The Resurrected Garden

I’ve been away from the garden both mentally and physically.  We all need a break sometimes.  The root-knot nematodes forced a self-imposed retreat from all things edible in half of my plot space.  The soil had to be covered with plastic sheeting for 6 weeks (solarization).  It was good timing, to be honest, because I never plan on not being an edible gardener.  And truly absence has made my heart grow fonder.

I’d waited a tad too long to harvest this broccoli from the raised bed. I decided to let it flower with all it’s might and instead enjoyed it each day from my kitchen window.

The other functioning half of my edible space has been growing a bountiful crop of arugula, among other cool season things. I am absolutely in love! It germinates at near 100% and grows with such ease. Plus the rabbits, rats and mice don’t care for it. It continues to produce new leaves when only the outer ones are harvested. A perfect addition to any salad with it’s peppery flavor.

Arugula in the sun.

Various varieties of beets, lettuce and broccoli have now been sowed in the unveiled root-knot nematode plot. Only time will tell if this problem has been put to bed.  Fingers crossed!

And the bananas are still green. We are experiencing a bit of a heat wave in Southern CA and I’m waiting until the temps cool to harvest them and see if they will ripen indoors.

A second trunk has produced as well!

Our flock of hens changed this fall.  Having 5 Silkies and 1 new Americauna, it wasn’t the number that forced my hand, is was the noise.  I’d known for some time that two of the Silkies in particular were, ahem, more vocal than the rest.  Out of consideration for our suburban neighbors (who never to this day complained), we re-homed the out-spoken duo.  Honestly it was mostly for my sanity as well, because over the summer I felt myself going outside to calm them, give them treats as a means of distraction, etc. quite often while I was home.  And I don’t like thinking about what was transpiring while I was away.  Of course they still free ranged daily, but when I had them restricted in the area surrounding their coop for safety when I can’t keep watch, they’d let me know they weren’t happy.  And, well, even chickens know that the grass is greener.

Alas, our two girls went to a fantastic home in a rural community only 20 minutes from here where they have 4 acres of green grass to roam ALL DAY….along with 45 other chickens.  I found this chicken lover through the friend who has given me our hens.  I would only let them go if I was confident that they would be treated well and have a happy, free range life.  And they do.


August Harvest

I’m getting over my nematode crisis and I have to say that not everything in the garden is going poorly.  I had myself quite the harvest a few days ago, mainly thanks to my primary edible bed, which is separate from the root knot nematode quarantine.  In this case, two separate beds really pays off.  Plus, one receives more shade in the cooler months than the other, which makes it ideal for lettuces, beets etc., while the other receives full sun veggies year-round.

Brandywine and Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes, summer squash and various beans. We also enjoyed 6 soft figs, but of course those didn’t make it into the basket.

Summer scallop squash in my Lifetime raised bed from Costco.

I started off the spring with tomatoes in this raised bed, but realized when they began to struggle that it wasn’t quite deep enough for them.  So, I cut my losses and re-seeded it with summer scallop squash, basil, lettuce, golden beets and broccoli.

Another view with basil peeking out.

Purple pole bean flowers.

So there you have it.  These photos capture the reason why I will continue to fight the good fight against garden foes in the name of beautiful summer harvests, simple bean flowers, and the promise of fresh, homegrown food.  Not all is lost in my little edible back yard.  🙂

Heartbreak in the Garden

I deal with a fair share of pests in the garden, a valiant battle against rodents, worms and the like.  I’d come to a place where I felt that my understanding of these foes and subsequent method of dealing with them was becoming like second nature.  Now all of that is ABOVE ground.  This week I have been humbled, to put it mildly, by the forces of mother nature that I essentially can never fully control.  I’ll just get to the point.  Root Knot Nematodes.

Brandywine tomato beginning the process of dying back in early August, just after it started ripening it’s first tomatoes.

