Been a little while

15. March 2016 22:30

 Cherry BlossomsActually, it has been a pretty long time since this site was last updated.  The garden and its visitors had been one of the major inspirations and 2015 was not a great year for the garden.  The weird weather and the drought impacted things.  I was stingy with the watering and did not get the fertilizer out soon enough.  A gopher found a way to get into a couple of the raised beds and wiped out a couple crops.  Only one tomato plant was reasonably productive.  On the other hand, we had plenty of corn, zucchini, green beans and blackberries. 

So far 2016 is shaping up to be different.  There was some cold weather early in the winter to provide chill for the fruit trees.  And there has been rain.  More would be nice instead of having a month of summer in February.  But at least things are mostly green again. Spring is just a few days away.

Herbal Bouquet

9. August 2014 18:24

Our current garden does not have much in the way of cutting flowers. The nasturtiums and marigolds tucked in around the veggies have short stems. However, on occasion, the modest blooms of some of the herbs can make a respectable bouquet. In this case, the daisy like flowers are from feverfew. A couple sprigs of lemon verbena provide tall spikes.  The umbrella clusters of yellow flowers are fennel.

 

 

 

 


Mid-Summer Garden Notes

29. July 2014 03:02

The corn was not ready by July 4th, but not too many days after that, we were eating garden fresh corn on the cob. On the other hand, the tomatoes got off to a really late start and it will be sometime in August before we get to harvest the first vine ripened tomatoes. The peas did a lot better this year. A patch of peas between the tomato plants managed to produce a respectable amount before the combination of powdery mildew and crowding by the neighbors brought it to an end. Snow peas and snap peas also produced more than we could use and enough to freeze for the future. The bush beans ('Maxibel') did well as in past years. The pole beans did better than last year in that they produced lots of beans.  But the quality did not seem as good as the bush beans and thus will not get planted again next year.  Meanwhile the wax beans were much like last year -- a mediocre crop as the plants seemed to break easily.

The pumpkins are again prolific. They average around six pumpkins each and show every intention of doing a lot more than that. Thus the additional growth is being removed. Likewise, some of the excess tomato vine is being trimmed this year. Last year the currant tomato would have taken over the entire bed if it had not been fighting a couple other varieties with the same goal. The goal of side-by-side comparison of tomato varieties is a failure since half the plants got off to such a late start. Plus several of the tomato plants are not doing well -- perhaps a fertilizer issue -- except that it effects on plant while the neighboring ones seem fine. So for next year, the tomatoes need a better indoor start and the pumpkins should not get planted until mid-June the earliest.

The new red carrot ("Samurai") from Park's was horrible. There were two somewhat unappealing pink carrots that were edible. For the most part it was all top growth and where there was something below ground, it was inedible.  In fact, a couple that developed were so tough that they could not be cut with the kitchen knife.

The initial crop of cantaloupes has been more baseball size than the expected softball size. Perhaps the enthusiastic growth of the pumpkins in the same bed resulted in a negative impact on the less vigorous melons.

The initial plantings of corn have come in without any worms, but the ants and aphids continue to climb the stalks. Later plantings failed to germinate well enough and survive the birds, so there will be a pause in the corn harvest before later plantings are ready. 

Some of the early crops - Spinach, peas and scallions were past their prime and pulled, along with the beans.  Additional seeds have been planted and we should manage a second crop before the weather gets too cool.

The blackberry harvest has been more than enough for eating fresh. There was enough for one batch of jam, a couple of pies and several other baked deserts so far. The raspberries probably need another year before they are doing that much. At present, just enough to taste. Meanwhile, there has been an assortment of fruit from the orchard. Several of the trees planted last year have produced a respectable crop despite the odd winter (lack thereof). Even a few of the trees planted this winter provided a handful of fruit. The only tree in the orchard this year that appears to have more than enough for a batch or two canned to be enjoyed over the fall and winter months is the nectaplum 'Spice Zee' which is loaded with fruit. It also lives up to its marketing description with respect to taste -- very sweet.

