Gardening Catch Up

Wow it’s been busy here. Well, at least when it hasn’t been raining, which it seems to have been doing almost the entire month of May. I’d say we’ve had maybe 5 nice days out of the last 30. The rest of the time it’s either been raining, or cold with temperatures never getting much above 55 degrees, or both at the same time. The farms around here are running weeks behind with planting. Well, so is most of the midwest. This time of year we should have just about all of the corn crop planted. Instead we have about 45% of the crop in the ground because the fields around here look like this:

We’re at the point now where if farmers can’t get the corn in the ground in the next few days they might as well not bother at all. Every day’s delay means a significant reduction in yield, and it isn’t going to be long before even the faster growing varieties won’t reach maturity before we get frost in the fall.

The commodities markets were so distracted by the trade wars going on that they didn’t notice the weather problems we’ve had, but they sure have now. Corn prices have shot up over $1 per bushel in the last week and a half, and are now sitting around $4.30 on the Chicago market.

But I wanted to talk about gardening, not farming, so let’s drop that and get on with this.

It was a hard winter here, which was easy to tell from looking at our yard, especially behind the house. The decorative plantings got especially hard hit, and the decorative area back there was an absolute mess.

The bark mulch had disappeared, for the most part, probably floating off in the heavy rains, the rest was discolored and deteriorating badly, parts of the area had sunk in where the old koi pond had been, the irises were drowning, it was pretty bad back there. So we decided the whole thing had to be redone. So we started digging up the old plants, moving rocks, putting in something like 250 retaining wall blocks, and about a week of work, and this is what we ended up with.

Still a lot of work to do but we’re getting there. You can see the raised vegetable beds off to the right.

We still have a lot of work to do to finish it off obviously. Some of the block have to be straightened up, some things moved around, but we’re relatively pleased with the result. One problem is that boulder sitting there. I moved that sucker there when I still had the tractor because it seemed like a good idea at the time and since the tractor got sold, well that’s where it’s going to stay, so we’re stuck with it and have to work around it.

It’s still pretty messy back there and we have a lot to do. We’re debating whether or not we want to put capstones along the top of the retaining walls. We have probably several more yards of dirt to haul in to fill the planting bed, a lot of crushed rock for the area around and behind the boulder, lots of plants to transplant into there and buy, and probably a truckload or two of mulch.

The old stone wall containing the garden at the back of the garage isn’t in good shape either any more. You can see what’s left of it here at the back of the garage. It’s just barely hanging on and needs to be replaced. But we’re pretty sick of putting in retaining walls at the moment so we’ll let this go another year and worry about it next spring. Despite the cold, wet weather you can see the raspberries are doing pretty good back there.

The 55 gallon drum you see in the background behind the lilac at the corner of the garage is our rain recovery system. There’s a piping system attached to the rain gutters that diverts water into the barrel that we use for watering plants in the dry season. Works pretty well. That’s generally enough to handle all of potted plants around the house. Not enough to deal with the vegetable gardens as well, but it helps a lot in keeping the water bill down during the summer.

We’ve cut back on the vegetable plantings this year. We had ridiculous amounts of tomatoes last year so we cut way back on that. Lots of pepper plants, though. We seem to go through a lot of those. But tomatoes? We still have quarts and quarts of canned tomatoes on the shelves from last year, although we did run out of soup and spaghetti sauce.

That opened up space in the raised beds so we put in a variety of onions this year to see how that works. I love being able to just go out in the backyard and dig up fresh onions when I need them during the summer. But the area where we were planting onions until now didn’t work very well because it was getting shaded out by the trees. The onions would start out well but would never grow very big because of the lack of light.

But then I have this going on right now —

She’s been sitting there staring at me for the last half hour waiting for her breakfast so I suppose I better feed the little goof.

Indoor Tulips & Assorted Stuff

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MrsGF has been just as sick of looking outside at the brown wasteland that is March here in Wisconsin as I have, so she shoved some old bulbs into pots and put them in a sunny window a few weeks ago and this is what we have now. Great fun to see tulips starting to pop open again.

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That’s not to say that there aren’t things growing already. She was outside looking things over yesterday and discovered that the chives are already six inches tall over in their protected corner. They’re always the first things to spring up and they’ve been ridiculously prolific. We put those in shortly after we bought the house so they’ve been going strong for almost 20 years now.

The big question now is sod, as in how are we going to get rid of it. There is a pretty big section of lawn we want to rip out to expand one of the gardens here, and getting rid of

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This was the little Massey. Fun, useful little tractor but keeping it in town was a bit ridiculous

the sod is always a pain in the neck. I sold my tractor a couple of years ago. After selling the farm we kept the little Massey for a while, but keeping it was a bit silly. It was mostly in storage over at the farm of a friend about 8 miles from here and there it sat until we needed it perhaps for one afternoon a year. So keeping it and its trailer was ridiculous. So it looks like I’ll resort to the good old fashioned dig it up with a shovel method as soon as the frost is completely out of the ground.

