Tag Archives: gardening

Woodchuck Attack

A few years ago a family of woodchucks moved in under the tractor shed. They lay waste to my garden. Another woodchuck attack shouldn’t be a surprise.

Out in the woods or in the abandoned pastures, woodchucks are interesting to see. Baby ones are rather cute. Most generally they are spotted as a flow of dark fur streaking across the road and into the brush.

woodchuck sitting up
“Who’s there? I know someone’s there. Where are you?” this woodchuck seems to say as he looks for me. This woodchuck lies out in the ravine near a pawpaw orchard which he ignores.

Once I got a chance to watch one a few minutes before being spotted. They flow along busily sorting through the grass. This is rare as they are very alert creatures.

Alarmed woodchucks live up to their other name of whistle chucks. Their whistle is high, loud and sudden. The first time I heard it I jerked upright looking all around wondering what was going on.

Nothing was going on. The woodchucks had vanished. I never saw them.

My garden is heavily mulched. This encourages worms, roots, moisture. Moles love it which is annoying.

woodchuck attack damage
Tomato plants are beside the shade house. These poor plants have been dug up so many times. I replant them and water them. They are now big with flowers on them. Unless the woodchuck digs them up again.

This year I kept finding my mulch churned up. My tomato plants were dug up. My pepper plants were snapped off.

Woodchucks are vegetarians. They eat plants. I found out before they love Brussels’s sprouts and will eat them to the ground. They love runner beans, but not yard long beans.

I looked at the damage and thought skunk. Skunks aren’t so messy and can’t climb into the garden and don’t dig holes under the fence. Raccoons were a possibility.

broken plant typical of a woodchuck attack
Yes, a woodchuck is a vegetarian. No, a woodchuck does not seem to like squash or pepper or tomato plants to eat. Instead the animal digs them up, breaks them off and makes a big mess.

It was a woodchuck attack. Friends have seen the same damage from chucks in their gardens.

And woodchuck explains why the chicory is all bent over. This one likes chicory. And grubs.

I’ve seen it, or rather the dark flow disappearing out to the manure pile. The den under the tractor shed was freshly remodeled. I found the hole under the fence.

The next challenge is catching the woodchuck in the livetrap. My garden can’t handle a full scale woodchuck attack. It has to go.

Getting Ready For Winter

It’s summer in the Ozarks, hot and humid. Last winter is a memory. But getting ready for winter begins now.

Finally the wet weather broke for a few days and the air filled with the sounds of tractors, mowers and balers. A barn full of hay is essential to getting ready for winter when you have livestock.

garlic plant ready for harvest
Normally the first three leaves yellow to say garlic is ready to pull. This year had lots of rain and the plants stayed greener longer. Pulling garlic on time is important. Ripe bulbs are tightly wrapped and solidly together. Over ripe bulbs have the cloves separating and falling apart. As long as the cloves are dried well, they do keep for a long time, but not as long as a ripe bulb.

People don’t eat hay. We do eat things like potatoes and garlic. These are early spring crops maturing now.

Normally leaves begin drying on the garlic stalks to signal when the bulbs are ready to harvest. All the rain kept the leaves green longer.

getting ready for winter needs a garlic supply
Freshly pulled garlic is damp. It must have a chance to dry thoroughly before storage or the cloves will rot. Soft necked garlic can be braided and hung. Stiff neck is trimmed and spread out. It takes a day to three days depending on humidity.

The garlic is still fine. Most of the bulbs are still tight. They are much bigger than last year’s bulbs.

Once the bulbs are dry and in the bucket in the pantry, they will bring dreams of spaghetti, lasagna, stir fry and rich soups and stews. Getting the bulbs dry is very important or the cloves will rot. Once dry, the bulbs will last all winter.

I used to grow several kinds of potatoes, but only have Yukon Gold now. The potato bugs are trying to move in. They haven’t much chance as the plants are dying back.

Potato plant ready to harvest
The wet year has kept many of the potato plants green and potatoes under them getting bigger. Some succumbed to the hot temperatures. When the leaves yellow and drop off, the stems yellow, the plant is done for the year. The potatoes must be harvested before they get wet and start growing again. I pull the mulch aside around the main plant, pull the stems up and search the area for potatoes.

So far the potato crop is generous. The tubers are usually smaller when grown in mulch, but harvesting is much easier. Besides, we are older and don’t need a monster baked potato at dinner. A medium-sized potato will do very well.

I like growing potatoes. They are nice looking plants and fairly easy to grow under mulch. Still, the number of seed potatoes I put out is going down. Older people don’t need to eat a lot of food.

getting ready for winter needs a potato supply
The last few years I’ve grown only Yukon gold potatoes. This year I found three buckets full of potatoes. I’m sure I missed some. I’ll take another look as I prepare the area for pumpkins and winter squash. And next year there will be a few ‘volunteer’ potato plants. These potatoes are damp and will be thoroughly air dried before storage.

Potatoes too need time to dry. I have several old milk crates to hold them. I put some newspaper down on the bottom, pour in the potatoes, top with newspaper to block light and stash the crates in the pantry.

Getting ready for winter will continue over the summer adding winter squash in the pantry and tomatoes and peppers in the freezer.

Growing Cabbage in the Ozarks

Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower transplants show up the first of April at several places around town. Yet growing cabbage in the Ozarks is a dicey affair at best.

Cole crops like cool weather. Seventies is as warm as they like to be. Eighties is a disaster in the making.

There are several problems with cole crops in hot weather. First and foremost is the bitter taste. All cole crops seem to have a bit of bitter taste to them. Hot weather multiplies this to inedible.

growing cabbage takes cool weather
Cool weather and rain delight cabbage plants. They are mulched and have few weeds, mostly a few grass plants. The pathways around the patch are not mulched yet. They are deep in chickweed and dead nettle, great early spring bee food.

A second problem is mostly a cabbage problem. The heads rot. A series of cool days will encourage the plants to form heads. One day of eighty degree weather might bleach the top leaf. A second day starts the inside of the head to wilt down leaving a pile of stinky ooze the third day.

Broccoli, cauliflower, pak choi promptly send up flower stalks. They flower almost overnight turning scraggy and dying a few days later.

A friend wants cabbage in the spring. I get the varieties with the shortest maturity dates, put them in and hope for the best.

growing cabbage takes time
Green cabbage comes as three different varieties of transplants. Those in my patch are the two with the shortest maturation times. Their window has been open longer than usual. Once temperatures bounce up into the eighties, cabbage leaves are on the menu.

Cabbage leaves are edible too.

This year has not decided what to do yet. Through April the temperatures dithered from days in the sixties to days in the seventies tossing in a couple of eighties.

Growing cabbage under these conditions is not ideal. My plants are heavily mulched to keep the ground cool. Since it keeps raining an inch or two a week, I’m hoping the mulch isn’t too wet.

growing red cabbage
There must be more varieties of red cabbage, but only one shows up as transplants. It takes longer to mature than the green ones. I like it because it is so pretty.

Typically spring in the Ozarks is short. We’ve had the usual amount, even a bit more. Any day could turn into summer.

For now my growing cabbage is happy and starting to think about making heads. I watch, wait and hope.

In the meantime the tomato and pepper seedlings are doing well. They prefer eighty degree days, but tolerate sixties and seventies once they’ve germinated.

Fall Garden Plastic Protection

Fall is a cold time in the garden. Frost is always a possibility. That is when plastic protection comes in handy.

In a real greenhouse with heat and insulated sides, tropical plants do well. I don’t have a greenhouse. So I grow cold tolerant plants in the fall: cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, spinach, broccoli. These can take night temperatures down in the twenties.

The other night was forecast to be in the teens. Panic time.

Normally I clear my summer crops out in October. This year I picked up walnuts.

plastic protection on the shade house

Each fall I spread plastic over my shade house and remove it in the spring. I get plastic wide enough to cover the entire house at one time. The ends are done with the plastic taped to the panels. The main sheet is put over these. The ends are weighted down with old fence posts. Four or five lengths of baling twine are passed over the top to keep the plastic from billowing up in the wind. It must be monitored on sunny days as the inside heats quickly.

Clearing out pepper plants isn’t too much of a problem. Tomatoes are another story. The vines this year went up over the shade house. And over is the word for it.

In truth, this worked fairly well as long as I held the vines in place with twine so the wind couldn’t blow them off. I could go inside the shade house and pick tomatoes at head height and below.

