Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Garden Happenings June 2017

Yellow squash 7 weeks after planting seeds

This is a fun and exciting time in the garden. It's awesome to walk through the rows and decide what to pick. Most plants are heavy with produce, and the bugs have not yet overwhelmed the garden.

Squash

Squash is a fast-growing vegetable that is easy to cook. I have 25 squash plants this year. The straight neck yellow squash started producing first. This week I look forward to picking and cooking this squash.
Zucchini produce growing at base of 7 week old plant

7 weeks after planting seeds, produce on the zucchini squash is now visible. Zucchini easily camouflages itself among the green base of the plant until the fruit grows a foot long or more. It's tricky to find it at a smaller, manageable size. I have Spaghetti squash planted in a far corner of the garden. This gives it ample room to run vines for a much longer growth period than the other squash plants.

Tomatoes

Plants have green tomatoes now, but we're not taking this stalwart of the garden for granted. One plant wilted and had a burned appearance. Another had a partial wilt that was removed. This geographical area has a bacterial wilt virus that can contaminate the soil for years and make tomato growing impossible. With optimism, I'll hope the wilting is limited (like last year), and carry on.

First pepper harvest of 2017

Peppers

I've harvested a few jalapenos already. Jalapeno Poppers prepared with cream cheese and bacon will be on the menu this week.

Peas
Both sweet peas and snow peas are growing. These make a nice, crunchy snack while working in the garden.
Flower of the sweet pea plant

Bush beans
The beans have just started flowering. This is another plant that can "hide" its fruit in the foliage. I look forward to fresh beans in a couple of weeks.

Eggplants
Last year's eggplant harvest was limited by a severe aphid infestation. The plants were stunted and didn't produce fruit. Allowing for problems, I have increased my crop to 12 plants. Interestingly, many of the plants have spines on the leaves and flowers. Also, insects seem to be attracted to eggplant leaves. This week Japanese Beetles made an appearance.

Sunflowers
With screened cages to foil squirrels, a few sunflower plants are managing to grow. See last month's blog for more on that problem.

June will reveal daily surprises and challenges in the garden. I tweet regularly about my garden activities at @gopamnc . Follow me and retweet your support and comments. Thanks!😊

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Homegrown Vegetables May 2017

After a roller coaster ride of hot and cold temperatures, we started planting the vegetable garden in April. April 15 was the average last frost for this area. This guideline was helpful as frosty mornings continued close to that date.

The asparagus bed put in 3 years ago started producing in March and we harvested for 6 weeks. Now  the hard work of weeding begins. 

Fresh Asparagus

Asparagus Sauteed in Olive Oil
Nursery plants and seeds were put in between April 13th and 20th. I used notes made last year to adjust plant numbers. For example, my jalapeno plants didn't produce enough for poppers so I increased the number of plants. Tomatoes were plentiful so I decreased those. The crookneck yellow squash tended to rot at the neck so I'm replacing those with straight neck. My 8 eggplants produced very little last year so I increased the numbers and will be vigilant of bug infestations.

Every year we have an "experiment" where a new technique or plant is introduced. This year we're using barrier fabric to try and control the grass and weeds (mostly grass). There is also a new drip irrigation system cobbled from donated parts.

A summary of garden activity:
  • The straight neck yellow and zucchini squash looks vigorous and healthy.
  • The tomatoes and peppers have started flowering.
  • The snow peas have started climbing their supports. 
  • The eggplant has been treated for aphids.
Squash-4 Weeks after Planting Seeds
Squash with Drip Irrigation

In the blueberry garden, the plants are full and lush but lack flowers. The blueberries are planted beside some pine trees. The trees provide acid-rich needles, but may be blocking too much sun.

In the past, I've enjoyed sunflowers in the vegetable garden. They're wonderful photography subjects. This year a squirrel has eaten most of my planted seeds.  We're trying a fortified tomato cage barrier to try and get some flowers growing.
Squirrel Proof?Tomato Cages Covered with Netting

I hope you've found my garden update interesting. As you have read, not everything goes as planned in a garden. There's a lot of work and sometimes plants don't produce as hoped. The best thing to do is take notes and make plans for the next season.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Winter Comes Roaring Back in March

Beautiful Daffodils in February 2017


In central North Carolina, we enjoyed extremely mild February weather, and the most beautiful daffodil crop in recent memory. People were wearing shorts, and even I wore sandals on February 12 when temperatures hit 83F. The mean temperature for February was 53.3F which was higher than the record set in 1887. 1887!