Ants and aphids continue to be significant garden pests. I suspect that a reduction in the ant population would make the aphids less of a nuisance. There have been a few signs of gophers, but not a lot of luck catching them. The wire under the veggie beds is working and the chicken wire baskets around the trees and berries have been pretty good at limiting the impact of gophers. There haven't been a lot of insect pests and there have been lots of honeybees -- quite a change from a couple years ago.

And of course I already have ideas for improvements next year.  It will take at least a couple more years of  learning experiences and resulting changes.

(See photos of the garden at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=125.)

Return of the Cottontails

27. July 2014 22:16

The "deer and rabbit" fencing we have around our garden mostly works. The deer do manage to poke their noses through the openings to munch on anything growing within a few inches of the fence. Only a few grape leaves, citrus branches and the blackberry and raspberry plants are in any danger of being pruned by Bambi. The thorns on the berries and some of the citrus do not seem to hinder the deer when anything is within reach.

At the bottom part of the fence, the one inch spacing in the wires does not seem to prevent the cottontail rabbits from slipping through without much difficulty. There are at least three bunnies in the group that lives near the garden. One was a bit smaller than the others, perhaps a juvenile who liked exploring more than staying near the safety of the brush area where they normally live. The pumpkin leaves provide excellent camouflage for the tiny bunny. Another of his favorite spots seemed to be among the bush beans -- perhaps because they were a favorite for eating.

After multiple episodes of finding baby bunny in the garden and chasing him out, we hoped to put an end to it by installing a layer of chicken wire along the lower part of the fencing along the side next to the cottontail habitat.  It did not work. We had hoped that they would not go around to the side. For a few days, it looked like a success.  But all too soon, the cottontails were hopping around the garden again.

We will have to add the additional chicken wire to the other sides of the fence to keep the cottontails out. Fortunately, the damage they have done so far has been minimal -- mostly a few beans and peas. Meanwhile, when I trim anything from the garden or remove past prime plants, the results are dumped outside the fence and serve as a buffet for the deer and rabbits.

Blueberry Bandits

1. June 2014 22:48

The eight potted blueberry bushes started out the spring with lots of flowers. Small berries followed shortly.  But there never seemed to be any that were properly ripe.  Eventually I realized that it was not a case of being impatient. There were berries that were almost ripe.  But very rarely any that were ready to pick.

 

Finally I discovered that I was being robbed.  A very clever bluejay had discovered the berries and was picking them off as they ripened.  When he could not find a perch that would allow him to reach what he wanted, he flew at the target, knocked it to the ground where he landed to enjoy his snack.

 

Now one blue jay was bad enough. But things got worse.  A pair of robins appeared.  We typically do not see robins around here since they tend to prefer more civilized landscapes in the suburbs with nicely manicured lawns where they can hunt worms.  I suspect that a neighbor has suceeded in making the area around their house a little less rural and the robins found it suits them.  Compared to the bluejay, the robins are little pigs and not at all afraid of the human approaching them. And they are sampling a lot of the other garden goodies as well.

If I am going to get more than an occasional blueberry, I will need to use bird netting to keep the fruit for my own use.  The berries and leaves on the bushes are too small to simply drape the netting over the bushes.  It will require a support that allows me access to harvest as well. In the long run I plan to have a couple of mulberry trees as offerings to the birds.  In theory, they are supposed to prefer those to other berries and fruit.  Of course, if the birds are not reading the same garden advice, the alternate plan "B" is to have so much growing that there is plenty for all of us to enjoy.


Spring Planting

16. April 2014 17:34

The garden for 2014 got started a whole month earlier than it did last year.  According to the guide I found for my climate zone, it could have been done a month or so sooner.  Since we had such a warm winter, that actually might have made a difference in when some of the veggies will be ready for the table.  However, as soon as it was officially spring, the weather returned to more normal (cool, coastal foggy mornings) and I could just imagine the corn and green bean seeds shivering in the ground instead of sprouting.

