A new/old beginning

I’m going to be moving this year, back to my old house. I like this little rental house where I am, but my personal life has had a change of course and my wife and I will once again be living as, well, husband and wife. So, what does this mean for this casual homesteader?

First, it makes absolutely no sense to plant a garden where I am now. However, I do need to till the area up and replant it to grass for the next tenant to enjoy. Maybe the new tenants would like to have a garden, but it will be halfway through the summer before they move in and I am more inclined to leave things as I found them, rather than leaving a bare plot of tilled up ground. Then again, as we all know, if you leave a plot of tilled ground bare, it doesn’t stay that way for long. Without having planted a garden last year I wound up having to mow it.

So is it the end of the garden? Nope. I had a garden before at the old house and my wife is chomping at the bit to have one this year. There will be a lot of work to get it ready, though, as there are many small, weedy trees that have grown up around the outside of the garden over the years. Too much shade for a garden, so they have to go. I guess the garden is in as bad a shape as I am. We’ll see which one of us prevails, but at least I have my wife as an ally in this war.

I have more space and less risk of people messing with the garden where I am now. For the new garden it would really be nice if we could put a tall fence at least across the back of the property. I’ll have to see if the budget will bear that burden. Moving alone is not going to be cheap. In reality, I really wish that we could buy a house out of the city with a good space for a garden, but financially that ain’t gonna happen. Oh well. At least there is space for a garden. I’ll have to take some pictures as we get along with that project.

So what’s the first order of business for this new/old garden? For Valentine’s Day I took my wife to the store to buy whatever seeds she wanted, so we are off to a start there. She even bought seeds to start tomato plants. I have not had great success with that lately and would be more likely to just buy plants, but what the heck, we’ll give it a go. We can always fall back to buying the plants. We should start those plants in a few weeks, so we need to set up an area for that. We’ll see if we can stick to that schedule.

So that’s the new/old beginning. I’m looking forward to living with my wife once again, but not so much to all the work the place is going to need to whip the garden into shape (not to mention other parts of the old house that really need work). Thankfully, it’s not the acre garden that we once had, so I think we will be able to handle it. I’ll be following up with pictures in later posts. Wish us luck.

Scramble to a finish

Weather prediction is for a strong frost tonight with showers tomorrow, even a chance of a few snowflakes, so I decided I better get the garden taken care of. I was going to do it last weekend but I was dealing with other issues. It was a bit of a scramble after work today to get everything picked and put away before I lost my daylight. No time to take pictures.

I dug up my beets. What a laugh! I could fit my entire crop in one hand. Quite a disappointment, but it is a lesson learned. I’m going to have to abandon at least four feet on that side of the garden. I’m pretty convinced that, combined with the shade, the tree is just sucking too much moisture from that part of the garden and things won’t grow the way they should.

The biggest part of the job was pulling up all the green bean plants. I’m probably being silly, but I decided to see if I can get the beans to dry and then use them as dried beans.  If I was really serious about that, I should spread them out on a screen or at least a sheet, but instead I put them into my big wheelbarrow and spread them out as well as I could. I figure I will stir them around every other day or so to keep them from molding or rotting. It may be a fool’s errand, but I’ll see what happens. I have grown dried beans before but I believe I just pulled up the plants and hung them up, with the beans left to dry on the plants. It was many years ago when I did that and can’t recall clearly, except that it was a pretty dusty job shelling the dried beans and winnowing them.

There were still some edible green beans growing so I harvested them – just enough for a single serving. I also found a few tomatoes turning red on the vines, so I harvested those as well as a few green tomatoes. I thought I would try making fried green tomatoes. I have never done that but have always wanted to try.

I pulled up the tomato plants and pulled their cages. Then I cut the fencing loose from the posts and wound up the two rolls. That was a bit of a pain. They did not want to be rolled up as tightly as they were originally (no surprise) and after doing all the other work in the garden I was too pooped to wrestle with them much. Indeed, I was too tired to pull the fence posts. I decided to hope for a nice day to be able to go out and do that.