I know that every season differs and crops can alter from year to year depending on the conditions and weather.  But this year things have been WAAAAY different than last.  My indeterminate (produces long season yields) tomatoes produced one crop and then died.  ALL of my pumpkins grew with vigor and then all baby pumpkins yellowed and fell off (and the leaves).  My green bean plants yellowed already and stopped producing.  The cantaloupe vines suddenly stopped growing.  We’re not even at the end of August!  It’s been a sad, sad state.  99% of all vegetables are susceptible to root knot nematodes.  Total bummer.

Just a partial sample from one of the tomatoes.  Imagine this times 100 and that’s what I saw when I began pulling up my dying veggies.

When I pulled up some of my plants, I noticed round, nodule-like growths all over the root systems of these poor veggies.  Not good, I thought.  Not at all.  The internet ushered in the bad news.  Root knot nematodes are microscopic, eel-like roundworms that live and feed around plant roots.  The knots that they form on the roots effects the water and nutrient conducting abilities of the roots, causing plants to grow more slowly and weaker, dying off quickly with smaller crops of edibles.  Management is difficult.  Of course.

The best site I’ve found in my research on identification and management is through UC Davis.  Go if you have these pests in your garden!

Today I covered the effected area with thin, clear plastic sheeting that will remain there for 6 weeks, aka solarization.  Yup.  There goes my fall plantings for half of my plots.  The idea is that you heat the upper two feet of soil in the hottest months of the year under this sheeting, which in turn kills the nematodes and also weed seeds (an added bonus).  It’s not a guarantee, but it’s the best organic alternative according to multiple reliable sources.

My newly solarized bed. It was relatively easy to install. I have found evidence of nematodes in my other main bed as well, but nothing near the concentration of this bed.

** Make sure you bury the perimeter of the plastic in a trench under the dirt.  Deeply water the level area before covering, as this will help heat the soil.  The key is to pull the sheeting taught so that it’s as close to the dirt as possible to maximize heating.  I purchased my plastic at a home improvement store in the paint section.  1 mil thickness is best, as it allows maximum heat without tearing or blowing away.

I will also plant French marigolds among the future veggies, which emits a deadly oil for the little buggers.  I could go on and on about this topic, but instead head on over to the above link and do a little reading if you’ve got root knot nematodes like I do.  Wish me luck!

Hornworm, Harvest, and Hen

It had become obvious in the last few days that hornworms had finally ascended into our vegetable garden.  And they grow.  Quickly.  One has to stay most vigilant or one morning you’ll wake up to completely bare tomato plants.  Most small ones go to the hens but the biggies they wont touch.  And I found one that gave even me the shivers.

Giving a little context.  This must be a delicacy in some country, right?

Many days I like to harvest a few things here and there as needed for the evening’s dinner.  Only when I have an impressive lot do I warrant it as a photo opportunity.  Today was one such day.

Peaches, lemon cukes, yellow cherry tomatoes and various beans.

Our beloved peach tree has pumped out what I believe to be the most peaches out of any other year.  (I probably say that every year).  This is just the tail end of the fruit, as many were beginning to fall and bruise, which told me an intervention must be made.  I even find joy when I see a bird or two nibbling.  What’s left of those just ends up going to the hens, which they seem to revere as hen candy.  My daughter’s cousins were over the other night playing croquet and badminton and in each of their hands was a warm, soft peach.  What a memory.

Speaking of hens, I must tell you that my music student’s mom is quite tricky.  She’s the backyard breeder who graciously gave us our 5 silkies last September.  At last week’s lesson she told me about her Swedish Flower Hens (could they have a better name?) that she was looking to re-home because she’s trying to downsize her flock.  She described them as medium sized birds, with a tan color and super friendly personality.  Oh, and then she mentioned their vibrant blue eggs.  Yup.  So I agreed to MEET one at today’s lesson.  Just as she handed her to me, she began walking back to her car.  I stuttered a bit and said, “But I have to talk to my husband, first!”  Her motto is, “Ask for forgiveness instead of permission.”  I requested that it be a week trial run and she agreed.  Sneaky!

Getting to know our new visitor.

And let me just say….she’s beautiful!  She’s almost at laying age.  A bit bigger than my silkies, but not much.  In my time with her so far, she likes being near people.  She stood next to my chair for a good 15 minutes.  Then I came in the house for a few minutes and my eye caught her walking through the door and under the dining room table!

