Garden Diary 2020 - June 1-15
The benefits of my hard work are starting to pay off. The beds I dug out, lined, mixed with organic soil and compost, and mulched are exploding with growth, and with manageable weeding. Many of the seeds I directly sowed are sprouting and growing. The tomatoes and hot peppers are setting fruit, and the beneficial insects I invited with proactive plantings are visiting the garden more each day. We're harvesting herbs and berries; lettuce is so abundant we've had to give it away. Summer flowers with long-lasting blooms are replacing the fading spring pink and purple hues. And at times, the weather has been glorious! Check my intro article here, where I'll add links to my Garden Diary 2020 successes and failures throughout the gardening season.
It's a Weed
The tall plants springing up several places in my flower garden are weeds. Bummer! I finally found photos of them from last year to confirm my suspicion. I'm pretty sure it's goldenrod, which is a nice native plant for open fields, but not my narrow garden beds. And it choked out the other perennials that had been the anchors of my flower beds for years. I'm left with some big, bare spots that I'll gradually fill as I find some beauties at the garden store.
Pole Bean Transplant
The beans on one of the six poles on my pole bean trellis aren't growing. They appear to be stunted. Since I planted three beans on the base of each pole, I have a couple extras that I moved to the empty pole and the back fence. So far the transplants are working.
Carrots, Round Four
It was time to plant another row of carrots to continue my three-week succession planting plan. This time I planted a rainbow mix on a seed tape, which doubled as a cat toy. I like the seed tape concept for more even spacing of small seeds, and am eager to see the results. Instead of using the empty row I reserved in the carrot bed, I interplanted it in between the onions. I've read that they are good pairing.
My lettuce is doing so well that I've had to give several bags of it away already. A short heatwave is coming and I don't want it to wilt, so I've been harvesting it faster than I can use it. And there's still more! I never expected my lettuce patch to be so productive. Now that I know it's a cool season crop, I'll be growing it again this fall and maybe in winter. There's no reason not to try it. We eat and buy it regularly.
Erratic temperatures continue. We've gone from the 70s to mid-90s in one day. The heat wave is expected to continue tomorrow, but milder weather is coming next week. I'm keeping an eye on the plants to see if they need an extra watering.
Dry Creek Bed Meets the Test
Heavy rains drenched my garden the last two days. I sat out on the porch and watched it pour, with the smell of fresh cilantro drifting through the air. I finally got to see the dry creek bed that I installed in May in action. The concept worked perfectly. Rain rushed from the downspout, through the rocky channel, and into my pond. There are a couple of low spots where I need to shore up the sides, but the erosion problem is now under control.
Tomatoes and Peppers Setting Fruit
It was an exciting day in the vegetable garden! The tomatoes and peppers have started to set fruit. They are tiny and few at this point, but given where we started in February with just a pack of seeds, it's fun to be on the verge of success.
Cooking with Herbs
One of the great pleasures of having a kitchen garden right outside the front door is easy access to fresh herbs. I use them almost every day to flavor up my cooking. Today, I grabbed a handful of herbs - thyme, basil, oregano, parsley and cilantro - chopped them up and mixed half the pile with hamburger meat. The other half went into an herb butter for steak and cooking scrambled eggs. Earlier in the day, I threw another big handful of rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, basil, sage and oregano into the Instant Pot to cook frozen chicken. It was so tasty with no added calories. If I had purchased all of those fresh herb bundles from the grocery store, it would have cost at least $20. The herb garden alone will be a big money saver, especially the perennial ones.
The Insects are Coming!
I'm starting to see more insects in my garden - butterflies, a dragonfly and bees. More will come as summer flowers start to bloom.
Giving Up… For Now
I've given up trying to harvest seeds for now. My last experiments with harvesting cornflower and hydrangea seeds failed. There are too many other tasks to tackle in the garden, and I can't give it the attention that it needs. I'll try again in a few months with some easier flowers and herbs.
Ivy Bed Makeover Complete!
At last, the ivy bed reform project is complete! I pulled out around 20 trash cans full of yard waste and put down about 20 bags of mulch, and it looks so much better! It's no longer a weed pit! I'm sure the ivy and poison ivy will continue to pop up for years to come, but it is now out of sight for the moment. An unexpected benefit of the new mulch is that I can spot the weeds coming up right away before they go to seed, as the green leaves contrast with the brown wood chips.
Since it's such a large patch, I installed a new footpath through the center from flagstone we already had in our yard. I hope to install lights and a large fountain this year, too. Plantings will come gradually, but for now I divided and transplanted hostas, daylilies, ferns and astilbe from other parts of the yard to use as placeholders. A kind neighbor, who saw me outside working on it, brought me an iris from her yard that needed dividing. All of the plants adapted well to the new bed except the volunteer hydrangea, and I don't think it will survive.