The downside was one of the varieties I grew. It was a large dark striped cherry sample packet included free with my order. These split whenever I watered, it rained, they got ready to turn color. Then they came down with blight. They were intertwined with others on the shade house so I had to tolerate them for the summer.

plastic protection works for Pak Choi

Pak Choi and chickweed are doing well inside the shade house. On really cold nights I spread split feed sacks over the plants for more protection.

Now the vines were dead from killing frost. The cold crops inside needed plastic protection for the winter. It took several hours to clear the vines.

There seems to be an unwritten rule about putting up plastic sheets. As soon as the sheet is maneuvered into place, the wind blows. Once the sheet is on the ground or draped over your head, the wind stops.

This year the turnips, broccoli and cabbage are not in the shade house. Makeshift wire structures were thrown up around them to hold their plastic protection over them.

plastic protection plus blankets

There wasn’t quite enough plastic for over the cabbage. The make shift place has the open areas covered with blankets except during storms. The cabbage isn’t happy right now as I got home late and the blankets were late in getting put up.

Plastic itself won’t hold plants when the temperatures are in the teens. That’s when old blankets and feed sacks come out. Draping these over the plastic structures or over the plants in the shade house now unheated greenhouse will.

The thermometer read fifteen in the morning. My fall garden made it through.

A side benefit of the plastic protection is heat. Sunlight goes inside and warms the soil and plants up to summer conditions. Venting keeps things under control. And a few more fresh veggies will be available until mid winter.

My Fall Garden Survives

Winter walked through my garden leaving a white coating that turned to black in the morning sun. The summer garden ended. The fall garden remains – for now.

Killing frost is rarely a surprise. Average dates are given for my Ozark area about October 17. The days are warm. The nights cool to cold.

fall garden garlic

Garlic planted in the fall will be ready to pull in late spring. In the Ozarks garlic does the best when planted in the fall. I put down a good four inches of mulch, burrow holes through to put in the cloves and watch it grow. It stays green most of the winter.

Already the peppers are harvested. These summer plants like hot days and warm nights. Fall temperatures leave the peppers hanging on slowly ripening. They will ripen as fast in the pantry.

Tomatoes are another summer crop loving hot days and warm nights. Green tomatoes will hang on the vines waiting for the temperatures to go up. In the pantry they will turn red. The flavor isn’t as good as summer sun ripened ones, but not bad.

fall garden cabbage

Cabbage will take a hard frost. It slows down, hunkers down, but keeps growing. The good thing is that the cabbage worms don’t survive.

Squash plants too are summer crops. By fall the squash bugs are killing the vines starting with the summer varieties and moving to the winter varieties. The winter squashes are putting on their thick rinds.

My pantry was filled with sacks of peppers, tomatoes and squash.

Frost can form pretty patterns and edgings on plants. It freezes the water inside the summer plants destroying their cells and killing them.

The morning after killing frost is so depressing. The tomatoes were towering over my head with vines heavy with fruit. Now the vines are limp and dark.

fall garden turnips

Turnips like cool weather. They don’t mind a good frost. I never seem to plant them thin enough, but the extras make good greens. A good mulch along the rows keeps them growing better.

In the beds nearby the fall garden is still green. Cabbage, broccoli, turnips and garlic hang their leaves in the frost.

Once the frost melts, the leaves stand up still fresh and green. All but the garlic will slowly produce their crops in the warm days of Indian summer.

Another fall garden crop is chickweed. This sprouts in the fall growing green and lush with the cool temperatures and moisture. It like the garlic will overwinter.

By November most of the fall crops will succumb to winter’s cold blasts. Until then, they are a welcome bit of green in the garden.

Making Fall Decisions

The idea of fall being as busy as summer seems strange. After all, the growing season is ending. The year is winding down. Yet fall decisions are many.

A possibility of frost sent me out in my garden. Tomatoes, peppers and squash are all frost sensitive. They are cold sensitive as well.

fall decisions about tomatoes

Green tomatoes are popular with some people, not me. Sometimes the green tomatoes will ripen in the pantry. Cold temperatures stop them in the garden. Will these? Should I pick them? How many bowls, trays, sacks of green tomatoes do I want in the pantry?

Tomato plants in the spring sit refusing to grow until temperatures warm up. Tomatoes hanging on the vine stay green as long as temperatures are cold. The same is true of peppers.

Bags of tomatoes, green to red and bags of peppers green to various colors moved into the pantry. Unless we want to eat tomatoes and peppers morning, noon and night for a month, we can’t eat all of these.

butternut squash fall decisions

Frost is coming. The mottling tells me this butternut squash isn’t ripe yet. Should I pick it anyway and hope it ripens in the pantry? Should I leave it and hope the vines survive another week?

One solution is tomato sauce. I like one made with minced garlic, chopped onion and peppers cooked down in tomatoes. It’s packaged in two cup amounts and frozen.

This is a delaying tactic. The piles of tomatoes and peppers changed form, but are still waiting to be eaten. How much spaghetti and pizza do we want to eat every week?

Another solution is to sell or give the extra away. This is easier during the summer when the vines and plants are busy producing more. Now the vines and plants are gone. When the extra is gone, there will not be more until next summer.

evening primrose flowers

A touch of color is welcome. Evening primrose is a bit frost hardy so a few flowers may still be there when the tomatoes are gone.

How much should I keep? I’m never sure. Making fall decisions about this is guess work.

Another set of decisions surrounds the goats. It’s breeding season. Once a doe is bred, she will milk one to two months, then go dry until having kids in the spring.

Summer has made me complacent with plenty of milk, mozzarella, ricotta and feta. When most of my milkers are dry, this will stop.

The temptation is to delay breeding my does. But delaying breeding doesn’t change anything.

Fall decisions loom. Which does will I milk through the winter? Which does are to be bred to which buck? And I do like March to April kids, so breed the does in October to November. The milk desert begins about December.

goat fall decisions about breeding

Nubian yearling doe High Reaches Pamela is old enough to be bred. Maybe Goat Town USA Gaius wants a girlfriend.

One other set of fall decisions sits in my computer room. I have boxes of books. Now is a good time of year to have book signings.

November is Novel Writing Month. I’m not ready. I have two weeks. At least I know I will try to finish the first book of “The Carduan Chronicles” neglected this year as I finished “My Ozark Home” and “Mistaken Promises.”

Fall is definitely not a time to slow down.

Winter Squash Going Wild

Despite its name winter squash is a summer crop. Like all the cucurbit family including cucumbers, summer squash, and melons, winter squash loves warm weather and dies with frost.

The many varieties are called winter squash because they form a hard shell and will keep sometimes for months in a cool, dry place. My pantry has high humidity and I can keep winter squash there for four to five months.

Chinese winter melon

This isn’t listed as a winter squash, but acts like one. This is a Chinese winter melon. The seeds are difficult to get. The melon has a light green, firm flesh with very mild taste. I’m told that, once the white hair haze covers the melon, it will keep for months. It can be eaten at the immature stage like summer squash.

A few years ago I reorganized my garden into beds. These are a generous four foot by ten foot. All the vegetables I grow do very well in these beds.

Except winter squash.

Summer squash forms a large, bushy plant. It sprawls a little. My plants do get big enough to demand an entire bed for two or three hills.

kabocha winter squash

Years ago I tried a Kabocha squash from the market and liked it. The variety this year is like the store one. It had orange flesh and a sweet, moist taste.

This year I grew kabocha and butternut winter squashes. The kabocha grew up and over the pea trellis. Branch vines drooped off the edges spreading out through the bean trellis and across the summer squash.

The butternut plants were planted late in July. The heat and dryness held the plants back even with supplemental watering. Rain revived them. the vines remained smaller than usual, but still overran the bed and invaded the garlic chives across the pathway.

butternut winter squash

Waltham Butternut is an heirloom winter squash. There is at least one modern hybrid, but I prefer the old standard. The vines grow fast and load up with squash. It has a firm, deep orange flesh with the seeds at the rounded end. the goats love the peelings and seeds. They will eat the squash too.

The prize for exceeding its bed goes to two Winter Luxury pumpkin vines. Pumpkins are a variety of winter squash.

These vines engulfed their bed, the neighboring summer squash, the hollyhocks, covered the raised bed including the cherry tomatoes there. Still not satisfied, the vines went out through the fence and spread out into the orchard.

The vines can be trimmed. I hesitate to do so as the squash bugs move in and devastate the vines.

