Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Monsoon Moisture

   It's so nice to finally get a break from the heat wave (long streak of 100 degrees or more with no rain).  The brutal heat all but stopped tomatoes from producing fruits and many plants didn't look their best.  So it's a welcome relief to see storm clouds brewing in the sky and hear thunder on a regular basis for the past week or so.  The clouds and rain have kept the temperature hovering in mid 80s to mid 90s during the peak heat of the day, and I am seeing the plants responding to the change in a positive way.

   It's hard to believe that today is Day 114 for my Spring Veggies Box.  I have been picking and eating from this box for quite some time.  I am really glad that I planted the Sweet William and Marigold.  The colors are nice and the butterflies and bees they bring are such a nice addition to the garden.  The Swiss chard has been my favorite to eat after the spinach has finished.  I have since planted more in the spinach square with Swiss chard.  I love their color and versatility in many dishes.  The arugula has been bolting in the heat.  I usually pick and throw the flowers to the compost pile, but here you can see the pale yellow flowers.  They are kind of pretty. ^^  The soy beans are showing flowers, so I'm expecting to be harvesting them soon.

   The Summer Veggies Box is a little bit out of control.  The broccoli, soy beans, eggplant, and four o'clock are all taller than 2 feet and obscuring the boundaries totally.  They really are overflowing.  Looking extremely vigorous.  The ones that really didn't live up to my expectation were the tomato plants.  They started out wonderfully, in June, but then quickly suffered from the 100 degree heat and disease (The unfortunate thing with heirloom tomatoes is their lack of disease resistance.).  I've also noticed in my neighbor's backyard that their tomatoes are producing something like cherry tomato when I know they planted regular size tomatoes.

   My Black Krim tomato has fruits that are starting to change color finally, but the plant itself is also showing signs of some kind of disease.  The Yellow Pear had been stunted for a while during the brutal heat and dryness, but starting to turn around by showing signs of new growth as well as turning the fruits' color into bright yellow.  The Brandywine, which I was so looking forward to, has not done well at all.  The plant has small fruits that are only about 2 inches in diameter and the whole plant is looking yellowish.  The small fruits have turned red, but it's neither the shape nor the color of Brandywine fruits.  It makes me wonder if they were marked wrong at the nursery...  Come to think of it, right next to the group of Brandywine seedlings were some cherry tomato variety.  It would be quite easy for some prankster to switch the tags.  Hmmmm.

   The four o'clocks in the Summer Veggies Box.  Measuring about 2.5 feet tall and about 2 feet spread, totally overflowing its square.  This plant was supposed to have variegated bi-color blooms, but as you can see, the seed produced a solid pink flowers.  Still very pretty and smells wonderful.  Can't complain too much.

   I have three flowering kale plants in pots right next to the Summer Veggies Box.  For some reason, the ones in these pots are growing so much faster than the one that is in the SFG box.  I don't know why.  It's like the Miracle Grow commercial, showing the difference between 'grown with' and 'grown without'.   Here in the picture is one of our kitties, Chaba.

  Already so pretty, and it hasn't even turned colors yet.  That will have to wait till the weather cools off in the fall and early winter. :D  I'm so excited about these guys.

   The Strawberry SFG Box looking phenomenal.  The strawberries seem to really enjoy the break from the heat and dryness.  Ever since we started getting regular afternoon rainstorms, these guys started to look really green with much larger leaves.  I have also given them 2 feedings of the fish tank water.  They continue to produce a lot of white flowers and red berries.  The size is still a little random -- some regular size, some tiny.

   After getting a plant with pink flowers and a plant with white flowers, I was delighted that the third plant to bloom was actually true to the seed variety I purchased!!!  Here's the first of the pink and white variegated Four O'Clock.  No two flowers from this plant are ever alike.  Some have so little pink they are almost white, while others are almost all pink, and there are some that just have such pretty markings.  It's a shame that these blooms are so short-lived!

   Speaking of short-lived, our water lilies only last about 2 days in the sun.  The pond is in a location that is away from the house or trees, so it's completely exposed for much of the day.  They are so gorgeous on the first day.

   Another short-lived flower is the morning glory.  I have them trailing on a fence along the north property line.  The seeds were planted in mid May (rather late) and  it took them until July 28th to produce their first bloom.  I have a mix of different colors along the fence (including the moonflower vine), but this color was the first to appear.  Pale blue with purple and pink star.  We had the rain shower in the early morning, and this photo was taken shortly after.