I wanted to till the garden up but with the rain showers we have been getting it was just too wet. I’m not sure if I will get a chance to do that before the snow falls, but if not, that’s life. I left the pulled up plants in a pile in the garden, too. The stems of the green bean plants are too tough and stringy to till directly into the garden, as are the tomato vines, so I can’t do that. I would like to compost them but I don’t have a bin set up, so I’m not sure how I will deal with them.

It was chilly and there was a pretty good breeze blowing. The shadows were very long by the time I was done. Standing in the garden, pulling green beans off the plants, I felt very alone. I wanted so badly for someone to be out there in the garden helping me or, barring that, someone inside the house getting a good dinner together for us for when I was done. The only thing that saved me was the occasional scent of wood burning somewhere. It reminded me of better times. I finished my chores and hobbled back into the house. I popped a couple of aspirin and then microwaved a few frozen burritos for dinner. It is good to have the garden done.

Frost Warning

It was the first frost warning of the season, so last night I was out in the garden, holding a flashlight in my mouth, throwing a couple of old sheets over the tomato plants. When I went out to go to work this morning I didn’t see any frost, so I guess I didn’t need to make that effort.

I left the sheets on the tomato plants during the day, which I would not normally do, but the truth is that with the extensions on the tomato cages, the sheets I put out barely covered the tops of the tomato plants. If there was a frost it would have probably hit the plants anyways. When I got home I took the sheets off, which had already taken themselves half-way off, and I untied the cage extensions and put them away for the year. The tomato plants didn’t really grow tall enough to need the extensions.

The tomato plants are looking a bit raggedy anyways. It is just about time to shut down the whole garden for the year. There is one more small batch of ripe tomatoes to pick and a bunch of green ones if I feel like making fried green tomatoes. I have never tried that, so I’m thinking it might be interesting to do so. We’ll see.

The bunching onions I planted in the bare spot that the green beans would not grow in didn’t grow much either. There is a small row of onions only about two to three inches high. Something is definitely odd in that location. It makes me think that maybe I shouldn’t eat anything that might grow there.

The green beans have kept producing, but I haven’t been harvesting much. Most of the beans are big and drying now. The beets didn’t grow very large either. If I dig them up and cook them all at one time I don’t think I would have a meal’s worth. The cucumber plants kicked the bucket long ago without producing hardly anything at all.

I think this coming weekend is the deadline for putting the garden to sleep. I’ll harvest what is available, pull all the plants out, pull up the fence and till the whole garden again. I’m going to expand the garden one tiller width to the west and north, creating a bit more garden space further away from the maple tree in the yard, and I may just plant some grass on the equivalent size area on the east side (tree side) of the garden, since nothing much else is going to grow there. I’ll take pics for the record before I wrap the garden up.

Garden update – 9/3/13

I haven’t been doing much in my garden. Last Friday night and Saturday morning we had a lot of rain, so it was wet in there. Tonight I decided to go out and pick the ripe tomatoes. Unfortunately, I waited until late evening and my entrance into the garden was greeted by a squadron of obviously hungry mosquitoes.  By the time I had picked the third tomato, I had been buzzed in one ear, bit on my cheek, and swarmed to the point where I said, “Screw this!” I’ll go out tomorrow after work when the day is still hot and pick the rest.

I did look around, though, and I see that my cucumber plants are pretty pathetic, with the middle hill totally defeated. I won’t be getting enough cukes to make any pickles from my garden. However, there are new blossoms on a lot of my green bean plants. It looks like I might get a second, though smaller, harvest from them. I need to pick them over and get the older beans off. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow, too.