Unlike summer squash that quickly succumbs to squash bug attacks, winter squash has a survival tactic. Those long vines root at the leaf nodes. The extra roots help the vines survive long enough to ripen the squash.

pumpkins are winter squash

Waltham Butternut is an heirloom winter squash. There is at least one modern hybrid, but I prefer the old standard. The vines grow fast and load up with squash. It has a firm, deep orange flesh with the seeds at the rounded end. the goats love the peelings and seeds. They will eat the squash too.

And that is the big reason to plant winter squash. Each variety is different from the others in taste and texture. I like kabocha and butternut, but not buttercup. Acorn will do in a pinch. Spaghetti squash is not on my menu.

Pumpkins are another story. I love pumpkins. And those monster vines are busy ripening a few nice pie pumpkins for me.

New Invasive Garlic Chives

In working on my botany project I keep coming across references to invasive species. There are lots of them, many escaped from cultivation.

I avoid planting these kinds of plants except in my vegetable garden. Vegetables aren’t known for their hardiness away from cultivation.

Except for garlic chives.

New invasive plant?

My garlic chive patch looks like snow in August when the flowers open. It buzzes and hums with activity. The insects are so busy with the flowers; I can brush by totally ignored.

Years ago my father gave me a pot of garlic chives. It was a ten inch pot crammed full. I promptly planted it in a corner of my vegetable garden.

The chives did well. They grew lush and bloomed profusely in August. Butterflies, wasps, bees, bumblebees, beetles, spiders swarmed around the flower umbels.

I didn’t cut the seed heads. Mistake.

My garlic chive patch is now six feet by eight feet. I leave it as it is in a difficult area. Besides, the blooms are so lovely in August and the insects do love the flowers. And I cut the seed heads.

garlic chive flowers

The garlic chive umbel is a partial ball of flowers. I’ve never counted them, but think there must be fifty in each one.

I missed a few. Garlic chives came up all over my garden. They came up outside my garden. This year they came up in the pasture.

At what point does a species become invasive?

My garlic chives haven’t reached it yet. I have given plants to people to plant in their gardens. Each person is warned to cut the seed heads. But, do they? Or have garlic chives spread from their gardens too?

Many invasive species hurt native areas. Autumn olive and Bradford pear displace native plants and aren’t as good forage as the natives.

Others have been here so long, like plantains and ox eye daisies, that they are part of the native flora now.

invasive garlic chive seed pods

Each garlic chive flower becomes a seed capsule. Each capsule contains three oddly shaped, black seeds. That’s around 150 seeds per umbel. When ripe, the covering turns brown and papery, splitting open. The seeds fall to the ground or are tossed when the wind blows the stalk.

Would garlic chives fit into the problem category or the ignore it category? I’m thinking it would be in the latter. Why?

It is a good insect pollinator plant. It is relished by goats so deer would probably like it too as a natural tonic against worm infestations.

In all probability, garlic chives will never become invasive. It does seed freely. However the plants are not aggressive enough when in competition against other invasives such as the grasses.

Still, it makes a person think: What potential problems lurk in my garden?

Building Easy Garden Trellises

A carpenter I am not. I can build well enough to get by, but fancy or even close to really good is beyond me. I still want garden trellises, so easy is essential.

Another reason for easy is being fast. I rarely have more than an hour to spend in the garden for watering, cultivation, weed control and all the other tasks a garden requires.

My garden trellises have versatility as well. They are light weight, sturdy and last for years. Moving them is possible, but not easy.

I use cattle and hog panels for trellises.

single garden trellises

The bean trellis is half of a cattle panel. Mosaic yard long beans have long vines so I stood the piece upright. The beans till made it to the top. The big problem is harvesting the beans at the top, two feet over my reach. A stool helps.

The first step is deciding where a trellis is wanted and why. My first reason for a trellis was to support pea and bean vines. I like those varieties with long vines needing support, but want them within reach for easy harvest.

One type of easy trellis is to cut a cattle panel in half. Pound in two posts. Tie the panel piece onto the posts.

The panel is stiff enough to place a foot up the posts to extend above them. The foot is maximum height from the ground or the vines sprawl and tangle before reaching the wire. It is possible to hang pieces of baling twine down from the wire to guide the vines, but this doesn’t always work well and the twine is a nuisance to get off the panel later.

hog panel garden trellises

Originally I put up this looped trellis for peas. This year late winter turned into hot summer and fried the peas. The winter squash vine grew up over the trellis. It has tendrils and keeps itself on the hog panel. two problems have surfaced. One is that the vines can’t put down adventitious roots (extra roots) because the vines don’t touch the ground. The second is keeping the developing squashes pushed away from the panel so they aren’t stuck between the wires.

The advantage to using panel pieces is being able to move the trellis easily. After cleaning it off, the panel is untied and set aside. The posts are pulled up and pounded in at a new location.

More permanent garden trellises are made with whole panels. With planning, one person can create these. It’s easier with two people.

These trellises require wire and a panel. The two wire pieces need to be as long as the trellis is to be wide plus extra for wrapping on the trellis. Get these ready and laid out where the trellis is to go.

I work alone. I stand the panel on edge with one end against a tree or building and secure one wire to the panel wire next to the bottom of that end. I don’t mind stepping over the wire about four inches over the ground. Otherwise the wire can be wrapped on the last panel wire, but will need to be replaced when it rusts through.

tomato garden trellises

This is not really a trellis, but is. I have two cattle panels pulled into hoops to form a permanent shade/green house. This year the tomatoes are providing the shade. Tomatoes are vines that normally sprawl across the ground which ruins the tomatoes. They do not twine or have tendrils and must be encouraged to lean down onto the panels. I’m using baling twine attached on one side, looped over the vines and threaded through the panels across the length.

The wire is laid out along the ground. The loose end of the panel is pulled to form a curve until the wire can be reached and secured to this end of the panel. The second wire is secured at both ends to the other side of the panel.

The trellis is maneuvered to where it is to go. The top of the arch is lifted up until the trellis settles in place.

I like these rounded garden trellises. This year tomato vines are leaning on some. These must be tied on. A winter squash vine is growing over one peas were on earlier. Peas or beans can be planted at both ends so the vines meet in the middle. Greens can be planted under them in the shade provided by the vines.

That is the final advantage of these garden trellises. So many plants can be supported on them freeing up more space in the garden.

Watching Praying Mantises

Watching praying mantises is boring after the first few minutes. They sit still or gently sway hanging on a twig or leaf for hours waiting.

If an insect happens by, instant action too fast to see occurs. The mantis has a meal. After dining and cleaning up, the mantis resumes waiting.

watching praying mantises lets them watch you

Praying mantises are carnivorous insects. Their heads are triangles with large eyes on two points and a mouth on the low point. They have good eyesight watching you watching them.

There are times watching praying mantises is interesting. One time is when the big female lays her eggs in the fall.

The most obvious mantises around the place are Chinese mantises imported by gardeners for insect control. The females get six or seven inches long.

All mantises die in the fall. The next generation is encased in what looks like a piece of tan foam attached to a branch or stalk. The favored ones here are the bamboo and the sumac. Blackberry canes will do.

A female praying mantis shoots out her eggs encased in foam layer by layer. She moves slowly down the stalk for each succeeding layer.

The female faces the ground and starts shooting out liquid that bubbles up and hardens into foam. Eggs are hidden in the foam.

Spring brings the next interesting time for watching praying mantises. The eggs hatch once spring warms up.

The half inch long miniature mantises emerge one by one moving quickly away from the case. Each has a bit of yolk left from the egg. It doesn’t last long and baby mantises are not picky eaters, even eating siblings.

watching praying mantises hatch

Dozens of baby praying mantises crawl out of the egg case once spring warms up. They quickly scatter.

As the baby mantises grow, they molt. Each time they get bigger. On their final molt they emerge with wings.

People make a big deal out of female mantises eating their mates. It isn’t really. The male mantis who survives mating will die within a week. If eaten, his protein helps make his eggs more numerous and able to produce stronger babies in the spring.

watching praying mantises is boring

Within a month a praying mantis doubles or triples in size. This one is hiding on a potted fig tree waiting for dinner to happen by.

Smaller mantises are the same green as the plants they sit on. Spotting them is a lucky chance.

I enjoy seeing them, glad they are busy munching on bugs I would rather not have around. Watching praying mantises is still boring over the summer.

Frustrating Weather

Along the coasts frustrating weather between seasons is rare. The ocean is a huge temperature sink moderating the air temperatures. this lets one season merge smoothly into the next.

