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Date: Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pests


Oh, woe is me I would choose to suffer
The joy of weaning life in Summer
In Fall, in Winter, and in Spring
While watched by many beady eyes
The insects that eat everything


How beautiful the smell of earth
So heavenly the feel of dirt
Compels the roots to search below
And from the depths of sandy loam
Scented jewels revered have grown


Why must nature hate me so
To attack above and from below
To mock me with a single hole
What tragedy a wasted fruit
A riddled leaf, a rotten root


They come at me with devil fangs
They come with wings or spindly legs
They come in unrelenting mass
To steal my work, to eat my plants
Since ancient times a life of theft
Oh parasite, oh deadly pest!


Date: Saturday, July 13, 2013

Familiar with the phrase, "watching the grass grow?" It is exciting and I will show you why. The plants have had about a month since I last posted pictures of them. Their terrifying size shall astound and amaze you.

I have been watering, weeding, mulching, and maintaining in the time since the last pics. For example, today I repaired/made some water retention walls, devised an experimental way to stop strawberry pests (more below), and pulled weeds. Much of the daily work is not very blogworthy.

Strawberry patch:


The red strawberries are doing great, but unfortunately bugs usually get to the fruit before I do. I've devised a simple solution I hope will work wonders.


My high tech invention that will keep the strawberries elevated off the ground. Most of the pests dwell below the leaves, hiding in the mulch. My only chance is that they cannot figure out how to get to the strawberries once they are lifted. I try to be as low cost as possible, hence the straws. I used a boba straw, cut two holes in it, and stuck in coffee straws as the posts.



Strawberries can reproduce from the seeds (first), or they make these things called runners (second), mini plants that will vine out and root themselves if in contact with dirt.


Alpine Yellow Wonder plants. A nice thing about this variety is the strawberries grow off the ground anyway. I find that they are often a lot less eaten.


Pineberry plants. I planted these at the same time as the Yellow Wonders, but they are nowhere near as big. Some varieties are simply not as vigorous as the next. From what I hear, this strawberry type is not yet viable as a commercial product, and I think I see why.


The latest addition to the family, Purple Wonder plants, the first true purple strawberry. I don't believe these guys are strong enough to produce anything this year, but when they do I have a feeling it will be more of a really dark red than an eggplant type purple.


Oh yea, a basil plant. Yawn.

Pepper patch:




I have three varieties of bell peppers here, Yellow, Big Bertha, and Chocolate. In between the peppers are soy beans, which are also producing. At the end is a chili plant, most likely a jalapeno. It took them a while, but they are chugging along quite nicely.

Tomato patch:


I can't believe it, but my Brandywine tomato plant fell down recently. The cage completely toppled in what is referred to in structural engineering as global collapse. It still lives, but it ain't winning any beauty awards. My San Marzanos are also supported because they were tilting. Pruning probably would have been a good idea.


Brandywine beefsteak tomatoes, which are widely considered to be one of the best tasting tomatoes available. The skin is pinkish when ripe and their flesh is dense. Excellent for general use.


Sunsugar tomatoes, a cherry variety with an extremely high sugar content. Tastes like candy.


Purple Bumblebee, another cherry type. Not as prestigious in taste as the other varieties I am growing, but it's purple!


San Marzano Redorta, considered one of the most distinguished sauce tomatoes available. If I have enough I plan on making tomato soup.


Heat Wave II, a smaller beefsteak variety and a much more typical looking tomato. These grafted tomatoes don't seem to like pots very much, yet the yield is still quite high.


Also in the tomato patch are the dragon fruit. The posts I originally placed to hold up the vines were falling over, so I built some trellises a little more robust. It was difficult designing and placing a trellis that needed to be built around an existing plant, but 3 days and $20 per trellis later I managed something. I think it looks good. After all this work, they gotta give me some fruit soon. Unappreciative bastards.