It was a glorious month! We were planning our vegetable garden. Fortunately,  local meteorologists cautioned that April 15th is the average last frost so most gardeners resisted the urge to rush spring planting.

Dark-eyed Juncos Hung Around for Winter's Return

Winter came back in March. I'm writing this on the 19th, and temperatures have dipped below freezing on 7 days. I have never seen vegetative damage from a hard freeze this severe. Because February teased the plants into an early spring, more blooms and tender leaves took a beating when temperatures dipped below freezing.

Frost Damage on Leaves of Butterfly Bush

Cold Temperatures Drop Irises
 
Sedum was Unaffected by Cold

Young Peony Survived Frost without Damage

 Have you had unseasonable weather in your area? How has it affected your plants? Please share in the comments below. All the best everyone! Nice spring weather is just around the corner.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Winter Therapy for the House-Bound Gardener



Dark-eyed Junco in Snow




Even in the southeast, winter weather events can curtail outdoor activities. It's not so easy for outdoor-loving gardeners to adapt to winter weather. As I'm writing, North Carolina is in the middle of it's first snowfall. Schools are closed for the 2nd day.


In my Gardening Know How guest blog article, I write about activities for the house-bound gardener. Please read it at this link: https://goo.gl/2mjKz7

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Harvesting Loofah Sponges in the Garden

Loofah Sponge Drying

Years ago I used a loofah sponge in the shower for exfoliation. I assumed this was a natural sponge harvested from an exotic faraway sea. Actually, loofah is the fruit of a plant. This year I experimented and grew loofah sponges. Details on growing can be found in my last blog post.

We had a hard freeze late in the season (November). This forced me to get out and cut the loofah gourds off the vines.

I twisted and pressed on the largest gourd until the skin cracked. This opening provided a place to start peeling off the skin. This was a sticky job. After the skin is removed, I ran water from a hose through the loofah to wash off the sap. Afterwards, I left the sponge in a warm location to dry. Fortunately, temperatures rose to the high 60s and drying was completed in about 3 days.

Loofah with skin partially removed

Much to my amazement, this loofah looks just like the one I used years ago. Imperfections and all. I still have 4 gourds to process so I am well-supplied with loofah sponges.

Garden experimentation is fun, and I encourage you to try growing loofahs or any other unfamiliar plant. Let me know how it goes!

Note: I used the helpful Loofah.info website for tips on harvesting the sponges.


11-25-2016 Update: Today I processed the remaining 4 loofahs. The second time around was much easier. I used disposable gloves which eliminated the stickiness of handling. Before cracking open the loofahs, I applied pressure downward with the balls of my hands. I then rotated the fruit 90 degrees and applied pressure again. I repeated this 3-4 times. This cracked open and loosened the skin. I was able to slide my gloved hands between the skin and the loofah and peel them apart.


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Friday, September 30, 2016

State of the Garden September 2016

This is the time of year when my garden updates (concentrated on the vegetable garden) cease until the spring. I have a new crop, however, that has made a very late appearance.

In April, I transplanted a half-dozen Loofah seedlings on the side of my pollinator garden. As the rest of the vegetable garden took off and demanded more and more attention, the Loofahs seemed stunted and on the verge of dying.

One day a long vine appeared with a beautiful yellow flower. I was surprised by the traveling vine. Much like spaghetti squash, this is a plant that will wander and climb. We enjoyed the flowers, but never saw any fruit. In early September, (surprise!) small zucchini-like fruits appeared.

I am happy to report that 5 fruits are growing. 3 are longer than 12 inches. Once they start changing colors, I'll refer to the website Loofah.info for instructions on proper harvesting techniques.

Early Stage of Loofah Fruit

Loofah Gourd with Flower
Loofah Gourd
The Loofah.info website suggested growing loofah on a trellis or fence. Tips for helping pollination are also given. If you want to grow loofah, this could be a very important resource.

Green peppers continue to grow. I tried a new recipe for stuffed peppers just yesterday. I'm competing with hornworms over the jalapenos.

As the camellias fill up with buds and prepare to bloom, I think this will be my last update for the season. Now that temperatures have dropped, I'll be filling my fall days with transplanting volunteer plants (camellias, crape myrtles, butterfly bushes).

