Late summer vegetable garden and Monarch butterflies

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The potager after yesterday's rain is definitely in transition.

The potager after yesterday’s rain is definitely in transition.

The vegetable garden is in transition. It’s late summer, and all the tomatoes were taking over, so I removed most of them keeping only those plants that were still producing heavily and seemed healthy. Most of my tomato plants have leaf diseases now, but still provide more tomatoes than I can eat. My gardener friends in Oklahoma are surprised I had so much tomato success this year. All that rain and manure were good for those planted in the potager. I’ll have to move them next year though because of root knot nematodes. I can’t plant tomatoes, eggplants and peppers in the same spot two years in a row. Next summer, they’ll be back in the big garden again.

Some of the tomato harvest.

Some of the tomato harvest. Yes, that’s a fly swatter above. We had tons of flies this year. Wonder why.

Most of our summer temperatures were in the 90s except for a hot spell in August that lasted about two weeks with temperatures over 100F. I just tried to keep everything wet and mulched in order to keep it cool. During those days, the tomatoes stopped setting blooms, but revved back up as soon as the mercury went below 100F again.

Zinnias were about the only happy plants in the large vegetable garden.

Zinnias were about the only happy plants in the large vegetable garden.

As for the large vegetable garden, it was pretty dismal. I live on a hill, and the rain just kept coming for weeks and weeks. That’s the thing about a prairie climate. The weather always comes in extremes. All of my seeds slid downhill, and the germination rate for many varieties was very low. I replanted my okra twice, and I finally got enough the other day to fry some. I planted bush beans three times. I still await a harvest.

The one good piece of news in the veggie garden–other than the zinnias and sunflowers–was the ‘Glass Gem’ corn.

In frustration, I turned half of the large veggie garden into a cutting garden of cosmos, zinnias, amaranth, celosia, hollyhocks and nicotiana. It performed much better than the vegetables and became a way station for butterflies and other pollinators. I took my best butterfly shots with most of them posed on the zinnias.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Zowie Hybrid zinnias, one of my favorite types of zinnias.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Zowie hybrid zinnias, one of my favorite types of zinnias.

I think butterflies love zinnias because the blooms are flat and make a great staging area. Next to the zinnias, I planted two yellow milkweed plants, Asclepias tuberosa, for any Monarchs that might stop by. I have aphids of course. Irritating creatures. I keep washing them off after checking for Monarch eggs beforehand. I don’t want to wash off any precious Monarch eggs. Buying milkweed plants is complicated because so many nurseries and box stores use Bt. or Neonicotinoids on plants. If applied recently, these pesticides will kill your caterpillars. Ask your nursery what’s been used before you buy. This fall I bought seeds for three milkweeds native to Oklahoma, A. incarnata, rose milkweed, A. sullivantii, prairie milkweed and  A. hirtella, tall green milkweed. After soaking the seeds for a few hours, I sowed them in three different spots in the garden. Yes, it’s a lot of seed, but I’ll thin out the plants, and I wanted a better chance at germination.

Soaking milkweed seeds.

Soaking milkweed seeds.

It’s my hope that the seed will break down over winter with small seedlings emerging next spring. If this works, I will know for sure that my milkweed is safe for Monarch caterpillars. When people are discouraged about disappearing Monarchs, I think of all my friends who are working diligently to bring their numbers up again. If you’d like to learn more from these dedicated gardeners, join The Beautiful Monarch discussion group on Facebook. Two other great groups are Oklahoma Friends of the Monarchs and the Monarch Initiative of Tulsa. My friend, Kylee Baumle, at Our Little Acre works very hard, and she’s inspired me this summer with her beautiful photographs and Monarch tagging and raising. When I get discouraged, I remember, it was backyard birders who helped bring back the Eastern Bluebird from extinction. I think we can do the same for Monarch butterflies. I haven’t seen more than three Monarchs in my garden this year, but I’m planting milkweed so that they will come. Kylee was kind enough to share her photos of a Monarch caterpillar and chrysalis so I could show you since I’ve got nada.

Monarch caterpillars are things of beauty. I took them for granted until they were nearly gone.

Monarch caterpillars are things of beauty. I took them for granted until they were nearly gone.

Aren’t they beautiful? That gold on the chrysalis always gets me. To learn more about Monarch butterflies including where they got their royal name, head over to Monarch Watch’s FAQ.

Monarch chrysalis hanging from a leaf.

Monarch chrysalis hanging from a leaf.