MrsGF and I were sorting through seeds and tentatively making plans earlier this morning. We were thrilled when Eldest Son gave us literally a whole shopping bag of seed packets for Christmas, but we have to be realistic. We can’t grow all of it as much as we’d like to. And there are quite a few that we don’t really like or couldn’t use. Neither of us like melon all that much, and it takes up a lot of space, so those got set aside. Same with eggplant. Don’t get me wrong, eggplant is a perfectly delightful vegetable. But that one summer our eggplant was so ridiculously prolific that we got so sick of eating eggplant that we can’t really stand looking at them any more.

We brought up the little portable greenhouse rack we use to start seed and MrsGF is in the process of starting trays of seeds even as I write this.


Amateur Radio Stuff

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the FT8 mode over the last couple of months. Even with my seriously bad antenna system I’ve had a couple of hundred contacts and have managed to hit something like 35 different countries, including some really long distance contacts with Hawaii, Alaska, Japan and Tasmania.

I’ve even started playing with PSK again and have made a few contacts with that mode as well. Unlike FT8 you can actually chat with people using PSK. Unfortunately it seems most PSK users have jumped ship for FT8 and seeing a PSK signal on the bands has been a rather rare thing. Even more annoying is that the powers that be decided that on 17 meters the frequency recommendation for FT8 mode is the same one as the PSK allocation, so PSK on 17 meters is a lost cause because the frequency is swamped with FT8.

antennaI’m hoping to get this puppy up in the air this spring. It’s already mostly assembled out in the back yard and we have all the hardware for mounting, including the tilt-over base. It’s a GAP Titan multi-band vertical antenna that should help to give me a significant boost over the OCFD I currently have hanging out there now. This one is going to replace the Comet 250 vertical I have and which is… Well, let’s face it, the Comet isn’t that good of an antenna. It can only handle about 240 watts and to be perfectly frank I’m amazed the thing works at all.

I also have a 40 foot antenna tower laying out in the backyard that will hopefully get set up sometime this summer. Of course I said that last summer, too. And the summer before that…

 

It’s Gardening Time! Sort Of

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 7.02.24 AMOkay, so it’s the middle of January and it’s 12 degrees out so it isn’t really time to go out gardening, but this time of year I start to get that ache that every gardener gets in the middle of winter, that need to go grub around in the dirt and mess around with plants. The handful of house plants we have is better than nothing, but it just isn’t the same.

But this is, believe it or not, a good time of year to start the garden season. It’s never too DSCF1860early to start planning, making lists of things that need to be done, and beginning to get things you may need when the weather finally does cooperate.

It could be an interesting season here. We’re thinking of adding a new raised bed back in the low part of the backyard by building a stone retaining wall. The iris bed is way too low, the irises need to be dug out and broken up anyway, and that area is so low I’m amazed that anything grows back there anyway. We’re also thinking of adding another bed, this one not raised, on the south side of the house/garage. If we do all of this, and that’s still up in the air at this point, it will be a fairly ambitious project and could be a lot of fun.

We were thinking of doing this anyway, but what really lit a fire under us was that Eldest Son showed up at Christmas with an entire grocery bag full of seed packets. Seriously. He works at the corporate offices of a large discount retailer, and they occasionally run special deals for employees where they can get merchandise that is being dropped, out of season, etc. for literally pennies on the dollar. And they were getting rid of all of their seeds from the previous summer. So he got one or two packets of everything. Literally. He got one or two packets of every single type of seed they sold in their garden centers. We have something like 120+ different varieties of seed to play with this spring.

So Mrs. GF and I are looking forward to  having a lot of fun this spring, needless to say. Oh, there’s going to be a lot we aren’t going to be able to use. At least not right away. And probably we’ll never use quite a bit of it, but we’re going to have a lot of fun figuring out what we want to plant because no matter what we want to put in this coming spring, we probably have it already.

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Changes. Enjoy the Flowers While We Can

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting noticeably shorter, temperatures are getting cooler. The leaves on the trees are beginning to change color. I’ve said before that I like winter, I love the fall. But I’m rather reluctant to let go of summer and embrace the change of season this year.

IMG_0678We still have brilliant flowers growing outside, but knowing that it’s only a matter of a few weeks before they begin to fade is kind of sad.

And the weather, at least this week, doesn’t have much of an autumnal flavor. After days of daytime temps not much more than the mid-fifties and night time temperatures down in the forties, it hasn’t been exactly summery out.

But yesterday it hit the high seventies, and for the next few days the highs are supposed to be in the low 80s. So we’re going to enjoy it while we can.

IMG_0679The gardens here are doing reasonably well for this time of year. Still lots and lots of flowers, the squash are amazing. This is the first year we grew squash and it’s been more successful than we could have hoped. It looks like we’re going to have a couple of dozen acorn and butternut squash from those few plants.

