Saturday, June 25, 2016

No Small Potato

Potatoes grow fast and huge, here. The frame can hardly contain them.

A couple of days back I went out in the morning to find one third of the potatoes flattened. Raccoon? Deer? Owl flapping its wings? Coyote maybe? Don't know, but I had to string them up to get them off the surrounding plant beds.

We hardly, if ever, consider potato flowers. These are light, light purple. Most of the others are white. They're nice to see, and appreciate, floating above the dense bed of green.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer Solace

One of the benefits of getting to one's vegetable garden first, before summer's work begins in earnest, is not having to think about the garden at all when you are knee deep in summer's work. It grows itself, mostly, with an intensity only paralleled by the solstice's long day.

One of the beauties of growing garlic is that it's harvest hardly coincides with any garden task other than weeding. By now, the first of the garlic is near completely exhumed (briefly hesitated to dredge up this word), and like any darkling, it mustn't be cast into the bright light. The first pulling is in the shade of the porch, but the full harvest is likely to be dispatched to the cellar. Here, in the midst of harvest, is Xian, a Turban strain, and one of the best for flavor and earliness. Turban's lodge, or fall over, as a way of telling unsuspecting gardeners that they need help -getting out of the ground.

At about the same time sizeable beaks are swirling above the Asiatic strains -here Asian Tempest and Japanese. These will be harvested next, not long after the Turban strains, and sometimes before.

Meanwhile the Porcelain strains have had their scapes (flowering stalk) cut, ready to be pickled or grilled or sauteed or...just don't leave them in the fridge too long before doing something with them. Behind the Porcelain are the Rocambole (shorter in the middle) and Purple Stripe. 

The French Grey shallots have also been pulled. I find that the height of the crabgrass is a useful indicator for timing the shallot harvest. Left behind are the Artichoke and Silverskin strains, those hardy bulbs that we use through next winter and deep into the following spring. 

When the the crabgrass first sprouts, it's the best time to get your peppers in, but I didn't heed the crabgrass this season. No, I put the peppers in a couple of weeks early -listening to the lambsquarters maybe. They're doing fine anyways, although I do think they are showing a little too soon.

Broccoli? Yes! And from seed no less. In spring? Yes! And no cabbage moths to boot. A quick, small-headed variety seed-started on May one and hardly two months later boom -broccoli. Go figure. I've got some of those very same starts in their deep cells holding back growth inside the greenhouse. They'll be put into the garlic beds as they clear.

Green beans? Not so fast. I seed-started these in the greenhouse on May one and planted them out a two or three weeks later. Nice flowers, no beans yet.

Cucumbers before June 21? Why, yes. I purchased a cell pack of four Spacemaster cukes from Shady Acres and planted them in pots raised well off the ground.

They won't ever reach the ground, that's why they're called spacemaster. They do put on an impressive display of cucumbers and have produced a handful of medium sized eaters before the solstice. I've seeded my own, too, to replace these after they give up.

Tomatoes, well that's asking a lot, isn't it? But among our six strains (of three varieties -plum, grape, and, uh, heirloom beefsteak?) these grape tomatoes, called Red Pearl, are way good producers.

In fact the deer are warming up for BBQ season by snacking on our Speckled Roman plum tomatoes. I grew these at the Beach Farm, and deer aside, expect them to do really well here.

Dill, cilantro, basil, and at the very bottom, cutting lettuce. In the background -common milkweed that has grown in this spot for eons, or at least since this house was built, so maybe the late nineties. Infringing on their bed are the potatoes. They are so big they require their own post. Look for that.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


In distress? I hope not. We love our dragonflies, a larger relative of the damselfly. They fly around eating all kinds of insects, sometimes landing on our shoulder, and sun themselves in the morning on the side of the house. Since damselflies are diminutive compared to their larger cousins they can easily go unnoticed. Because they are particularly fond of the arching leaves of our garlic, I see them quite readily. Today I took a close look and found that they came in three colors.



