppers again this year, but I didn’t have any seeds and I decided to only use seeds that I already had this year.  It doesn’t look like the Carmens are going to come up, but those seeds are at least two, possibly three years old, so I’m not at all surprised.

The Lambs’ Quarters and Butterfly Asclepias re-seeded themselves last year and I had a bumper crop of those (and also a bumper crop of monarch butterfly larvae living on the Asclepias).  The Meyer Lemon tree produced a couple of dozen lemons over the winter, and we are still enjoying those.  And it is blossoming profusely right now.  The strawberries in the baskets died back a lot because of the irrigation line being severed, but I still have two that survived and one that actually reseeded itself in the form of one little baby strawberry plant.  The volunteer strawberry that planted itself in one of the artichoke planters is doing great although it’s possible that two of the three artichokes did not survive the winter.

I’ve bought a few herbs to replace the ones that didn’t survive last summer.  The rosemary, fennel, and one of the lavendar plants look like they’re doing ok.  There are now three tree saplings spaced out in the herb garden.  It’s either two wild plums and one crab apple, or the other way around.  They’re doing well.  I’ll be planting two kinds of thyme, curry plant, chocolate mint, and oregano.  I don’t know yet whether or not the chives, parsley, tarragon, bee balm, and lemon balm will come back.  I think the lemon verbena might have survived last year, but I’m not sure yet.  The fig tree and blueberry bushes appear to be doing well.

From now on, most of the updates will be about the furniture garden, while the food gardens will take a bit of a back seat.

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Kicking Into a New Gear

The garden was starting to move in the same direction it has moved every year in the second half of July and August. Plants were dying back and really struggling to survive. Production slowed down drastically. Leaf footed bugs and stink bugs were infesting the tomatoes and peppers, and army worms were eating up the leaves of the tomato plants, the New Zealand spinach, the cucumber plants, and the cantaloupe plants, and causing them to turn brown and die.

The pattern is that the plants do great until the sun’s rays are at their most intense, and then they become stressed out and become the target of a lot of destructive insect activity and diseases. At first I thought the stress was caused by the heat, but now I think that it’s not the heat but the intensity of the sun that is causing the stress. But that is just a theory.

I have been trying out a couple of products that are new to me, and so far I have seen very good results. Surround crop protectant is made with kaolin clay and is mixed with water for spraying on plants and fruits. The Surround forms a protective coating that deters bugs from wanting to mess with the plants and/or fruits. It also reduces the plants’ core temperature because it creates shade from the sun, and protects the plants from the most intense rays of the sun.

The other product is neem oil. This is supposed to suppress insects by acting directly on the insect, particularly in the larval stage.

I mixed up a batch of Surround with neem oil and some insecticidal soap, and sprayed it on the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and watermelons, both the plants as well as the fruits, and on the New Zealand spinach. I’ve been bug hunting in the people garden almost every day for several weeks. The populations of leaf footed bugs and stink bugs have diminished to almost nothing, but I still find enough of them hanging around to do damage to a lot of tomatoes and peppers. The army worms usually can’t be seen in the daytime, although I did find quite a few in the tomatoes for a while and I dispatched all of the ones I found. The cantaloupes and cucumbers were completely destroyed by the army worms. It looked like the watermelon was going to suffer the same fate, but I sprayed the plants and melons with the Surround mixture and the damage appears to have been arrested.

Most of the tomato plants seemed to respond very well to being sprayed with this mixture, although some of them were probably too far gone to be helped. But where there was massive die back and the plants had essentially stopped producing, there is now a lot of new growth and quite a few new blossoms. I need to reapply the mixture because the new growth and fruits are not protected. And some of the protectant has washed off in the rain. But mixing it with the neem oil appears to be helping the residue to remain on the plants and fruits to a fairly large extent even after a rain.

I didn’t have these products in time to spray the corn with them, and this year, my first growing corn in this part of the world, there was a lot of stink and leaf footed bug activity in and around the corn plants and ears, and there were quite a few corn ear worms in the ears themselves. I will apply the Surround mixture on the plants and ears of future corn crops.

