Friday, April 27, 2012

Lots of things have been going on in the gardens since last I was here.

Like this. (I will need to post a photo of the yellow iris next time.)

Beautiful baptisia
Today the sky is cloudy and promising rain... but not delivering... yet. At least it is cooler, near 70 instead of in the 90s. Barely above 60 on Sunday for our May festival (not May yet, but it's a weekend and the flowers in bloom are all May flowers).

Chances of rain every day through Thursday. Then 81 again on Friday. Spring is a fickle time here in Kansas.
But spring progresses into summer. The progression is anything but smooth, yet I planted beans yesterday.

The tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will get into the ground soon. They have to. The peppers are rapidly approaching full size, even in their 3-inch pots. And they are blooming... as peppers are wont to do when their roots get cramped or you finally put them in the ground.

Baby peaches
Last night I started putting compost on the tomato and pepper beds -- and I planted cucumber seeds. Three hills should fulfill our salad needs, then some.

We have spent much time working with our orchard areas, laying chipped wood mulch and expanding the cages to accomodate their mature limb spread. The apricot still has a few fruit left on it, in spite of all of the strong winds in recent days. And one of the peach trees is bearing little peaches.

The blueberry bushes are blooming.

And some of them are berrying. The scent of honeysuckle sometimes overwhelms the scent of the old fashioned purple iris pictured above, while bees and dozens of butterflies converge on the blossoms of sage and ornamental salvias. The hummingbirds are missing out on the feast of honeysuckle and columbine blossoms.

Last weekend we celebrated one granddaughter's 4th birthday at our place. While great-grandparents and great-aunts and uncle chatted inside, after eating of the cake and opening of the presents, she and grandpa went out to search for snakes and lizards under the tarps covering the compost piles.

They found one....

Don't know what kind it is. The reptiles have been quite active this spring, getting out and about on the warm days. Lizards skittering across the stone paths, snakes gliding whereever they wish.

One day I found a large snakeskin, 6 feet long at the least, freshly shed, at the edge of the garden. I am sure that its former occupant was one very large black rat snake I had seen a few days earlier, coiled beneath a giant sage plant and then gliding beneath a huge stone in the terraced garden. Magnificent creature.

However, it must be patrolling the other end of the homestead, as a baby bunny has decided to live in our woodshed. I doubt that the small furry thing would hang around long if a 6-foot-plus rat snake were to appear on the scene.

Where is that rain?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's Gardening, Not War

This mass of bloom is horseradish (yes... horseradish) blossoms. They are quite fragrant and attracted many tiny butterflies and mini-bees.
The nails have not been a complete success. At least one more cauliflower bit the dust.
So I got some cornmeal, which an old article from Mother Earth News said cutworms love, but cannot digest. They die from gluttony. Appropriate. We scattered cornmeal around the plants. Maybe it's working.
Pretty little butterfly on horseradish blossoms.
It can be difficult to judge such things, since I still found some cutworms, but who knows how many more I would have found if not for the cornmeal.

I've got other tricks up my sleeve if that doesn't work well enough. The cutworms do seem to be slowing down, and one source said that planting later in the season (probably after they've all pupated) will prevent damage. Perhaps they will all be sleeping in their coccoons by the time I set out the tomatoes and peppers.

April has brought April weather. Finally, Spring instead of Summer. Yes, it has been warm, but high temperatures in the 60s and low 70s warm, not as in kissing 90 degrees.
Aronia berry blossoms with a little butterfly.

Lows have been in the low 40s and upper 30s. Although the temperature hasn't fallen to freezing, frost is possible even when the air temperature is a few degrees above freezing -- "Because frost is primarily an event that occurs as the result of radiational cooling, it frequently occurs with a thermometer level temperature in the mid-30s." That is lifted directly from the National Weather Service's glossary.

So I will wait another week or two before planting the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants -- although it was tempting to put them in the ground in March (!!) when summer moved in for a brief visit.

During a recent meeting I attended, all were asked to provide a garden tip and one long-time gardener (even older than me) said, "If it's too early to plant it, don't plant it." Meaning I shouldn't plant tomatoes in March when I usually plant them in late April or early May. Even when the thermometer hits 90 in March.

