Tag Archives: gardening

Summer Squash Season

Hot summer weather is good summer squash weather. There are lots of varieties to choose from with lots of different tastes.

In the past I’ve grown patty pan with its cool melon honeydew taste. Zucchini and its similar varieties are a favorite. Yellow crookneck has that difficult shape. The yellow straightneck is nice.

Zephyr summer squash plants
My winter squash plants are racing along with vines trying to cover the garden. The zephyr summer squash has foot long vines and huge leaves.

This year I’m growing Zephyr. Its shape is similar to a zucchini. It’s color is yellow at the narrow end and green over the seeds. White spots scattered over all aren’t very noticeable, but pale the other colors. It has a mild flavor.

Summer squash is easy to grow from seed. I dig down and turn out a shovel full of dirt. The hole is filled with compost. The dirt is replaced to form a mound. Seeds are stuck in the mound and watered in.

zephyr summer squash fruit
Since their vines are so short, summer squash plants send up lots of closely spaced flowers. The tall ones are males. The short ones with tiny squash below them are female flowers. Zephyr squash is partially yellow and partially green.

Seeds germinate in about a week with large oval cotyledons. Small leaves follow. The plants remain small for about two weeks.

The plants are busy putting down roots. Unlike winter squash, summer squash plants do not vine. The roots arrive at the compost. Overnight the leaves reach a foot across and the plants double in size.

adult squash bug
An adult squash bug has long antennae on a small, long head. The thorax is triangular. Wings begin behind the thorax and cross over each other making a triangular shape marking the bugs as members of the true bug family. All members of the family have a stabbing mouth part. As squash bugs feed on sap, insecticides don’t kill them as they don’t eat them. The squash bugs are similar to wheel assassin bugs which prey on other insects.

My summer squash plants are waist high and as big in circumference. They are blooming madly. Squash is forming and overflowing in the refrigerator.

That bane of any cucurbit grower has noticed my squash. Squash bugs do prey on other plants out in the pasture. They prefer the taste of squash.

summer squash bug eggs
Squash bugs lay lots of eggs. They are often in a triangular formation between two veins. These are more scattered. Other times they are in a long line up a stem or petiole. In hot weather they can hatch in a few days.

These pests are in the true bug family which means they have wings that cross on their backs making a little triangle at the top. They feed by stabbing their mouth into a stem or leaf and drinking the sap.

Squash bugs begin as eggs. These are often laid as a group between two veins near and under the leaf. They can be strung out along a stem. They can be a cluster on top of a leaf.

I remove and squash as many as I can find.

The eggs hatch into little gray nymphs. They stay as a group sucking the leaf dry. The nymphs molt and grow larger.

squash bug nymphs
Squash bug nymphs start as tiny dark grey things like in the upper right. They molt and become the small gray nymph. These molt and get bigger. The next molt gives them an adult shape. All of them drink sap and drink leaves and stem dry. They will feed on juices in a developing squash stunting or destroying it.

Finally the nymphs become winged adults. These and other adults hide during the day in mulch, nearby grass, under leaves and stems. Whenever I find them, I squash them. They stink when squashed.

Eventually the bugs overwhelm the summer squash plants and kill them. Until then I will battle their infestation and enjoy the squash.

Stone Walls For Raised Garden Bed

With the first raised garden bed, I found I liked having the stone walls. I like the looks of the walls. And stones have advantages.

Stones heat up quickly in the sunny south facing wall. They stay hot after sunset. This keeps the dirt in the bed warmer for the plants.

Stones do get cold when the temperatures drop and clouds hide the sun. Using the liner inside the walls should help insulate the dirt as there is air between the two. Air is insulating.

stone walls of raised garden bed
I’ll admit a few of the stones are purely decorative. They are ones I saw along the creek and found interesting or pretty or both. However, the main walls are solid enough to sit on or lean on. Presently the gap between the walls and the liner is large enough to harbor a chipmunk. This is probably a mistake. However, it is cute. It probably won’t last long as a copperhead came through the other day. That was a surprise. It wasn’t impressed with the flood coming from the hose and moved out quickly.