Another new thing I’ve done is make compost tea using worm castings. This is supposed to be incredibly good for the health and strength of the plants. I think that if the heat and sun didn’t stress the plants out here in this part of the world, providing nutrient support would probably be enough to deter insects from showing interest in and causing damage to the plants. After applying the worm casting compost tea, when heat and sun are not an issue, I notice a big change in the health and vibrancy of the plants. But because of the heat and sun stress, additional help is needed in the hottest part of the summer.

I will also be adding liquid algae and liquid fish emulsion to future plant feedings. I don’t know how much help they will be, but I’ve decided to give them a try.

Next year I will also be starting the tomatoes even earlier than I did this year. I’m finding that the bigger the plants are when I put them in the ground, the earlier the tomato crop is, and the less likely it will be to suffer heat and sun related stress and consequent insect damage. I will be getting a heating pad for plant starts, because the tomatoes need their soil to be above a certain temperature in order to germinate properly. The greenhouse doesn’t keep them at an appropriate temperature without supplemental heat at the time I need to plant in February.

I like the garden arrangement I had this year, although I need to have fewer tomato plants and space them further apart. I’m finding it’s much easier to control the insect populations and also to spray the plants properly when the foliage is not too dense. I will also be pruning the tomato plants a lot more severely in future years than I have in the past for the same reason.

I still have a lot of planting to do for the fall garden. I’ve just recently planted the fall cucumbers and pole beans in the back garden. They are doing well and the pill bugs and sow bugs so far haven’t shown any interest in those seedlings. If they do, however, I will spray the seedlings with the Surround and see if that helps. Someone told me that neem oil can kill seedlings, so I might leave that out of the mixture for these plants. I also need to plant broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in the same area, and also some sugar snap peas. I got some seeds for tomato plants that are very small and I hope to be able to keep them going in containers all winter. I’m also thinking about maybe trying to keep some miniature cucumbers going all winter. I haven’t bought seeds for the cucumbers yet.

I don’t think I’ll grow potatoes in the greenhouse this winter. They take up too much room for too little reward. But I will probably grow beets, carrots, parsley, and cilantro in the greenhouse again this winter.

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Well, how perfect is this? My previous entry was my 100th entry in this blog. And August 2, three days from now, will be the third birthday of this blog. Happy 100th post, and happy birthday to my blog!

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Pill Bugs and Sow Bugs

I was rather startled recently to learn that sometimes pill bugs and sow bugs eat crop plants. I had always thought of them as gentle tenders of the soil, never as a potential problem for my crops. I planted the three sisters in the new garden plot out in back. Traditionally the three sisters are corn, beans, and squash. Instead of squash, I planted other members of the squash family; cucumbers, watermelons, and cantaloupe. The corn and squash-type plants are doing fine, but when the bean plants were still very small, I found them literally covered with pill bugs and sow bugs, and I could see the bugs eating. They were eating the bean seedlings. I had planted 30 corn plants, with three been seeds per corn plant. Only a very small handful – not more than seven or eight bean plants – survived. This came as a big shock to me, and I spent some time searching for information about pill bugs eating crops. There seems to be quite a bit of controversy around this subject. Some people are very adamant that pill bugs and sow bugs pose no threat whatever to crops. Other people, like myself, have seen them eating their crops, and they know that these bugs do sometimes pose a threat to crops.

Some people suggested putting diatomaceous earth down on the soil around the bean plants. I put a lot of diatomaceous earth down around the plants, but it had no effect at all. I resigned myself to the idea of not having any beans this summer until I found the few surviving bean plants. Some people said that pill bugs and sow bugs only eat plants that are under stress. Someone else said that seedlings are by definition under stress. Maybe the heat contributed to their stress, I don’t know. I think I’ll plant some more been seeds for a fall crop and see if more of them survive this time. Maybe I’ll put a lot more than just three seeds at the base of every corn plant to give them a fighting chance. We’ll see.

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