Last week, I planted some cold weather vegetables for my fall garden. I have beets, broccoli rabe, chard, kale, turnips, rutabaga, two kinds of lettuce and spinach. I piled leaf mold on top of the garden soil to keep veggie seeds cooler so that they would germinate. A cool front finally moved through the state yesterday. I also watered everyday until I began to see seedlings popping up through the mulched leaves. You can also soak seeds overnight, but I didn’t take that extra step. I sowed parsnip and carrot seeds in my cold frame including ‘Cosmic Purple’ carrots. Have you priced rainbow carrots in the store? Outrageous. I’ll just grow my own.

 

 


News about The 20-30 Something Garden Guide

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Our friend, Jennifer, who is twenty-one and just starting to garden.

Our friend, Jennifer, who is twenty-one and just starting to garden.

One of the best parts of an author’s job is spreading the news about one’s book. Not for sales so much, but because you get to meet so many people who are as enthusiastic about your subject as you are. I talked to reporters all over the country about Millennials and what drives them to be the fastest growing group of garden buyers in the county. Before I wrote The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff, I did a lot of research on this exciting and energetic group of gardeners. What I found was that they were very engaged with the environment, and like so many of us, they want to grow their own food even if it’s in pots on their balconies and patios.

You don’t have to grow everything you eat after all–unless you want to of course.

I was fortunate to talk about 20-30 Somethings and their love of gardening with George Weigel of PennLive through The Patriot News. 

I thought you might enjoy it so I’ll share it here. I may share some of the other online stories from the rest of the year too. Thanks for reading.


Vegetables harvested after vacation

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Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

It’s hard to take a trip in the summer. when you’re a gardener. It’s even harder when you’re a vegetable gardener. Most vegetables are annuals or tropicals grown as annuals, and they want to produce like crazy in summer’s heat. Oklahoma also had abundant rain this year. and the vegetables are all the more happy for it. I did this crazy thing and planted five rows of tomatoes with at least eight plants each. I started most of these from seed, and I made the classic mistake and planted too many plants.

Tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, corn and a few potatoes are all stacked on the kitchen counter.

Tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, corn and a few potatoes are all stacked on the kitchen counter.

I know better, but I couldn’t stop myself. So, this is a going to a be a tomato year to the max. I also harvest one of the three kinds of garlic I planted last fall. I can’t think of the name right now, but it’s a hardneck variety. Beautiful stuff. I’m using it in a shrimp sauté tonight with spaghetti squash as the base instead of noodles. It should be good. We’re also going to have the eggplant. I’ve fought potato beetles all spring on that poor eggplant, and I’m finally getting a few fruits for all of my labor. I grew the eggplant from seed too.

Corn and eggplant I grew in the garden this year.

Corn and eggplant I grew in the garden this year.

There’s corn too. Yummy, yummy corn. I knew it was ready when the I found corn husks in the yard. The bad raccoons are on the corn prowl. Well, I harvested most of it. They will be sad they lost out. I don’t have squash or cucumbers yet because I planted them late. I waited on the squash because I’m trying to outwit the squash bugs, and I simply forgot cucumbers until recently.

Grab the badge and join us in our garden adventures.

Grab the badge and join us in our garden adventures.

So, that’s my harvest. Good stuff all from a few packets of seed. For more vegetable gardening tips and ideas, see The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.

That’s all from the Red Dirt Ranch for now. What’s growing your garden? Share your links below so we can visit.

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Dear Friend and Gardener: June vegetable garden update

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Vegetable garden update. The potager in June when we've had loads of rain. I harvested the lettuce and planted squash and melons in here now.

The potager in June after lots of rain. I harvested the lettuce and planted squash, cucumbers and melons for summer.

Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

I have so much to tell you for the vegetable garden update this month. It has rained almost weekly in Oklahoma since late spring. These aren’t true drought busters, but still good news for the vegetables, herbs and fruit grown in the potager and the rest of the garden. It’s bad news for grassy weeds. They’re growing like . . . well, weeds, and keeping up with them is more work than almost any gardener can do.

Pole beans climbing the teepee.

Pole beans climbing the teepee.

The green bean harvest is ongoing, but I planted squash late to avoid squash bugs. The little plants are up , but still small. There are also two kinds of melons growing, one being ‘Collective Farm Woman.’ I also noticed in the larger veggie garden, i.e., the jungle, that I have volunteer watermelons. This happens when you grow heirlooms.

Some of the French green beans I've harvested.

Some of the French green beans I’ve harvested.

