Peter Rabbit

27. August 2012 03:46

For the past week or so, Peter Rabbit has been visiting our garden.  I have tried hunting him with the camera, but he is very shy and uncooperative.  The color of his fur seems a perfect match for the dry ground, so when he is still, he disappears into the background unless his white tail is visible. The fence around the garden is supposed to be rabbit and deer fencing.  It has very small spacing at the bottom to keep the little critters out.  However, I found a few places where the ground did not meet the bottom of the fence and have since filled in those spots.  Of course the gate presents easy access to the cottontail bunnies we have here.  There is more than enough room for them to get under.  In fact, a few nights ago as we finished dinner, we looked out and saw the rabbit was between the garden and the house.  Before I could grab the camera to get a picture, the rabbit dashed under the gate and ran into the garden -- and apparently escaped through one of those low spots on the other side.  So far, I don't think Peter has really done more than munched on a couple low hanging strawberries as they ripened.  I suspect we will be playing hide and seek in the garden for weeks to come.

The Corn is as High as an Elephant's Eye

25. August 2012 16:48

Maybe in just a few more days the corn will be ready to eat. The seed catalogs said these varieties should be ready to harvest in about seven weeks.  However, perhaps because it has been pretty cool here this summer, it has taken several weeks longer than that. Also, the catalog entry for one of the varieties indicated that it would be about six feet tall and that the other six and a half feet.  They got the first one correct, but half the other patch is more like eight feet tall.  Not that I care as long as they fill out lots of sweet delicious ears.

Meanwhile we got several pounds of green beans from the initial two square feet planted and have much of it in the freezer for later.  The bean plants are pretty much past their prime and I should probably pull them out next week.  A later second planting did not do so well because the growth from the first batch and other veggies in neighboring squares encroached on their space.  That is fine - we will still get enough from the second batch to have fresh picked green beans for a few meals. 

The shelling peas got a bad case of powdery mildew on the lower parts because the vegetation was too thick and close together on the shadier side of the beds.  It looks like they are a lot taller than expected and would have been better on a trellis or other support.  While the top half now seems like it will be producing nicely, the powdery mildew has spread through the squash and pumpkin leaves and makes for a not so pretty garden.  Hopefully, we will do better with how things are planted next year. 

(See additional photos of how the garden is growing at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=121&page=2)

Nice Kitty

25. August 2012 02:06

Yesterday morning as I cleared my breakfast dishes from the table, I noticed a cat approaching along the back of the house. A very pretty cat that was not a stray or a neighbor's pet. It had short tail and pointed ears along with spotted markings on its fur. As I reached for the camera which fortunately was there on the desk, the bobcat came right up to the kitchen door and looked in. I had to take the photos through the door. I tried to follow outside as it moved on to get a few other pictures, but the photo op did not last and the cat disappeared into the morning fog.

Crime Scene

24. August 2012 17:54

This morning I found the area around the two red rump pair cages looking like a crime scene. Blood was spattered all over the cage, the nearby walls and ceiling. Apparently something had caused the birds to have a night fright episode and they injured themselves flapping around in the dark despite the night lights. The bloodshed was an indirect result of something that happened a few weeks ago. Then, I just found lots of red rump wing feathers scattered around. The birds managed to drop all of their feathers on one or both wings. It is likely a small earthquake had disturbed them in the middle of the night. So now, instead of having one or two wing feathers growing back in as they should with a normal moult, they have a wingful or two of growing feathers. While they are growing in, these feathers have a blood supply and, if broken, can cause serious blood loss to the bird. The first aid recommendation for broken blood feathers is to pull out the feather in order to stop the bleeding.

I have no idea if the birds managed to do that to themselves or if the feathers just came out as a result of the panic in the cages. The evidence on the floor this morning shows that both of the hens lost at least three blood feathers last night, while the other red rumps lost one each. Meanwhile the other birds housed in adjacent cages showed no signs that they were bothered by the disturbance.

 

 

 

 

 

Pollinators

14. August 2012 22:01

The honeybees are now including the garden in their daily routine.  We went from none to a couple dozen workers buzzing around the flowers.  No longer do I need to worry about zucchini blossoms getting pollinated.  I am back to the usual problem with zucchini -- what to do with so many of them.  The other squash and pumpkins have also started showing fruit as a result of the bees' efforts.  We should have several nice pumpkins for Halloween decorations and Thanksgiving pies.

If I ever had any doubt about the bees acting as pollination agents, it would have been removed by a bee I saw a couple weeks ago near the just opening sunflowers.  I had heard a buzzing and when I first caught a glimpse, I saw yellow and thought it might be a pesky yellow jacket.  But then it landed on a sunflower and I discovered what the yellow color was -- lots of pollen on the back of the honeybee.

the hungry caterpillar

2. August 2012 03:20

A few days ago I brought in a handful of parsley from the garden. When I rinsed it off, I discovered that there were two uninvited caterpillars munching on the leaves. I shook them off outside and finished.