The bunching onions I planted in the bare spot of one row of green beans are not growing well. I really wonder why things are not growing there, and even begin to wonder whether I should eat anything that grows there anyways. Maybe someone, sometime, dumped something not too plant friendly there, and I sure wouldn’t want to eat something that might have absorbed whatever that might have been. Still, grass was growing there just fine, so maybe that’s not it. It’s a mystery.

The beets are coming along, but they won’t be worth more than a couple of meals. It’s just too shady in that corner and, I think, too near the big maple tree. In the fall I am planning on tilling up more of my yard to enlarge the garden on the north and west sides. That space receives more sunlight than the corner that the beets are in. I’ll probably not bother growing anything in that corner again next year, or if I do, will do so knowing I won’t get much from it. That assumes, of course, that I’ll be around next year to garden and that I’ll be up to it. I think I will.

Last of the pressure canning – 2013

Yesterday I picked the last significant batch of green beans. I cleaned and snapped them last night and tonight I canned them Only enough for five pints, and one of those pints was skimpy. Unless something unusual comes along, I should be done with the pressure canner for the year. There are a few beans still growing, but only enough to pick and eat.

I picked what cucumbers there were, too. They are not doing well either. Most of them were misshapen and stunted. I think that if I want to make some pickles this year I am going to have to hit the farmstand for cukes. I suppose I might get more off my plants, but nowhere near what I was hoping.

I was talking to my friend, the master gardener, on Saturday about the lackluster performance of my garden this year. We were talking about soil testing and he told me he doesn’t usually bother with that in his own garden. He puts down several bags of compost every year and that does it.

That got me to thinking that I really am expecting more out of this garden than I deserve. After all, all I did was turn the soil over several times and plant. I didn’t rake out the old grass nor did I supplement the soil in any way. I fertilized the tomato plants and the cucumbers with some generic fertilizer, but I doubt that helped much. If I’m still able to garden next year I will have to invest in the soil.

Goodbye summer . . . squash

‘Tis farewell to the summer squash, with leaves as white as arctic frost –

SummerSquash_082413It was time to put that plant out of its misery, and to cleanse the garden of its disease – powdery mildew. When it first appeared I could have tried saving the plant by cutting off any infected leaves and spraying the good leaves with a fungicide, but it wasn’t worth the hassle. So the plant is gone. Not put into the compost bin (which I don’t actually have right now anyways) but into a plastic bag and into the garbage can. You want to get rid of the fungal spores entirely.

It must have been a good year for it. I have a peony in the front of the house that usually blooms profusely and without any problems, but this year it, too, was covered in powdery mildew and barely bloomed at all. I guess temperature, humidity and spores in the air all came together at the right time, or the wrong time, depending on your perspective. Perhaps one of the biggest factors is the shade the garden gets for so much of the day.

Next year I am going to have to start a preventative program before it becomes a problem. In my research I find that a diluted milk spray helps to control the fungus, in some research even as well as commercial fungicides. I have seen everything mentioned from a 10% milk dilution to a 60% dilution. I think I would be inclined to try the lower dilution first. You have to spray every 7 to 10 days, and after rain, but if powdery mildew continues to be a problem it will be worth it.

Pickin’ beans – a rolling experience

A beautiful day here today. The weather is absolutely fall-like right now – low 70s, mostly sunny, a slight breeze and low humidity – and this is the middle of August? I must admit that I’ll take the hottest, most humid summer day over any winter day, but if I have a choice between that hot, humid summer day and today, I’ll take today. It was so nice, in fact, that I took the day off of work.

There were a few things I wanted to do around the house today, not the least of which was to put this together –

RollingCartYep, my rolling work/garden seat is ready to roll. Now that I’ve used it here is my “review.”

First, the specs say the weight limit is 300 pounds. I’m sorry to say that I am the right person to test that. So far it has been holding up. In fact, I think the only weak point when it comes to weight might be the seat post and the metal cross strap it is mounted on. If you raise the seat all the way up and then sit on the edge of the seat, I can see where it might be possible to bend the cross strap or possibly even break the seat post weldment at that point. This shouldn’t be a concern for someone of a reasonable weight, and after a few hours of use I have had no issue with it, but I’ll be watching that.