Bumblebee with its head in a pulmonaria blossom.
"There's always a frost in April," he said.

Some were even fearful of a repeat of 2007, when a warm March (but not THIS warm) was closely followed by a deep, deep freeze. The first weekend of April brought one night of 15 degrees (that's Fahrenheit). Almost no one in this area had tree fruit or berries that year -- except for late-blooming things, such as the elderberries. On the other hand, tree fruit bore exceptionally large crops the following year, after a year of rest.

After finding the cutworm issue, my husband remarked, "It's always something." Every year we must deal with a new challenge brought in by the ever-changing, sometimes fickle nature of Nature. As soon as we figure out one thing, we are beset by another.

The other night someone asked me if I reveled in the intellectual challenge of overcoming things, such as cutworms.

Well, yes, but.... "Not when I keep losing my cauliflower!!!" I replied.
Found this lizard curled in on itself outside my back door.

In spite of my frustration with the cutworms, I refuse to accept an attitude that this is war.

This is not war. Nature is not "out to get me." These things are just trying to survive. They're not doing a very good job of that when they attack my cauliflower and peas (because I dig them out and squish them), but that is their only goal.

It is not war.
It is gardening.
Gardening has challenges.
Challenges I will either meet, or give in to.
It is not my nature to give in -- not easily anyway...

Although, when they just keep taking down the cauliflower, I am almost discouraged enough to surrender.
But it is not war...
There is no surrender...
Only moving on.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Nailed 'em!

Pretty flower (blue flax) to distract me.
It's always something.

Every year, I am met with some new challenge in the garden.

Frequently, it is not a permanent challenge, but some out of ordinary circumstance -- like excessive heat and drought, etc.

This year, it's cutworms.
  Cutworms have not been an issue in my gardens for, well, all of the decades I have been gardening.
  Sure, every once in a while a plant or two would get taken out by cutworms. But it has never been wholesale slaughter of seedlings.
  Until this year.
  Did the warm winter allow more of the eggs of these critters to survive?
  Did the exceptionally warm March weather cause them to hatch early, thus threaten my young cabbages and peas?
  Or is it that my early spring plantings were made in beds that had other veggies growing in them until frost, allowing the cutworm adults to lay eggs among the plants?
  Whatever it is, my stress-reducing activity of gardening has briefly become a source of stress.
  My husband discovered the cutworm issue when he was watering the newly planted seedlings one day. Almost half of the cauliflower plants had been taken down. So I replaced the plants and on Wednesday (after waiting all day for it to rain) I went out to water them in the afternoon and found other plants had been taken out. Grrr.
  "Cutworm" is a name given to the larvae of nearly 3,000 species of moths. I am not sure which species this is in my garden, but it is one of those that likes to cut the seedling off just above soil level.
  Sometimes they'll just nip off a leaf that's close to the ground. Once a seedling's stem is too large for the worm to wrap itself around, the plant is safe. So, if you can get the plants in the ground and large enough before the cutworms hatch, they won't get chopped down. But even later planted seedlings have not been much bothered by cutworms in my garden... before. Who knows what will happen this year.


Pretty Moon, to distract me....
  Yesterday morning I went out again to check on the plants -- because the cutworms feed at night and are closer to the soil surface in the morning. Dig in the soil around the base of a damaged plant, find the little buggers and take them out... it's gooey, but it's got to be done. The worms in my garden are kind of mud colored, unless they have a bit of green to them, and are difficult to find in the dirt. (Different species have different looks. Even the same species can vary.) But persistence pays. I found many of them.
  When I checked on the plants yesterday, I took a bunch of long nails out with me. I didn't use the nails to stab the worms, no. Ew. Sticking a nail, or other similar object up against the seedling stem helps protect the plant because the cutworm must be able to wrap itself entirely around the stem to cut it off.
  An older gardener told me her father use to put nails next to all of his tomato seedlings. Even K-State Research and Extension cites that as viable protection.
  Since my brassica seedlings tend to have rather crooked little stems, the effort is kind of iffy... I used two nails stuck in at different angles on some plants.
  I have seen pictures online of small plastic yogurt containers, cans, etc. placed around seedlings (not up against the stems) to ward off cutworms. I suppose that would work if the cutworms were not already near the plants. Such guards must extend a couple of inches into the soil as well as above it, since the cutworms tunnel. Other deterrents and preventions work as well, especially if you plan ahead. Here are more tips to try.
  Cutworms also have been working on nearby radish and pea seedlings (do we even have enough nails?), and probably are responsible for the disappearance of most of the mizuna and spinach seedlings. Sigh.
  At least the weather has become more April-like, instead resembling late May and early June.
  It finally did rain on Wednesday, just as I was about finished with the watering. My backside got dampened as I finished my cutworm search and rolled up the hoses.
  However, the rainfall wasn't sufficient to eliminate the need to water. Today I will set the sprinkler out in the newly planted grass, pick some greens, weed around some of the fruit trees, start some basil seeds and (maybe) check to see if the nails thwarted the cutworms. I am not sure I really want to look.
  All I know, is that the tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings will get nailed when I put them in the garden.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Toddling Along