In the middle of the country, like Missouri, such influences are nonexistent. Frustrating weather becomes normal.

March is supposed to be spring. It is on the calendar. It isn’t outside – today. Yesterday was a balmy seventy-four degrees. Today the temperature sits at thirty-six degrees.

frustrating weather affects alder

Black or common alder and hazelnut bushes look very similar over the winter, same size, same gray bark. Even the catkins are similar unless you look carefully. The easy difference is the female flower. Alders have cones as in the picture. Hazelnuts have little cylinders with a spray of red threads – the split pistils – sticking out.

Even the wild plants don’t like this frustrating weather. The alders and hazelnuts are blooming. The spicebush buds are big yellow globes poised to burst open.

Frustrating weather has these plants and others surging into spring one day and sending them back to winter the next. Spring is trying. Winter is resisting.

spicebush blooms despite frustrating weather

Spicebush blooms in early spring, as soon as the weather warms up. The buds started swelling during the first warm spell. then they waited through the cold spell. Back and forth as the temperatures varied until the buds are finally opening in spite of the weather.

Gardening time is starting. Potatoes are already stashed under the mulch trying to grow. Peas are trying to germinate.

Mulch does help. The surface temperature varies widely. The underneath temperature stays fairly steady, at least under six inches of mulch, it does.

I don’t have a heated greenhouse for starting seeds. Tomato and pepper seedlings need two things to do well. One is warm temperatures. The other is lots of sunlight.

The first was easy. I put the seeds on damp sand in Petri dishes set on a shelf in front of the wood stove fan. The seeds happily germinated and went into cups of soil.

frustrating weather hurts seedlings

Cups of soil take up lots of room. Germinating the seeds in small containers works well. The seedlings are moved into the cups when the root is a quarter to half an inch long. I press a finger into the damp dirt, place the seedling against the side of the hole so the top is just under the rim, then back fill the hole, tamping the soil down. The seedling pokes up through the soil in a day or two. The cups are in various kinds of containers to make moving and watering are easier. The containers come in overnight and go out on the porch on warmer (57 degrees and up) days.

Usually I ferry the trays of seedlings out onto the front porch for the day. That way the seedlings get plenty of light.

But the temperatures must be sixty degrees minimum. Thirty-six degrees is not warm enough.

Seedlings don’t understand about cold days. They want to grow and do. They become spindly. If they get too bad, I must try again.

Frustrating weather strikes again.

I can only hope the weather warms up again tomorrow. It is supposed to rain off and on for the next week. The porch has a roof.

All the seedlings and I really want right now are some more warm spring temperatures.

Writing Prompts Challenges

The last time I remember working with writing prompts was fourth grade. Mrs. Adams would put a line of pictures along the blackboard. Each student chose one to write a story about.

My books now trace themselves back to an idea about a plot or a character. I don’t think of these as writing prompts, but suppose they are. That is what a prompt is: a topic idea to build a story around.

goat show writing prompts

This is a good writing prompt for me, being at a goat show. Rural topics are a big challenge for city dwellers.

A writing buddy likes writing from these prompts and talked me into trying a weekly prompt. We trade off weeks coming up with an idea.

My writing prompts are usually some happening like picking up a coin. Hers are one word. The latest was Cursed. We tend to drive each other mad as the prompts force us to approach our writing from a new angle, get out of our comfort zones.

writing prompts fawn

Could you use this picture as a writing prompt? This fawn is old enough to start losing its spots and be on its own, but young enough to not race away when come across by a vehicle.

Cursed was such a word for me. I’m not much interested in the horror, occult or similar topics. I like much more practical, everyday topics. What could I do with this one?

The thing about a writing prompt piece is its rough draft quality. Many times the piece is written in a short time with no editing review. I came up with this one:

 

I stand assessing the enemy. I am bigger than the enemy. The enemy has vastly more members. I have weapons to attack my enemies. They have only their roots.

And, in the end, the enemy will win.

I know before beginning, the enemy will win. The enemy always wins this war. Still I get ready and go out to do battle hoping to delay the inevitable.

Smart people are supposed to learn from their mistakes. I fight this battle every year refusing to learn, or accept, my defeat.

Every fall I put up barriers to stop the enemy. Every spring I put up more barriers. The enemy’s numbers are reduced, but the army still comes.

Every spring I plow up the legions of tiny enemies. Every summer I dig and pull hundreds of my enemies. The enemy regroups and launches a new assault.

Why don’t I admit defeat? Why don’t I give up and surrender?

Each winter I consider quitting. I tabulate the costs in time and money. Both are precious commodities.

Spring wafts into view. The land greens. The air lightens. The birds sing. The seed racks and transplants arrive in the stores.

I am doomed, cursed, fated to fight the war another year.

Why? Why can’t I admit defeat? Why can’t I resist spring?

That first sun-ripened, sun-warmed tomato is why.

 

Yes, it is gardening season here. My spinach and turnips are sprouting. Flood cleanup has delayed putting the Buttercrunch lettuce in.

writing prompts floods

Nothing like ending a drought with six inches of rain and a flood. This might make a good writing prompt, but not until cleaning up is a distant memory.

I wanted to see the ravines in flood for the Carduan Chronicles. Wading through the water wasn’t an option.

Discovering Runner Beans

With my shade house to use as a trellis I started looking for vegetables that vined. Beans were one of them, including runner beans.

Growing up I thought the only beans were the kinds you saw in the market. None of these was to my taste.

That is true of most city people. Their food comes in packages and cans found on supermarket shelves. Only vegetables easily grown in commercial quantities and suitable for transportation make it.

Unfortunately the vegetables with great taste don’t often make the grade. If you don’t garden, you miss out on the myriad of different tastes available.

runner beans on trellis

Runner beans like the weather warm but not hot. Although this trellis is five feet tall, the vines easily reach eight feet. The vines don’t seem to be hurt by reaching the top then going over the top and down the other side.

Beans are good food. Navy, great northern, kidney and green beans are not on my menu. Pintos, Swedish brown, pink and yard long beans are.

Runner beans were intriguing. There are four hummingbird feeders up now as the migration surge is starting to wane. There were five. These beans are supposed to attract hummingbirds.

I ordered Scarlet Runner Beans. They came up, vined their way up over the shade house and began blooming profusely. The hummingbirds made the beautiful red flowers a regular stop.

There was one bean that season. I grow vegetables. One bean isn’t enough for even one serving.

This year I tried another variety, Sunset from Baker Creek Seeds. I also moved them to a place behind the bamboo so they would be cooler, something this bean seems to prefer.

runner bean flower

Runner bean flowers are the typical bean shape like an old fashioned shoe. The flowers are large, over an inch long. These are salmon pink but other varieties are scarlet or red and white.

The new trellis is a piece of cattle panel suspended on two metal posts. It’s five feet high. The bean vines are complaining it is too short.

Yes, the runner beans came up, met the trellis and climbed. Most of them did. The rest were persuaded to use the trellis instead of sprawling across the ground. These twine and have no tendrils as peas do.

Hot, dry summer weather stopped the vines. No growth. No flowers. Suffering persistence.

The weather cooled. The vines have covered themselves with soft pink flowers. These are huge, over an inch long. Hummingbirds regularly whirr overhead when I’m in the garden.

runner beans

The flowers become long pods on the runner beans. They are flatter than green beans and covered with short fuzz. The pods snap. The flavor is sweeter.

Then the beans started. Every flower seems to produce a bean. These are somewhat flat, wide and slightly fuzzy.

Now I am looking for bean recipes again. They are good raw, fresh off the vine. That doesn’t work for dinner. Stir fry, boil, toss with bacon, with new potatoes, the list goes on, along with plans for a longer trellis – not higher as I refuse to use a ladder to harvest – to accommodate these tasty new additions to the vegetable menu.

Using Mulch In the Garden

Weather in the Ozarks is boom and bust for rain anymore. Two or three months go by with plenty. Two or three months go by with little or none.

Summer heat coupled with no rain parches the garden. This is one reason for using mulch around my plants.

Using mulch to control ground temperature

My runner beans were planted, sprouted and growing by the time I finally got back to them with their mulch. Runner beans don’t like to be hot. The air temperature can’t be helped, but mulching will keep the ground cooler. Big weeds are pulled before the mulch goes down as there won’t be a paper layer now. Small weed sprouts are buried under the mulch.

