More July Gardening

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer
Right on schedule, I picked the second bunch of green beans on July 9. As expected, it was better than the first picking. There are more pods setting on, but from this point forward, the harvest will lessen. I’ll pick beans again on July 15.

I also picked the butter crunch lettuce on July 10. This will be its last picking. The salads we made with it were still very tasty, but it now wants to bolt and go to seed. If the weather hadn’t been so moderate, I would have finished this crop in late June.

While picking the lettuce, I noticed that some of the Norland potatoes are starting to die. This is normal, as they are an early variety, and I have dug them as early as July 4. The rainy and moderate weather have helped them stay around a little longer. They have now been in the ground for 80 days, so they should be ready. I will begin digging them soon.

When the garlic blooms, it is almost ready for harvest. The blooms have come on and some of the garlic has dried out. This crop is usually harvestable in mid-July, so it is right on schedule. By their flowers I can tell that I have two different varieties. Elephant garlic is my favorite, but I believe I have another variety that I am not sure what it is. Its flowers are actually miniature garlic bulbs and would be good to eat. I will not plant them, as it would take years for them to mature into usable bulbs.

With my lettuce salad, I enjoyed a sweet banana pepper from the garden. I want to pick them soon to freeze my first bag of them. I also need to keep the repellant on. They are larger in size and the plants are even more vulnerable to rabbit damage.

Planting in July

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Here I am, experiencing garden harvests, and still planting.

By the Fourth of July, the garden was dry enough and I figured the green beans were mature enough for their first picking. It was an unusually cool day for July. I am used to picking green beans in hot weather when the air is so thick with humidity that you have to push it out of the way; not so this year.

I started on the west end of the north row, proceeded east to the end, then went to the south row and picked westward to the end. I have several rows of green beans, but I can reach and pick several rows at once.

The north end has two new kinds I am trying this year—Derby and Jade. My favorite is still Blue Lake 274 bush beans. If I plant a second planting, I will use more Blue Lake seeds, along with a new cultivar called Easy Pick.

Size and firmness are my two criteria for determining if the beans are ready. If the pods are too far along, the bean seeds inside them will be prominent. The perfect pod is long, firm, and almost smooth. Due to rains and moderate weather, I was very pleased with the first picking. More small pods are setting, so I’ll pick again on July 9. When it rained Saturday morning I was elated as that inch of rain should guarantee a third picking. Experience tells me that the second picking will be the best. If rains and moderate weather continue, barring hailstorm or a severe infestation of Japanese bean beetles, I could be picking beans into the autumn; and that doesn’t include the possibility of a second planting.

Around the yard, other harvests continue. We have had a few ground cherries. They are ripe when their papery husks become dry and they fall onto the ground. Since mine are in a raised bed, the cherries are easy to find. One more cucumber was picked from that bed on the 6th. The cherry tomatoes in the garden and in the large clay pot are ripening gradually. We have picked 17 so far. And the same goes for the raspberries. I judge their ripeness by size, firmness, and their willingness to easily fall off the vine and into my hand. The cherry crop is picked. Again, I use the same criteria as when picking raspberries.

The spinach is harvested and pulled out. While I was at it, I picked another bag of lettuce. It is past its prime, but still tasty. Again, credit the rain and moderate weather. There is a short row of buttercrunch lettuce close to the potatoes that I will pick one more time this weekend.

I am firmly addicted to planting plants. With this in mind, Beth and I went to Earl May on Saturday morning. We had accumulated quite a bit of “fun money” from our purchases there this spring, and it was time to take advantage of this. In addition to garden supplies—blood meal, Repels-All, hot pepper spray, labels, and potting soil, I had to fill a few vacancies in garden and flower beds. Near the curb, in the mailbox bed, I had pulled lots of “weeds (?)” on Friday morning. People described them as “pretty” but they were taking over some of the perennials and zinnia plants. They are viny in nature, so this created a large gap in the North West corner of the bed. I asked for marigolds, but they were out of them. However, I did get my hands on some nice geraniums, so, after Saturday’s rain, late in the evening, I set them out.

