Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Heat Is On

   We are seeing unusually high temperatures for daily highs for the past straight week -- all triple digits!  Still,  we are not getting much relief in terms of precipitation.  Our total precipitation up to this point is less than 1/3 of average same time of the year according to the weatherman. So, it's been dry.  Luckily, around my house, it has been dry like this since late spring that not very many weed seeds managed to germinate and grow.  Weed abatement has been easier than previous few years.  

   We are, unfortunately, having multiple wildfires going at different areas of the state, with the biggest one still raging in Colorado Springs.  Looking at the weather forecast for the state, I don't see them getting much help from Mother Nature...

   Anyhow, my corn has started to bloom as you can see in the photo above.  This is the first crop of corn that is supposed to get ready in the early part of July, so I guess it's right on track.  The tallest plant measures about 4 1/2 feet now.  I was having a hard time keeping them watered for a while, but trickle watering works quite well even with just a single regular hose in a box.  So I've managed for the past several days without having them curl their leaves up.

   The marigold I planted into the spring veggies box on April 8th has finally bloomed. ^^  There were two pots on the front porch with marigold which was also started from seeds, but they seem to get a little more sun and been blooming for a week already.  The difference in the micro-climates around the house is surprising sometimes.

   The Yellow Pear heirloom tomato with the pear-shaped little babies.  This plant turned out to be the most vigorous of the three tomatoes in my SFG box.  It needs staking badly.  It's leaning onto the Brandywine for support at the moment.

   The Brandywine tomato twins. ^ ^  I've been keeping track of these guys for a while and they are growing nicely.  Still a long way before I can have a tomato sandwich (This is the only time I crave white bread ... to make tomato sandwich with just white bread, tomato slices, and mayo. LOL ).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Corn Box Day 61

   The Corn Box on Day 61.  The tallest measured 48 inches/ 4 feet tall.  I'm starting to see the fronds of corn 'flower' at the top of some plants.  Daily high has been record-breaking lately with triple digits on consecutive days and the leaves show signs of heat stress.  Today is a bit overcast, so they get a bit of a break from the harsh western Colorado sun.

   The view of the four SFG boxes in our backyard.  I was giving the plants something extra in the form of the kelp solution this morning.  You can see one of our adopted cats, Loki, sitting between the spring SFG box and the corn box.  The kitties love hanging around the boxes.  Luckily, most squares have filled out enough to discourage them from going in too much.  The one bare square in the middle of the spring veggies SFG box where I pulled the bolting spinach is still being targeted, though.    The peas, amazingly enough, have still not died out, but producing some tiny pods still.

   The summer veggies SFG box is looking nice and lush!  I really like the way this box is looking.  The different shades of green from yellow green to grey green and all the different textures are so beautiful!  The eggplant, broccoli, bell pepper plants are really getting big and looking healthy and so are the string and soy beans.  The basil (There are 3 plants in one spot.) is overflowing its square.  The once-lanky Italian parsley has gotten greener and more compact.  I still have a few empty squares in the picture.  I planted more Swiss chard and soy beans this morning so all squares are being used as of today.  I like leafy greens and I am not quite getting enough from that one square of Swiss chard in the spring veggies box, so I'm hoping that I'll start getting more plants to harvest from in about a month. :D

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Baby Tomatoes

   These Brandywine tomato babies are making a good progress.  Flowers are continuing to bloom and new babies are coming. :D  It's so exciting!!

   And here's a look at the Black Krim tomato babies.  Growing steadily.

   Also in the same Summer Veggies SFG Box is a Japanese eggplant "Ichiban".  The plant has a lot of purple in the stem and veins, and the star-shaped flower is lavender.  I've always thought eggplant to be a rather pretty plant.

   "Red Beauty" bell pepper plant is now starting to have white blossoms.  The plant is getting really dense with leaves.  The Summer Veggies Box is starting to look really filled out.

