Monday, November 28, 2011

Seed Catalog Season Already?

Thanksgiving brought some balmy days in the mid-60's (*F) and mild nights that only flirted with freezing.  Bright blue skies and wispy clouds.  Makes it difficult to believe that it could be Seed Catalog Season already!  But it is, and my second catalog arrived this week - from Totally Tomatoes.  The tomatoes have such delightful names, like Jaune Flammee, Tigerella, and Purple Russian.  I want to buy them all!
This week it is going to be down in the teens at night again - Winter is doing her best to arrive.  All those cold desert days with barely a hint of green raises the odds that I will buy way more tomato seeds that I could possibly grow... Today is a breezy 54*F, though, and feels more like early Autumn, before the apple trees shed their leaves and the chill nights killed the last of the tomato plants.  In keeping with that lazy Autumn feeling, here's a picture of one of my ducks napping in the warm October sun.  Well, almost napping - the eyes are not quite closed yet.

I am so blessed to have had such a productive and enjoyable year in the garden.  The soil continues to improve with every wheel barrel full of composted chickie-poo pine bedding.  Automatic waterer did wonders to keep everything alive during the blistering Summer sun, and my flock were all to happy to devour excess zucchinis bigger than my arm!  

... Hill Billy, Old German, Orange Strawberry, Merlot and  Mexico Midget - tomato dreaming...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Been a long time since I've posted

Too busy for words... but, as if I haven't anything else to do... my newest blog A Tiny Slice Of Paradise.  It isn't a blog in the traditional sense.  It is, essentially, where I am transcribing my garden journal.  Grouping everything by date.  One might think that the two blogs would eventually merge, but I don't think so.  They serve two different purposes for me.  Well, we shall see...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Vacation Time in Tennessee

Spent one of our mornings at the historic Carnton Plantation.  Although the outside has seen some wear and tear, the insides have been restored back to the original time period - sans carpeting in most rooms, so as to display the blood stains of the wounded Confederate Soldiers.  Alas, they don't allow indoor photography, so you will have to visit to see it; however, there are no such restrictions on the outside or in the garden. 
And, of course, being of the homo sapiens jardinis species, a brief hour in the gardens was just a tease. (Don't forget to click on the photo to view the full sized picture).
I was somewhate disappointed by the gardens, thinking they would be well tended; however, there were weeds in the beds and cherry tomatoes seemed to have been allowed to sprout and grow randomly.  And, of course, I was visiting at the end of the season, so the bearded irises were sporting berries and most of the flowers were beginning to put out seed heads.  Still, there were many delightly little vingets to be had.  For example, bees that were as big as the first joint of my thumb and darn near as fat.  Their favorite food? Some purple runner beans.

And, the little copper colored butterflies that I chased in my youth, hundreds of them enjoying the late summer bounty.

I love my little garden in the desert; but sometimes, I really miss living in Dixie.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Current Status