Desert farmers in ancient times would powder up the dirt around their plants to slow evaporation. Water would seep to the surface and feed their plants but the air pockets stopped most of it from getting up to the hot sun.

Mulch works on the same principle. Water stays in the ground under the layer, even keeps the very bottom of the mulch wet but doesn’t come up through the air pockets to evaporate.

This is a problem as well as a help. Watering the garden is done often during dry weather. The moisture under the mulch can make over watering easy.

using mulch around beans

The mulch is up to the plants but not touching them. It is four inches deep but will settle to about half that once it rains. Most plants don’t want the mulch touching them.

Lately Ozark temperatures here have been in the nineties. Peppers plants, squash plants and melon plants love this. That doesn’t mean they like their roots that warm. This is another reason for using mulch in the garden.

Desert animals dig burrows. The ground may heat up to over a hundred degrees. In Death Valley the ground can get hot enough to melt rubber soles on shoes. An inch or two below the surface the temperature is comfortably warm.

using mulch around peppers

Mulch went around the pepper plants the day after I transplanted them. During the winter, a thick paper layer is put down with the mulch on top to stop weeds from growing. The paper rots over the winter. During the growing season, only the mulch is used.

Mulch works the same way. The surface bakes in the sun getting hot. Underneath the ground stays cool. The plants get the best of both, hot tops and cool roots.

The weed wars never cease for the gardener. As soon as one batch of weeds is destroyed, another sprouts to take its place.

Some weeds are interesting plants. Some are edible. Some are great for bees and other pollinators. Some are beautiful when they bloom.

I don’t mind weeding here and there. I do mind having a carpet of foot high weeds smothering my vegetables. This is another reason for using mulch.

Most weed seeds are scattered on the top of the ground and need moisture and light to germinate. The sprouts need light to grow. Mulch deprives them of that light.

using mulch saves water

This pepper plant hasn’t been watered in a week. The ground is still slightly damp and the plant hasn’t wilted. When I do water, I use a lot less water for each plant which saves on me as I carry the water in buckets.

Vegetable seeds need moisture and light to sprout too. The solution is to pull the mulch back from where the seeds are planted leaving it in place around this area.

Using mulch makes gardening a much more enjoyable experience for me. My preferred mulch is the wasted hay from the goat barn. Goats consider any hay tossed on the ground bedding.

Using mulch serves another purpose for me. It is a good way to use that wasted hay and gives it a chance to rot down and enrich my garden soil.

Midland Brown Snake, Garden Asset

Transplanting tomatoes and peppers into my garden went slowly this year. The last few finally made it to the garden. Moving an old piece of mulch paper, I found a midland brown snake.

I was delighted.

Snakes are not my favorite creatures. I tend to avoid them with a live and let live philosophy. Midland brown snakes are different.

midland brown snake

Snakes like to relax on gravel roads as the road is warm, a great place to bask. This midland brown snake was basking and flipped its tail up in a defensive posture when I urged it to move off the road. The small size makes it easy to pick a stubborn one up and drop it off on the side of the road.

At most a foot long, these snakes are not intimidating. They are shy. They hide under the mulch or stones or boards.

Brown is part of the name because a midland brown snake is several shades of brown. The background color is tan. The dorsal stripe is ecru. The splotches are dark brown.

So, midland brown snakes are pretty. Why are they a garden asset?

Spring here in the Ozarks was wet. Vegetation is lush. Slugs moved into my cabbage.

Only one head was damaged. This little midland brown snake may have saved the others. Slugs are top of the menu, a delicacy.

Another favorite food is earthworms. I do appreciate having earthworms in my garden. However, even with the moles and midland brown snakes munching on them, my worm population is booming. Goat manure and mulch probably help.

midland brown snake

Because midland brown snakes are small, they are on the menu for many creatures including chickens. This little beauty didn’t move, when the paper roof disappeared. It was hoping I wouldn’t notice it was there. I left it still coiled under the paper.

This particular snake was very lucky. I had pulled a few weeds from the bed, walked around the bed and across the bed, pounded two posts in for tomato caging and started to crawl around digging holes for my transplants. Somehow, I didn’t step on the snake.

After I moved the paper and found the snake, I put the paper back. I transplanted four tomato plants and a dozen pepper plants.

Then I went to get my camera. The midland brown snake was still curled up under the paper. I took a few pictures and replaced the paper. This is a valued garden ally. Soon there will be more mulch for it to hide under.

Read more about plants and animals of the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Homesteaders Getting Dirty

Homesteaders Getting Dirty

There is only one way to garden without getting dirty: hire someone else to do all the actual work. This may be tempting but isn’t financially feasible. Gardeners get dirty. All that dirt does wash off the hands, knees, hair etc.

Clothes are a different matter. Ground in dirt doesn’t come out of clothes easily. The solution is to have clothes strictly for gardening. These can be washed clean and the leftover stains don’t matter. This is liberating too as you don’t have to be careful not to play in the mud or crawl across the grass.

clean not dirty cabbages

These cabbages will be gone before the okra goes in. The mulch holds in moisture, prevents dirty cabbage by blocking mud splashing up and keeps the ground cool the way cole crops prefer it.

Challenge 1: Creating the Garden

Bare dirt is a challenge to plants. They colonize the area as fast as they can. That new garden spot is occupied by residents that do not want to move Eviction methods depend on the size of the marked out area.

An easier way is to start in the fall. Cover the proposed garden area with feed sacks or cardboard and mulch. These will rot over the winter while killing out many of the plants underneath. The plot is then turned by hand or rototilled in the spring.

Starting in the spring, a ten foot square area can be done by hand. Use a shovel or spade to cut through the plants at the edge and lift them, roots, dirt and all to loosen the soil. Reach down, pull the plants, shake the dirt off the roots and toss the plants into a wheelbarrow or pile to be taken away. The entire patch may take several days to clear entirely.

A larger area can be harrowed with a tractor. Some rototillers will cut through sod. The plants must still be pulled up by hand, dirt shaken off the roots and tossed out. Any left in the new garden will start growing again.

The dirt will have lots of plant seeds in it. These will seize the opportunity to grow and cover the newly bare area in a green carpet. These seedlings can be hoed, rototilled or mulched to prevent them from creating a new plant jungle.

This seed invasion will never end. The seeds will blow in, get dropped off by birds or get carried in on shoes or clothes. The gardener will get dirty fighting this never ending war continuously as long as the garden exists.

weeding is dirty work

No doubt about it, chickweed gets really big in the garden with good soil and plenty of rain. Dead nettle gets lush too but dies back after a time. Pulling these is dirty work but helping the bees in early spring makes it worth the trouble.

Controversy 2: Rototill or not?

Traditionally a garden was rototilled or plowed every spring. Many gardeners still start their spring gardens this way.

The advantages of rototilling were getting the newest seedling invasion or winter cover crop turned under, loosening the soil and redefining the garden perimeter. The disadvantages were needing the ground dry enough to support the rototiller, keeping the garden open enough for the rototiller to maneuver around and mixing the top soil into the subsoil layer. It chopped up worms but exposed pest moth pupae.

I rarely rototill my garden any more. My garden is set up in small sections. A small tiller would work but fall mulching works too. I put down feed sacks with a mulch layer in late fall.

Some seedlings will come up through or in the mulch. These are not normally a problem. This year narrow leaf plantains are the common plant coming up and are being pulled as a kitchen crop. Morning glories, black walnuts and locusts are pulled. Chickweed is used as a garden crop then pulled.

My garden pathways do grow up in dead nettle, chickweed and henbit. These bloom early and are relished by bees. When I start planting, I start clearing and mulching the pathways for the summer. My method is to use a potato fork to loosen the soil, pull enough plants for one wheelbarrow piled high each day. It takes about ten days to get all the way around at this rate.

The mulch is pulled back from the row I want to plant. The seeds are put into the row. Some areas must have all the mulch pulled back as for the turnips and beets. Any exposed areas will need weeding so I try to limit them as much as possible. I don’t mind getting dirty or the time but my back complains after so much pulling.

After five or six years using the mulch method without tilling, I much prefer it. I can get into the garden earlier planting peas, spinach and other crops that don’t do well in warm weather. Rototilling is hard work. I like working in the smaller areas, each one sized for the amount of space I would work up in a day or use for a particular crop.