   And here's a look at the Spring Veggies SFG Box on Day 72.  The soy beans are starting to really take off.  Mesclun lettuce squares are still producing well -- enough for me to have one or two salads every day.  The Sweet Williams are really doing well and blooming profusely.  The marigolds are finally starting to show buds.   They were started right in the box from seeds so it makes me extra happy to see them getting ready to bloom. :D  The peas, despite the yellowing in the hot weather, are still producing.  The tallest pea plant is at 37 inches. You can see the corn box right behind them, and the tomato plants to the left.  I have two of my many cats strolling the garden in this shot.

   The Corn Box on Day 56.  I measured them this morning and it's about 38 to 39 inches at the tallest point. I'm having to step back farther and angle my camera more toward the fence in order to capture the corn plants.  You can see the compost pile (the mound of debris) close to the fence in the upper left.  The corn box may have to be drip irrigated during the middle of the day.  We are now seeing daily high temperatures in the mid to high 90s every day.  I'm starting to see the leaves curl in the heat of the day.  Not to mention, the 6 inches of soil looks 'not enough' for these giant plants. ^^;

Friday, June 15, 2012

Grow Baby Grow

   One of the babies growing on my Brandywine tomato plant.  The whole plant is still only about 18 inches tall with a spread of 26 inches, but I counted 3 baby fruits this morning.  They're all about the same size as the one pictured here.

   Here's the picture of the same exact baby tomato from 3 days ago.  Ahhh, it's growing. :D

   The Corn Box on Day 52.  It's getting hard to see the frame of the box.  The tallest plant measured 35" from the soil level this morning.

   The "cat's eye view", if you will.  I can see why it's so irresistible for them to go in there and lie down for a cool afternoon nap.  People have fun in a corn maze, too.

   The Summer Veggies Box.  Things are really starting to take off now that they're no longer 'seedlings' and the daily high has been consistently in the mid 90s.  I transplanted the flowering kale seedlings to one square and into three pots this morning.  Although they are still tiny, their roots were already reaching the bottom of the starter containers.  I've never grown them in the past and I'm not sure how I'll like them, so I'm just committing one square in this box.  If I like it, I'd like to build a dedicated SFG box for fall/winter flowering plants.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Corn Box Day 49

   Corn Box on Day 49.  The front half of the box was planted April 25th.  Germination occurred about 7 or so days later.  I'm looking at the seed packets information about 'days to maturity', and according to that, it's 66 days.  So the projected date of maturity is around July 6th.

   Right now, the tallest part of this group of corn plants measures about 30 inches from the top of the soil.  They are practically bursting out of the box. ^^

   Strawberries are coming!  The plants have been producing a lot of flowers in the past few weeks and now we are starting to see the fruits on the vine. :D  Exciting!

   The beginning of a tomato fruit!  This is my Brandywine tomato plant.  I found the baby tomato today. :D

   The closeup view.  You can see the dried-up flower still attached to this baby green tomato.  The plant is about 16 inches tall.  The leaves are huge and the plant is about twice wide as it is tall.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 61

   Day 61 already.  It's hard to believe that this box has been growing for over 2 months.  Everything except for the sweet williams in the lower right and the parsley plant in the lower left was started from seeds.  The Swiss chard keeps on producing strong.  I can make a harvest for one serving's worth of leaves for stir-fry one day and two days later, I can make another mini-harvest.  They just keep coming.  The same have been going on in the two Mesclun salad squares.  They have produced so much for me, I have nothing bad to say.  Some of the varieties are starting to try to go to seed (I keep trimming the flower heads.), and their leaves have developed the bitter/hot flavor.  When they were young, these were very mild in flavor (almost lacking in personality, some might say), so now they are starting to taste like their spicier cousins.  They totally wilt in the mid-day sun, but in the morning and after sunset, they're crisp and tasty.  Soy beans are now starting to really grow.  I'd imagine that they will be overflowing their square very soon.  Since my curly leaf parsley is slow to get going after transplant, I added Swiss chard seeds in the four corners of the same square (I'm such a rebel, breaking the rule. XD ).  I figure that I'd be eating the chard as soon as leaves get big enough that there should be plenty of room for the parsley in the middle (Also, the SFG book said I could plant 4 parsley plants in one square, so I was under-utilizing that square.).  The Alaska peas have slowed down the production although I'm always picking them when they are ready.  I think it has been simply too hot for peas.  The snow peas are steadily producing and I have a handful to throw into my sitr-fry or salad every day.