Building the new stone walls was different. The first time I put in a rock layer, filled in with dirt, then repeated the process. This time the walls were free standing around the lining of roofing tin.

The walls had to be solid. I sit on them. I lean over them. I work around them. The stones are heavy and I don’t want them to collapse under or on me.

Assembling the rock jigsaw puzzle was challenging. I assembled, took down, repositioned, took down, tried another rock and rebuilt several times. The final test was leaning on the stone walls to pull the numerous morning glory seedlings coming up inside.

Now that the stone walls are up, the raised garden bed needs dirt. The bed is roughly three feet wide, ten feet long and two feet high. It will take sixty square feet of dirt to fill it.

That is a lot of dirt.

dirt needed inside stone walls
The roofing tin liner will hold the dirt inside the raised garden bed. The front corners needed corner pieces as the gaps between the front and sides was too big. As the dirt fills the bed, the tin is pushed out closer to the walls.

I had some dirt in feed sacks from disassembling the old raised bed. I dumped it in. The raised bed now has one inch of dirt in it.

There is a small pile of dirt I can move. There is a big pile of composted goat manure to move. I plan to fill and move four buckets of dirt every day, more if possible.

Why so little each day? Heat and humidity make working outside in the sun impossible for me by noon. Shade doesn’t return to this area of the garden until late in the afternoon.

As the dirt level rises, the liner will press outwards against the stone walls. This will further stabilize them. And I have about six weeks before planting time to get that dirt moved.

Assembling Rock Jigsaw Puzzles

Many years ago I tried building a raised garden bed out of foundation stones from an old home site. I grew wonderful spinach in it all winter, but had major problems. The only solution was to take it down and rebuild leaving me again assembling rock jigsaw puzzles.

There were two major problems with the old raised garden bed. One was the wall construction. Since the rock walls were stacks of rough stone with gaps between them, every rain washed dirt out.

raised garden bed site
Once the old raised bed was removed and the dirt raked level, the site was ready to begin rebuilding. The old bed was up against the garden fence. The new one is a foot away. The bed shape and size will be dictated by the piece of welded 1″ x 2″ wire used as a mole deterrent under the dirt.

As the dirt washed out, the rock walls leaned in. Some parts collapsed.

The location was great for winter spinach growing. I needed plastic over the bed in really cold weather. The wire method from Straw Bale Gardening worked well for putting the plastic up.

Unfortunately wind got under the plastic and blew it around. The plastic had to be held down. Weighting the ends wasn’t enough. I finally ended up leaning lengths of cattle panel on the plastic.

pieces for assembling rock jigsaw puzzles
As I removed the rocks from the old walls, I set them in sections according to length. Depth separation would have helped. Few are rectangular. Sizes vary. Ends slant or are rounded or knobby. Almost all have at least one fairly flat side to go on the inside against the liner. Selection of each block is done carefully as they are heavy. And, as work progresses, I seem to need more rocks. Luckily the Ozarks has lots of rocks, many of them suitable for adding to my raised garden bed wall.

On warm days I wanted to slide the plastic down the wires and let the plants enjoy the weather. The panels were difficult to handle and a mess to work with.

The first problem had a number of possible solutions. One was to replace the stones with cement blocks. This was ruled out due to expense and, besides, I like the stones.

I could cement the stones together. This would require putting in a gravel foundation to protect the walls from winter freezes and thaws.

Building a raised garden bed using cement implies permanency. Judging from what has happened to the rest of this valley over the years, no one will use this bed but me. This place, like the others, will be allowed to grow up in brush and trees and used once a year by deer hunters.

challenge of assembling rock jigsaw puzzles
This raised bed has new end rocks from a place where they are no longer needed. Although I am trying to fit the rocks together closely, the spaces between won’t matter as much because I will line the bed to keep the dirt in the garden. What the rocks will do is gather heat to warm the garden during the winter, define the garden and look nice. The rock wall is a nice place to sit, if the rocks aren’t too hot.