My garden is fair sized but works well with this method because it is broken up into small pieces. A large garden would probably not work out well with this method. There is no reason a large garden can not be worked up using both methods, a smaller area not rototilled and used for early crops while the ground is still too wet to rototill and the main area done in the more traditional method.

potatoes under mulch

Growing potatoes under mulch is great. Deeper mulch increases the yield. Labor is reduced. weeds are reduced. Harvesting is simply moving the mulch aside to pick up the potatoes. the mulch can attract mice and sow or pill bugs that eat potatoes.

Heads Up 3: Garden Residents

I suppose there are some gardeners who think their garden is occupied solely by the plants they themselves plant – they pull up all others – and the insects they invited in to pollinate those plants. My garden would be frightening to these people.

There are many plants trying to invade my garden. Many are unwelcome and are removed as soon as possible. Pokeweed, locust trees, walnut trees, bedstraw and dock are some of them. Other plants are welcome in small numbers. Evening primrose, hispid buttercup, moth mullein, morning glories and chickweed are among these. Lamb’s quarters and plantain are good eating so they are allowed in larger numbers, even one or two plants being allowed to set and scatter seeds.

Creatures come into the garden too. Toads, green frogs, black, speckled king and brown snakes, praying mantises, wasps, bees, lacewings and lady bugs are welcome. Box turtles are usually removed to outside the garden fence. Moles are tolerated only because I can’t get rid of them. Numerous insects come into the garden. Some are problems. Some aren’t.

The pictures of formal gardens, beautifully laid out, carefully tended and trimmed look nice. I prefer my casual garden. It is a comfortable place to be.

Before you panic at seeing some bug or creature in your garden, find out what it is. Most snakes are far more upset at seeing you than you are at seeing them. Take a moment to admire the colors and movements. Box turtles are vegetarians and love fruit within easy reach. Many insects will not bother you or do much damage to your crops.

Your garden produce will not look like the produce in the supermarket unless you use the commercial methods of sprays which defeats my intentions of no sprays. Bug bites are easily pared away. There are safer ways to repel bugs from picking them off (chickens love some of them) to soap sprays to wood ashes.

Yes, my garden is fenced. Chickens are a disaster in the garden as they dig up everything. Fences are great trellises and boundary markers. Normal fences will not stop woodchucks, raccoons or deer. The many wild residents seem to easily find a way in so they are lived with, enjoyed or avoided as necessary.

mulch limits the dirty work of weeding

Snow peas are an early spring crop and will be gone before the okra goes in. the okra can be started in cups then transplanted. clearing the pea row from mulch lets some weeds sprout. these are showing at the front of the row for the picture. Then they left.

Vegetables are not the only Crops

Raising your own garden produce is not necessarily cheaper than buying it. Labor is expensive. The real benefits of gardening come in fresh produce in new, good tasting varieties and time out in the fresh air. The satisfaction of putting the fruits of your labors on the dinner plate should count in the plus column too.

Homesteading is a dirty business. The homesteader collects plenty of dirt from livestock and working in the garden. Fruits such as berries and apples live above the dirt but have their own considerations.

 

Country Living Introduction

Escape the rat race. Leave the crowds, the crime, the problems behind. Move to the country and live the simple life.

This is like believing, if you’re poor, winning the lottery will solve all your problems. All it does is trade one set of problems for another. And the new set includes problems you are unprepared for.

I did leave the city behind many years ago and wouldn’t want to move back. Country living suits me but the learning curve has been steep and painful. I am still learning about the simple country life through reading and the school of hard knocks.

weather and country living

Weather is an important consideration. I don’t mind a little snow and cold but don’t need months of it. The Ozarks weather suits me most of the time.

Lesson 1

My way of country living is definitely not for everyone. That is true for all of those how-to books and articles.

This does not mean reading these books is a waste of time. It means you must adjust what you read to the conditions where you live or plan to live.

I live in the Ozarks. There is a winter here but nothing like northern areas where snow is measured in feet for months. I tried that. No, thank you.

Rich deep soil may exist here and there in the Ozarks, but not where I live. My garden soil is half gravel. It grows a lot of nice vegetables but not carrots or other deep taproot ones. It dries out quickly. Hot summer sun cooks the plants.

A lot of those gardening books and articles won’t apply to me. I do enjoy reading them as I find ideas now and then to improve my own garden. Other ideas may sound good but don’t work for me.

livestock and country living

Gardens and livestock tie you down. Livestock, especially, needs attention daily.

Lesson 2

Know what your goals are before you look for a place to move. Be sure those goals are realistic. Just as important is whether or not everyone in your family shares those goals.

Are you wanting more room between you and the neighbors? You don’t intend to do serious gardening or raise livestock? Then all you need is a house on an extra large lot.

Are you a serious gardener? You might keep a few chickens but raising livestock isn’t on your agenda. You will look for a place with good gardening potentials.

Are you planning on raising livestock? This takes room unless you dry lot and then you need a big hay barn. Cows like pasture. Goats like brushy hills. Horses murder pastures so they need extra space. All need water.

Is a nice house important?

If you will hold down a job, be careful your dreams stay small. Nothing burns you out faster than working all day, every day and still never getting things done.

Consider, too, you don’t need to achieve all your goals the first year. It takes years to build up a good garden spot, arrange it the way you want and find the crops that grow the best for you. If you’ve never had livestock before, get one kind so you have time to learn about them, make sure their housing is adequate and you are comfortable with them before the next kind comes home.

It is tempting to dream big. Having a big dream is fine. Start small and build up as you are ready. You can look for a place big enough and suitable for that big dream, if it ever comes true. Big dreams take more than one person working to achieve them. At the very least, they need everyone supporting them or everyone will end up unhappy.

wildlife and country living

Wildlife invades even the cities but country living is living in wildlife territory. That place you buy belonged to them first. And some of them will come in conflict with you.

Lesson 3

I grew up in the city. I was lucky because my parents kept chickens. For a time we had rabbits. We ate some of them.

The how-to books and articles explain how to raise and butcher your own meat animals. There are good reasons for raising your own meat. I prefer to.

What is missing from those directions and matters a lot to city people is what it is like to butcher an animal you have raised and cared for sometimes for over a year. This is not some neatly wrapped package in the market meat section. This is a living breathing animal that doesn’t want to be your dinner.

Or you find one of those cute raccoons in killing your chickens. Perhaps it is your dog doing the killing. Or a woodchuck is eating your garden and fruit.

Either you can look at the animal and pull the trigger, ending its life, or you can’t. If you can’t, move to the suburbs. You will be much happier.

Think It Over

Country living has lots of challenges. Every day can bring life and death decisions. Ordinary days mean hard work.

There are times I shudder thinking about the day’s agenda. There are times I would love to sit down and relax, not bundle up to milk in thirty degree weather. There are times I ache from head to toe.

This is part of country living. I might sometimes think I’m crazy to keep doing this. Then I drive to town and see the houses side by side and the people crowding the stores, hear the noise and smell the cars.

For me, living in the country far from neighbors, able to walk the hills, enjoy my garden and animals makes all the downsides worth enduring. If you agree or, at least, want to try country living, perhaps you can benefit from what I have learned over the years.

 

The first homesteading topic which is on water will be posted next week.

Bamboo, Friend and Enemy

There is a native bamboo called Giant Cane that still grows in pockets in the Ozarks. My bamboo is an Oriental edible bamboo.

Most people know what bamboo looks like. It has these tall jointed canes with little branches of leaves sticking out. Giant Pandas eat it. Oriental people eat it too as well as anyone else who likes Chinese food.

bamboo

Bamboo is pretty. New canes are often small and bushy. The leaves are rich green.

In spite of what bamboo looks like, it is a kind of grass and acts like it. Mine is my enemy because of this. Every spring I pull out all of these runners extending up to ten feet in all directions.

The runners are thickly rooted and determined to stay in the ground. I am armed with pruners, potato fork and mattock commonly called digger hoe.

My attack method may not be the best but seems to work. First I find a runner. Often it has a short section on top of the ground. Other times I find the runners by trying to dig them up while turning over garden soil.

Yes, the bamboo grows in my garden. I brought this two inch plant home the last time I visited my father’s home after his death. With great lack of foresight I planted it in a corner of my vegetable garden. After all, it was supposed to be edible.

mantis eggs on bamboo

I was clipping canes then found this mass on them. There were five of these praying mantis egg cases. I hope the ice didn’t kill the eggs. These canes will be left until the eggs hatch.

Once a runner is found, I begin with the potato fork and dig around the exposed section or probe for the end of the runner. The soil is loosened all along the runner by digging under, lifting up and pushing over it.