Corn Box on Day 45

     Here's a view of my Summer Veggies Box.  This was the fourth box we set up after the Spring Veggies, Strawberry, and Corn Boxes.  I bought the seedlings of some of the veggies from a few local sources: Red Bell Pepper, "Ichiban" Eggplant, Italian Parsley, Basil, "Brandywine" tomato, "Black Krim" tomato, "Yellow Pear" tomato.   I like "Ichiban" eggplant, because it's the long and skinny eggplant that I grew up in Japan.  Both the texture and taste seem milder and more delicate than the big, round varieties often seen at the grocery stores.  I decided to get one pepper plant because I'll most likely be the only person who'll be enjoying it on a regular basis and I should be able to get both green and red out of this single plant. :D  Both the Italian parsley and Sweet Basil are for spaghetti sauce and lasagna sauce we'll surely be making once the tomatoes start to produce lots of fruits.

   Speaking of tomatoes,  I had been pretty good about cutting the suckers (side shoots) off until I spotted the flower buds.  I got too excited about them and stopped checking for the suckers and today I realized that I had two large stems at the top of each plant.  I had to make a choice and cut one of them to keep the single central stem going.  Previously, I always let the tomato plants do whatever they wanted to do.  Plant them in a cage and let them just go wild.  I always ended up with more fruits than I could use myself or with my family.  This year though, I'm following the "All New Square Foot Gardening" book's suggestion,  the "Single Stem Method".  As the name says, you keep cutting the side shoots/ suckers off to maintain a strong central stem throughout the plant's life.  Since I am using a 4-foot by 4-foot square box here that is planted with plenty of other veggies, it makes sense to follow the Single Stem Method and train the tomato plants on the trellis support (to be built soon).  I will keep track of how they do.

   So far, the Summer Veggies Box has been free of pest (if you exclude cats trying to get in the box that is...) and disease.  Everything is growing nice and strong and I'm very happy about that.  It really is with minimal effort on my part as well. :D  I did notice though that there were cabbage worm butterflies coming to my boxes lately.  It really is amazing how they can spot my tiny broccoli plants out of so many plants and they lay eggs there since broccoli is related to cabbage.  They don't mess with any other plant's leaves.  Nature is really amazing.  I have been scraping the tiny eggs off the underside of the leaves.  Really, these seedlings are too small if they start to get eaten by the cabbage worms!  I still do have wasps patrolling the garden every day.  I know that if there were worms that escape my wrath, they'll be the ones to catch and use as food.  I have seen wasps kill juicy fat caterpillars, chew on the flesh and work it with their legs to turn it into a meatball and fly away to their nest with it.   I have been viewing wasps as good garden predator and pest controller. 

Another view of the Summer Veggies Box.

One of the flower pots on the back porch.  The plants are getting bigger every day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Corn Box Day 43

   Corn is really fun to watch since they grow so quickly.  The last time I took a picture of this box was back on Day 41.  You can see how much  they've grown since.