The garlic is ready or nearly so. I’ll harvest it next week. The potatoes in bags have been very successful in spite of all the traveling I’ve done this month and last. Yes, my son watered while I was gone, but we also had rain which helped more than anything. The potatoes are blooming so I’ll be harvesting soon.

Garlic ready to harvest and 'Gray' zucchini which actually does have gray on its leaves.

Garlic ready to harvest and ‘Gray’ zucchini which actually does have gray on its leaves. The grassy weeds are also difficult to fight.

I planted heirloom yellow crookneck squash and ‘Gray’ zucchini because they are considered more resistant to squash bugs. I also planted seeds of a ‘Lemon’ zucchini that was given as a bonus in an order. I inspect the plants everyday for squash bug problems. I planted the squash, melons and cucumbers in the potager this year for crop rotation.

'Carmen' sweet Italian frying pepper.

‘Carmen’ sweet Italian frying pepper.

In the big garden is corn, okra, tomatoes, eggplant and hot peppers. Italian frying peppers are isolated from the hot peppers in case I want to save seed. I also planted some zinnias and sunflowers in the larger garden for beauty and to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

One of the sunflowers in the Drop Dead Read collection from Botanical Interests seeds.

One of the sunflowers in the Drop Dead Read collection from Botanical Interests seeds.

I had an infestation of striped potato beetles on my eggplant. I picked them off for two weeks, but I finally decided to spray them with pyrethrum. I waited until there were no other insects on the plants, and I only sprayed what was needed directly on the potato beetles. I hated to spray even though pyrethrum is organic, because it is a broad spectrum insecticide. I try never to use even organic insecticides unless I must. I did save the eggplants which are already looking better this morning.

The jungle, a/k/a the large veggie garden. It is full of tomatoes, hot peppers, green pole beans, sunflowers, zinnias, eggplant, corn and okra.

The jungle, a/k/a the large veggie garden. It is full of tomatoes, hot peppers, green pole beans, sunflowers, zinnias, eggplant, corn and okra.

Well, that’s it in this report from Oklahoma. What do you have growing in your garden this month? Join our Garden Club and tell us what you’ve got growing.

 

 

 

 

 


More potting up and moving out

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Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

A few days ago when I started this post for our Dear Friend and Gardener Club, I was potting up and moving out seedlings of most of the flowers I started from seed. In the photo below are Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cherokee Sunset,’ a seed strain of beautiful black-eyed Susans that contains double flowers, along with those that have complicated eye zones. I find I have much better luck with many perennials if I start the seed myself. I know it’s easy to be lured in by a pretty face in an overstuffed container at the box store, but try planting seeds instead. When most summer-blooming perennials are doing their thing, it’s too hot and dry to get them started. Plus, my seeds don’t have growth regulators and lots of fertilizer. Prairie plants like rudbeckia don’t need this. I also sowed seed for R. hirta ‘Irish Eyes’, a green-eyed rudbeckia.

Blooms of 'Cherokee Sunset' Rudbeckia hirta courtesy of the National Garden Bureau.

Blooms of ‘Cherokee Sunset’ Rudbeckia hirta courtesy of the National Garden Bureau.

There’s also parsley. Parsley is so slow! I bought two plants of parsley from the local nursery to get the garden started faster. I like flat leaf parsley better than curly, but that’s just personal preference. It’s good to have plenty of parsley and dill for all of the ravenous Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars. Fennel is really good too. I have the bulb type and the bronze.

Parsley and Rudbeckia hirta seedlings I potted up in the greenhouse. I moved them back inside so Bill could water them all together while I was out of town.

Parsley and Rudbeckia hirta in the greenhouse. I moved them back inside so Bill could water them all together while I was out of town.

We had a freeze on April 19. It got down to 26F in my garden. Some plants, like the Wisteria frutescens, American wisteria, may not bloom this year because they took a direct hit. All of the roses and Japanese maples had already leafed out too and are still burned. I noticed today that my wisteria is finally coming out of shock. Other plants sailed through the freeze with almost no damage even though I didn’t cover anything.

Bill tilled the larger vegetable garden. Although I don’t like to till, it was necessary this year. The ground is still pretty new, and it was very compacted from last year. I worked on my garden plan before I planted. At the north end, I sowed sunflower seeds in shades of red with large yellow sunflowers in front. I love a sunflower border in the garden, don’t you? In front of the sunflowers, I planted my corn. I have two varieties this year, one is ornamental, and the other is sweet corn. Therefore, they must be separated like children who don’t get along. I may plant the ornamental corn at the bottom of the back garden far away from sweet corn if I get to it.