As mentioned earlier, I pulled spinach, and while at it, some of the lettuce in the east end of the garden. This is a very shady area, and fortunately a very narrow area. I will mulch most of it, and try to improve the clay soil. In the meantime, I found two large pots of sweet potatoes (Georgia Jet) which really looked healthy. I potted them out in the sunniest part of this area of the garden, just east of the row of carrots. After they were placed in the ground I mounded them up with potting soil. I once complained to my father that I love growing sweet potatoes, but hated digging them. He recommended mounding them several times during the season. This keeps the soil loose, and the tubers closer to the surface; it works!

And what would a summer planting frenzy be without peppers and tomatoes? I found two “patio” tomatoes called Container Choice, a new cultivar for me. They are in two large pots just west of the perennial garden, just north of the kohlrabi plants. And while I was at it, I bought 8 Hungarian hot wax peppers. I put one each in four medium-sized pots, and 2 each in two large pots. They are by the tomatoes.

I once heard it said that you can‘t water a transplant too much. This advice has stood me in good stead all of these years. So, last night the geraniums, peppers and tomatoes got a good watering. I didn’t water the sweet potatoes, as they are more amenable to hotter and dryer weather. However, if it does not rain in a week, I’ll thoroughly water them as well.

Harvest Time

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

The crops are beginning to mature. On the south side of the house, while checking the water level in the five clay pots, I thought that some of the tomatoes in the second pot, the Fantastico, felt a little soft. They have been well watered, so I figured this was not the problem. The next day it was confirmed that my suspicions were right—they were soft, because they were red. These are small grape-shaped tomatoes. We picked 3 on Saturday and 4 on Sunday. The rest of the fruit is hard, so I’ll check again in a few days.

I have also been watching the cucumbers in the new large bed on the south side of the house. We determined that they were big enough, so we picked two of them on Saturday morning. My guess was good, as they were not hollow in the middle, bitter, or full of seeds. They were tasty chopped up on lettuce salads. Both tomatoes and cucumbers reminded us that you just can’t beat the flavor of fresh fruits and vegetables. I used shape and size to determine when I wanted to pick them. This is a Patio Snackers cultivar, so I really wasn’t sure when they would be at their prime. They were probably 4-5 inches long, plump, and fairly smooth. Younger cucumbers will have more spines on them, and feel rougher.

Upon moving to the garden, I asked our son Rob to monitor a few apricots he had observed growing in the garden. I touched one, and it fell off in my hand. Although not ripe, if it fell off that easily, it wouldn’t be long until it would be ready to eat. It was bumpy and hard, but the next night we cut it in half—perfect!!! Rob harvested a few more the next day. Some had been damaged, but two of them were fit enough to eat. Three tasty apricots is a small crop, but we had bushels of them last year, so we’ll hope for another crop next year. Experience tells me to begin to watch them around June 20. We have picked most crops in late June-early July. If they are in my reach, size and feel are my best indicators of ripeness. When they are ripe, they are still firm, but a bit soft. Others use color as well, another good indicator.

We had an inch of rain on Thursday, and 1.7 inches on Friday. I knew the ground would be muddy, and soil compaction would reign supreme. Despite this fact, it was time to pick the second crop of lettuce. My old garden shoes surely got muddy and my sack of lettuce got full. This made for mighty tasty lettuce salads—fresh, flavorful, and not bitter. I’m glad I got out there, as we had another 0.8 inches of rain later on Saturday, and 0.4 on Sunday. As I write this, we are in the midst of another heavy thunderstorm.

Rob and Beth both love fresh raspberries, and they have been scouting the plants for the past few days. Just before dinner Rob and I picked a small bowl of them for Beth. This will be a small crop from a few bushes, but their taste will be worth it. We’ll continue to monitor the plants. I have picked raspberries for years, and I use size to determine when they are getting ready. When they pull off the plant easily, they are ready.