The same Corn Box on Day 41.
   These plants are still about the same height, but the leaves have grown much more and the whole box looks  much more filled out.  The color of the green is such a healthy shade of green, it's gorgeous. (Healthy plants are beautiful in the way they radiate vitality.)   As I've said before, keeping my cats out has become more of a problem for some reason.  They like to hide in tall grass generally, and they are attracted to the corn plants.  I have big cats squeezing themselves in between the rows of corn to lie down for an afternoon nap. XD

   I've had so much trouble growing corn in the past several seasons (After the first two seasons, the soil seemed to have been depleted of nitrogen and generally gotten so poor in quality and we just couldn't do enough to amend the soil to grow them properly.  Water bill had also become too high to be practical.), so I'm delighted to see them doing so well in the SFG box.  I really am most pleased with the results so far.  At this rate, I'd be a total SFG convert by the end of this growing season.

   The four SFG boxes.  So green (Well, except for the peas that are hating the heat. ^^; )  We're ready to put the hardware cloth on the chicken coop frame, but it really has been too hot for comfort.  Some days are annoyingly windy.  Nothing like extreme weather to ruin your weekend project. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

First Tomato Blossom

   I spotted the first blossom on my "Yellow Pear" tomato plant this morning.  All of my tomato plants have been developing buds, but this one is the first that opened.  It's relatively small because the "Yellow Pear" tomato produces lots of bite-size, pear-shaped fruits.  I'm looking forward to adding them to my salad, but my favorite way of eating tomatoes is just right off the vine, warm from the summer heat.  I love the smell of the tomato plants.  I find it so aromatic and refreshing!

   Here's a picture of my "Brandywine" tomato.  This one is currently the biggest of the three I have, measuring about 12" tall and 24" wide at the widest leaf span.  The central stem is nice and thick and looking rather compact and dense.  When I first got this plant from the local nursery, it was a skinny little thing in a 2 1/4" size pot, measuring maybe 4 inches in height.  So it's grown marvelously so far.  We have had record heat in our area for this early in summer with 96 degrees and 98 degrees for daily high for the last two days. The local TV station's weatherman said the last time we had this kind of heat this early in the season was back in 1972.  So this is my first time experiencing this kind of heat here in western Colorado.  But the tomatoes and corn -- actually most any summer flowers and vegetables -- seem to be really liking it.   My peas are turning yellow in silent protest. ^^;

   I am really impressed with the way the tomatoes are growing in the SFG box.  Traditionally, we've all been  told to plant them deep and water them deep, and that's what I have always done in the past in the in-ground gardens.  I was most concerned (and curious) about how tomatoes will perform in the SFG box, but I have to say that I'm impressed so far.  The soil medium holds moisture well and the plants never showed any signs of transplant shock.  Of course, the leaves got a little burned from the strong outdoor sun, coming from the screened sunlight of the hot house, but the plants grew fast enough to overcome the loss of those leaves remarkably well.

   In the past, I've tried the "remove the lower leaves and plant them deep" method.  I think they did just fine, but I couldn't really tell that much of a difference from when I just planted them the same level with the soil level in the pots they came in.  This time, I tried what Mel Bartholomew recommended in his book "All New Square Foot Gardening": remove the lower leaves and plant them in a slanted trench so most of the plant is under the soil.  Basically, you make a reclining 'bed' for the tomato plant in the soil and bury most of the main stem.  The stem under the soil will grow roots, so you get a bigger root system, which contribute to a stronger, more vigorous plant.  He explained the benefit of the horizontal approach as compared to the vertical version of "bury deep" method.  In the spring planting time, the soil temperature, once past a certain level, is still fairly low.  By planting your tomatoes in a shallow trench, you can take advantage of the warmth of the soil closer to the surface.  Makes sense, doesn't it?