Transplants in the large vegetable garden in early spring.

Transplants in the large vegetable garden in early spring.

I also planted tomatoes, eggplant and hot peppers in the larger vegetable garden. Many of these I sowed indoors in February. The plants look minuscule in such a large space, but they will quickly grow into their larger selves. I put sweet peppers in the potager where they can grow without mixing pollen with the hot peppers. Although the sweet peppers might not taste hot this year, if I saved seeds, all of my peppers next year would be hot. I also sowed pole and bush beans because our weather appeared more stable and even hot in the longterm forecast. Now, tonight is supposed to be 38F which sucks for the warm weather veggies and ornamental coleus I planted outside. Spring in Oklahoma is full of surprises, but I’m not covering my plants. We’re told the mercury will rise to 90F by this weekend, but that’s hard to believe with the wind howling out of the North.

I have several varieties of indeterminate tomatoes so I’m considering doing the post and string method of support. I’ll let you know if I do. For the determinate varieties, I’ll just simple use tomato cages.

Sweet peppers in the potager.

Sweet Italian frying peppers in the potager.

After spending four weeks or more dragging transplants inside and out to harden them off, I always begin to wonder what it’s all for. However, come June, July and August when the garden is full of flowers and tasty food, I’ll be so glad I did all of this work. That’s why I wrote in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff to start small.

Snowpeas and lettuce in the potager.

Snow peas, garlic and lettuce in the potager.

I didn’t always start seeds indoors. I still buy some plants, especially tomato and pepper hybrids, because they are readily available. I don’t need to start things that I can find locally and organic. Instead, I start all of the weird and unique plants I want to grow. To know which ones are best started indoors, I always look at the seed package.

Black-Seed Simpson and red lettuces, garlic and romaine lettuce in the kitchen garden.

Black-Seed Simpson and red lettuces, garlic and romaine lettuce in the kitchen garden.

The potager is full of lettuce and stir fry greens, along with garlic, onions, shallots and chives. The sage and lemon thyme came back in spite of the brutal winter weather, but my large rosemary succumbed to extreme cold. I bought a few plants of rosemary locally, and they are already growing outside. The chives are blooming at the ends of the kitchen garden/potager, and we’ll have loads of garlic in a couple of months. The snow peas and purple radishes are also growing quickly now.

Four o'clocks still in the greenhouse. I haven't decided where to plant them yet. You can see the greenhouse is overflowing with tropical plants.

Four o’clocks still in the greenhouse. I haven’t decided where to plant them yet. You can see the greenhouse is overflowing with tropical plants.

I’m not planting tomatoes in the raised beds of the potager this year because I have root knot nematodes. This is a bummer, but it’s all a matter of rotation, rotation, rotation of different plants in the beds.

Well, that’s it from Oklahoma this week. I’m wondering what everyone in our virtual garden club is up. If you comment and link to your post, I’ll make sure to come by and visit. I’ll also feature your post on my 20-30 Garden Guide Facebook page and tweet it out. Let me know what everyone is up to. Happy Spring!

 

 

 


Hardening off seedlings

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For years I failed at hardening off seedlings. I would read in gardening books about putting seedlings out in full sun for a couple of hours everyday for two weeks. Well, this probably works well in the northeast where a lot of early garden books were written, but not in the South. Our sun is too intense for such young plants.

My other problem was that I would faithfully put seedlings outside only to promptly forget them. Guess what happened? I would go outside a few hours later to find all of my young plants dead or dying. This was very disheartening until I changed my tactics.

In the South, hardening off seedlings should take place in partial shade instead of full sun.

In the South, it’s a good idea to harden off seedlings in partial shade instead of full sun.

I solved this problem three ways.

  1. I put my seedlings in partial shade when I set them outside for the first few days. It’s too hot here to set them in the sun. After all, they’re baby plants with immature root systems, and they aren’t really in soil anyway.
  2. Potting soil is a mixture of things usually with peat moss or coir (coconut hull fiber) as the main ingredient. These two items dry out quickly so I make sure  plants are watered well before I leaving them outside. You’re exposing plants to different levels of light and wind. Wind, especially Oklahoma wind, will dry out your plants faster than you say “Let’s buy more seeds.”
  3. I set a timer. It may sound simple, but this is the best way to remember to bring my plants back indoors. I set one on my computer or even my kitchen stove. Since the plants are in the shade, I usually leave them out longer–about four hours a day. I then bring them back inside and set them in a window.
Don't forget to gently water seedlings before putting them out into the wind. You don't want to dry them out.