Current state of the garden:
  • Sunflowers - 10 in bloom in the main sunflower location  - one "Mammoth" has a central disk about 8" across; however, most have central disks closer to 5 and 6 inches.  Both of the ones in Raised Bed 2 are blooming, as are two of the volunteers (from bird seed) near the nectarine tree.  About 10 more main buds.  Good soil, good water means that many of them look like they will have smaller "side buds" that will bloom later one.  Need to protect the ripening heads from birds and other creatures.
  • Corn - first set is beginning to tassel.  Second set is growing strong, as well as the bush beans planted in between them.  The sunflowers planted between them, of course, have been devoured by some wildling.  I am thinking of planting more corn next weekend - a losing bet to get ripening ears of corn out of them; however, I am sure the chickens will enjoy tearing it up at the end of the season when they are let loose in the garden to eat and till things under.
  • Bush beans - in full swing.  They will probably be done with their crop in a few weeks.  Then time to till them under.
  • Dow Gawk (Asparagus or Yard Long Beans) - the ones in the corn are starting to flower; the new ones planted against the fence along the South are barely surviving.  The ones by the dead apple tree keep getting eaten up.
  • Blackeye Peas and Purple Hull Peas - are both beginning to bloom and set tiny bean pods.  The blooms are lavender and turn brownish after pollination. A few more weeks and we will have "shelly peas."  One nice thing about them is that they hold the bean pods high above the plant, so they are easy to see.
  • Cukes - They are producing the first of their flowers and fruits; however, I think the heat and water stress are causing them to ripen small and fast.  The 3 inch ones I plucked today were prickly and bitter.  But the chickens like 'em!
  • Blue Bedder Salvia (Ornamental Sage) - Has so far survived critter depredations and has its first buds.  It is a perennial, so maybe I will get lucky and see them again next year.  I have 3 small plants that have survived so far.
  • CA Poppies - 3 plants are barely surviving, and one is actually thriving and blooming.  One bloom is done, one is open, and 3 more will be ready later this week.  The plant is small, and the blooms are small, but perhaps next year's seed will sprout sooner and be stronger by this time of year.
  • Morning Glories - in all locations, MGs and Moon Flowers are suffering from being too tasty.  They are prolific and vigorous, so the plants aren't dead, yet - but they don't actually get a chance to thrive.  A casualty of laziness and a disinclination to use synthetic chemicals.  I heard about a fermented solution of garlic and hot peppers that is supposed to keep critters away.  I might try some next year.
  • Raspberry - lives and looks healthy - but not flower buds yet, so no fruit.  But it lives, so that is a grand improvement over its several predecessors.
  • Strawberries - The runners from three hen-pecked plants have re-filled bed two, and I have foolish hopes that next year I will have strawberries to eat.
  • Silver Thyme - done blooming, and now going to seed.
  • Rosemary - finished blooming a while ago, but still sending up new shoots.  This is the longest into Summer that it has ever done so.  I wonder if it is because of our relatively cool weather, or if it is just because it is big and old enough to do so now, or some combination thereof.
  • Oregano - some that I let go to flower looks lovely; the rest looks tired.  Much of it is getting woody.  I think it may be time to give it a sharp trimming so it will grow mostly on tender new stems next year.
  • Melissa (Lemon Balm) - Looks sad and brown around the edges as it always does this time of year.
  • Day Lilly - the one in sun has bloomed several times this season; the other two, not.  I should move the other two now so that they have time to become established before winter.  I am actually quite surprised that they came back this year - they were looking quite poorly at the end of last season.
  • Desert Mallow - my original weed in Raised Bed One from several years ago is in great decline.  I think she is done.  The good news is, I sprinkled seed in Raised Bed Three last year, and one of her progeny has taken root there and is looking quite vigorous.  Perhaps at the end of this season, it will be time to rip out the original plant.
  • Unknown summer squashes - probably yellow straight neck, yellow crook neck, a patty-pan and some more zukes.  Laziness means that I will be surprised when they produce.  They should be ready to bloom in about 4 more weeks - in time to get some good squash before frost.  They are, of course, planted too close together.  I cannot seem to bring myself to either plant further apart or to thin.
Ducky enjoying the kiddie wading pool.  They really are waterproof.

    Sunday, July 31, 2011

    Harvest Begins

    Gathered enough green beans today (and a tiny purple one that I couldn't resist) to actually have enough to eat as a side dish today.  There are still 30 or more tiny, tiny ones that will hopefully be ready to eat next weekend when I return home.
    The harvest actually started in June with the first of the garlic.  This place is from last week - the last of the small garlics to be cured and the first little beans to be picked.
    I just love the colors and textures of the hard necked garlics.  It was a cool, wet Spring, and many of the garlics did not bulb up as much as I expected.  Still, my house smells either delightful - or stinky - right now, depending how much one loves the stinky rose.
    Herbs that were chopped fine and added to my home grown eggs this morning: a sage leaf, a touch of oregano, and some tender new growth from my rosemary. 
    I worried about taking my eye off the zukes for 5 seconds to go on business travel.  While I did not find any that were baseball bat sized, I did find one that was as long and as thick around as my fore arm!  Won't have time to do anything with it, and there are 5 young ones on the vine right now, so I think I will slice it length-wise and let the chickies devour it tomorrow.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011

    Critters in the Garden Day

    Over a dozen sunflowers are blooming in various places in the garden - and the bees are intimately familiar with all of them.  Often times 2, 3 or more bees will be collecting pollen and nectar.  Note the pollen-filled legs of these buzzing ladies. (Click on the photo for a larger version)

    Besides the buzzing of bustling, busy bees, there is also the humming of dragon flies as they patrol the skies for mosquitoes and other flying, biting things.  This one rests on the tip of my dead cherry tree.  See - laziness on my part (in clearing the dead tree) provides a place to relax for this mighty hunter!