   Along the sunflower patch in the backyard are more four o'clocks and the sulfur cosmos.  I love this variety of cosmos.  The bright orange, brick red, and yellow colors compliment the sunflower's yellow so well.  They look great as cut flowers, too.   This photo completes my first update in almost 2 weeks.  Our chicken coop is getting close to completion.  I am hoping that I can put a nice series of photos up soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


   Most of our strawberry plants in the strawberry SFG box are ever-bearer Quinault.  Since it is the ever-bearing variety, we get a continual supply of berries and not a bumper crop all in June.  Because we just got this box set up this April, and the plants are still relatively new, the berry production has been sporadic so far and most of the berries have been tiny, though packed in flavor.

   Yesterday, I finally got my cereal bowl filled with fresh berries of different sizes (and shapes).  I am starting to see more of the regular-size strawberries on the vine, and the color was uniformly spectacular as you can see in the photo.  Gorgeous, glistening red berries -- and they smell wonderful!  I had them with fresh plain yogurt for breakfast.  I'm thinking about getting some condensed milk to dip in.  That's yummy, too.

   A mushroom appeared overnight in the same strawberry box. XD  We've seen tiny mushrooms appear time to time, but never anything quite this big.  The top measured 2 inches across yesterday.  I thought it would die in the hot sun yesterday, but lo and behold!  It's still here this morning and it's grown to 3 inches across!

   Getting an unexpected "guest" in the garden is a surprisingly delightful aspect of gardening, along with volunteer plants and seeds not turning out true to package information. ^^;  The adventure in gardening, I guess.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

First Blooms

   After having a few straight weeks of triple-digit daily highs with no rain, we finally started getting some monsoon moisture coming our way in the last few days.  The tallest sunflower in my patch (pictured here on the right) measured 53 inches this morning and during sometime in the afternoon it bloomed and endured a pretty strong rainstorm.  The ground got so wet and the wind must have been blowing strong enough that three of my tallest sunflowers were almost horizontal to the ground.  I propped them up for the photo today. The one on the left was a volunteer plant from seeds scattered from a crop I grew years ago.  The soil in this patch was getting regular moisture, so I've got a lot of volunteer plants.  They usually show much smaller 'seed head' compared to the purpose-grown freshly-harvested seeds for the season.

   When I saw these buds this morning on the Four O'Clock plants in the summer veggies SFG box, I was so excited.  These were supposed to be a multi-color, variegated strain that would have yellow and pink stripes or white and pink stripes, according to the seed packets the seeds came in.  When I was browsing the Burpee Co. web site and looked up this item, I did notice multiple customer feedback stating they got nothing but solid yellows -- no stripes.  I was a bit concerned...

   It was around 7:30 pm that I noticed some bright color in the middle of greens, so I checked it out and saw a solid pink flower. T_T  *sad*  Oh, Burpee, you failed me big time.  I guess I'll have to add my own customer feedback of the disappointed kind on their site.  I have these plants planted in different locations throughout the backyard.

   Among the sunflowers, I have about 6 of them planted also, and the first to bloom today showed a solid white flower... *fail again* T_T  It's still pretty and they smell nice, so that's their saving grace, but I can't say that I'm not disappointed.

   After a couple of disappointment though, here's a healthy flowering kale plant.  I had 6 seeds that I planted in May.  Of the 6, 4 of them successfully transplanted, and they are now at different sizes for some reason.  I used the same compost and peat moss medium for pots and the one in the SFG box is in Mel's Mix.  The one in the SFG box is lugging behind the potted ones.  The one pictured here is growing the fastest.  The raindrops look so pretty on the leaves!! ^^

Monday, July 9, 2012

Corn, Eggplant, Strawberry, and More

   The first crop of corn's ears are maturing.  Here's a picture from today.  This ear is measuring about 8 inches long.  I have the second crop starting to flower and attracting honey bees once again.

   The Summer Veggies SFG Box is starting to look like it's being overtaken by the giant broccoli.   Also growing rather tall is the eggplant.

   The eggplant has started producing beautiful fruits.  This is the Asian-type eggplant "Ichiban", which is my favorite with slender cylindrical fruits and mild flavor.  Reminds me of the eggplant I grew up with in Japan.  In summer, we ate eggplant in one dish or another every day.