Alas, the same can’t be said for the tomatoes and peppers that were in the raised beds. Last year the raised beds were amazing. This year… The tomatoes; we know what happened with them. They picked up a fungus because of the wet weather we had all spring and well into summer. And we planted them too close together so there was poor air circulation. That combined to take out the tomatoes early this year. We got enough to make some soup and sauce, but less than a third of the production we should have had.

IMG_0680Not sure what happened with the peppers. I suspect some kind of insect damage plus the wet weather was too much for them. The sweet bells in that bed didn’t even flower. The banana peppers and hot peppers did have some yield, but not as much as they should have had. The peppers we planted in other locations did just fine.

Something in the soil? Don’t know. I may end up digging out all of the soil in both of the raised beds and replacing it this fall just to see what happens. They’re only 8X4 so it wouldn’t be a huge operation to do it. We’ll see.

This week I’ll probably get started doing the usual fall cleanup, starting with the tomatoes and the peppers that haven’t been producing. No point in keeping either of those. The tomatoes, well, they’re all pretty much dead anyway, and it’s pretty obvious that except for the banana peppers we aren’t going to get anything from the IMG_0681others, so there’s no point in leaving them there and we might as well haul them down to the compost pile.

One thing I’ve noticed all season long is a lack of bees. Until recently, I hadn’t seen a single honey bee around. A few bumble bees, but that’s it. That’s probably why the pear tree hasn’t produced the way it usually does. When it was in flower there were almost no bees at all around here. Probably also why the cucumber production has been so poor. The plants are doing well and flowering beautifully, but very little fruit.

One good sign is that yesterday the sedum were loaded with honey bees. Dozens of them were zooming down on the sedum flowers. A bit late, but still nice to see.

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Queen Ann Lace and More Stuff

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Queen Ann’s Lace (Wild Carrot)

Queen Ann’s Lace grows along the roadsides, along lanes and trails, and while a lot of people treat it like a weed I’ve always thought the flowers are absolutely beautiful. We had it growing on the farm when I was a kid. It would pop up along the lanes, on sunny, sandy hillsides in the woods. It was very common. Still is.

It’s actually a wild carrot. Supposedly the roots are edible, at least when young, and taste like, well, carrot. Apparently some people claim they eat the leaves and flowers, and other people claim it’s poisonous and will kill you. I certainly am not going to volunteer to try it and find out which is true.

My mother loved them too. She’d collect them during the summer, tie up bunches of them and hang them in the garage to dry the flowers. She also told me that some people apparently made tea out of the stuff. According to the stories she’d heard as a kid the local Native Americans made an herbal medicine out of it by steeping parts of the plant in water. Years later I learned that apparently the stories were more or less right, although not in the way she thought. A local historian told me that it was used as an abortifacient and contraceptive.

Then along one of the bike trails this stuff is popping up:

It’s a striking plant, can get very tall, and the flower head is spectacular when it’s in full bloom. This stuff used to grow along the trails and fence lines on the farm too. My father called it “Indian tobacco” or wild tobacco.

It’s actually the common mullein, and isn’t native to North America. It’s fairly common. It isn’t a nasty plant, but it can harbor some nasties, like cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew, so you probably don’t want it growing in your garden.

And it seems my father wasn’t really wrong because while it is not tobacco, the Native Americans apparently did smoke it as a treatment for breathing problems. it’s also been used in a wide variety of other allegedly medicinal preparations.

It’s interesting how I seem to have come full circle. As a kid, seven, eight years old, I’d spend hours wandering around the more wild areas of the farm, watching the animals and insects that congregated around the stream, walking through the woods examining the plants and wildlife with intense curiosity, and now that I’m retired I find myself doing the same thing and enjoying it just as much as I did when I was a kid.

More Spring

The cactus we rescued from the town compost pile was immediately named Mr. Spiny, IMG_0156and much to our surprise he seemed to actually like being out doors and in the corner garden. He doesn’t look too good at the moment after this winter, but MrsGF tells me he’s going to be just find once the weather starts to warm up. I hope so. I’ve become rather fond of the thing.

Then there is this thing, which I do not like. It’s a pretty bush, I’ll admit that. But dear lord it’s nasty. It has some of the worst thorns I’ve ever had to deal with. They’re so sharp they go right through even my heavy leather welding gloves. I’d like to get rid of them but MrsGF likes ’em for some reason, and they’re on the north side of the house IMG_0159where it’s hard to get anything to grow anyway, so it looks like I’m going to be stuck with the damned things for another year.

I never have to worry about these guys. They just keep going, and going, and going…

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I don’t know what they actually live on. There’s no soil here, just rock.

I got myself seriously chastised the other day because I’ve had this dopey thing for about 4 years and in that time have only 3,200 miles on it.

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Odd, really. I put something like 13,000 miles on my BMW the first season I owned it. But as soon as I picked up the Goldwing, which is far more comfortable to drive than the BMW was, I seem to have lost interest in motorcycling. Strange.

Enough. It’s supposed to start raining this afternoon and I have a lot to get done yet today!