    Speaking of hunters, not only gatherers frequent the sunflowers.  Several of these spiders also frequent the sunflower disks. Their legs are a semi-translucent white color that picks up the yellow hue of the sunflowers - making them appear to be just a light yellow dot on the disk - nothing threatening looking at all.  I haven't seen what it eats, yet, but a number of little gnat-like creatures also seek sustenance from the sunflower, so I suspect those are what this arachnid hunts.
    Another hunter, but not of the insect or arachnid family - a local lizard that frequents the garden.  Here it is chomping on an ant.  We are fairly used to one another, so if I move slowly, I can often get withing 3 feet of this one before it scampers off.  I try and back away before invading it's personal space, however, and I think this contributes to its tolerance of me.
    Well, this critter is not allowed in the garden to place.  He continues the canine tradition of the "race track" around the garden/chicken run, and so runs his laps while I am puttering around inside the fence. 

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    Random Photo Day

    Some early morning photos from this morning.  Nothing fancy or revolutionary - just a nice  little walk around the garden before the blazing sun warms everything up.  The rule of thumb is, 60*F by 6 am, 70*F by 7 am, 80*F by 8 am, and 90*F by noon.  Remember, you can click on the photo for a larger version.
    Just a few years ago this apple tree was a mere stick, barely bigger in diameter than my thumb.  It now sports a trunk bigger around than my wrist.  Fickle Desert Spring froze all the buds this year, so no apples.  Still, it is nice and green - and I harvest the suckers (some call them water sprouts) for the ducks and chickens to dine on.
     This is a purple bush bean called Velour.  The flowers and stems are purple, and some of the leaves have purple flecks in them.  The tiny beans (the one in the photo is about an inch long) turn purple as they mature, and turn deep green when blanched or cooked.  The plants are not as vigorous as say, Kentucky Wonder; however, they are cute, and the purple beans are easy to find among the green foliage.
     Early morning view of sweet corn in the foreground, the root stock of a peach tree (redish leaves), all overlooking sunlit weeds in the distance.  Fill flash was a little too heavy, giving it a very contrasty, almost artificial look compared to what I saw - but it still picked up the glow of the weeds, and that was one of my main objectives.
     Detail of a garlic scape.  I let about 50 of these form bubils.  Not sure that they will make new garlic plants, and even if they do, it could take 5 years before they are big enough to harvest.  Chickens really do eat anything, however, so I have been giving some to them.  Garlic is supposed to act as a natural de-wormer.  I don't think they have worms, but I'm feeding them the bubils just in case.  Besides, they love chasing down the little balls of garlic when I throw them in their pen.
     Nodding garlic scapes with their hundreds of tiny bubils.  The early morning golden light really brings out the pink colors in them.  During the flat light of the day, they look more brown.
     My girl on patrol.  Her web is in bed one and is strung between Sweet Marjoram, Rosemary, and Lemon Balm (although I like it's official name better: Melissa Officinalis.).  I know she is a girl because most male spiders have hooks on their front legs to hold the female with during mating.  She has been hanging out for a few weeks, now.  Eat and be merry, Garden Friend!
    More weeds and morning sunshine.  This time the weeds are inside the garden.  I left them there because I want them to spread their 900,000,000,000 seeds all over my garden.  Actually, I left them up because the ducks rest on the other side of the fence in the shade of these weeds in the late afternoon.  Makes a decent wind break for them.

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

    A Sunflower Kind of Day

    My little plot of 15 sunflowers planted early in the season is now beginning to bloom.  The short sunflower in the foreground was the first one to bloom and is facing East.  I'm not sure why the Mammoth in the background is not.  Maybe it didn't hear that sunflowers are all supposed to face East when they bloom?  My sunflowers never get very tall.  In the several years I have grown them, even Mammoth is lucky to top 5 feet tall.  Still, they are bright and cheerful, and if I can keep them from getting munched down to the ground when they are little, they will provide me with months of bloom.

    Yes, that is real desert sunshine from behind the first sunflower to bloom this year.  While the disk is only about 4 inches across, the long petals make the flower head seem much larger.
    Difficult to tell from the photos, but this is a Mammoth, and while it won't get to Mammoth proportions here in the desert, the center is a good six inches across.  If I can keep the critters off of it, it could provide a nice snack for the chickens in the middle of winter.
    Blooming in bed number two - a dainty dwarf sunflower.  As it is supposed to, this one is happily facing East.
    A promise of sunflower delights to come - a 4 inch flower head wrapped in layers of frilly green.  By the time I am back from business travel, the main sowing of sunflowers should be in full bloom.  Big, bold, bright - and edible to boot!