Instead I will put up a liner of old roofing tin inside the rock walls.

The old raised bed is taken apart. The area is surrounded by piles of stones. I am again assembling rock jigsaw puzzles.

Assembling rock jigsaw puzzles is challenging. Each stone must be evaluated for height, width, length, flatness along three sides and top and bottom. Each is fit into place. That last stone in a row must be the right length or several stones get replaced until they all fit.

The bottom layer is done. Next I will construct the lining. The resident lizards are watching eagerly for the new raised bed and return of their basking stones.

Basil Variety Exists

On the grocery store herb rack there is one variety of basil. This might lead a person to think only one basil variety exists.

basil variety Sweet or Mammoth
This is the variety of basil I usually grow. Mammoth or sweet basil lives up to its name. The plant can be three feet tall with large crinkled leaves. It is not very compact. This variety tastes much like the market dried variety.

The herb pages in seed catalogs might disillusion the prospective gardener, if that one looks at these pages. I rarely do.

A friend gave me a purple opal basil plant one year. It was interesting to grow.

basil variety Purple Opal
I’m not sure what gives this variety of basil the deepest color. Purple Opal is a smaller plant and bushy. The flavor is mildly spicy.

The local market has a greenhouse set up for another local company to display transplants in every spring. I browse the shelves simply because I like to see what is available.

basil variety Genovese
Genovese basil is said to be the best for pesto. The plant is large and a vigorous grower. The flavor is intense and spicy enough to make it hard to keep a half leaf in the mouth very long.

I raise my own seedlings or try to every spring. They get a late start due to temperature and light challenges so are never as big as those transplants. However I get to raise the varieties I want to grow instead of the standard ones available.

basil variety Cinnamon
The leaves on Cinnamon basil are not the crinkly ones of other basils. They are also a bit smaller. When I tried chewing on half a leaf, I discarded it before I really tasted it as my mouth heated up like with a spicy hot pepper or a wild spearmint leaf.

By the end of May most people in my area have put in their gardens. The past few years they’ve done this twice due to late frosts. My seedlings get a chance to catch up in the house safe from such weather vagaries.

basil variety Lemon
I expected a basil flavor from the leaf of Lemon basil I tried. It was there behind a tangy lemon flavor. The plant has a yellow tinge to it. It is larger than Siam, but not big like Genovese and is tightly bushy.

Some transplants are left behind and put on drastic sale. This year those leftovers included six varieties of basil. I succumbed to temptation.

basil variety Siam
Siam basil is a compact, decorative plant. It does have a nice basil flavor, but not as intense as the other varieties I grew this year. It is a pretty plant with green leaves and dark red stem tips.

My tomatoes are now accompanied by six varieties of basil: Mammoth or sweet basil; Purple Opal basil; Siam Basil; Cinnamon basil; Genovese basil; and Lemon basil. What I will do with such a basil variety in my kitchen, I’m not sure.

In the meantime the plants are big and healthy. They are blooming. (I know I should harvest the leaves before the plants bloom, but everything is behind this year. I will pinch them back and get them to branch out again.)

All of the varieties have a typical leaf shape, although the size varies. Their coloring varies.

Now I need six paper bags. Why? Each basil variety will go in a labeled bag, closed and put in the refrigerator to dry. This method works very well.

Cooking is important to Hazel Whitmore in Broken Promises, Old Promises and Mistaken Promises. Recipes are included in the books.

Baby Praying Mantises

Early summer is a very busy time for gardeners. It doesn’t leave much time to go out walking. Baby praying mantises in the garden bring some nature home.

My invasive bamboo is beloved by many creatures which makes me reluctant to get rid of all of it. Birds nest in it. Fireflies rest there during the day. Praying mantises lay their egg masses on it in the fall.

baby praying mantises go hunting
Unless a baby praying mantis moves, it is hard to see. There were at least five egg cases in the bamboo. There are lots of these two inch long mantises scattered around the garden. They need to hide well as northern fence lizards also patrol the garden although these prefer sunnier areas, but will probably eat the mantises until they get big. This one is hunting across the chocolate mint plants.