Last year I tried planting similar things together thinking that would make care easier.  It probably made little difference in helping things and was not so good in other ways.  Having snow peas, snap peas and shell peas all planted next to each other meant that there was a tangled mess of peas and it was hard to tell which was what kind when it was time to start harvesting.  The tomatoes also turned into a tangle outgrowing their cages and the more vigorous ones strangling the others.  It also meant that any problems such as aphids or powdery mildew had lots of hosts nearby once it got started.

So this year I am trying to mix things up a bit in hopes that the results will be better.  However, the season has not gotten off to a great start.  The tomatoes should have been started inside a lot sooner. The tiny seedlings were snipped off by the birds requiring a second batch getting an even later start.  The birds also seem fond of the pea leaves and a few emerging green beans look like they have been nipped off. 

Next year I must start more inside and plant out only when they are much bigger.  Or perhaps have a winter garden that will result in plenty to share with the wildlife.  If we get a nice wet winter for a change, there will be lots of native greenery around and the garden veggies may not be as much of an attraction.

(See photos of the garden at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=125.)

Upgraded Transportation

4. March 2014 20:04

A few weeks ago we decided it was time to trade in our 2005 Toyota Matrix on a new vehicle. The Matrix had been a good car and was relatively problem free.  However, it had over 97,000 miles. The odds of being inconvenienced by a major repair were not getting better. As I liked the style of the Matrix. The combination of the hatchback with fold down seats, allowed for carrying a lot more cargo with ease than could have been done with a sedan. The back seat had enough leg room for normal human adults and the front seat was at a comfortable level for entry and exit. We when out looking for something similar.

We were not planning on looking at hybrid models, but the Ford CMAX caught my eye. It was the most comfortable of the cars we took out for a test drive. And compared to some of the others, had a more open feeling -- it did not seem to have too much in the way of blind spots. We are still learning the features of the CMAX and getting used to the experience of driving the hybrid. The options in the dash for display provide second by second feedback on fuel and battery use as well as hints to improve efficiency. At times adjusting one's driving to improve the score can turn into a game. Plus there are all the improvements that have become standard since our Matrix was new, such as voice activated controls and Bluetooth connections for the cell phone use while driving.

And the most amazing thing -- we got the garage cleaned out so we actually can park the car inside for the first time ever!

Bare Root Planting Season

9. February 2014 20:29

Planting phase two of the orchard was not nearly as big a chore as was the initial row planting last year. Primarily because the ground had been prepared and holes dug out (and refilled loosely) during the summer months.

The plan for what was to be planted changed several times between last January and when the orders were placed in late October / early November. The first change was the decision to make the orchard two terraced rows instead of a hillside. It started with leveling out some of the ground around the initial row. But it became pretty clear in a short time that walking back and forth across a hill was a lot harder than walking on a level surface. Thinking about the odds of a misstep in the future, a lot more shovel work went into the preparation and a terraced plan emerged.

Then there was the huge chunk of sandstone discovered just below the surface in the center of the second row of the orchard. There was no way a self-respecting fruit tree could exist with that where the roots should go, so it was excavated, the soil added to the terrace and perhaps it will eventually seem decorative.

The bench graft apple trees ordered in March were yet another change to the plan. They filled most of the terrace to one side of the rock outcropping. A trip to the local demonstration orchard created another influence on what was to be planted this winter. There was a grouping of peach and nectarine trees in full bloom. It was lovely, and there were also daffodils planted in the orchard under the trees. The daffodil part was a simple addition. I would have been looking for a place to plant those. The flowering trees turned out to be varieties I had not seriously considered, yet they seemed to have good reviews for taste and had other good qualities.