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Lazy Day Tour of the Summer Garden

    Well, after a week of bronchitis, strep throat, doctor's visits, chest x-rays, antibiotics and asthma inhalers, I am feeling mostly alive again.  Of course, the chipmunks and birds took advantage of my inattention to the garden and have mowed down the last of the late sunflower seedlings.  At least one chipmunk made an attempt at young squash plants, too, but was foiled by the floating row cover.  Still, it left its calling card.
    Chipmunk Poop on Floating Row Cover
    The first sunflower is in full bloom now, obediently facing the sunrise, no longer tracking the sun in its daily arc over the sky.  Only 2 foot tall with a 6 inch bloom, I believe this is on of the dwarf sunflowers called Sunspot.
    The first set of corn is doing well, enjoying their heavily amended and composted bed.  They are heavy feeders, and at the end of last year, I put two wheel-barrels full of semi-composted chickie-poo and pine shavings in that bed to decompose and mellow over the winter.  This seems to have worked well as the corn is flourishing and putting out suckers.  I will trim the weaker suckers and feed them to the chickens; however, the more vigorous suckers may also fruit.  We'll see.  It's one giant experiment.  

    The second planting of corn did not have the autumn prep that the first set did, so I have tried to compensate by adding finished compost and growing bush beans with them.  They are growing an inch a week, so I think they are happy.

    The garlic harvest is just about complete.  Yesterday I cleaned 7.4 pounds of good garlic and 3.2 pounds of garlic that has one issue or another that will necessitate its consumption within the next two months.  Stored cool, dark, and with ventilation, the better garlic should keep 6 months.  Frozen, it will last a year.  I'm going to make some garlic and olive oil paste and freeze it.  Although it may lose some of its potency that way, it will also be edible for about forever.

    Garlic that has been allowed to go to "seed."  The "flowers" are really tiny garlic bulbs.
    First of the bush beans are starting to produce.  It will be a few days, still, before they are big enough to harvest.  I planted purple podded beans as my main crop this year, just because I like the color purple.  And because I wanted to add as much color to the desert as I could.  Especially since the critters ate up all the flowers that I planted.
    Hopefully I am back to work on Monday, and able to hack down weeds sooner than that.  The beds in the garden are mostly weed-free; however, the paths and edges have the desert denezines creeping in: cheat grass, tumbleweed and some type of eucalyptus plant.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Late Start In the Garden

    Due to the last killing frost and last snow being at the beginning of June, it took a while for the garden to get into full swing this year.  This means that getting a corn, pumpkin or winter squash crop will be a gamble this year.  But heck, growing a garden of any sort here in the high desert is a gamble.

    Either a Zuke or a Yellow Squash - of course, I am not organized enough to label them.  Good thing I like surprises.

    Veggies currently in the ground:
    • Black Beauty Zucchini
    • Yellow Crook Neck Squash
    • Yellow Straight Neck Squash
    • Acorn (Winter) Squash
    • A small, short season (90 day) pumpkin that I can't recall the name of
    • 3 sad Alaskan Fancy determinate tomato plants
    • 40 stalks of Golden Bantam Cross (F1) Corn
    • Sweet Dumpling (Winter) Squash
    • Lemon Cukes
    • Market More 76 Cukes
    • 6 sad little Okra plants that don't like our cold nights (still in the 50*F at night)
    • A few garlic that really should be pulled by now
    • Blue bush green beans (turn green when cooked - or when the temps top 100) - French Velour and True Blue
    • Yellow "Pencil Pod" wax bush beans
    • Dow Gawk "Yard Long" pole beans
    • Kentucky Wonder pole beans
    • Blackeye Peas - both purple hull and California No. 5
    • Last of the snap pea vines (to be fed to the chickens and ducks this weekend)

    Bush beans are beginning to bloom, so probably two weeks before we start eating them.  I'm not sure how blue the blue beans will be - the flowers are decidedly purple.   Planting more bush beans every week as they ripen their crop over a short time period (as opposed to pole beans that will bear until frost kills them).  Also, beans will fix nitrogen into my sand.  Since they are cheap seeds to buy, I am using beans like a cover crop.

    Speaking of cover crops, I found some old clover seed, and it is making a fair stand under the apple trees.