To complete the look, my boys surprised me with a cat statue for my birthday to stand at the entrance of the path. I swear sometimes it looks real!
Though most of the bed is in the shade the front part gets enough sun that we were able to plant another 15 hot peppers that we had leftover. I hope we can find enough friends who have the stomach to share our spicy harvest!
I started the day by picking some of the last June-bearing strawberries and some of the first blueberries from one variety of bush. My son and I enjoyed them on a bowl of fresh, homemade yogurt made in our Instant Pot. It was so filling, I was able to skip lunch, work in the garden all day, and not eat again until dinner. Tomorrow will be a happy repeat.
The sweet alyssum I planted by sowing seed directly in the ground are starting to flower. It makes a good annual ground cover and was very easy to grow. I will be sowing a lot more of that next year.
Because my house is on a corner lot with some of the fruits and veggies growing along the sidewalk fenceline, my garden has become somewhat of a curiosity. With the COVID lockdowns and pleasant spring, neighbors have been walking with their kids and dogs more than I've ever seen before. Since I'm outside almost every day working on the yard, I've met more people and had more pleasant conversations with neighbors in just four months than I have in the over 20 years I've lived in my house. One of the great unintended consequences is that I'm showing kids who walk by how to grow food. It's a good feeling to hear parents point out the strawberries and mint, favorites with kids. Soon the tomatoes, beans and cucumbers will be dangling over the fence to add to the spectacle. I hope that I'm planting a good seed, so to speak, in our youth.
Drenched for Drainage!
I'm drenched from head to toe! I took the opportunity of the heavy, morning rainfall to watch the water flow from the downspouts and drainage pipes. I took note of where the water was puddling and ravaging seedlings, so that in the future, I can plan how to divert the rainfall where it needs it most. That's a longer term project to be sure, but there are some immediate problems that can be corrected right away. For instance, a drainage pipe got disconnected from its downspout, and the water was puddling at our foundation again. It was an easy fix, but it took getting soaking wet to catch it.
Bean and Potato Flowers
My first year of having a full-blown kitchen garden has been quite educational. My latest discovery is seeing flowers on the potato and bean plants. I had no idea that these veggies produced pretty little flowers, too!
Pole Bean Reached its Height
At last, one of the pole bean plants reached the top of my homemade, bamboo trellis. Let's see how long it takes for the others to catch up. The pole bean plant I transplanted to the empty pole is the shortest, but is growing just fine, despite transplanting it on a hot day.
Cucumbers Found Extra Support
The cucumber tent trellis is going to be overfilled. The seeds I thought would never sprout came up after the weather warmed in late May. Fortunately, the plants have a mind of their own. They are beginning to climb up the back fence in addition to the trellis. Next year I will do more to incorporate the fence into my vertical gardening plans.
Final Corn Fail and More Tomatoes
My fourth attempt at germinating corn pretty much failed again, with only a single success out of the roughly 20 I planted. I now have four stalks and I'll just be satisfied with that for the year. I moved all four to the 20 gallon Smart Pot grow bag. I'm not expecting much out of them. Is four enough for wind pollination? We'll see.
I filled the five plastic containers where I had attempted to grow corn with five extra roma tomato plants. Romas are the smaller variety of the bunch I started from seed, and I plan to simply stake them instead of buying more cages. The leaves are yellow and spindly after being kept in less than ideal conditions. I wonder if they will recover? I still have nearly 50 tomato plants left, even after giving many away, and have nowhere to put them. I guess it's good to have backups.
Planting in a Can
As reported last month, my attempts at direct sowing seeds in the garden beds have been mixed, particularly in areas where I had already mulched. Even though I always clear out the space where I plant the seeds, the surrounding heavy layer of mulch inevitably blows onto it, and either prevents the seeds from germinating or crushes the fragile seedlings under its weight.
This time, I cut off the bottom of an empty hot chocolate milk powder can, sunk it into the ground, dropped basil seeds in the center and covered them with a thin layer of soil. A few days later, the seedlings emerged with the safety of the barrier wall of the can protecting them from outside forces. I saved the lid of the can for next year in case we have another late spring frost. I can simply cover up the seeds or sprouts with the lid to shield them from the cold.
Cilantro, I'm Not Giving Up on You
I've heard the experts say that cilantro will begin to bolt as soon as the weather turns warm, and to forget about growing it again until late summer/early fall. Well, because I'm stubborn and I love cooking with it so much, I've decided to keep growing it by seed throughout the summer. I'll just have to harvest it when it's young, almost like a microgreen. I'm letting a plant or two go ahead and flower so that I can try harvesting the seeds. I hope not to have to buy cilantro seeds next year.
