Turn your back, and the zucchini have shot up another foot

zucchini flower croppedOK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure feels like it, especially after all the rain we got last night. We even have our first flowers!

We are experimenting this year with growing the plants upright by containing each in a large tomato cage instead of using a “fence” to keep them from sprawling all over the raised bed. It seems like only a week ago they were still pretty tiny. Now the leaves have topped the second of four rings. I try to push the leaves back into the cage before they get too big. So far it’s working.

The idea is that by growing the plants up, it will be easier to see the actual zucchini before they become the size of a baseball bat. I have another incentive to harvest them small — apparently it encourages more flowering.

This is how big one plant looks on the last day of spring. The top leaves are ginormous!

zucchini in cage

The other advantage is that it can be easier to spot the squash vine borers that attack the stem and kill the plant. That’s been our problem in the last few years, of course just as the glut gets going. This video is inspiring me to start checking, to find out what I need to use for dusting — and to start fertilizing since the plants are heavy feeders. Good thing I have some TerraCycle worm poop fertilizer, made in down the road in Trenton. I worked a little bit into the soil, ready for the next rain, which might come Friday.

Keeping leaves off the ground helps fight against bugs. This video says I also need to scatter Sevin Dust carefully around the base. But it does seem like nasty stuff and kills beneficial insects like bees, which we don’t want to do. So I’m googling away for other ideas. This video suggests just spraying dishwater detergent dissolved in water could do the trick too, at least with aphids, and can work on cucumbers. Sounds like that requires some persistence. Maybe we will use some of the aphid-fighting Neem we already have.

Want to weigh in?

We are using the cages the same way we would use them for tomato plants, so the narrowest part is at the bottom and the prongs are in the soil. If we wanted to test it the other way, well, it’s too late. Plus we’d have needed some kind of clip to keep the cage from toppling over in the wind. We have no idea how heavy the plant will be and whether an upside-down cage could support them or would tip over. That first video says we should have bamboo stakes too. One more thing to do…

 

The newest immigrants in our garden come from Mississippi and Maine

tomato plants from MississippiOnce again, we have used our travels to help stock the vegetable garden.

Four of our 15 (!) tomato plants (and it’s NOT my fault this time) are Brandywines we picked up at a farmers market in Jackson, Miss., in March. Four for $1.50 and the potential to get a jump on the tomato season was just too irresistible. (And for the record, you can take plants on an airplane as carry-on. I have done it several times.) I had expected one of the Brit’s colleagues would have wanted one or two in a trade, but nope. All the better for us.

It’s been a rainy and generally cool May and June, and the plants aren’t the tallest tomato plants we have. (That would be one of the sungolds we grew from seed.) But all four have yellow flowers, compared to just three of the others.

And when we were visiting friends in Maine last weekend, we stopped at a garden center that we had mail-ordered from many, many years ago. The prices were great then and still are attractive. Best of all, we found three varieties of leeks at 16 cents a tiny plug. Not that there was only one leek in each plug! So we have bigger, more established plants than the ones I had bought in Indiana last March that were perhaps as thin as a strand of angel hair pasta and which didn’t fare that well. (OK, I could have watered those more.)

leek seedlings from maineWe bought 18 plugs (six of each variety), so less than $3 before tax; we have more than twice that many plants. There’s the Megaton, which it seems should be harvested in the fall, rather than left to cope with snow; the Gervaria, which a seed company describes as a mid-season harvest; and the Lexton, which that same company describes as very frost-hardy. It will be an interesting experiment and taste test.

We also picked up a robust Canada Red rhubarb plant that looks like it could be three. I decided not to stress it by trying to divide it.

This is to make up for a frustrating experience with a national mail-order company. We ordered eight bare-root plants at the end of March; the lone Canada Red bare root in our order is now out of stock, as is our order of purple potato seedlings, and we’ve been told we won’t get them and had that portion of our order refunded. We’re still waiting on the Glaskin’s Purpetual (two sets of three bareroots — but worryingly, the website lists them as now out of stock, though our order is still listed) and the Crimson Red jumbo bareroot. The shipping date has been pushed back time after time, and I’ve been oh so tempted to cancel the whole thing. We will never use them again.

Our Maine friends also gave us some flowers that they are constantly dividing and moving. If they can survive the deer and the rabbits (and one has already been attacked by something), I’m going to let them fight it out with the Black-Eyed Susans. And I’ll post some photos.