I’m not sure when the baby praying mantises hatched this year. The weather was been much cooler than usual this spring. I do know they hatched.

One year I was lucky enough to see the baby mantises hatch. These are the Chinese ones sold to gardeners. The egg case was on the wild grape vine on the back garden fence.

The babies were a half inch long and squeezed out of the case. They lined the vines and fence weaving in the sunshine. They moved off in various directions by walking and jumping.

baby praying mantis reaching for another leaf
This was a most determined baby praying mantis. It wanted to get away from me and sped swiftly up into a patch of bamboo shoots. It stretched out, grabbed the next leaf, pulled itself over, sometimes leaping to the next one.

Baby praying mantises can not fly. Their wings are only nubbins on their backs until they molt into adults.

The mantises are now two inches long and spring green in color. They like to be in the bamboo as they blend in and lots of insects rest on the leaves.

Last fall I cut back the size of the bamboo patch by two thirds. The bamboo was not impressed. It sent out runners all over the garden. The runners put up shoots. I am now cutting all of these shoots down and pulling some of the runners.

As I cut shoots, I came across one of the mantises. It was climbing up into the bamboo shoots I was targeting.

baby praying mantises can climb
Baby praying mantises have no wings. They run, jump and climb to get around. They are surprisingly fast. If they stop, they disappear into the green background.

Instead I sat back and watched the insect climb the leaves. The mantis was determined to go up the shoot reaching up to the next leaf, climbing over it and reaching for the next one.

The shoot was cut and the mantis was shifted to a shoot not scheduled for cutting. It’s nice to know many of the baby praying mantises survived the dangers in the garden, found enough food and are well on their way to their ultimate six to seven inch length.

Meet more wild insects of the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Garlic Scapes Harvest

Gardening books often advise gardeners to cut off garlic scapes. This is to force the plant to put its energy into growing the bulbs bigger.

These scapes are the structures enclosing the flower buds of the garlic plants.

For years I didn’t bother. The garlic blooms are typical globular allium flowers and attract bees and other pollinators. The garlic bulbs looked fine.

garlic scapes on plant
Happy garlic plants want to bloom and put up scapes containing their flowers. Gardeners are advised to cut them off.

What the gardening books don’t mention is that garlic scapes are edible. They are great for stir fry dishes, scrambled eggs and omelets and other recipes wanting a little garlic boost in flavor.

I plant my garlic in the fall. Late spring to early summer, normally the latter in the Ozarks as spring is very short, the garlic plants look thick and stout. A round stalk comes up from the top of the plant. The tip curves down developing a bulge over where the flower buds are forming. The tip of the stalk continues on past this bulge.

These garlic scapes need to be cut young. Each plant produces only one.

My garlic patch is small with about fifty plants. Each one yields one scape.

Would the goats eat the scapes? I suppose so. With so few, I haven’t offered them any. They do eat the garlic plants after I pull the bulbs up.

The bulbs are ready when the first few leaves at the base of the garlic stem turn yellow. This is a few weeks after the scapes are cut.

garlic scape
The garlic scape is a long, thick tube with a bulge in the upper part that will open up to reveal the flowers. The tube continues on past the bulge and tapers to a point.

Garlic bulbs left longer, as until the entire plant turns yellow, will often break apart when pulled up. I still use a potato fork to loosen the dirt before pulling the plants up.

My patch has both hard and soft neck garlic. Making a garlic braid is interesting. I have no place to hang one, so I clip off the bulbs.

The bulbs are spread out to dry thoroughly before being put in an open container in the pantry. Having garlic easy to grab to use encourages me to use more of it. The garlic scapes make a nice introduction to the fresh crop.

In “Broken Promises” Hazel Whitmore finds cooking a good hobby and way to cope with her disintegrating world.

Daisy Fleabane Temptation

Bigger daisy type wildflowers like ox-eye daisy and black-eyed Susans are already in full bloom. Daisy fleabane begins the parade of smaller white daisy type flowers that will extend all the way into the fall asters.