Happy Gardening Readers!! I would love to hear about your gardens!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 2016 State of the Garden

Lantana Blooms
Vegetable Garden Remnants


In my North Carolina vegetable garden, August is a month of cleaning up dead plants and cutting back weeds plus fighting bugs so the few remaining plants can survive.

Hornworm with Parasitic Eggs Attached
Tobacco Hornworm
Another Hornworm!
Vegetables

Squash production slowed to a crawl and plants died off two at a time. Tomatoes ripened so slowly that worms and stink bugs enjoyed them before I could. Hornworms appeared on the Green Pepper plants on a regular basis. Left unchecked, these voracious eaters will completely defoliate a plant. I always spotted the waste material before spotting the well-camouflaged caterpillars.


Spaghetti Squash
I harvested a spaghetti squash gourd in late July. Growing from seed to harvest took about 90 days. Two other gourds had to be pulled since the vines were dried up and weakened by Squash Vine Borers. Regular squash grows rapidly but spaghetti squash takes much longer. The challenge is that the vines have to stay healthy weeks longer to grow the spaghetti gourds.

Sunflower


Flowers

I can't say enough about the beautiful sunflowers. they continue to amaze. I grew them in circles hoping large stalks would fall towards each other for support. That didn't happen. The circles filled up with tall grass and weeds. Next year I'll go back to single rows.

Mexican Petunia

A new addition to my perennial flowers is a Mexican Petunia. I brought a plant back from Georgia last Thanksgiving. I babied it in a Mason jar over the winter and planted it in late Spring. It was slow to flower, but was worth the wait.

Rain has been sparse for the last 2 weeks and that has given me a breather from grass cutting. With regular rains, this month has required lots of mower time.

How's your August/ September garden doing? I would love to hear about it. I'm already planning next year's vegetable garden with severe cuts in the number of plants. What about you?


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Thursday, July 14, 2016

State of the Garden July 2016

A Cute Fawn Visitor While Gardening - Garden Lady Blog

Vegetables

This year's vegetable garden was started in April. Particularly with the squashes, this gave everything a head start on growth before the insects started cycling through. I've had to pull some plants because of Squash Vine Borer, but, by now, I've had my fill of Crook Neck, Straight Neck, and Zucchini squash. The Spaghetti Squash is growing beautifully up a trellis ( and across to neighboring tomato cages). One vine has borer damage, but it is entangled with healthier plants so I'll have to leave it for now.


Spaghetti Squash gourd on a trellis - Garden Lady Blog

This was my first time growing Bush Beans. They were easy to grow with no insect worries. Simple to cook: prep and wash, cover with water, add salt and boil then simmer for 30 minutes.

Front View of Vegetable Garden - Garden Lady Blog

Cherry Tomatoes have been producing for well over a month. The regular tomatoes are just now turning red at a quick pace. A few plants have wilted, but some of those continue to produce fruit. At this late date, I found my first Hornworm on a green pepper plant. The green peppers have been trouble-free.

Hornworm on Pepper Plant - Garden Lady Blog
Flowers

The Sunflowers are a sight to see! There is always a new bloom to admire. Frequent rains have knocked down some stalks so I'm tying them up. To discourage squirrels, I remove the flower after blooming.

Sunflower Bloom - Garden Lady Blog

The Loofah is a running plant like spaghetti squash. It produces beautiful flat yellow flowers. As of yet I haven't seen anything capable of exfoliating on the vine.

Loofah Flower - Garden Lady Blog
The Red Okra produced gorgeous flowers and shiny red fruit. I admired the flowers and gave away the fruit.

Red Okra Flower - Garden Lady Blog
July is a hot month in North Carolina. Fortunately, this year we've been blessed with frequent showers so dragging a sprinkler around trying to save plants is unnecessary. I look forward to winding down the squash harvests and a resurrection of the eggplant. One can hope, right?

I would love to hear your comments about vegetable gardening.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

State of the Garden June 2016

Front View of Vegetable Garden - Garden Lady Blog


Back View of Vegetable Garden - Garden Lady Blog



Vegetables
Garden planting started much earlier this year. In March I planted snow peas and Brussels sprout seeds. In April we started a bed of blueberry plants. Later that month I planted squash and sunflower seeds. Bush Blue Lake and Harvester beans followed a few days later. The snow peas have been abundant and tasty while ripe blueberries are scarce.