Repotting Mr. Ficus

ficus repottedWe own a ficus tree that’s a hand-me-down from a neighbor. She bought it in grad school and when she unloaded it on us a few years after we moved in, it was outgrowing its ceramic pot. I bought a much larger one, also ceramic. The one drawback was its weight (I admit I could barely lift it empty — these were the days before resin pots were everywhere). The plant thrived in the extra space, though, and we developed a routine for getting it out on the deck in May and back inside in October. We even got the point where it didn’t lose most of its leaves over the winter.

But it was getting cramped again. The roots were taking up so much space that you were never sure how much water got below the soil line. So time to repot.

This time I got a resin pot. That was the easy part. Getting a tree that’s taller than me out of the old pot was a bigger challenge. We took a knife around the edge of the pot, but that didn’t do much. So we rolled the pot down some planks onto the grass and started loosening up the soil on top. Tugging at the plant still didn’t do much. We rocked and shook the pot. Some movement. More loosening. More rocking, using the slope of our backyard and gravity to help us. Finally it came out!

What a rootball!

ficus rootballThen I followed the directions of a video and gave the rootball a haircut — down the sides and along the bottom. That should help it spread out. (The trowel gives you a sense of the haircut — it is shorter than the pot the plant had been in.)

ficus after haircutThen we put it in the new pot. OK, we used garden soil (infused with Miracle Grow) instead of potting soil, and we didn’t have any vermiculite or perlite handy to loosen it up. So maybe it is heavier than it needs to be. But as long as the ficus tree is happy….

I just don’t want it to shoot up so much that it is scraping the ceiling this winter.

 

Peonies and more in time for Memorial Day

Here’s some of what’s blooming in the yard right now. The peonies and the allium bulgaricum have never looked this good, and I love the weigela (red prince) we bought last year. It has certainly doubled in size, and those deep red flowers are visible from the kitchen window.

peonies white

peonies plenty of white

peonies pink

peonies fuscia and other plantsYes, there’s still plenty of purple, which is normal for us in May. Siberian iris, amsonia, Nepeta Walker’s Low, even more large allium balls than w’ve had in a long time… And these allium bells add some fun to the mix.

bulgaricum

Love this!

weigela blooms

Here’s a debate: Should I move some of the yellow swamp iris (not that I have a wet area in my yard) to mix in with the purple Siberian irises (nice color combination), or is it invasive and I should be ripping it out instead?

First daffodils of 2017: March 1

daffodil-march-1-2017So they didn’t start blooming in February, despite unseasonably warm days.

But I spotted on with my headlights on March 1, plus another already in bloom early on the 2nd that I am crediting to the 1st. So it looks like a new first bloom date for me, just barely. (The previous earliest date my records show is March 2, but usually it’s the second half of March.)

daffodil-2-march-2-2017

Then there’s this one that looks like it is just about unfurled and will bloom properly today.

daffodil3-march-2-2017

Will daffodils bloom in New Jersey in February?

daffodils-feb-25-2017These are awfully close …

This photo was taken on Saturday, the third straight day that highs were in the 70s. The 70s! In February! Madness! And it nearly reached 70 last weekend. (Accuweather now claims snow will start in 52 minutes. Uh huh. And that it will be 57 tomorrow.)

A guy in my Italian class on Saturday said he spotted one blooming in his yard, so I am betting the answer to my question is yes.

Last year I noted we had five blooming on March 10, another year when we had a mild winter — and the first bloom on March 2 back in 2012. But usually they don’t emerge until the back half of March.

Screening for compost

It’s time to fully reclaim our driveway.

It had shrunk a bit over the years, as wood and leaves rotted down and built up along the edges and more. Weeds invaded too. Before winter set in, I shoveled it to what I think is the edge of blacktop, figuring that extra six or 12 inches would come in handy when snow narrowed the driveway even more.

But it’s been a pretty mild winter and today I decided to see if I could screen out all the bad stuff with a piece of metal cloth wire (or whatever it’s called) that had once been used to build a compost bin.

So here it goes:

screen-compost1

screen-compost2

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Time had certainly done its job in creating compost. We stopped after nearly two buckets of crumbly, rich, black compost (and a few worms) and dumped what I hope is pretty weed-free on parts of the flower beds. Plenty more to go, and more of the driveway still to reclaim.