The seat is raised and lowered by screwing it up or down into it’s mounting bracket. There is a cotter pin to keep it from coming out all the way. Also, there is a seat height adjustment lever which is supposed to keep the seat height from changing. Once you set the seat height you want, you tighten the adjustment lever which is supposed to act like a lock nut. A good idea in concept, but it does not provide enough force to keep the seat from swiveling when I sit on it. With my size, it would take something special to make that work.

On the other hand, it’s not like the seat automatically lowers if it is not locked in place. I actually found this to be a good thing. I suppose there may be times when you would like the seat locked in one position, but as I was using it I found that I wanted the seat to swivel so that I could maneuver in the garden more easily.

There is a version of a similar cart that has a steerable front end. That is useful when taking the seat out to the garden, but once you are in the garden sitting on it, you pretty much want to go straight anyways. Also, the steering mechanism has a handle, somewhat like the metal red wagons do, and I think that handle would be more in the way than a help. To drag the seat to the garden, I took an old dog leash (thanks, Holly, wherever you may be) and attached it to the front axle. It’s simple enough to lift the one end just enough to let me drag it easily by just the two wheels on the opposite end.

The “tool tray” under the seat would accommodate a few small tools, but you’re not going to pack a tool box in there. I used it to stash the dog leash while it was still attached to the seat. The tires came inflated and did not need any additional air, but they are pneumatic tires so I’m sure they will need to be topped off occasionally, and you certainly need to make sure you don’t roll over something sharp or pointy. The width of the whole seat did work in my garden paths.

How did I try it out? I picked green beans. I didn’t use it with the seat in the orientation shown in the pic, but had the seat turned sideways. It worked very well, and saved my back from the consequences of a long picking session. I’m really glad I bought it.

Up to this point I had harvested 6 3/4 pounds of green beans. With my bad back, I have had to wait to harvest more. Also, as I didn’t have the parts I need to convert my pressure canner, I wanted to leave the beans on the plants as long as I could. However, I could wait no longer. As it is many of the beans are way bigger than the size at which I would normally harvest them. If I waited any longer they would be good for nothing but dried beans. I probably spent at least two hours picking beans and would not have been able to do that without that rolling seat.

This was the peak of the harvest. I would usually just pull the plants up at this point because they won’t be bearing many more beans, but there are some smallish beans out there and the plants look nice out there still. I brought in 16 pounds of beans! My fridge is so full of beans I don’t think I can get anything else in there. Hopefully my back ordered canner part will come by this weekend and I will start working on putting them up. There’s a lot of work to do, but that’s why I do this.

While I was out there I harvested a couple more summer squash. I also put a little fertilizer on the tomato plants and turned the soaker hose on because I’m concerned about the progress of the tomato plants. I finally have one tomato that appears to be turning red. Hopefully it’s in good shape and not rotten on the bottom or anything. I haven’t looked at it that closely. You can just barely see the red tomato near the bottom of the far tomato plant, but only if you have sharp eyes and zoom into the picture –

TomatoPlants081313I don’t think I have posted a picture of the soaker hose in the garden. Here it is –


That bare spot in the near row of green beans is where I have some bunching onions planted, which is why the soaker hose is there. It then loops down to the beets, up past the cucumber plants, through the summer squash, and then has a single loop around each tomato plant. I have another soaker hose, too, and while it is too late for using it this year on the green beans, I need to get them both in place at the start of the garden, rather than wait until I have to work around plants. For as much rain as we had early in the season, the garden hasn’t gotten enough rain for a couple of weeks now, at least.

And that was my vacation day. I barbecued some chicken thighs and wrote this post, and that was enough for today. If I were wealthy I could get used to not going to the old job every day. Since that’s a total fantasy, I’m glad that I at least have as much vacation time as I do. Today was worth using up some of that time.