Starting at an exposed section, I cut it with the pruners. Then comes the real work. Grab the end and pull. When no more will pull up, loosen the dirt or dig along the runner with the mattock. Pull more. Repeat until the runner is out.

The bamboo is my friend in a couple of ways. One is the edible shoots that come up in the spring. The other is the shade the canes provide during the hottest part of the summer for parts of the garden. Ozark summer sun will cook squash, tomatoes and peppers.

dying bamboo canes

All the bamboo canes bent to the ground covered with ice then stood up again. The leaves turned brown and dropped. Then the canes started turning brown which means they are dying too.

This year the ice storm plastered the bamboo bending the canes to the ground. Unlike trees, the canes stood back up once the ice was gone. They dropped their leaves then started turning brown meaning the ice had killed them.

I am now cutting canes. These vary from flower pot stake size to over and inch diameter twelve foot long monsters.

Bamboo canes make great stakes, poles, trellis supports and other useful things. I’m wondering what to do with about two hundred of them.

Garden Planning Time Is Here

Two inches of snow, not much but enough to dampen any gardening enthusiasm. It should be looked on as a chance to do some garden planning.

I grew up enjoying outings at a favorite Chinese restaurant. Chinese cuisine is heavily laced with vegetables. At least it was at that time.

American cuisine is heavily dependent on meat. I prefer the vegetable approach. Good vegetables are hard to find.

No, you say, go to the store. In my area the vegetable selection is limited and expensive. Commercial fruits and vegetables are often picked green so they will ship well. The difference between a store tomato and one ripened in the garden is a case in point.

Garden planning has three parts. The indoor part is deciding which vegetables will be in the garden this year. Then the seeds are located in the seed catalogs, ordered and stockpiled until planting time.

The outdoor part begins with choosing a garden site and continues from then onward. I have the garden laid out, fenced but not quite ready for spring. Usually all my beds are manured and mulched long before now but late frost delayed starting. There are three beds to go but they are planted later.

For several years I have been adding a few Chinese vegetables to the garden. I would like to add more but am not familiar with what they are or how to grow them.

garden planning uses books like Grow Your Own Chinese Vegetables

Grow Your Own Chinese Vegetables by Geri Harrington, Garden way Press, 1978, is easy to read, has lots of interesting tips, goes through many Chinese vegetables with what they are, how to grow them and how to use them.

The third part of garden planning is reading. Many gardening books have much the same information in them. That is when scanning comes in handy. Scanning is a fancy way of saying reading a sentence each paragraph to see if the paragraph is worth the time.

Surprisingly these books with so much repetition of information often toss in a nugget or two that make the reading well worththe time. Many times that nugget may be applied to gardens very different than mine but still solve a problem I have.

This year I am perusing an older book, 1978 from Garden Way Publishing, called Grow Your Own Chinese Vegetables by Geri Harrington. Much of the books is a listing of individual vegetables: what they are; how to grow them; what they look like; and how to use them. These pages I will read on a selected basis as there are a number of Chinese vegetables such as hot peppers I will not ever grow.

One nugget came in the first few pages. Consider soil. My father used to go out with a shovel and turn his garden.

Grow Your Own Chinese Vegetables has an interesting observation. Vegetables grow in topsoil which sits on top of the subsoil. Often this topsoil is thin or even missing. Subsoil may be turning into soil but naturally takes hundreds of years to do so.

Turning your soil with a shovel could bury your topsoil into the subsoil defeating your garden before you plant your seeds. Check for how deep your topsoil is before turning your garden over.

Turning subsoil into topsoil can be speeded up. Remove the layer of topsoil. Dig manure and thin leaves such as maple or sweet gum into the subsoil. Replace the topsoil. Doing this for a few years will make a deep layer of topsoil.

Don’t neglect adding compost to the topsoil to keep it in good shape.

I just started this book and within a few pages found a nugget of information I hadn’t read elsewhere. I found some others in the pages on snow peas and yard long beans, both of which I grow.

Winter is a great time for garden planning. In a way winter is too short. I need to start my cabbage seeds by the end of the month. So much for loafing.

Ozark Winter Greenhouse

I have no regular greenhouse nor a place to put one. It wouldn’t be very practical here anyway. Summers are much too hot for a greenhouse.

Winters are another story. Cold turns the ground into frozen dirt too hard for a shovel let alone roots.

There are crops I want to grow in this cold season. Fresh greens are welcome year round. Cole crops do better in cold weather even tolerating killing frosts into the low twenties.

My problem was where to grow these. It had to have some shelter from the winter cold. The ground couldn’t freeze. It had to provide light and some warmth during the day.

Last year’s fall I was stripping the dead bean vines off my shade house when I began to wonder. Greenhouses in town are plastic over metal hoops. I scrounged up some plastic, put it over my shade house and had a winter greenhouse.

winter greenhouse

My winter greenhouse may not be fancy but it does work. The biggest problems are the wind and overheating.

The Brussels sprouts fell victim to the woodchucks. However turnips, rutabaga and chard did fine.

This year I started planning ahead to solve some of the problems I found last year. One was keeping the plastic down when the wind blew.

I bought some plastic wide enough to cover the entire shade house. That left only the front and back to cover. These were done first so the main plastic piece went over the ends.

The bottom of the plastic still needed securing. I put a piece of chicken wire over the center to weight down the plastic on top. Two old pieces of roofing tin went along the sides with another across the back. These were staked into place.

A door was cut into the front with the plastic left hanging. The piece of cattle panel used for the door was covered with plastic. Baling twine makes good temporary hinges that will last until spring. That created a winter greenhouse.

Another problem is water. I considered moving a rain barrel inside the greenhouse and filling it with water. Even one is far too big. So I do have to carry water once or twice a week from the rain barrels to the greenhouse and raised bed.

There is a problem with this solution as the rain barrels are plastic and the water could freeze breaking the barrels. I am emptying one barrel at a time and turning it over. I hope they will all be empty before really severe weather hits.

The last problem is how fast the winter greenhouse heats up on sunny days. Walking inside is a trip to the tropics. So far leaving the door open and lifting the plastic flap has kept the temperature and humidity down.

inside the winter greenhouse

The snow peas are growing up the cattle panels. They are hard to reach and could freeze as dew does freeze inside the plastic in the low twenties and teens. The Chinese cabbage and winter radishes are ready for harvest. The Brussels sprouts are starting to form.

In the meantime I am now harvesting winter radishes [China Rose from Baker’s Creek], Chinese cabbage [Optiko from Pinetree], dill that self sows every year and watching the Brussels sprouts [transplants from a local nursery] put on sprouts. There are snow peas but they are badly placed, a problem to solve next year.

Other problems are showing up. There are insects enjoying the greenhouse too. Winter vegetables are delicious to them too. Weeds keep showing up.

The winter crops make a winter greenhouse worth all the work and problems.

Ozark Fall Gardening

Technically it is still fall here in the Ozarks. Weather wise it is fall flirting with winter and fall gardening season is in full swing.

I used to end my gardening for the year with killing frost. Tomatoes, peppers, okra and squash including summer and winter squash and pumpkins were wiped out. All that was left to do was clear the dead stalks out, manure the garden and mulch over the weeds.

One of my favorite crops is spinach. I would plant it in the spring, get a few leaves and watch it bolt. Spring got too hot too fast to grow good spinach.

Fall spinach does much better. Spinach doesn’t mind some cold and frost. I was tempted.

plastic over raised garden bed

The long side of the raised be faces south so sunny days warms the bed up into summer temperatures. Two problems have surfaced with the plastic. One is securing the edges so rain runs off and doesn’t pool on top of the plants. The other is the wind. High winds will pull the plastic up even out from under the boards holding it in place.

Then I build a raised bed. It is great for greens like lettuce and spinach. And it is rigged to put plastic over it for those really cold nights. Fall gardening became a possibility.

My raised bed has been there for three years now. Each year I find out more about it.

First I learned I needed to redo the stone walls around it. That was work but it is much more stable.

Next I found the idea for the trellis/plastic arrangement in “Straw Bale Gardening” and put it up. I need to duct tape over where the wires join so the plastic quits getting caught there.

fall gardening spinach

The trellis is anchored by two tall T-posts. A wooden beam is between the tops of the posts. Wire is looped around the posts every six inches allowing the height of the plastic to be changed as plants get taller. On warmer sunny days the plastic is easily slid back for the spinach to get some bright light. The plastic can be left pushed back for rains when no freeze is coming before morning. Otherwise the raised bed needs watering once or twice a week.