Snow Peas - Garden Lady Blog

Plantings purchased from a nursery included green peppers, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. Flowering is well underway and peppers and tomatoes are developing. The eggplant has been ravaged by flea beetles so it may be a bad year for them.

Zucchini Squash and Tomatoes - Garden Lady Blog



Green Beans and Tomatoes - Garden Lady Blog


Spaghetti squash was started indoors and transplanted in March. Since it grew over tomato cages one year, I'm training it to climb a trellis. In this way I hope to contain this plant that tends to run all over the garden. It is flowering and small fruit is visible.

Spaghetti Squash Climbing Trellis - Garden Lady Blog

By the way, you may recognize recycled material in use for the 3 trellises. I used railings from old cribs and toddler beds. ( Hey the kids are in college now so why not?)

Sunflower Hybrid Mix - Garden Lady Blog

Flowers

This year's garden includes a wide row of sunflowers: hybrid mix and Mammoths. Another row has seeds from pollinator packets and harvested sunflower seeds from last year. The squirrels had their way with some of the latter, but a whole bunch are sprouting.

Sunflower from Hybrid Mix - Garden Lady Blog

As an experiment, I started Loofah seeds indoors. The transplants are frail so I've lowered my expectations. I think it's good to experiment on one thing in the garden every year, don't you agree? Speaking of experiments, a friend gave me a seed pod from Red Okra. I'm not an okra-lover, but I've heard the flowers are Hibiscus-like and gorgeous so I've have 8 of these seedlings struggling at various locations.

Well that's a summary of activities in the vegetable garden. It hard to believe that I've been writing these State of the Garden articles for 3 years. Last year's can be found here.

With weekly grass cutting and vegetable harvesting, it's going to be a busy summer. I would be interested in hearing about your vegetable gardens. Please comment below!

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Friday, June 3, 2016

4 Favorite Plants that became Invasive

When we first built our home on a 3 acre lot, my gardening goal was to fill up the many bare spots in the landscape with favorite plants. Fast forward 20 years and some of these plants have become invasive. Below I'll describe the plants and how they've worn out their horticultural welcome.

Area Overgrown with Liriope

1 - Liriope

Liriope is also known as Monkey Grass and Creeping Lilyturf. When I first started gardening 30 years ago (at a different property), this was the plant everyone used along sidewalks and driveways as a border. I had no idea that this border plant can morph into a ground cover.

Recent research reveals there is a clumping form(Liriope muscari) and a ground cover(Liriope spicata) species. The ground cover form spreads through underground stems with rhizomes. These rhizomes have the appearance of little bulbs on the roots and are hard to completely remove.

Overgrown liriope is one of the most difficult areas to reclaim. While I was busy raising children, our front yard garden along the house became overrun with it . It provided a hiding place for snakes, rodents, and insects. In the summers, I would mow a path through it to get to the water faucet.

To reclaim this area, we treated the liriope with glycosphate (Roundup) 3 times. Caution was taken to avoid peony and butterfly bushes in the same area. Once the die-off was complete, I covered the area with barrier fabric and topped with mulch. As individual plants sprout through, they are sprayed.

I'm happy with the reclamation. Now I can walk around this area and tend to other plants. Unfortunately, this is not the only area I planted with Monkey Grass...

English Ivy Growing Up a Tree

2 - English Ivy

I admired a friend's groundcover of English Ivy. I couldn't wait to start my own. The ivy has taken over many flat areas as well as climbing trees and the side of our house. It can be killed with glycosphate - a single treatment will do. Once it dies on a brick wall, the vines need to be removed by hand. For ivy growing up a tree trunk, cut the vine at the base of the tree, and pull off what you can.

Periwinkle Vines as Ground Cover

3 - Periwinkle

I'm seeing a pattern here as Periwinkle is another plant that I admired in another yard. It has beautiful lavender flowers even on sunny winter days and attractive variegated leaves. It can create a ground cover and choke out smaller plants. Fortunately, Periwinkle vines are easy to pull up roots and all.

Periwinkle Vines with Flower

"City Block" Forsythia

4 - Forsythia

I have what I call "city block" Forsythia. This is a bush that has expanded over the years to a tremendous size covering up neighbor plants.  Forsythia spreads by sending shoots downward where they attached to the ground and become an independent plant. Severe pruning can get the bush back down to size. Unless roots are dug up, chemical treatment of sprouts will be necessary.

Blooming Forsythia-Woodpecker in Foreground


What about you? What plants have grown out of control in your yard? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

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