This three foot tall plant is easy to spot along roads and in pastures. Its leaves line the stalks with dark green. The stalks split into small stalks branching out to open bouquets of the white or white shaded with pink flowers.

daisy fleabane plant
In my garden the daisy fleabane plants are nearly four feet tall and still growing. The leaves are big and dark green. The numerous flower buds promise a snowfall of white soon. Unfortunately the flowers are followed by even more numerous seeds.

White heath aster is a similar plant. It blooms later. And the flowers are different.

Like all the flowers in the aster family, the flowers are really a group of flowers. Some are tubular in the center of the disk. Others put out what people call petals and botanists refer to as ray flowers.

Fleabane ray flowers are numerous and thin. It gives a fringe like look to the flower group. Aster flowers have fewer and thicker rays.

daisy fleabane flowers
The central disk of a daisy fleabane is a mass of tube flowers that open from the outside edges toward the center. The ray flowers are numerous and thin.

Both daisy fleabane and white heath aster have yellow centers. Another member of the family blooms at the edges of the woods. Drummond’s aster is pale lavender with a lavender center.

This year a few daisy fleabane plants have come up in my garden. They are in an open area used as a path rather than for planting.

The plants look wonderful as garden soil is a big treat for them. They will be masses of white flowers. And I like daisies and asters.

daisy fleabane buds
The flower beetles move in even before the flowers are open. These beetles have the transparent wings, but only partial covering wings.

The temptation is to leave these garden visitors and enjoy the show. I don’t normally plant flowers as I never have time to take care of them.

Moth mullein, evening primrose, chicory, hispid buttercup, corn speedwell, dead nettle and chickweed already grow in my garden. The first four are primarily for enjoyment. The last are for the bees in early spring.

The problem is with the prolific seed production of these wildflowers. Daisy fleabane is a big temptation. I’m sure next year I will be pulling up dozens of plants as weeds.

Read about more Ozark plants in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Starting Snow Peas Early

Missouri springs are unpredictable. Some years spring is a few days. So I like starting snow peas early in an attempt to beat the heat.

The first of March is really early. The ground is still cold. However, this Ozark winter was mild and the selected spot is under mulch.

starting snow peas early requires a trellis
Hog and cattle panels make great trellises. I attach two wires, one on each side near the end of the panel. As I work alone, I trap the other end against a tree and pull the wires and other end closer and closer until I can attach the wire to the other end. Moving the hoop is awkward due to the size. Once in the garden it can be moved from place to place fairly easily.

Adequate rain made the ground a bit muddy. The cardboard and mulch stopped the weeds. The moles do have some tunnels in the area, but they are avoidable.

Yes, the moles are a nuisance. They adore my garden with its abundance of earthworms, grubs and other mole delicacies. Every bed is criss crossed with their tunnels. Some I collapse. Others I plant on one side or the other and ignore.

securing the trellis
Once vines grow up on a trellis, it catches the wind and blows over. This pulls some of the vines out of the ground. The others tangle and make pushing the trellis back up difficult. The solution is easy. Put in a post against one side and tie the trellis to the post.

Moles do not eat roots, only uproot them building their tunnels. Meadow voles are a different case and the cats generally keep them out of the garden.

Snow peas are long vines and need a trellis. An old hog panel pulled into a curve and wired at the base works well. It is tippy so a well placed post is wise. Standing the trellis back up is not easy, especially if it’s covered with vines.

starting snow peas early under mulch
After all winter the thick cardboard is mostly gone under the mulch. I pull the mulch back along the end of the trellis. If the weather is warm, the ground can be left exposed to warm up for a day or so before planting. I rarely have more than a day to work so I hope the snow peas can take the cold.

Starting snow peas early is iffy. The ground may be too wet or cold. But I shoved the peas into the ground anyway. If some don’t germinate in a couple of weeks, I will replant.