One problem I am still working on is how to keep the plastic in place when the wind decides to blow things away. Better plastic helps.

Another is plugging up the holes between the stones so the dirt doesn’t wash away. Chickweed roots are doing the job this fall. Chickweed is a mild wild green good scrambled in eggs or tossed  into stir fries.

The first year I planted spinach in February and was eating it in March. Last winter the spinach grew slowly the entire winter. This is a better idea.

So spinach is now a staple of fall gardening in my Ozark garden. It does take time but fresh spinach is worth a little time.

Indian Summer Arrives Helping Bell Peppers Ripen

For the over twenty years we’ve lived in the Ozarks cold weather blows in off and on from the beginning of September into October when Indian summer arrives. Frost comes with this cold weather.

This year the colder weather has made several forays. It even spread some patches of light frost. But the usual big frost did not arrive.

The plants know frost is close. Leaves are changing color and falling. Plants including my bell peppers are trying to ripen their last fruits.

purple bell pepper

Purple bell peppers start off purple with green shaded in. The green disappears as the pepper ripens. The purple is dark but definite.

Indian summer has perked them up. Warm days with deep blue skies and rustling winds are always welcome.

I am glad frost has delayed its appearance this year. Last spring was cool and wet delaying gardening. Many people lost their plants as it was too cool and wet.

black bell peppers

Black bell peppers are a very dark purple. They start dark with green and ripen to black. The purple is so dark the color does appear to be black. They have more glossy sheen than the regular purple bells.

Planting late does have advantages. My squash seems to have missed the squash bugs.

The tomatoes managed to do all right even getting a late start. The peppers have a problem.

Somehow I ended up with over four dozen bell and banana pepper plants. Green peppers hang from them slowly, incrementally ripening and turning color.

white bell peppers

White bell peppers point up as they develop. They start a greenish white and ripen to white or ivory.

Green peppers and I do not like each other. They are bitter. Then I met colored bell peppers.

Markets now carry yellow and red bells. Its like when apples began to include more than red and yellow delicious. There was consternation that people would not accept a green apple called Granny Smith.

There are so many other varieties.Seed catalogs have the yellow and red. They also have purple, lilac, gold, orange, white, chocolate and black. I have all but the lilac ripening in my garden.

gold bell peppers

Gold bell peppers begin green and stay green until they begin to ripen.

The fun part of the different colors is their different tastes. Purple and black have a dusky taste. White is like green peppers without the bitterness. Yellow, gold, orange and red progress from slightly zesty to very zesty.

Then there is chocolate. These bell peppers are mild and sweet, great in scrambled eggs or blander dishes where their flavor can show through.

Without the usual killing frost the peppers have more time. Cool temperatures slow down ripening. Indian summer has arrived pushing temperatures back into the seventies and eighties.

Indian summer never lasts long, maybe a week. My bell peppers better hurry up.

 

Frustrating Invasive Weeds

Every year I go out pulling and mulching the weeds in my garden. Every year these prolific plants replace themselves almost faster than I can remove them.

Gardening books and magazines often have articles on how to rid your garden of these invaders. Chemical companies make fortunes selling herbicides.

The gardener may win a few battles but ultimate victory belongs to the weeds.

weeds can include moth mullein

Moth mullein grows a rosette of dark green lobed leaves in the fall and spring. Warm weather triggers tall flower spikes. Most flowers are white with purple stamens. occasional plants have yellow flowers. They are lovely in the lawn, the garden and other places. They produce lots of seeds and can quickly become a problem.

This year I’ve been looking carefully at my garden invaders. They are plants growing in Dent County no matter how pesky. Many of them are from Europe.

Why would the colonists import these infuriating plants? What exactly is a weed?

I came across a book called, appropriately, “Weeds” by Richard Mabey. First off, Mabey is British so much of the material has a British bent.

These plants are international travelers so the British bent doesn’t detract much other than the difference in common names. What is interesting is our love/hate relationship with these plants.

amaranth weeds

Where the seeds which are tiny and marketed as food came from I have no idea. I was working on another project and came back to find these giant amaranth weeds had moved into the flower section which I had weeded of my garden. These things get eight feet tall and produce thousands of seeds. The weeds and headaches will sprout next year.

Take bracken. Bracken is one species spread over Europe, Asia and North America. It is a fern with a single frond that can reach two and more feet into the air.

Livestock shouldn’t eat bracken as it is mildly toxic. My goats ignore the stuff. So bracken should be classified as a weed.

Yet in Europe bracken was harvested, dried and burned as fuel. It was reputed to give off more heat than many woods, enough to fire bricks. Bracken was not a weed.

Corn poppies have a similar history. They were weeds in grain fields. Yet they have become the Flanders Fields poppy used as a model for the paper poppies given out on Veteran’s Day.

A fun part is how weeds travel from one place to another. The mundane way is stowaway seeds among seed corn, wheat, oats and other crops. This is how many weeds arrived in North America.

invasive weeds include pursley

Pursley is another new arrival. I left it as I had never seen it in the garden before. When I finally identified it – I missed the flowers – the news was not good. It is mentioned in the book “Weeds” as highly invasive, very bad news for the gardener. I will be busy weeding next year.

Another mundane way was as seeds tangled in animal fur and wool. The seeds get carried far and wide this way.

The seeds have updated their modes of travel. Car tire treads work well. Commuter trains work too. Drift into open windows. Hang around as the train goes a stop or two. Drift out into new territory to invade.

At times this book does drag. It is full of stories about different weeds and how they end up where they do. The interesting items make plowing through the duller parts worthwhile.

morning glories can be weeds

Morning glories are such lovely flowers. Two grow in my garden. This purple beauty and a smaller light blue one are supposed to have specific places on the fence and a trellis. Seedlings come up all over even through several inches of straw. I tolerate the headaches to enjoy the cascades of flowers.

Yes, I do let some so-called weeds grow in my garden. More this year than others. Some like moth mullein, morning glories and evening primrose have such lovely flowers. Some were of passing interest as part of my botany project.

The final result from reading this interesting book is a bit of freedom from the frantic stress of making my garden totally weed free. It can’t be done.

Planning Ahead-A Rural Necessity

Long ago I read an article saying one of the big differences between rich and poor people is in planning ahead. The rich made long range plans. The poor did not.

Money was blamed for this as the poor were more concerned with eating the next day than with stock portfolios. Country people may seem to have the same divide but can’t keep from planning ahead.

Country people live by the seasons. Those seasons have demands.

planning ahead yields peppers

White bell peppers are not available as transplants. Planning ahead means ordering seed and starting it soon enough to get a crop in the garden.

Spring and summer are gardening seasons. Vegetables are plentiful both for eating and selling. Pastures are lush and animals fatten.

Fall just decided to remind Ozark people the seasons are changing. Winter is coming closer. Planning ahead means making it through or not.

Summer is hay season. Putting hay in the barn means animals eat for the winter. My dairy goats won’t produce milk without good hay.

How do I pay for it? I put money aside every month in an envelope labeled hay.

planning ahead for vegetables

Gardens need advance planning for where to put different crops, adding compost and killing out weeds. Summer squash needs two months of growing time before any squash appear for the table.

Tomatoes, squash and okra are on overdrive right now. I haven’t any luck putting up okra but tomatoes are another story.

I tried canning. It’s a lot of work. Now I freeze and depend on the electric cooperative to keep the power on. Tomato sauce and whole tomatoes are moving into my freezer soon to be followed by eggs and peppers.

Yes, I do freeze eggs. Whole eggs split. I break three into a measuring cup, whip them lightly, pour into a zip lock and freeze. They seem to keep six months well.

Planning ahead for eggs

Some people start entire flocks every couple of years. I prefer adding eight pullets to my flock each year and raising roosters for meat along with them.

When I get chicks in the spring, I am planning ahead. I worked in a poultry plant for a couple of years and now raise my own chickens for meat. It may not be as tender as the six week old ones from the store but the quality is much better.

planning ahead for meat

Planning ahead means deciding which wether will stay until the following year before becoming goatburger. Doing it this way means knowing the goat but still taking him to the plant. Before that he is well cared for and well fed.

Each year I hold back one wether from my goat kids. The following year in the fall the wether goes to the processing plant and I have meat in the freezer for the winter.

It may be easier to go to the grocery store and buy everything. I prefer knowing where my food came from and how it was raised. Planning ahead makes this possible.