Japanese-Style Garden in the Making
My backyard garden gets mostly shade and dappled sunlight under a canopy of mature trees, and grass simply will not grow. When we bought our house over 20 years ago, it came with a lot of hardscaping and shade bed landscaping to compensate for the lack of grass. It has a combination of multilevel brick and wooden patios, a narrow walking path, and a pit of gravel. There was even a playhouse and sandbox at one point built into the deck. It looked nice when we moved in, but over time the wooden fencing and planter beds rotted and warped. I always hated walking the path between the junipers where their scratchy needles would irritate the skin as they outgrew their beds and encroached into the walking space. The rest of the landscaping became a tangled mess of ivy, vines and hostas.
I finally got sick of it and started tearing it up. Out went the junipers into a heap for compost! Next will be some of the wooden decking, which became a trap for leaves that was always difficult to rake out and keep tidy. With the vegetable and flower garden in maintenance mode, I've shifted my attention to completely remodeling the backyard. It has all the makings of a Japanese-style garden.
Now that the gardens and parks are opening up again following the COVID lockdowns, we will soon begin touring some local gardens to get some ideas. I envision a pergola, koi pond, a water feature, hammock, footpaths, and many shade-loving plants and bushes. I'll wait until fall to plant azaleas, rhododendrons and other flowering bushes along the back fenceline when they have a better chance of survival. For now, I'm piling all the yard waste back there to prepare a bed of compost in which they will be planted.
I have a lot of homework and clean-up work to do between now and fall. It may take several years to complete given the expense, but I'm excited to start designing the space we have neglected all these years.
Massive Mint Harvest
This morning I harvested a full basket of mint. An invasive plant, it grows with ease inside and outside my fenceline veggie garden. I dug up quite a bit this spring while preparing all the kitchen garden beds, but it is so prolific it just kept growing. For today's harvest, I yanked it out at the root and didn't make a dent. I went a little crazy and bought several flavors to add to the spearmint and chocolate collection I already had, adding to the abundance. Tonight, as I washed the leaves to prepare them for drying, I made myself a glass of herbal mint tea. Delicious!
Not Digging No Dig
When I prepared my planting beds in early spring, I primarily used a liner that gets buried about three inches. However on one side of the flower bed, I tried the No Dig liner that you simply attach on top of the bed with plastic spikes. It didn't take long to realize that, for me, it was not a good option. Because it's not buried, the grass and weeds easily spread into the flower bed by rooting underneath. This is in contrast to the dig liner which blocks the weeds from entering. Also, the lawn mower easily causes the liner to get misshapen. The No Dig was easier to install, but for my garden, I'm paying the price by spending extra time weeding. Next year, I'll be changing it out for the dig liner.
Lemon Balm Surprise
The lemon balm spreads so rapidly in the part-shade bed by the driveway that it started choking out all the other plants and seedlings. I harvested a big tub of it today to start clearing out the patch. Even my kitty tried to help! While picking through the harvest, I noticed a number of ladybugs and ladybug larvae clinging to the leaves. Voracious aphid eaters, I promptly carried them over to my tomato bed to see if they can help control the aphid population raiding my plants. Could that be the answer to my aphid whoas? Lemon balm is a perennial that emerges in early spring. Is it possible that it will attract ladybugs early in the tomato growing season while waiting for the other "good bug" plants to emerge? To work on that theory, I planted lemon balm in one of the Smart Pot grow bags and set it next to the tomatoes. I want to keep it contained since it is so invasive. Let's hope it attracts more ladybugs directly where they are needed. If it works, I'll consider keeping it in grow bags over winter so that it's ready in early spring.
As earlier reported, one of the leafy greens in the delicious Mesclun Mix I planted in spring has already bolted. It turns out it was the arugula, which is prone to early bolting. I found out that you can, in fact, eat it, as well as the flowers, even after it has bolted. My plan was to let it go to seed then harvest it for next year, but the flower stalks are so tall and floppy that they were covering the rest of the bed. Rather than wait for seeds, I went ahead and pulled it out, along with the other leafy greens. The romaine lettuce was turning bitter and showing signs of bolting. With the weather heating up, we enjoyed one last harvest and yanked the rest. I will definitely replant in the fall.
In the meantime, the celery I had interplanted with the lettuce as now free to grow, along with basil I transplanted from the grow bag. I'm going to miss the fresh lettuce harvest and look forward to planting again in late summer when the weather starts to cool.
That Wasn't Ginger
Bummer. What I thought was ginger turned out to be a weed. Two of the three ginger roots I planted had green shoots growing that looked like a ginger plant. I dug out the third and saw it had rotted underground. All that remained was the outer skin. Sadly, the remaining two had rotted as well. I didn't water them, but they might have rotted from the heavy spring rain. I will try again another time.