The mulch is several inches deep along each side of the pea row. This will protect the ground from late frosts. It will keep the ground cool for a week if the temperatures shoot up to eighty degrees like they did last year.

planting snow peas early
I plant the peas thickly, two inches apart. As the two ends of the trellis are five feet apart and the ground is well manured, the snow pea plants generally manage fine even if all of them come up. Pulling the mulch close to the row lets the straw get the frost and not the ground.

If the spring stays cool, I will enjoy plenty of snow peas to eat. If spring turns to summer in a week, the pea shoot tips and flowers are edible. And the Mosaic long beans will take over the trellis.

Starting snow peas early is my best chance at enjoying these pods and I’m willing to try.

Seed Diversity

It’s time to order my garden seeds for this year. Looking over the leftovers from last year I’m again amazed at the seed diversity.

I’m not thinking about the number of varieties of each kind of vegetable, although these can be dauntingly numerous. I’m looking at the seeds.

Radish seeds are round and red. They dwarf turnip and cabbage seeds which are round and black, virtually identical.

seed packets show seed diversity
Spring approaches. Gardening time approaches. It’s time to look over the packets from last year and make a list for this year.

Those directions saying to space these tiny seeds out are assuming a dexterity my clumsy fingers do not have. Lettuce seeds are even worse, small and flat and football shaped.

Seed diversity reveals relationships too. Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are in Solanaceae, the nightshade family. Potatoes are too, but I don’t buy potato seeds. All these plants have flat, fat comma shapes. The pepper seeds are larger.

Then there are the curcurbits: squash, melons, cucumbers and pumpkins. All of these have flat, pointed at both ends types of seeds. The sizes vary, but not the shapes.

In “The Pumpkin Project” I have a quick puzzle. The one here is similar. In the book the reader is to pick out the pumpkin seeds. For this one, try to identify the kind of seed by looking at the seeds.

seed diversity shows here
Do you recognize any of these seeds? Take a few guesses. Seeds come in such a range of shapes and colors. The answers are at the end of the post.

Yes, I did pick out varieties of seeds to show off the seed diversity.

It’s winter again as I look out the window. Too cold to continue my chicken fence. Too cold to do more than wish I could do some garden preparation. “The City Water Project” is nearly done. Seven of the eight water stories are done except for some final fact checking.

Yesterday was a nice spring like day. Spring fever is beginning to creep in. Looking at seed diversity eases the itch to begin gardening a month too early. Hurry up spring.

Oh, yes, the seeds. A radish; B lettuce; C squash; D pea; E tomato; F bok choi; G pepper.

Setting Goals For New Year Plans

New Year’s Day is traditionally a time to make resolutions of things you want to do in the upcoming year. Resolutions are so rigid, easy to break and abandon. I prefer setting goals, some with deadlines, most without.

Nubian kids out to play
Nubian goat kids grow up so fast. At about a month old, these are already going out to pasture. None have gotten lost. They love to play.

The goats, chickens and garden loom large in my plans. This year will add Buff Orpington pullets and standard Cochin pullets to the flock. All the goat kids will be sold.

chicken breeds include Buff Orpingtons
Buff Orpingtons are a favorite breed of chicken for lots of people. They are big, lay big brown eggs and are usually friendly.

Selling goat kids is really hard for me as my goats are family. Bottle babies are even worse. In a way I am glad five of the kids are bucks as they must leave at three months old or the barn becomes a madhouse. Especially since more kids are due then.

Seed catalogs are sabotaging my garden goals of a smaller, more manageable garden of crops we like to eat. On the plus side is the large amount of mulch going out to bury any dreams of weeds to blanket the entire garden. My favorite feed store is generous with cardboard for under the mulch to thwart the more stubborn weeds.

setting goals versus seed catalogs
The garden is finite. My time is finite. The seed catalogs make everything look so appealing. This calls for monumental will power.

Setting goals of a smaller garden will probably fail. It might even get a bit bigger with more containers. And the pumpkins and winter squash seem to do better out in the pastures and on the compost pile than in the garden.