Rolling, rolling, rolling . . .

I have green beans that need picking, and a back that needs easy treatment. Somehow it’s hard to put those two things together, but today I bought something that might accomplish that. I stopped at the local Harbor Freight store to pick up one of those rolling work seats for the garden. I had mentioned this before when I was talking about my back and I decided to see if it might work. I thought that it would be too wide for the garden rows, but when I saw it I could tell it would work just fine.

Lucky me, it was on sale! Not only that, I had a 20% off coupon that they applied to the sale price. I walked out of there a happy man. A lighter wallet, but not as light as I had expected. I’m anxious to put it together (of course it doesn’t come assembled) but no time left today for that. Maybe tomorrow.

More produce – 8/1/13

Just came in from the garden. It’s a rather nice day out there today. Mid 80’s are a bit warm for me, but it’s not humid and there is a breeze, so it was a good time to do a little hoeing. Of course, it’s never that simple, and I saw that the green beans needed to be picked again.

I went through all the bean plants and picked the bigger beans, but there are still quite a few coming, so I’ll have to do this one or two times more. I wound up with another 2 3/4 pounds of green beans. I also found a small summer squash ready to pick.

I checked the cucumber plants and I have a few small cukes, with quite a few very little ones forming. I think I’ll have a good harvest there. The tomatoes aren’t growing as much as I had hoped. It could be that they just are not getting enough sun. No ripe tomatoes yet, but there are several growing. I think I saw a little bit of a reddish tinge to some, but that could just be wishful thinking.

I should set up an irrigation system out there to make sure things get enough water. I picked up a couple of soaker hoses I had stored and I have some drip irrigation hose stored in the same place. I think I should get that, too, so that I can more directly water specific plants. Rain showers tonight and tomorrow should help keep things growing along. Maybe this weekend I can set up the watering system.

The beets are not looking good. Too shady, I think, in that corner of the garden. Next year I think I will expand the garden a few feet at the far end and not count on the shadiest parts of the garden. The sparse area of the garden where the green beans would not grow may be suffering from a tree root that is sucking the water from that section of the garden. I’m not really sure what is going on there, but tonight I planted some bunching onions in that unproductive stretch. I’ll see if any of those come up. If not, then I think I will have to mark that part of the garden off limits, too.

That’s the garden report for today.

The harvest begins

The labor is starting to pay off now – produce is coming out of the garden. I knew I had a couple of small, yellow crookneck summer squash ready to pick, but when I got up this morning and looked out at the garden, I could tell that they were no longer small. Time to bring them in. The summer squash plant is doing well. Here is the plant and my squash in situ

Garden_072713_SSThe plant is looking a little droopy from the long, hot day, but that’s normal. The cucumber plants are growing but not too quickly. There are a bunch of tiny little cukes forming, too small to see without a close-up photo –

Garden_072713_cukeThe beets are looking a bit pathetic –


The further back you go in that corner of the garden the more barren it becomes. Just too much shade and perhaps not enough moisture.

The green beans are doing fairly well, in spite of the patchiness in some places –


As a matter of fact, while I was out there harvesting the summer squash, it became apparent that I had to pick the beans today, too. It’s a bit of a back-breaking job, but no pain, no gain.

Garden_072713_GreenBeansBesides starting the harvesting, I took the time to add an extension onto the tops of the tomato cages (I know it’s a little hard to see it) –


The tomatoes are not growing as strongly as I had hoped, but they are growing and it’s better to get the extensions on the cages now rather than wait until I have to wrestle the plants into submission just to take care of the cages. Actually, what I called an extension is actually just another tomato cage. I slip the legs of it into the top of the existing cage and then twist wire around the two cages in two corners to keep them together. It works well.

In the end I picked over four pounds of green beans, two largish and one small summer squash. A nice beginning.