A New Way to Start Basil Seedlings
I'm so impressed with how well basil grows in the Smart Pot grow bags. I planted four varieties of basil seeds in a pot in early May, and they all sprouted nice and healthy. Unlike planting directly in the ground, the grow bag prevents mulch and dirt from blowing onto the seeds and smothering them. They also seemed to emerge much faster than when I started seeds indoors over the winter. The seedlings in the grow bag are so densely planted that I will have to start separating them. Which got me thinking, why not start basil seeds indoors in a grow bag next winter instead of using the seed starting kit? It's worth a try.
Pollinators and Thieves
With summer flowers starting to bloom, more pollinators are arriving in my garden. Bees and butterflies are visiting the salvia, strawberries, milkweed, bee balm and foxglove. Along with the critter givers, there are critter takers. The catbirds have discovered my blueberry patch and sneak all the berries that are nearly ripe. I don't have the heart to cover the bushes with a bird netting yet. After all, I spend a lot of money buying bird seed. But if they get too greedy, I will block them from the harvest.
Weeds or Seeds?
My part-shade lettuce bed is somewhat of a disaster. I planted numerous types of leafy greens by seed in a space I had cleared out in the spring. It is also the bed where the crazy wild lemon balm grows. The problem is that there were so many weed seeds underground when I planted that I can't tell the difference between the weeds and my greens. To add to the confusion, lemon balm is springing up everywhere, beyond its original space. Most of the leafy greens are growing, but weakly. It appears they don't like that much shade. I'll do my best to pull out what I know are weeds, but this fall, I'm going to dig up everything and add a thick layer of mulch on top to smother out the weed seeds. I plan to move the lemon balm to a more confined space, too. By next spring, I'll know that everything that pops up is a weed, and hopefully have a fresh planting bed by late spring.
Broccoli Attacked, But…
I must confess - I HATE BROCCOLI! I can't stand the smell of it cooked or the taste. My husband loves it, so I planted it by seed for him in spring. It's been growing steadily, but is under serious attack from bugs. It looks like it's being torn to shreds. But since I can't stand it, I have put no effort into trying to save it. Is that wrong?
I've seen explosive growth with my kitchen garden. Some of the tomato plants have already reached the tops of their cages, and some have already set fruit. Little green tomatoes of different shapes and sizes are popping up all over. I continue to struggle with aphids and have settled on removing them with a strong spray of water for now. Hopefully, more beneficial insects will arrive and wipe them out for good.
The hot peppers in the main veggie bed are thick and bushy, though there are a few stragglers. The purchased dragon peppers are already setting fruit. The rest are flowering or growing thicker leaves. When I planted them, I thought they were too far apart, but now that they've filled out, they might be too close together!
The pole beans are continuing to climb the trellis and the bush beans are full and green.
Potatoes are growing thick and bushy.
All four carrot succession plantings are growing successfully. Onion shoots are getting bulky. Cucumbers are flowering and growing up the trellis and fence. June-bearing strawberries are finished, but the plants continue sending out shoots. The beds will be completely full before long.
Herbs are a work in progress. The cilantro I started indoors from seed has begun to bolt, and the ones started from seed outdoors aren't far behind. I can't seem to use it fast enough. I've pulled several plants out and will replace them with more seed. I have basil growing every place that is sunny. It's in the herb bed, vegetable bed and flower bed, in the ground, in grow bags and in terracotta pots. I've lost track of how many varieties I planted, but I was pretty consistent with labeling. Even the two I thought had been killed by the May frost have come back to life. The weak little stem I propagated from grocery store basil is growing stronger every day. I've already started harvesting basil leaves here and there for cooking, but there aren't enough for pesto sauce just yet. The thyme, oregano, dill, sage, stevia and borage are all growing nicely. Rosemary has a different time clock altogether.
My flower garden is on a slow pace except for the plants I purchased from the garden store. Those started from seeds outdoors continue to be mixed. The cosmos, zinnias, cornflower, sweet alyssum, candytuft, nasturtium, shasta daisies, lavender, asters and sunflowers continue to grow, and some have begun to flower. The second planting of amaranth seems to have taken. I've all but given up on the columbine, impatiens, delphiniums, milkweed, coleus, petunias and lobelia. I still have limited hope for the poppies, lupine, and snapdragons.
Garden store purchases from this year are doing well. Bee balm is doing as advertised - attracting bees. Thunbergia and cardinal vine flowers are climbing their trellises. I love the contrast of the black and blue salvia against the red mandevilla.
My old daylilies, coneflower, hydrangeas and milkweed are thriving.
Work and planning have begun to transform my shady backyard into a private garden paradise.
All in all, it has been a wildly successful month so far.