   When you plant your tomatoes in this 'shallow trench' method, you'll initially end up with the top few or several inches of plant poking up above the ground, but practically lying sideways.  It looks kind of 'wrong' at first, maybe even a bit 'pathetic', but all of my tomatoes were upright before dusk on the very day they were planted.  And they grow straight up from there.  They 'know' what's going on and exactly what to do. ^^

   So far, aside from the original compost that comprised the 1/3 of the soil mix, I have only given my SFG boxes the following: sea weed concentrate (diluted), fish tank water, and pond water.  I used to use the powdered concentrate (I believe it was marketed as "Sea Magic" or something similar to it.) that you mix with water, then dilute as you use it.  I can't find the powdered version at my local nursery, so I've switched to the liquid concentrate called "Age Old Kelp".  It provides micro-nutrients and trace minerals that are missing in most commercial chemical fertilizers.  The plants respond so much to this stuff it's become one of my favorite organic fertilizers.  Then there's the fish tank water.  It's the perfect thing to water my house plants with, and great for the SFG boxes as well.  The minor problem with this fabulous organic fertilizer is that the cats love to drink it, and everything I water with becomes irresistible to them for a short while. XD  There is absolutely no risk of burning or over-feeding with the fish tank/pond water.  The nutrients dissolved in the water are in the form that are ready to be used by the plant's system right away, so the results are quickly observable.  I think it's always extra rewarding when your plants are doing well, but when they show a marked, positive response to the little extra care you give them, it's their way of thanking, and it feels SO GOOD! :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Day 57

   Day 57 of the Spring Veggies Box.  The salad squares are still producing a lot of greens to give me salads every day.  The spinach is starting to slow down and started to bolt (trying to flower and set seeds).  The carrots still have ways to go before we can harvest. ^^;  The sweet williams have really started to grow and began shooting up longer stems with more buds.  I'm so glad I mixed in some flowers for color.  Also, there are insects that come to my garden and flowers will help entice them.  I see a fair number of wasps in my garden, but they are not at all interested in us.  They seem to patrol the greens, looking for worms and other insects to capture.  I have seen a few ladybugs here and there, but not many.  The snowpeas have caught up in height to the Alaska peas, but they are not liking the heat by the look of yellowing leaves at the bottom of the plants.  I will start them much earlier in the season next spring.  And I will plant a little more densely than suggested. ^^  I am thinking about a fall crop though, for which I will have to sow them around first or second week of August, I believe.

   My garden fairies are starting to be obscured by the plants.  The bachelors buttons (tied with a string to a railing) are still blooming strong, but starting to turn a little yellowish at the bottom.

   The Corn Box.  Looking very green and vigorous.  I still have issues with my cats trying to get into the box and laying between the rows... XD

   The snow peas in the Spring Veggies Box are producing nicely.  I like to just munch on them as I water the boxes every morning.  It's cool, sweet, and crunchy -- such a delicious combination.

   I have really been enjoying the Swiss chard "Neon Lights" this spring.  As you can see in this picture, the colors are gorgeous on the stemps and veins.  They are mild enough to be used in most anything.  I take outer leaves often and use in soups and stir-fries all the time.

   And last update today is on the Summer Veggies Box.  Everything seems to be enjoying the hot weather.  All three tomatoes actually have flower buds although you can't see them in the picture.  The Italian parsley is looking less leggy now that they are out in the sun and no longer in the hot house.  The four o'clocks seemed to take forever to germinate, but they did come up and slowly growing.  Of course, when they are seedlings, everything grows so slowly.  I am finally seeing bean seedlings show up.  I really don't know what took them so long.  I was expecting them to germinate in 7 to 10 days as the packet said, but it was more like 20 days (Starting to suspect a batch of old seeds in new packets for 2012?  Do seed companies do that?).  In the little black seed starter pack (in the upper left of the box), I have seedlings of flowering kale/cabbage -- pink Kamome, a Japanese hybrid.  I have never grown flowering kale ever, but always enjoyed their rose-like appearance and color late in the season when nothing else seems to be growing.  I purchased a small packet of seeds from a seller on eBay.  They germinated in 5 days.  I will be moving one into a square in the Summer Veggies Box and hoping to get two big pots to put in the front yard.  I'm also thinking about starting another box for late season color -- flowers like kale and chrysanthemum.  We'll see. ^_^