For those interested, I used 2x3's and 8" and 12" wide sanded boards that I got from Home Depot. The general frame was made out of 2x3's and the side plates made from the boards. Because I expect the dragon fruit to get bigger and eventually umbrella over the trellis, I designed for a lot of load and thus made sure to give the frame a lot of rigidity. What I really have to worry about is warp or rot, but I'd rather risk that than introduce chemicals into my growing space, such as using pressure/chemical treated wood, shellac, or primer. I'm resting the base on bricks instead of direct contact with the soil. I am also making sure to not get it wet when watering. We shall see how long they last.

Salad Patch:


Because this is the shadiest spot, and therefore the coolest, I aimed to grow leafy plants here. I would say this is the least successful section of my garden, given a few things: the iceberg lettuce, the red shiso, arugula, and Brussels sprouts.



I am concluding that the red shiso seeds I bought were a bust. Out of the hundreds of seeds I planted only one managed to germinate. Obviously I'm taking great care to make sure it survives. Perhaps it can give me some legacy seeds.


Lettuce in the back and arugula in the front. Generally, lettuce is very forgiving of its conditions, however iceberg lettuce is quite picky. Many of the plants did not take so well, and I doubt I'll get the full heads like those found at the store. Common problems for plants are not enough sun, or that the soil is not rich enough, problems which I may have here.

I planted the arugula using the scatter method where I tossed the seeds randomly into the dirt. It resulted in very patchy germination. It also did not help that I never thinned out the plants, which is why many of them are so small.


My Brussels sprout plant looks amazing, but it hasn't produced jack yet. I never had much luck with brassicas, which is the family that includes broccoli and cauliflower. Something about them simply eludes me. Perhaps they require the premium spots in the garden.


General salad bowl lettuce, which I planted by also scattering the seeds. Hmmmm, it doesn't look quite like the packet, does it?



Peas and snow peas. So far no sign of the powdery mildew that destroyed my first crop. My scaffolding skills could use some work, as the peas are having a hard time climbing the trellis.

Cabbage Patch:

Most of the space is dedicated to cabbage types, but the rest is quite random. The kale and celery are survivors of the previous season. Also shown are cilantro, dill, cucumbers, and terrible spinach.

Melon Patch:

This is the centerpiece of the garden, the sunniest, largest space I have which I use to grow warm-loving, space-hogging, nutrient-demanding plants. Don't touch. Just kidding, but seriously.





I'm growing a lot of beans. The vine plant is a typical garden bean, but I also have yellow garden beans called Gold Rush, kidney beans, and black soy beans. Beans are a great introductory plant to grow because they sprout easy and produce a lot.


My corn is already bolting. I may have gotten carried away and planted them too close together. Spacing is very important when the plants are large, but they sure look far apart when they are only 2 inches tall. In time, silken threads will start coming out of the stalk, which are pollinated by the wheat-like heads on the top. Corn likes nitrogen, so I'm putting a bunch of used coffee grounds at the base.





Three varieties of eggplant. They have had a rough life. I may have stunted their growth by keeping them in pots for too long before planting them in the ground. Also, not too long ago fire ants began digging up dirt right at the roots of the plants, though it seems they've stopped. I have no idea when eggplants are ready, except for when they stop growing.



Five varieties of squash. Mexican, Yellow, Italian, Emerald, and Black Beauty (I think). Wow, that sounds really racist, but I swear, those are the variety names.



One of my most prized plants, the watermelon. These plants look like they could not be healthier. Watermelons love heat, love nutrients, love water, and love space. In return they provide delicious, refreshing goodness in 30lb increments. I already have a tiny Mellow Gold fruit!


I mulched many of my plants with pine needles. Mulch is simply anything that covers the ground. It can even be plastic. The point is to suppress weeds, retain soil moisture, and prevent soil erosion. Pine needles also have the added benefit of slightly increasing soil acidity, which melons like. I used to hate pine needles because they are everywhere and take a long time to break down. Yet these traits turn out to be their strengths when taken as a mulch. Now I can't get enough.


My muskmelons, equally as prized as the watermelon. They have basically the same optimal growing conditions as the watermelons. Another nice thing about this plot of land is the drainage, due to the high amounts of sand. Melons love moist soil, but not when it is soaking wet. Soil drainage is essentially a measure of water retention. If a puddle of water sits there for a long time, then the soil has poor drainage.