    As for veggies, the rest of them will probably start being ready for harvest whenever I'm on  my next business trip. It's just the way of the world.  A new sprinkler and battery-operated timer setup should at least help insure that the plants will live.  

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    Duckies Enjoying Their Kiddie Pool

    It isn't deep enough for them to actually swim, but they enjoy it none the less. My Granddaughter saw cute little baby duckies at the feed store, but of course, couldn't keep them at her apartment in town.  But since Grandma already has chickens, how much more work can duckies be?

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Summer Garlic

    Summer, to me, doesn't really start until the harvesting of the garlic. I think our heat contributes to their early maturity, and while most people may be harvesting their garlic in July and August, mine are usually ready by the end of June. Being sporadic with the watering may also encourage them to ripen earlier. I planted about 150 good sized cloves and about 200 smaller cloves. There was, of course, chipmunk depredations, a little bit of winter-kill, and some were so small that I have chosen to let them mature bulbils on scapes instead of trying to force them to grow big bulbs. One could certainly tell the difference in the quality of the ground (I don't think I would call it "soil" still yet). The sand amended with chickie-poo/chickie-bedding created compost had overall healthier and bigger bulbs - even from cloves that were not top sized.
    1/3 garlic harvest curing.
    Average size, about 2 1/2" diameter.

    Garlic Scapes producing
    bulbils for tiny new garlic plants.
    Close-up of a scape and
    its bulbils.

    Summer is also when all the critters come out to hunt.  Taken too close with my phone camera, so it is somewhat out of focus, but this dragon fly spent some time chasing gnats and then alighted on an old sunflower stalk from last year.

    Thursday, June 30, 2011

    Spring Arrived for a Day, and now It is Summer

    One day it was 70*F or so, and we all thought, "how nice." The next day it was 90*F.  And since then, for at least three weeks now, it has been pleasantly warm in the high eighties and low nineties.  Looks like a cool summer again this year - maybe only a few days in the triple digits?  If so, the garden will love it!
    Two week old corn is two to three inches high.  What survived initial bird depredation (in spite of using a row cover), is now healthy and growing rapidly.  Planted out the second set this past weekend.  I may set out some more next weekend, but the beginning of July means that there is a 50-50 chance of a hard frost in September followed by several frost free weeks.  Still, if the third planting just turns out to be a place for the chickens to play, that works ok for me, too.

    Ate a few peas yesterday.  Chickens like the shells, but the ducks thought I was throwing rocks or something, as they were not enthused about green things flying over the fence.  The chickens were all to happy to go into "shark attack" mode, however, and swarmed the pea shells.  Sorry, duckies.

    Been feeding the ducks and chickens tufts of grass that still have the seeds in them.  The ducks like to thresh the seeds out with their bills while the chickens like to "scratch and attack" the grass stems until the seeds fall out and can be eaten.    The benefits to the birds are that they get some fresh food and exercise.  The benefit to me is grass weed reduction.  The benefit to the grass clump is that they get a trim and extra water and get to grow more seeds.
    Egg production is in full swing.  Out of 15 hens, I am still getting 6-8 eggs a day.  In some ways, it is better than the 10-12 eggs a day that they laid in their prime. Still, it is almost like zucchini - be careful - if you stand still, I will hand you eggs!

    I hate to jinx myself, but there may be a chance that I have morning glories this year.  I need to plant more.  I am babying along the 6 or 7 that I currently have.  They are getting one new little leaf every few days.  Hopefully they will hit critical mass soon and start climbing several inches a day.

    Also looks like I will have more than two dozen sunflowers this year.  I planted a dozen or so more on Sunday, but it's getting late for planting sunflowers, too.  I have a set of volunteers from bird seed - we'll see how they do.
    I am letting the garlic that is too small to bulb go to "seed," so to speak.  Their scapes will "flower" with tiny bulbils - each a tiny, tiny garlic.  If I time things right, I can plant out hundreds, which in a few years, will be almost big enough to use as planting stock.... or, I might just eat them.  I planted hot garlic, however, so they will definitely add a fiery zing to whatever I put them in.  Maybe put them in pasta sauce to mellow.

    If you build it, they will come.

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    Weed-eaters are growing up!

    Started integrating them with the chickens this week. 
    I still don't trustmy rooster with them yet,
    so they had to spend the rainy day
    in their dog crate and not in the snug chicken coop.
    The weather doesn't seem to bother them nearly
    as much as it seems to bother me, though.