So the Asian pears, quince and persimmon were preempted in favor of more peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots. It was supposed to be a three to four year plan. I will probably find spots for the ones that got bumped off this year's list before I am done.

 

(See photos of the orchard progress at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=125.)

Wild winter weather

3. February 2014 22:10

Yesterday we received .51 inches of rain according to our weather station. That brings the total for 2014 up to .54" -- the additional amount having arrived mid-last week. Normally in this area January is wet and dreary. This year the January weather was more like summer. Actually, it was better than that since it lacked the fog and the nighttime temperatures did not drop as much as they had in August. As show in the photo, we had daytime temperatures into the 80's in January.

Typically the local hillsides turn green in December. As of the beginning of February they are still brown due to the lack of rain. If one looks around, many trees, both landscape and native, are in serious condition as a result of the drought and may not survive.

The lack of cooler temperatures also has a lot of the garden plants confused. Blackberries are blooming and some of the blueberries have fruit. The 4-in-1 apple tree that was planted last winter is blooming but never dropped its leaves from the past season. Likewise, three out of the four low chill pears are essentially evergreens this year. Most of the stone fruit trees had dropped some percentage of their leaves. However, the retained leaves were anything but pretty, so I finally started removing the stragglers. We only have two more weeks according to the calendar for the fruit trees to get in their "chill hours" and from the looks of things, most will have bloomed before then.

Technology Troubles - Part 2

31. October 2013 01:12

The laptop wasn't the only item giving us technical trouble over the past few months. The car decided it had some issue with its emission control system.  Of course, that is about all one can get out of the manual that came with the car.  But my spouse had the code reader which provided a little more information indicating that it was a minor issue.  The most likely problem was a gas cap seal that had failed.  It did appear that was not functioning, so we replaced it.  Unfortunately that did not result in the warning light going off. Logistical issues during the summer kept us from taking the car to the local repair shop until a couple weeks ago.  We were concerned it would be a major expense to fix whatever the mystery problem turned out to be, however, we were lucky.  It was only a hose in the system which was leaking.

On the other hand, the glitch in the kitchen was a major hit to the finances.  Our wall oven had gotten progressively cranky.  Every so often while cooking, the upper oven which had a convection feature would decide that there was a problem and start beeping and blinking "F1". Of course, the troubleshooting section of the owner's guide said little more than turn off the oven, let it cool and if it happens again, call for service.  At first this meant we would end up having our dinner a bit later than planned since the lower oven still worked.  However, in the past few months it became apparent that the convection was not working correctly (for instance, a fan stayed on that should have gone off).  And then there were the mornings where we found it beeping F1 when we got up.

It was becoming a safety concern and we decided it was time to replace the oven. Given that the oven was by then 21 years old, there was no hope of having the electronics involved replaced.  Our local appliance store was having a customer only special sale, and we went in to see what would work. At first glance, there were lots of choices.  But then reality set in. White was not a favored color.  And the options available in white and only 27" wide were even fewer.  That still provided several acceptable choices.  However, when we checked the installation information, the situation started looking grim.  Most of the ovens needed 1/4" more width than was available.  The newer version of what we had would fit the width -- but it was over an inch taller on the exposed surfaces and would block the doors above and/or drawer below.  So we got down to one manufacturer  which had an oven that might fit without a complete re-do of the kitchen cabinetry. 

This past weekend we had the new oven installed. It was very, very close. Actually, some of the trim is a smidgen too wide and the drawer in the cabinet to the one side rubs against it as it opens. Other than that, it seems like a nice product.  It has some features that were not available twenty years ago such as a proofing option for allowing bread to rise.  I had to try that out and it worked beautifully.  Now I won't be limited to the odd shaped loafs that come out of the bread machine. It also has convection in both upper and lower ovens, so in theory I can speed cook in both.  Of course, I doubt if I would have a need to do so.  Hopefully we are good for another twenty years of baking, broiling and roasting.

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