I seem to be a semi hoarder. Perhaps I’m too lazy to keep cleaning out things I no longer use or am too good at deluding myself I will get back to some hobby from the past. The end results are piles of things I no longer use like piano music and a piano and a cedar chest full of material. And a thousand books waiting to be read.

Then there is the shell collection. I last seriously collected in 1972 and have moved the boxes several times dreaming of moving back to the ocean, but I won’t. Missouri is home and it is not on the ocean. Setting goals means these things are searching for a new home.

setting goals for "The City Water Project"
“The City Water Project” is approaching completion. It is a science book for upper middle grades, but can be adapted younger and older. There are 10 investigations, 8 activities, 28 pencil puzzles and 8 stories about water and how you get water in your house. Release is scheduled for March, 2020.

What I love to do is write. For 2020 I plan to release “The City Water Project” in March, “The Carduan Chronicles” in October and “Waiting For Fairies” in October. The last is a children’s picture book. Setting goals for writing does include trying to let people know about my books.

Walking is something else I love to do in the search for new plants. I’ve gone over my botany project pictures. There is a list of pictures needed to complete pages for plants I’ve found. No list is done for plants I’ve not found yet as that would be too daunting. But the search continues already looking at winter trees. So far Southern Red Oak is new.

Setting goals is easy. Set backs are common. Still, the flexible schedule helps make some of them happen and that’s encouraging.

Bamboo Thickets Invade Garden

I didn’t start out to have bamboo thickets in the middle of my garden. I guess I was terribly naive.

My father had planted an edible bamboo on his place. It was big and beautiful. After he died I dug up a small piece of it and brought it home.

Bamboo seems to be hard to transplant. I’ve given pieces to several people and none have had much luck. Lucky them.

Ozark bamboo thickets are dense
This is an Oriental edible bamboo, not the native giant cane. Ozark winters tend to kill the tall bamboo canes. The tallest ones I’ve had were ten to twelve feet although the bamboo is supposed to reach thirty feet or more. So most of my thicket is up to eight feet tall and bushy. The goats will eat bamboo, but are not fond of it.

I didn’t know where to put this tiny plant and put it into a small corner of my garden until I could decide. It didn’t move. Instead it grew tentatively for several years.

Then the bamboo decided it liked this corner of my garden. The bamboo thickets arrived and got bigger each year.

Bamboo is a grass. Like many grasses, it spreads by runners. The bamboo in my garden has never flowered. This is lucky.

bamboo thickets spread with runners
A bamboo runner looks a lot like a bamboo stalk. The joints are shorter making it more flexible. The runners can loop over the ground like this one, go along about four to five inches underground or dive down a foot or more. Removing them is done by cutting it as close to the bamboo thicket as possible, uncovering the underground portions and pulling the runner up. Runners can be ten feet long or more.

The tiny plant now covers a ten foot square and isn’t content. Every year I dig up ten and twelve foot runners going out across the garden. They are tough, well rooted and a back killer.

I decided to get rid of my bamboo thickets. It’s plural as some runners went undetected so there are adjacent patches now.

I discovered the bamboo is used by several creatures I want around my garden. Toads hide in it. Wrens nest in it. Praying mantises lay their egg cases in it.

praying mantis case on bamboo cane
Both Carolina and Chinese praying mantises live around here. The big egg cases are from the Chinese mantises. Bamboo is a favored site for the egg cases and the mantises are welcome in the garden. That makes keeping a small thicket tempting.

I can’t keep pulling the runners up. My back complains mightily. The solution is to kill out the bamboo. Where would these creatures go?

This year I trimmed the bamboo thickets back to a six foot square area. There are mantis egg cases in this area.

Next spring I will destroy any bamboo that comes up anywhere other than in that area. Of course I said that another year and failed. I must get serious or my entire garden will become bamboo thickets. Where is that vinegar and salt spray recipe?

Busy Fall Season

City people seem to have the idea that country people can take it easy fall and winter. All that changes here are the kinds of things being done. I have a busy fall season.

Killing frost left my garden wilted. I knew it was coming so bags of tomatoes, peppers, long beans and squash moved into the kitchen.