One of our next jobs will be to pick cherries. The worms and the birds have already had their share, so it is our turn. The rainy weather is supposed to move on after today, so our plan is to complete this task tomorrow night. The ripe cherries will be plump, firm, and just a bit soft. They will easily leave their stem on the tree when I gently tug on them.

We have had lots of rain lately, but I won’t complain. For every problem rain creates, it solves 24,666,829,418 more. The garden and potted plants are doing well, and natural water is better than any hose can deliver. The rain barrel is full; the containers are full as well. So, if we have just a tiny dry spell, we are ready for it. We have battled drought for the past few years, so the rain is a welcome change. I LOVE RAIN!

The varmints better eat well, because on the first dry day, we’re going to treat the peppers, hollyhocks, and any other vulnerable plants with the hot pepper spray. I still have plenty of blood meal and Repels-All in the cabinet and I’ll be buying more soon.

A Weekend in the Garden

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Gardening chores are beginning to slow down, just a little bit. This gave me a chance Friday night to pick spinach. A rather disappointing crop, but tasty nonetheless. The winds and rains have beaten down the leaves, and my germination could have been better. Much of the spinach is bolting, which means it is about done. And again, I am amazed at the amount of weeds I have missed in this area. Or perhaps they just grow that fast. Next weekend I’ll pick lettuce, and I’m sure I’ll weed again as well.

It was time to check on the mailbox bed. The “weeds?” in the northwest corner of this bed are taking over. Beth and I agreed that I will thin them out after the Windsor Heights garden tour on June 29. That means in my area, “thinning” will mean composting. I will pull them all, as there will be enough leftovers in Beth’s portion of the bed to make both of us happy.

Again, while wandering through this bed, I encountered something new. At first I thought it was the Aglaya daisy that I had purchased at Earl May in mid-May. But the leaves were wrong. The petals weren’t double enough as well. But the flower was large, about 4 inches across, and it sure looked like a Shasta daisy. But the leaves looked like a false sunflower, or heliopsis. I had a white tile around the plant to protect it from the rabbits, but its growth was far above the tile—another sign of the false sunflower. Fortunately, Beth found a tag inside the tile, and indeed it is a heliopsis. The leaves said so, but the flower did not. Beth tells me that the flower is golden yellow, and since it is a composite, Beth is impressed as well. My other heliopsis have always had smaller flowers, more in a double form. The flowers almost resemble cone flowers, but their middle is not mounded up like the cone flower is. Again, something new in the garden.

It has been six weeks since the houseplants were fertilized. I used spikes in most of the pots, but a powder in the citrus trees and figs. After placing the powder on the soil, I covered it with some soil from our pile near the patio. They will get one more fertilization in late July or early August.

My leaf mulch project in the garden is almost done. I spread two bags last night between the potatoes and the row of potted peppers. The one bag remaining will go on the north end of the potato rows, around the peppers, and near the tomatoes.

While wandering around this weekend, I noticed the green beans are starting to bloom. If we are fortunate enough to have a good rain in midweek as forecast, they will almost be a “made crop.” The potatoes continue to look good. Usually, it is “healthy vines, healthy potatoes.” Again, an inch of rain midweek would be perfect. Since they are an early cultivar, Norland, they should mature soon, and begin to die in early July.

The garlic is blooming. That is a good sign as well, as it’ll soon begin to die. When it is good and dead, it is digging time for the harvest.

Trying Something New

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

New ideas and new plants are always part of the garden scene. The same is true this year.

As discussed in previous entries, there are five large clay pots on the south side of the house, and a new raised bed. The marigolds and tomatoes in the pots are alive and well. We have had 2.1 inches of rain—0.9 on June 17 and 1.2 on June 19. Even though the pots are near the house, they are getting watered. The water remaining in their saucers is a testament to this. I need to deadhead the marigolds, but the tomatoes are setting fruit. The most prolific producer so far is the bush tomato Fantastico. I’m not sure how large their fruit will get, but their shape is either like a grape tomato, or a larger Roma tomato. They are green and hard, so time will tell.