The next morning when I went out to check the garden, I remembered the caterpillars and decided I should check to see if there were more. If my garden was being invaded by a bunch of ravenous crawlers, the sooner I discovered the problem and protected my plants, the better. After looking around, I found two more. They were a lot more interesting looking that the usual suspects -- black with orange spots. Were they bad guys I should feed to the birds or lizards or were these the juvenile form of a pretty moth or butterfly? I tried to identify them from an online reference but had no luck. Since the Master Gardeners have a volunteer in the agriculture commission office nearby on Wednesday, I decided to keep the caterpillars alive and eating until then and see if they could help with the identification.

This morning I was completely surprised by what I saw in the bug jar. They had changed their appearance overnight and now were black and green striped with yellow spots. And I was pretty sure I had seen something like that among the online photos. Sure enough, they matched the caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly . The information about the parsley family being the preferred host plant was perfect. I don't recall ever seeing a swallowtail butterfly around, but apparently they decided that my parsley was a good place for their babies to hatch. Now that I know they exist, I will have to keep an eye out for the adult butterflies. Meanwhile the two captives have been returned to the garden.

From Garden to Table

31. July 2012 03:42

For dinner tonight we had our first green beans from the garden. Instead of the classic Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake snap beans, I planted a filet variety, Maxibel. I am not sure if the taste was as great as they said.  However, since these beans are a lot thinner than the other kinds, I suspect that the timing given for steaming them was too much and they were overcooked as a result.  If I had paid attention to all the details in the seed catalog description I should not have been surprised at how big the bean plants got -- the description does say the plants are tall. 

It is a Jungle Out There

28. July 2012 22:35

There had been a two foot wide path between the raised beds. And four feet between the beds and the fence. However in the last week the paths have begun to disappear under the vegetation. Everything seems to be a lot taller than I was expecting it to grow -- and I don't mean the extra almost a foot that the raised beds provides. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn't very optimistic about how well the garden would grow.

For a while, that seemed like the correct view. However, in the last couple weeks a critical mass situation must have arisen with the vegetation being sufficient so that the plants started blooming and putting out a lot more growth as well. The pumpkins are taking over one corner of the garden area.  And the tomatoes have claimed the opposite corner. The stakes I used for the tomatoes were overwhelmed by the plants and disappeared in the foliage. A few days ago I noticed that the tomatoes were starting to lean over to one side -- they were bending the stakes or pulling them out of the ground. I added more stakes by one set of problem plants and ran string around the whole thing to hold it in place.  No sooner than that was done then I realized another group was tilting. By time I went out the next morning, two tomato plants were laying on the savory and basil while a third when across the path to rest on the cornstalks.

The seed catalogs list these varieties as "indeterminate" -- thus no maximum height given. The slightly less than a foot depth of the raised beds was not enough to anchor the stakes for the now heavy plants. Even if there wasn't the hardware cloth gopher barrier below, I suspect I still would have had problems with the staking.  Now that I saw what happened, I have a sense of deja-vu. My first garden in Saratoga used stakes instead of cages for the tomatoes. I switched to wire cages and things were so much better in later years.

It is too late for wire cages this year. For now, 6 foot T-posts just outside the beds next to the groups of tomatoes will have to do. Between them there are four or five rows of jute string with the tomatoes captured in the middle. There were some crunching noises coming from the plants as I tried to get them upright. Time will tell if it the plants are completely broken or just badly battered. Next year I will have wire cages for the tomatoes and also as a trellis for the peas.

You can see more of my(garden) at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=121&page=2.

Rainbow carrots

27. July 2012 19:24

The carrot seed I planted did not germinate particularly well. The rainbow carrots from Park Seed (did better than the traditional type I planted. So I just had to pull one out and see how it was doing.  It did not want to come out of the ground easily. Perhaps I packed the soil when I filled the raised beds a bit too much for getting nice carrots. The roots were a little crooked but there was no branching. While it was still a bit on the slender side, the carrot was long. When I measured the underground part, it was longer than the twelve inch ruler. No wonder it was hard to pull.  The roots are working their way beyond the 1/2 inch hardware cloth gopher barrier attached to the bottom of the raised beds -- they are only 11 inches deep. 

Can of worms

27. July 2012 04:40

Well, not exactly a can of worms. More like worms under the (black plastic nursery) cans.

Last week I decided that it was time to move the plants in nursery cans to weed around the fence.  Much to my surprise, when I moved the large cans containing the citrus trees, I found evidence that there were earthworms at work.  In all the years we have lived here, I have only seen a few worms.  They seemed like such a rarity here that the last time it rained enough to flood the front walk area, I stopped and moved the one earthworm I found swimming in the puddle back to the dirt.  The fact that I found maybe half a dozen or so worms under about the same number of pots, gives me hope that the land will come to life more rapidly than I was expecting as we start to planting the future orchard and vineyard.

I had a previous experience with rather "dead" soil years ago when we purchased our home in Saratoga. There was a metal shed and some areas of concrete in the back yard which we removed. I recall that one area was so bad that not even the weeds would grow in that spot for a few years. I was afraid that we might have a similar situation here. Perhaps all that is needed is a little bit of encouragement and some water.

 

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