This is a little sad. I planted spinach in this spot, but it did not do very well, so I tore it out. I planted spinach again using furrows and it still would not grow. The problem was, I planted the seeds in the trenches, and I think the seeds got buried and disturbed from the soil erosion when watering. Slowly, I feel like I am reverting back to using proper furrows. Don't mess with those farmers, turns out they know what they are doing.







And finally, what it is all about, the harvest. I picked this today, with plenty more to come. Whoever said it is about the journey and not the destination is lying. Who wants to grow plants if it doesn't give you this in the end? Sadly, meat is tasty or I would already have it completely made.

These are exciting times. There are definitely flaws in my growing practices that I need to smooth out, but for the most part I am able to reap the benefits. At the end of the day, that box of stuff is what it is all about. Whether growing them for yourself or to share, gardening is quite a rewarding experience. It's like raising a kid or an animal, except at the end you eat it.


Date: Monday, July 1, 2013

Throwback Monday! Sorting through my files I came across some old pics of gardens past. Enjoy!



The garden three years ago in 2010, one of the first of my serious attempts at growing things. It's neat to see old designs. While I can't say I would plant things in this layout again, I also can't deny that the crop it produced was fairly decent. Gardening is easier than people think, and it doesn't have to look all that pretty to work.



A few Yellow Pear tomato plants, and what I would pick in a single day. I have a feeling that tomatoes are extremely lucrative. I once saw this same variety selling for $5 a basket at a local store. I am not growing this variety anymore. Taste-wise, there are better ones out there, though perhaps less prolific. And yea, the plant is ridiculous, however I did not do anything special. I just didn't prune it.


Awwwwww how cute! The dragon fruit when I first got them. They have grown a lot of segments, now if they only grew some fruit. I should have conditioned the soil and staked a trellis back then, but I didn't know anything about these guys initially.


Squash, perhaps a week past their prime. Everybody loves how big squash can get (about 3 feet) and I was no exception. People love them because they are never sold in stores so big, but it turns out there is a reason for that. After they grow past a foot and lose their shininess they start to taste , well, not good. Nowadays I harvest squash at about 8 inches.



Whatever cucumbers that don't get used in salads I use for pickles, along with the dillweed I grow. The brine is a colloid of water, white vinegar, kosher salt (important), garlic, and assorted spices. Sterilizing and canning are the hard part, as this involves big pots and a lot of boiling water. It is easy to find recipes and instructions online.



I grew potatoes once from the sprouted heads of old store-bought tubers. They seemed denser than store-bought, although the taste was about the same. When I did it I put the whole potato in the ground, however if there are multiple sprouts on the same potato you can slice up the body, let it dry out for a day, then plant the segments for many times more plants.



For me, melons have traditionally been a tough thing to grow. In fact, I have consistently found fruits much harder than vegetables to get right. These two mediocre melons used to be common occurrences, but slowly I have been changing that with better spacing, soil, and watering. Poor pollination, low nutrition, or too much competition causes fruits that are small, unsweet, or deformed. I know, I know, even one such as I does not do everything right.




It's times like these why I grow things. This was my first real successful watermelon, and it happened completely by accident. The plant sprouted on its own, probably from a seed in the discards of a store-bought melon. I have a habit of keeping stray plants alive so I watered it, and sure enough this baby popped up, and it was one of the best watermelons I've ever had in my life. 23 lbs of deliciousness, not bad for an accident. Now if my intentionally planted watermelons would grow that well...

That's all for now. If I find any other interesting past projects I'll put 'em up here, however my documentation back then was not nearly as thorough as it is today. I guess there just was not that much to document anyway. I generally plant much of the same things each year, with the biggest differences occurring from infrastructure type stuff like layout, soil, staking, and trellises, and I gotta say I have done much more work on that now than ever before. So let's stop dwelling on the past and look forward to future posts. We must let go of our pasts in order to proceed with our future. Okay, I'll stop.


The Mole Hole