The large raised bed is doing great! The bush tomato growing in it, Early Girl Bush 2, has fruits that aren’t quite as large as a golf ball, but they are getting close. The ground cherries on the south side of the bed are spreading out, and have begun to produce fruit. The cucumbers on the north side, Patio Snackers, are setting fruit as well. I may harvest a couple of them to put in my spinach salad as early as this weekend. I will use size to determine if they are ready to pick. Their skins also get a little smoother, and don’t have as many of those little spines. They will be small, but that is fine. The eggplant in the middle of this bed, and the peppers on the north east corner, are struggling; look for warmer and sunny weather to solve this problem. The early crops which I pulled this weekend also gave them too much competition. The two ghost peppers on the southwest corner of this bed are doing well.

It is the first year for bush tomatoes and Patio Snackers cucumbers. It is also the first year for two more plants, these being flowers. In the blue bed, I have hardy gloxinia. They have begun to bloom. Some tell me their flower form resembles petunias. It may resemble Nicotiana more. Mom used to raise gloxinias which had large, fuzzy leaves. These leaves do not exhibit this feature, but their flower form does. The only difference is that my variety has much smaller flowers. I am told they can survive the winter, with mulch. I don’t think they’d survive last winter, but we’ll see what happens in the upcoming months. They aren’t my favorite, but they will do.

In a large pot along the north garden fence are summer daffodils. They bloomed in May, and although their flowers are long gone, their leaves are alive and well. I’m not sure what to do with them this winter. However, I do remember where I ordered them, and before the ground freezes, I will call this catalog firm. They are worth keeping, whether they are hardy, or I’ll need to store the bulbs in the garage.

The large milkflower in the blue bed gets to stay. It is pregnant with flower clusters, and it may bloom as early as next week. The leaves are full of red beetles, and since this flower is an extra, I won’t interfere with their feeding. Beth has also seen monarch butterflies hanging around, so their caterpillars may be feasting soon as well. The flowers and seed pods are the main attraction for me, so if the leaves get chewed, so be it.

Is it a weed, or not? On the southeast corner of the herb bed is a large “something or other” growing. It appears to be a large and ugly weed, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, for a little while longer anyway. It doesn’t appear to be an herb, which means it already has one strike against it. The nearby garlic is doing well and is getting ready to bloom. If all else fails, after the garlic dies in July and I commence harvest, I’ll “harvest” that other plant as well if it is undesirable.

The peppers just look too good to be real. With several dry days on tap, it is time to dust with Repels-All Animal Repellent or blood meal to keep the rabbits at bay. Picking spinach is another priority—and a mighty pleasant one, I might add.

Weeding and Harvesting

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

After planting the early crops on April 25, it was time to check them out, and to see how they were doing. My first night in this area was on June 12. The potatoes looked very good. Just west of the potatoes, I snuck in a row of vine crops. They are up, and I thinned them out by snipping off the extra plants. About 4-6 plants are all I need for each hill. Leaf shape and fragrance are the ways I differentiated and identified these plants.

Just east of the potatoes were lettuce and spinach and what a crop of lettuce it was! I knew I would need to pick it soon, as it was taller than I wanted it to be. So, Friday night, with a large bag in hand, I went to work. I just broke each clump off about 2 inches above the ground. With a little rain and a little good luck, I’ll be picking it one more time before I let it go to seed. As the weather warms, the lettuce will tend to get a little bitter.

The spinach crop was also doing well, and I will be picking it soon. The shape of the leaves is its identifying factor. I’ve purchased enough spinach at the store to know how the leaves feel and I couldn’t help tasting a few of them while I was picking lettuce.