Don’t forget to gently water seedlings before putting them outside. You don’t want them to dry out in the wind.

I hope these three tips help you with hardening off your seedlings. I know they helped me.  For more tips on growing vegetables and gardening in general buy The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff


Dear Friend and Gardener: Spring in the middle South

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Dear Carol and Mary Ann, I’m so glad we started up our Dear Friend and Gardener letters again. I think having a virtual garden club will be loads of fun. I hope others join us by grabbing the badge below and putting it on their sidebars with a link to the club page. So far, we have several members. I hope our readers will visit their blogs too.

Grab the badge and join us in our garden adventures.

Grab the badge and join us in our garden adventures.

Although I read that Carol is in early spring, our spring in Oklahoma is coming in at full steam. We’re supposed to reach 85F today, and there is a strong chance for thunderstorms, including hail and possibly tornadoes, tonight. Am I worried? No, I’m a native Oklahoman, and I’m used to crazy weather each spring. My seedlings are growing like gangbusters, and I put some of the tomatoes outside in a shady spot to start the hardening off process. I won’t plant out tomatoes until probably after April 20 unless I just can’t stop myself. Although the ambient temperature says summer, the ground is still not warm. Plus, there’s still a chance of frost although the extended forecast looks very warm.

Lettuce and snowpea seedlings in the potager. I hope they have time to grow.

Lettuce and snowpea seedlings in the potager. I hope they have time to grow.

Very warm isn’t good for my lettuce sown outside in late February, because it is just now getting its true leaves. If the temperatures stay too high, the lettuce will turn bitter, and I won’t get any salads from my garden until I replant in fall. I also planted snow peas, purple radishes, pak choy and a stir fry mix in the potager, with potatoes in Smart Pots on the bricks next to the potager. Some of the potatoes have sprouted, and I’m watching for the others to do the same. I’ll add soil as they grow the same way I would normally hill up potatoes grown in the ground.

My messy vegetable garden. I should've cleaned it up last fall.

My messy vegetable garden. I should’ve cleaned it up last fall.

For the larger vegetable garden that is still a mess from last fall, I want a broadfork. I’m looking at broadforks from Meadow Creature. The reason I’m going with a broadfork instead of tilling is to support the structure of the soil and the creatures in the garden. When we’ve tilled in the past, we’ve hurt the earthworm population and made a soil that is too fine, so I’m changing how I do things. Although that garden doesn’t look its best right now, it’s okay. I’ll have it ready soon. In the potager, I’m thining seedlings because they are now jumping up out of the ground. We’ve got to give them room to grow.

Thinning seedlings in the potager. This is a stir fry mix.

Thinning seedlings in the potager. This is a stir fry mix.

So, we’re in that in-between place where I can’t plant the warm weather vegetables yet, but the cold weather ones may be over soon. That’s the thing about gardening–you can learn all about it and work very hard–but the truth is, you never know it all. Mother Nature always throws you curve balls. I think that’s why I find it so satisfying.

The daffodils bloom all around St. Francis. This small bed was my second garden. It was once vegetables.

The daffodils bloom all around St. Francis. This small bed was my second garden. It was once vegetables.

If you’re wondering what else I’m doing, I’m still pruning the roses and clearing away debris from the perennials in the other parts of the garden. I’m enjoying the daffodils as they bloom. You gotta love narcissus because they are reliable, and nothing–including deer or voles–will eat them. I’m watering the tulips in the layered pots I made last fall. So far, they seem to be working well. I won’t put muscari with tulips anymore though because the tulip foliage hides the muscari. Another lesson learned.

See the muscari (grape hyacinths) trying to bloom between the tulips. That wasn't well planned on my part.

See the muscari (grape hyacinths) trying to bloom between the tulips. That wasn’t well planned on my part.

Everything else is coming up gangbusters and growing. The windows are open in my house, and I can hear birds singing their spring love songs. All is well in my world. I hope it is in yours too. Happy Spring! P.S.  Would you like to join our virtual garden club?  If you grow your own food or flowers and have a garden blog (or even start one), we would love to have you join. Just go to the home page for Dear Friend and Gardener, grab the badge, put it on your blog with a link back to the club page. Then post about your veg garden about once a month during the growing season. We want to hear all about your growing adventures. Let me know you’ve joined, and I’ll include you and your blog on the club page. Let’s get gardening!