   Close to the Summer Veggies Box, I have three pots of flowering kale plants I started in mid May from seeds I bought on eBay.  These are called Pink Kamome hybrid.  Once mature, the center leaves will be pretty pink color and look like a giant rose (at least, in the pictures I have seen).  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  For some reason, the one I transplanted into the SFG box (in the Summer Veggies Box) is way slower in growth.  Maybe the potted plants get more sun and also the soil warms up more?

   The Strawberries SFG Box has been steadily (although not in large amount) producing.  Not too bad for the first year I suppose.  I remember growing strawberries years ago in Japan and they really took off the second year.  We had berries going bad right on the vine.  They produced so much and a family of four couldn't keep up the consumption.

   My tallest sunflower at the moment is at 3.5 feet this morning.  I have many different varieties planted in a strip in the backyard.  This one pictured here is not the tallest variety, so I guess it can be expected that it's already forming buds at this height.  They only started to take off, growing couple of inches every day, in the last week or so, after I started drip irrigation in the area since the daily high has been consistently in triple digits and things were drying out so fast.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Trial and Error

   As I've mentioned before, this is the first year we are trying the SFG method of gardening, and I am encountering new situations that got me puzzled.  Of the three tomato plants, the Black Krim was lagging behind, and yet, lately, it is the only one that is growing normally.  The other two tomato plants (Yellow Pear and Brandywine) have slowed down growing (I might even say stunted.), and looking somewhat paler than the Black Krim, and the lower leaves are beginning to yellow a little bit.  In my past experience, these symptoms indicate one of the two things: overwatering and subsequent root rot or nitrogen deficiency.  The two tomato plants that have slowed down the growth pace are the ones that were going crazy and really vigorous before the really hot weather (daily high consistently being in the 100s).

  Since some of the other plants showed signs of dryness (broccoli and bell pepper plants wilting), I was guessing they needed more water, but when I stick my index finger down the soil near the tomato plants, the soil is moist and just fine.  And since they are in a raised bed, I doubt that over-watering can be an issue.  Which leads me to the next possibility on the list, nitrogen deficiency.  It has been really hot and the plants have been growing so fast, it's not entirely unlikely that the soil might be low in available nitrogen.  I don't really want to use Miracle-Gro, but the compost I have in the backyard is not quite ready.  I guess I have the fish tank water that I can water the tomatoes with and it should have a bit of nitrate, ready for the plants to use right away.  At any rate, I'm going to have to somehow find the remedy for the situation.

   Here's a picture of the "Ichiban" eggplant growing in the same SFG box as the tomatoes.  It's looking really vigorous and starting to produce a lot of blooms.  I have a small fruit growing close to the ground level (not visible in this picture) that's about 4 inches.  The very first fruit of the season was snapped in half by one of my cats the other day and I never got to eat it. T_T

   The marigolds that were direct seeded into the SFG spring veggies box are blooming nicely.  Most of the plants turned out to be the bi-color variety with red on the top side and orange on the under side.  The red gradually fades to orange as the flower matures.

   The sunflowers in the back yard (directly in the ground) were getting stunted until I started drip irrigation.  Now the tall ones are growing a few inches a day.  This large one in the picture is now measuring 38 inches tall.  Just last week, it was only about 18 inches.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Honey Bees on Corn

   Here's the picture of the first crop of corn in my SFG box.  The tallest in this planting is now about 5 feet tall and they are all blooming.  Every time a breeze comes, dust of pollen falls from the fronds.  This morning, I've noticed honey bees busily buzzing away collecting pollen on their legs.

   At one point, I saw 5 to 6 bees per corn plant, which was pretty awesome, considering that I have been seeing fewer and fewer of them in recent years.  I think many colonies were wiped out when the city did the aerial spraying of mosquito insecticide to control the spread of West Nile virus during one year (2004) where public panic over the disease got a little out of control and the city government chose one unwise path to address the issue.  Organic farmers in the surrounding farming community also suffered a huge loss because things could no longer be certified as such.   Hummingbirds and quails also saw a drastic decrease in numbers.  Imagine my delight when I was able to stand and watch them work and listen to the pleasant hum.  It's just a simple view of bees working on corn flowers, but somehow it felt quite life affirming, saying that there are still many good things on this Earth.