 And pink.

There are roughly 5000 species in the insect order Odonata of which Damselflies and Dragonflies belong. A good way to tell the difference between the two, other than size is the way they rest. Dragonflies rest with their wings spread while damselflies rest with wings together and parallel to their body. Each has incredible visual acuity -80% of their brain is used for visual analysis (the giant eyes). They are also incredible fliers able to fly quickly forward, backward, and hover. Few insects that can make you feel like you live in a magical environment, but these do (butterflies being another), especially when they arrive by the hundreds.

Having plenty of Odonata species means that your wetland habitat is relatively unpolluted. This year we have had an unusually late start to the mosquito season, not having seen any until about two weeks ago. The control agent who tests our wetland found no mosquito larva in middle May -again, highly unusual. What this means is less pesticide spraying in the area that undoubtedly kills Dragons and Damsels as well as mosquitoes and what else. I do not know if the Bt drops, made by helicopter, kill Odonata species as well as mosquitoes in the larval stages. Quick searches suggest no, but maybe inconclusively.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Vegetable Early June

The vegetable garden, June 4. Peas growing in the same bed with broccoli and recently planted romaine lettuce. I had so many lettuce starts that I plunked them into nearly every bed. The next bed is green beans and a spot for upcoming chard seedlings. Third row has eggplant, peppers, and a basil patch. The following two rows are Red Pearl grape tomatoes (same as last year and magnificent), five Speckled Roman paste tomato plants, and four heirloom types that includes Striped German and Brandywine and two others I cannot recall. Our starts were from Shady Acres Herb Farm or started in our own greenhouse.

The curving garlic bed is new this year (well, tilled last November). The garlic is doing well although a little tightly planted. Doing really well is the Chesnok Red -a Purple Stripe variety. This one is said to do very well but I couldn't have said that in the past.

Here are our potatoes -five varieties including russets, golds and reds. They grow several inches each day. I am about to add compost to "hill up" inside the framed bed. More garlic to the right, and French Shallots as well. To the left is our herb bed that includes basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, thyme, oregano, arugula and cutting lettuce. I'm anticipating a productive garden and feel better about its organization over last year. When the garlic is harvested around late June, early July, I will add our late summer-early fall crops of broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and kale. In the background are cucumbers in pots, a remnant bed of dead nettle and common milkweed, and the curving hedge of hydrangea that we transplanted from the south side of the house last year.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Woodland Orange

For three days I've been spotting an unusual orange deep into the middle slough woods, but it was early, rainy, and the mosquitos had finally blossomed. On the fourth day I traveled down the Alwin trail looking to take some photos and confirmed what I tried to dismiss -Laetiporous sulphureus.

Not only is this appearance unusually early, it is also in an unlikely location. The log has been down for years, is partially decomposed, covered in moss, and completely surrounded by water. Because I didn't act quickly, the mushroom received a couple of rain soakings, but it was completely bug free -a benefit of its island location?

Our two woodland sloughs have been steadily filling with more and more water, often independent of rainfall. It is an unusual occurrence that we feel may be connected to the partial filling of the gravel pit adjacent to the west side of the property. Rex was concerned that this change would raise the water table, and his concern appears to have been legitimate. In the back slough, nearly every tree has died -there is one old, large ash surviving the inundation. All the shrubs that were green in prior years are grey. The trail that was always accessible along the western edge is now completely submerged and invisible so that a new path will need to be cut much closer to the property line.

We do not want the trees in the middle slough to die off from inundation or fall in a storm because of soggy soil. The increased sunlight will advance an army of buckthorn well positioned on the south slope and already making headway in the middle slough. If it does not begin to drain we are likely to dig a drainage, or rather enhance the drainage that already exists. Any action of this magnitude will have consequences, but we cannot consider our woodlands as anything but altered or unalterable -it is a place completely transformed.