Saturday morning was weeding time. I began along the east edge, where I had planted radishes. They came out along with the weeds. Some of them were going to seed, and it was time for the radishes to go. Unfortunately, I had way too many plants that produced tops only. Some year I’ll get them in early, and have better luck.

It was a great morning to weed these crops as well. It had rained a week earlier, but I couldn’t believe how dry it had become. This end of the garden is full of night shade. Their pungent and rather unpleasant fragrance is its identifier. I have pulled this weed for years, and can tell what it is immediately. It is well adapted, so I pull it just above the soil line; otherwise it’ll break off, and the roots will remain. It is growing rampantly among the spinach and lettuce as well.

What about those carrots? As usual, they are growing in bunches. Sometimes they are too thick, and at other points there are gaps in the rows—pretty typical. The good news is that they are growing well. When in doubt just pinch off a tiny portion of the ferny leaf and take a sniff. They are full of night shade and grass as well.

I did not use a hoe for this purpose, but weeded by hand. This is due to the proximity to the vegetables involved. It is just more efficient for me to weed in this way. Where crops are more spread out, such as green beans or cucumbers, a hoe would be a little more practical.

I had not yet picked all of the lettuce. Tuesday night I was at it again. I picked a nice bag of lettuce last night, and we’ll have tasty salads tonight. I couldn’t believe all of the weeds I missed, so I did some additional weeding as well.

By the end of the week I will have picked the spinach. Again, I’ll probably find weeds I missed, but that won’t be a problem. Picking spinach leaves with one hand and pulling weeds with the other is old stuff to me.

Gardening Mistakes

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Gardening is such a dynamic process. You are always learning. And sometimes the landscape changes—literally. Our neighbor to the south cut two large limbs from a tree this spring; thus, more sun for our garden.

It seems you can never outsmart Nature, although it is fun to try. In the new raised bed on the south side of the house, with excellent soil, and plenty of sunshine, I planted lettuce, radishes and spinach among the eggplant, cucumbers, peppers, and the tomato. I had excellent germination, which is not necessarily a good thing. Not only was the germination great, but the growth rate was as well. As a result, the spring plants choked out the eggplant, which are slower growing. The tomato held its own, but you could tell the peppers didn’t like the competition. So, late last week I pulled every radish, lettuce and spinach plant. The spinach and lettuce produced a fine sack of greens. Usually these are “cut and come again” vegetables, but not this time.

So what is the solution? Succession planting. Since the raised beds are on the south side of the house, lettuce, radishes and spinach can be planted early—possibly as early as late March. We didn’t get the raised bed up until April 19, and I think it was early May before these crops got planted. And to add insult to injury, the radishes were mostly tops. Again, this may be due to the soil being too rich, and the radishes being planted too late. Better luck next year! Live and learn. As a result, I purchased four additional eggplants for this bed. I did find one of the Amadeo eggplant I purchased at the Master Gardener plant sale. The eggplant were replaced on Sunday morning.

This raised bed appears to be mistake prone. While planting the eggplant, I dug out one of the sweet banana peppers. I immediately put it back in, and gave it two gallons of water. Its chances of revival are 50-50.

The second major mistake in gardening I made this year involved my calla lilies. Keep in mind that I am very familiar with this plant. We raised them on the farm, and we moved to town in 1966. I planted them as usual, so I thought, but they weren’t coming up. Beth wanted two of the pots I planted them in for some of her flowers. I told her that if they weren’t up soon, she could have them. In fact, I wondered if the callas had rotted, were slow, or just stubborn. I dug all of them up, and guess what. I’d planted every one of them upside down. Their fibrous roots were sticking up, and their growth points were struggling way under the soil. It was a simple case of turning them all around, and covering them up. They are up now, and one of them is already blooming.

My cherry tomatoes are a little unhappy. They are probably getting too much shade, and are competing with some nearby oriental lilies. They are in pots, so competing soil for nutrients is not a problem. They are tall and lanky, but are beginning to set on fruit. So, they should be an all right crop, but not spectacular.