I promised myself not to name her and really see how the interaction goes with our original 5.  We’ll see how the next week goes!

Potato Harvest

A few days ago I shared a photo of one of my poor fabric grow pots that was being eaten through by mice, along with much of the foliage.  While it wasn’t quite time to harvest, I reluctantly did just that today to end the destruction and salvage what was left of my tots.  To my surprise, I found a nice little harvest after I removed the foliage and dumped the soil onto a plastic tarp.

Here’s how some came out as I pulled up the greens:

And here’s the whole harvest from this grow pot:

Not the most impressive lot, but I’m pleased to have this many considering the rodent issue and the premature harvest.  Luckily I have one more grow pot in another part of the backyard with my highly anticipated blue potatoes.  So far that one is rodent-free.

April Garden Update

Here’s my great Lifetime Raised Garden Bed bursting with heirloom tomatoes, golden beets, lettuce and Cosmic Purple carrot seedlings along the left perimeter.

The other day I planted some marigolds in and around my veggie beds.  I’ve read that  annual marigolds can be used anywhere to deter Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs, thrips, tomato hornworms, aphids and whiteflies. They are also known to repel harmful root knot nematodes (soil dwelling microscopic white worms) that attack tomatoes, potatoes, roses, and strawberries. The root of the Marigold produces a chemical that kills nematodes as they enter the soil.  Plus they add a pop of color!

Now that Spring is in full swing and the soil is consistently above 50 degrees, I am direct sowing seeds into the garden.  In this bed I have various tomatoes, lettuce, Di Cicco broccoli, golden beets and some cabbage that is ready to harvest.  The other half of this bed is below:

The Sharpblue blueberry at the bottom of this photo is doing very well since I planted it in January.  Above it along the vertical trellis are lemon cucumbers and pole green beans.  In the middle of the bed are edamame and broccoli.

My Persimmon and Pineapple heirloom tomatoes that I purchased as seedlings are doing well in terms of growth, but are both experiencing blossom drop and early blight.  Damp, cool weather can create a fungus on tomatoes called early blight, which looks like small dark spots on the lower leaves.  I’ve never dealt with this issue before, but after some research, I have trimmed the most infected lower leaves and sprayed the entire plant with an organic copper solution.  I also sprayed a calcium spray on the flowers, which is supposed to help prevent blossom drop.  They could also be dropping due to damp conditions.  So much to know!  Once the weather corrects itself, so the speak, the tomatoes may pull out of it.

Here's one other tomato falling victim to early blight. You can see how I've trimmed out the lower effected leaves.

I’ve also been battling significant potato problems.  I had my heart set on growing sweet potatoes this summer, but we’ll just have to see on that.  Maybe next year!  I thought that a rodent of some kind was gnawing  the foliage due to the significant breaks on the stems, so we put chicken wire around the grow pot.  The no avail, it’s still worsening.  I went out last night to check out the situation, hoping to catch the varmint and only saw slugs.  Could they be doing all of this??  I will probably have to prematurely dig up my potatoes.  I’m not sure how they can survive this.  Hopefully it’ll at least be a small crop since they’re been growing since December.

All within the last week I’ve planted from seed:

  • Moon and Stars Watermelon
  • Charentais melon
  • Red Warty Thing pumpkins
  • Fairytale pumpkins
  • Jarrahdale pumpkins
  • Sunburst yellow / Peter Pan green pattypan scallop summer squash and ………drumroll please………..
  • Alpine Strawberries!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve heard that growing strawberries from seed can be trying and difficult (they take 3-4 weeks to even sprout!), but when I saw their seed packet today at the nursery, I could not resist.  I asked the garden specialist what she knew about growing them from seed and she laughed, saying, “We don’t even carry them.  You may want to just but a six-pack.”  Then I showed her the packet in my hand and she was shocked!  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen them in any store.  They’re already out in the garden, working their magic.  I’ve got a good feeling!

Springy Stuff!

Things are really shakin’ in the garden!