These bags await my attention. Some are already sorted. A few bags of peppers are now at someone else’s house. My pepper plants wanted to make sure I had a busy fall season.

The new fall routine is clearing the dead plants out. Then the beds are rebuilt with manure, cardboard and mulch. Garlic is planted. Plastic covers the shade house where cabbage, bok choi and winter radishes already grow.

Nubian buck High Reaches Silk's Augustus wishes for a busy fall season
Fall is breeding season for goats. Nubians will breed all year round, but prefer fall. Every August my buck Augustus begins to smell rank and ogle the girls. By September it’s hard to get him to eat his grain. He spends most of his time pacing the fence or standing on top of the gym watching for the herd to come back.

Dairy goats need attention every day. Fall is breeding season. My busy fall season includes getting some does bred while keeping my winter milkers away from Augustus. And at least one doe will have November kids.

The goat barn must be winterized. And the summer manure build up must be taken out to the garden. Two new lights are supposed to go in, one in the goat section and one in the chicken section.

My busy fall season wouldn’t be complete without a book to complete. “For Love of Goats” is progressing. The front cover is done. Three quarters of the illustrations are done. Sample pages should go up in another week with a release date in mid November.

"For Love of Goats" by Karen GoatKeeper
Watercolor is great for illustrations in my opinion. It takes practice and I’m getting a lot of it completing the sixty or so illustrations for this book. Professional illustrators deserve much more admiration for their work than they are given.

Yes, November. NaNo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m not ready. What will I write? The subconscious is working on this question.

By December I will be back to work on “The City Water Project” for release next March. It’s half done.

Maybe city people can relax over the fall and winter. My busy fall season will morph into an equally busy winter season.

Garden Armadillo Caught

Evidently I have been maligning my garden woodchuck. The livetrap caught a garden armadillo.

The garden woodchuck is not innocent. It ate my fall cabbages except for one now fenced in. It is eating the Jerusalem artichoke leaves. It eats my tomatoes.

It is not responsible for most of the digging.

Armadillos eat things like earthworms and grubs. They can smell them several inches under the dirt.

Mulch encourages these favorite armadillo foods. So the garden armadillo was busy rearranging and removing the mulch to enjoy dinner.

garden armadillo trapped
This was one very unhappy armadillo. It was blundering along digging up my garden pathway and walked into the livetrap. The door closed and it sat waiting for me to come by. As the trap was not baited, I took my time checking it.

I must take some of the blame for this. The woodchuck did dig a couple of holes under my garden fence. I ignored them.

The reasoning went along the lines that the garden woodchuck would just dig another hole or climb over the fence.

Woodchucks are good climbers. That’s how they harvest apples and Asian pears. This one even seems to ignore electric wire.

My back garden fence is covered with wild grape vines which the woodchuck is eating and morning glories which it seems to ignore. Climbing this is easy.

So I left the holes. And the garden armadillo found them.

Armadillos don’t seem to dig holes under garden fences. I could be wrong. They do dig efficiently as their burrow holes show.

armadillo free again
The armadillo was a bit dazed. It wandered out of the livetrap and walked away. This one lives in the nearby pasture but likes the garden. There are enough armadillos around that killing or relocating this one would make no difference. I will reinforce the garden fences.

For now I will fill in the woodchuck holes. And I will watch for new ones. This isn’t easy at this end of the season when vegetable plants and weeds have turned the garden into a jungle.

Over winter I will reinforce my fence. The grape vine will be trimmed back. The morning glory vines will be pulled off. The weeds will be pulled.

Both the garden woodchuck and the garden armadillo and any reinforcements they may invite to the garden will find it harder to dig into. I will at least try.

What I don’t really understand is how I trapped the armadillo. The woodchuck had eaten the bait and departed, as usual. Besides, the bait wasn’t something the armadillo would eat.

Armadillos have very poor eyesight. I suppose the garden armadillo blundered into the trap and triggered it. It was glad to have me open the door and send it on its way.

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.