Garden Diary 2020 - July 1-15
Summer crops are filling our plates! Tomatoes are finally ripening, cucumbers come almost daily, beans are coming in batches, and fresh herbs flavor our meals. Flowers are bright and colorful, and the garden is full and lush. The season has been a joy. Our backyard makeover and DIY projects are still in the works. It feels good to be industrious again! Check my intro article here, where I add links to my Garden Diary 2020 posts throughout the gardening season.
Tomatoes in Waiting
I check my tomatoes every day for the slightest bit of red coming through the green, but no luck. They are still all green! I suspect we won't have ripe tomatoes until the end of July at this rate. Oh well! We are going to have a bunch!
I'm so impressed with how well zinnias grow by planting them from seed outdoors in the spring. They germinated in every spot that I planted them and needed no care. The colors are vibrant and healthy, and the plants seem to be disease and pest resistant so far. I will definitely plant more next year, and may plant more this year for a late summer bloom.
Cucumbers are Plentiful
I can't believe how well the cucumbers are doing! I was a bit concerned that I had too many plants on one trellis, but the back fence is serving quite well as a secondary support. They are also climbing up the neighboring tomato plant and cage. The cucumbers are heavy, but since we pick them regularly, they are not weighing down the trellis. So far, only the plants I purchased from the garden store are producing, but the ones I planted from seed are growing and flowering quite vigorously. They won't be far behind.
First Onion Harvest
Onions, on the other hand, are a bit disappointing. Some were ready to harvest and came out very small. I've since learned that growing them from seed instead of onion sets produces larger onions. Find out more here. Next year, I'll give that a try. But so far, my root veggies have not been a big hit.
DIY Garden Woodworking
Our garden makeover will need planter boxes and furniture to make our yard an inviting place to relax and entertain. Rather than spend thousands of dollars on purchasing everything we need, we decided to build them ourselves. I already have a lot of power tools from our early days of home ownership, but I have to fill in the gaps with some new equipment. To kick off the DIY woodworking projects, I needed a bench to clamp down the materials. I bought a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig, found their plans for a basic workbench, and watched their 3-part video series on how to build it. For less than $60 in material, I built this solid bench. I don't have space in my house for a workshop, so I will eventually buy portable workbenches that I can haul outside. In the meantime, this will do the job and it was good starter project to kick things off, giving me confidence to attempt more complicated ones.
I have so much basil I don't know what to do with it all! Even the stem that I propagated from store bought basil produced a healthy plant. Those planted from seed outdoors in early May are thriving. But with the temperatures getting hotter, I was concerned that the basil would start bolting. I harvested many leaves, some for propagating, some for drying and some for use in cooking. I did my best to separate each variety and keep them labeled. I'll also be planting stems of a purple variety I propagated a couple weeks ago that now have roots. I'm eager to try all the varieties of basil flavors in cooking.
Bell Pepper Attack
My first bell pepper didn't have a chance to turn red before it was eaten by a critter. I guess I'll have to wait a little longer.
So far, my luck with growing root veggies has been pretty poor. Today it was time to harvest the potatoes and see if my luck had changed. The leaves of the potato plants were starting to yellow and fade, signaling harvest time. I could have left them in the ground a little longer, but I was eager to turn the bed over for a late summer crop of beans. Thankfully, the potatoes came out okay. I had hilled them up about a foot over the original level of the bed, leaving buckets full of soil to be displaced. It was quite a mess!
What I found was that the hilling up didn't help at all in my case. The potatoes only grew below the seed potatoes I had originally planted. Once the roots reached the clay soil, it stopped. No potatoes grew in the soil where I hilled up. I may have done it too late.
The total result wasn't too bad - I averaged a couple of potatoes per plant, ranging from medium sized to small. There is much room for improvement. However, given the amount of space and soil it takes to grow them, I'm not sure if I'll be trying them again next year. The jury is still out.
Too Pretty to Eat
The purple pole beans are ripe and ready to pick from the trellis. But the deep, rich color makes them too pretty to eat. I will plant them again next year just because I like the color! It seems the trellis I made from bamboo in the spring is holding up the pole beans quite nicely. A complete success!
My First Ripe Tomato
Just when I was about to stop looking, I found my first red tomato! It's a cherry variety tucked behind all the leaves. It was an exciting moment! Perhaps I'll see the larger varieties turn red within a few days.
More Green Beans are Ready
I planted two sets of bush beans - a 48-day garden bean and a 60-day French bean. I harvested the garden bean a couple weeks ago, and now the French beans are ready. The plants are so productive, definitely worthy of a larger crop next year.
Tomatoes, At Last!
I finally got to pick some ripening tomatoes. The experts recommend picking them just as they are turning red and letting them finish ripening on the kitchen counter, away from pests and diseases. Here's our first lot, and there are plenty more coming. Since I intend to make sauce with them, I'll need to wait for many more to ripen to make a large enough batch. We've been waiting for this for months!
At last the little blue borage flowers are blooming. I planted the seeds directly in the garden in spring at the recommendation of organic gardeners, who claim that it attracts beneficial insects and repels harmful ones. I've personally never seen bees on the flowers, though, as they are much more interested in the neighboring cucumbers, zinnias and mint. It's hard to tell if it's as beneficial as they claim, but I'll keep an eye on it.
It's certainly no consequence to me to grow it. In fact, it is extremely easy to grow. The plant itself is quite scraggly and prickly like a cucumber plant, but the flowers are pretty. I planted it at the back of a vegetable bed at the base of the wooden fence, where the flowers hang over it and peek through the pickets, adding color to the bed on the other side. It turns out that was the ideal place for this leggy plant, where its droopy, irritating stems are hidden. It's definitely not one that I'd put in a flower bed.
The plant is also edible, though I haven't tried it yet. It supposedly has a cucumber flavor. Adding it to the culinary mix is on my list of summer tasks.
Our backyard garden makeover is in full swing. My goal for this year is clean-up and planning. We're demolishing most of the decking and hardscaping that came with the house, but leaving the main deck in place for now. Once we clear it, we'll have an easier assessing what needs to be done and visualizing a complete redesign.
First French Fries
My son and I have been talking about making homemade French fries with our organic potatoes since we planted them in March. Today, we finally did it. We bought an air frier to use less oil, but they turned out pretty mediocre. My son said they tasted like oven fries. I concurred. We will try to perfect the recipe, but I don't think anything can replace the flavor of deep fried French fries. We'll see what happens.
Managing the Mint Harvest
Having fresh mint in the garden can be a joy, until it starts to invade all of the planter beds. Harvesting was long overdue. I should have started it in spring. I use it regularly to make herbal tea, but there's only so much I can drink. The challenge became finding an efficient way to prepare and dry such a large quantity of mint and other herbs, for that matter.
Being a process flow kind of person, I spent some time thinking about how I could make this repetitive task more efficient with minimal use of natural resources. Washing them in an outdoor bin that captures water and letting them air dry indoors became my method of choice. Kitties are always on hand to "help!" I'll be doing a longer, more detailed post about this specific topic later, but here are the photos of my set-up. It works quite well.
The tomatoes have arrived, at last! This is what we've been waiting for since February. Onions, potatoes and more beans were ready, and a steady flow of cucumbers continues to make their way indoors.
Hot peppers are plentiful, but not quite ripe.
The zinnias are bursting with color, bringing butterflies and bees to the garden. Sunflowers, daylilies, phlox, bee balm, coneflowers and cornflowers add brightness.
The summer garden is exceeding my expectations.