I got some flack (and rightly so) about only planting 4 toms in my new raised planting bed. So, I relented to the masses and sowed carrots and planted yellow beets and lettuce seedlings along the perimeter. You were right!

One of my 4-5 Sequoia strawberry plants grown from bare root. Most of the 12 or so plants initially took off, but only 4-5 ended up going on to produce a true plant. Not bad for 2 bucks.

My many varieties of second planting seedlings are close to being ready for the earth. I graduated these lemon cucumber seedlings (foreground) to larger containers because I wanted to wait a few more weeks when the weather is a scoash warmer. Plus I've found that the larger you plant 'em, the less likely they're eaten by little rodents.

The yukon gold potatoes are robust and beautiful. I continued to fill these grow pots with soil as the plants grew taller. Now I'll just wait until the foliage begins to yellow, which will signal harvest time. Hint: these guys love coffee grounds.

These potato leaves are slightly different, since I have my blue potatoes in here.

I forgot to take a before pic in the excited haze of pulling out my exasperated woody scented geranium (don't worry, I have cuttings!) to make way for enlarging my smaller plot by 45 square feet! I am so thrilled with it. My husband extended the chicken wire and even buried it down a few inches. This wire keeps out our silkies, wild rabbits, errant soccer balls, toy lawn mowers and hopefully a few fat rats that can't fit through the holes. I know that mice can still squeeze through, but hey.

Another view. I made sure to really work in the bagged amendment about 18" and not compact the soil treading all over it after I was finished.

Here's a new resident in the newly appointed bed. Don't know what it is? It produces a green pod with 3-4 beans inside which make a great appetizer for sushi. Edamame!

A few of the girls feeling out their enclosure. I posted about this a few weeks back. It's some nice metal coated fencing that fits together in sections. I easily remove one section for them to roam the entire yard 1-2 times per week. Most days they stay in here and seem pretty content. They have been vocal a few times this week, which told me they needed their grass time!

Silkie Close-Call

I’ve recently created an enclosed area of our yard for the Silkies to roam around and peck in most days of the week.  It immediately surrounds their coop and is about an 8′ x 6′ area.  I used some nice, 24″ high decorative metal fencing that is pleasing to the eye and very effective in keeping them contained.  Yet it’s still low enough for my daughter to easily step over to spend her happy afternoons with her hen sisters.

I made this decision primarily based on the dwindling appearance of my bountiful backyard.  The continuous scratching at the grass while looking for bugs and such was taking it’s toll, as were the numerous dirt bath locations.  Not to mention the poo everywhere, including our patio.

Now to the dramatic part: Living in the suburbs of Southern CA has it’s plusses in regards to keeping backyard chickens.  One of the most significant ones in my eyes is that there are fewer large animals to worry about.  So far, I haven’t had any close calls with hawks or coyotes, but what you may not realize or appreciate is that the biggest threat to your flock may be living next door.

A few days ago I’d decided to let out three of my hens to roam the entire yard.  They still do this 1 or 2 times a week.  The other 2 were in the nesting box.  Soon a wood chipper whirrs up across the street to demolish a poor cypress that has been cut down.  The 3 silkies start panicking at the noise and quickly manage to find their way to the furthest most point in my fenced yard, up a steep slope.  Directly on the other side of this fence lives a pit bull.  I’ve been well aware of this dog, even to the point of her jumping over the 5 foot fence when she saw my hens out about 4 months ago.  I had a long talk with the owner about it and he assured me of her sweetness (her name is Bella, after all) and that she couldn’t hurt a fly.  He put up some pretty flimsy chicken wire at the top of the fence and it seemed to be effective.  I never saw the dog peek over again and honestly hardly ever heard her.  Back to a few days ago: I’m holding three chickens walking down the slope to place them back in greener pastures.  I’m about 15 feet from the coop when I see Bella’s face watching me over the fence.  My daughter was standing next to the coop and before I could say “eggs” the dog was over the fence and a foot from my heels.  This pit bull who supposedly wouldn’t hurt a fly looked ready to prepare herself a chicken dinner.  Dogs have instincts that sometimes cannot be anticipated.  I scrambled to get the 3 hens locked inside their coop and one even fell from my grasp.  Luckily Bella stayed just outside our enclosed area and my yelling helped keep her a few feet away.  She was growling, staring at the hens and looked ready to pounce.  I got them locked up and I whisked my daughter inside.  Things could have gotten ugly and I’m so thankful that all were safe.  My dog-loving neighbor came over, leashed the coop-circling dog and helped me bring her back home.  The owner assured me they would put up an electric fence, but did not tell me when.