The foot is progressing. I have abandoned the rolling office chair, except for sitting on while blogging. The crutches now mostly sit in the corner, as I am able to put weight on the foot and walk with a lurching limp that causes my husband to call me "Festus." (OK, some of you may be too young to get that reference.) The main problem now is that the little block on my boot makes my foot sit higher and twists my hips and spine at an off angle. So I am wearing a hiking boot with a thick sole on my left foot to even things up a bit.

Pulmonaria (lungwort).
One of my concerns had been that I would gain weight because I cannot do much of my workout routine and I wasn't getting around very well. But it takes a lot more time and effort just to walk across the room now, even though I am now walking on my boot. And I am still able to do some of my upper body workouts. So I doubt that weight gain will be an issue.

I've also been able to get out and do some weeding and planting (initially I crawled around in the garden). It took a couple of days to get the seedlings of cabbage, brussels sprouts, other brassicas, lettuce, onions and celery planted, but they are in the ground. Yesterday I even planted two new apple trees and a paw paw tree, as well as two honey berry bushes, which the Fed Ex guy dropped off in the morning. A bag over my boot keeps it from getting dirty while I do all this.

When my husband watered the newly planted things yesterday morning, he discovered that a cutworm had taken out several of the cauliflower plants. Grr. The tomatoes have been potted up and all of my babies are on the porch to get used to the outdoors. I may just take a chance and plant the peppers, eggplants and tomatoes in April, instead of waiting until May. The lettuce and spinach that lived through the winter are growing like mad and we have plenty of salad greens.

All of the spring flowers are in bloom or in decline. The tulips keep surprising me with new colors. I picked a small bouquet of pinky-orange ones and added foliage from a nearby agrimony plant. Agrimony leaves have a pungent sort of lemony-pine fragrance. It is frequently used as a medicinal for coughs.

The pulmonaria are blooming. Many of the apple trees are in bloom. All of the rosemary shrubs survived the winter, and one has even decided to bloom. This generally occurs in the "winter" in places where rosemary usually survives (USDA zones 7 or 8). I have on rare occasions had indoor potted specimens put on winter blooms, but have not had any outdoor ones bloom, although a few have survived past winters.

Rosemary blossoms.
I have seen our guardian black rat snakes on several recent occasions. This morning I saw the smaller one and wanted to get a photo, but my husband came too close for its comfort with the noisy string trimmer and it slid back into the tall grass before I could get back out with the camera. I am happy to see our guardians doing well and patrolling for small rodents.

My husband cleared nearly two dozen small trees from an area just south of the house so we can spend the next two years or more improving it for more fruit trees and berries. nearly 40 fruit and nut trees may seem like a lot... but we eat lots of fruit and may do some selling at the farmers market. Besides, they are all dwarf or semi-dwarf, so the harvests won't be giant. And eventually, trees will need to be replaced, might as well have some new ones coming up.

Agrimonia eupatoria.
So, things are rolling along. The early-summer-like weather through March has made me feel as if I were behind schedule on the planting, but in truth, I am not. This week's weather forecast is much cooler, with highs in the mid- to upper 60s instead of 80 to 90. That will be good for all of these newly planted spring veggies, and will keep the more mature lettuce and spinach from bolting so soon. The best news is that the temperatures won't even get close to freezing -- through this week, anyway. So I'm just going to kick back, have another salad and smell the agrimony.