Bella’s owner are renting their house and I happen to know who the owners are. I contacted them about the incident and apparently the lease states that they are not to have any pets.  Looks like something is about the happen.

My concern is the safety and security of my daughter and animals.  I need to feel confident that letting my daughter or hens in the backyard on their own for a few minutes is perfectly safe.  And that’s that.

Is that a blue egg? (And other happenings)

The blue Ameraucana egg compared to my silkie egg. (Daffodils providing the backdrop). Honestly these photos don't do the blue color justice.

My friend who gave me my silkies recently came over and had in her hand something quite awe-inspiring and amazing.  A blue egg.  Her lavender Ameraucana just started laying them and she happily gave me the egg.  My mouth dropped open and I was intrigued.  Then with a twinkle in her eye she said that she has some chicks of the same breed that she could give me.  She’s so bad!  Part of me wants to take one, but I’m just out of room in my coop.  I can’t let my backyard get TOO overrun with fowl!!  Having those blue eggs sure would be awesome, though.   Hmmmm….

How cool would it be to use these blue eggs for an Easter egg hunt? The lettuce provides a nice hiding spot.

My newly planted Double Delight Nectarine has opened it's first flowers. I love this time of year! My Burgundy Plum has yet to leaf out or bloom.

I think I heard that you're supposed to nip the fruit off the first year so the new tree can establish it's roots. That'll be hard to do!

One of my potato grow pots. These potatoes have taken off! Soon I will be covering the majority of the plant with more soil to encourage a plethora of potatoes.

The green seedless Thompson grape is about to show it's first leaves!

Here's my seedlings!

One or two nights a slug and a snail snuck into the container before I put the lid on and placed it in the garage for the night. Needless to say I was a teensy bit upset (understatement). I lost a few seedlings, but diligently planted more a few days later. I’ve got carrots, broccoli, heirloom tomatoes, basil and lettuce in here so far.

Potato Futures

Always thinking about ways to improve and diversify my garden, I read about a southern CA gardener who uses fabric grow pots in her driveway to grow potatoes.  Never having heard of these types of pots, I did a bit of research.  It seems that these are the ideal pots to grow potatoes in because they allow the roots and soil to breathe.  They are also extremely light weight and inexpensive!  Here’s the company’s website I purchased mine from.  My local nursery said they they get in seed potatoes in January, so I should be ready to go!  You have to grow certified seed potatoes from a nursery because the store bought ones have been sprayed with growth retardant (sounds really healthy).  I nabbed up two 30 gallon grow pots to allow for plenty of potatoes, each pot for a different variety.

Today as I was out and about in the garden, I took a few photos of some recent happenings.

My potted blueberry bush is setting all kinds of flowers. I love how petite and pretty they are.

When I moved into our home there were nasturtiums all over. Good thing I happen to like them! I've continued to spread their seeds each year. They are starting to sprout up with the fall rains. They look gorgeous on salad and cakes.

One of my four Stupice heirloom tomatoes. So many fruit to look forward to!

Sugar snap seedling.

Man does broccoli take it's time! I'm finally being rewarded with the signs of upcoming florets.

These carrots are survivors! I'm so glad I gave these little guys a chance to rebound from their duel with the mice. Now that the mice are gone (for the meantime), they have all kinds of new leaves, which I'm hoping will still provide beautiful carrots, albeit a little later than expected.

The beets are growing and keep calling my name. Patience, I tell myself!

The wall 'o peas. I need to think of a better way to support these sugar snaps. I just can't bring myself to spend money on a bean support system, so hopefully I can employ my husband to help me be creative.

Stupice and cherry tomatoes.

More harvest!