Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Disappearing chard

Watering, again, this evening, I noticed that the chard leaves that were looking good last night are gone. 

Hmm.  I guess the thirsty woodchuck snuck up and had a few bits of water-filled leafy greens.  Hard to blame him/her.  (Woody's currently inside during the day, so he's not much up a deterrent).  I can't imagine that a squirrel would be interested in chard, and they can get water from the bird bath and water dishes on the other side of the house.

What was curious is that pea seedlings, seedling of kale and mesclun mix, etc. were passed over (on the way) in favor of the chard.  And clearly the foliage of a fall eight-ball zucchini wasn't of interest, either.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Drought and gratitude

I spent a lot of time today dragging around hoses and watering. 

I watered my vegetables, yes (they're totally dependent on the water and nutrients I provide), but also I (and my gardening companion) watered young native shrubs (as well as older ones, and shallow-rooted native trees like Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood), some quite old.  The evergreen Rhododendrons have suffered from the blasting heat and no rain of the last 6-8 weeks -- we normally would have had afternoon thunderstorms providing moisture.

But I'm mindful of how lucky we are to be able to turn on the hose faucet. 

Our (human-made) lakes are pretty full of water, both for drinking and whatever watering we're willing to pay for.  (Not too many years ago, we were close to not being able to turn on the tap for landscaping).

But a piece on NPR this evening reminded us of how it could be. 

Drought-stricken areas of Africa have emptied of desperate farmers and their families who can't 'turn on the tap' when nature's rains don't come. 

We saw women in Tanzania some years ago coming to a government well to fill up large containers of water to take home some miles away (probably up to 5-8 miles) -- this was on foot.  They didn't have vehicles or animals to help.

So I'm grateful this evening that I can turn on the tap to water plants.  And take a bath, not to mention water for a soft-boiled egg for breakfast and coffee, too.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hungry critters and drought

My attention has been elsewhere than the (vegetable) garden this last week, aside from watering, with attending a Farm to School conference last Thursday in the mountains, and helping coordinate a Butterfly Gardening symposium today at the Garden.

But, I shouldn't have been surprised to discover this evening that one of my chard plants had been nibbled.  But it did surprise me.

These plants (having survived over summer) were putting out new leaves, now supplied by regular watering.   But they're right out the kitchen door.   We go in and out of that door regularly.  Woody, our gardening assistant, is out there, too, even if he's not so experienced as a woodchuck deterrent.

But scorchingly hot weather and no rain must find the local woodchucks, hanging on in marginal habitat, hungry enough for food (and the water they get from leaves) to venture close to the house.

A culprit a couple of years ago (hard to fault an animal looking for moisture and food!
It might have been squirrels, too; they've been on their own this summer without the birdbaths and fallen seeds from the birdfeeders, but my guess is that a woodchuck managed to snag a few chard leaves before scampering back to the woodpile in back!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

meadow gardens

front meadow
diverse plantings
 I'm thinking about butterfly gardening and just enjoyed watching a tiger swallowtail visit flowers on Vernonia (Ironweed).

Our small front meadow in the mountains is full of nectar plants, and we have lots of host plants for caterpillars nearby, in the forest ravine and planted as shrubs.
front door view

Monday, August 22, 2011

More fall vegetables

This evening, I sowed chard and beet seeds that I'd soaked overnight into one of the beds I'd prepared yesterday.  I also sowed some mesclun mix.

There's always a new gardening season, I think (I'll be ready to get this summer behind us).

The heat in the Piedmont seems oppressive (it was 95°F today), even though the mornings and evenings are OK.  It's all a matter of degrees, I guess; it was probably in the upper 80's in the mountains, but that makes a difference, even if both places are hotter than normal (whatever that means nowadays).

My gardening companion and gardening assistant enjoyed a refreshing swim in late afternoon at Lake Hartwell; a deep water cove provided cooler water than our shallower beaches.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sowing fall vegetables

I've been busy amending beds and sowing lettuce, arugula, kale, collards, and sugar snap peas.  It's still beastly hot (especially in the Piedmont), so all I can do is water and hope for cooler weather to come.

Hindered by some hand surgery last Thursday for a trigger finger on my dominant hand, I plugged along, with the help of my gardening companion. (The idea is that releasing the tendon will help the finger movement and reduce pain;  the short-term is that the finger is more painful than ever. Oh, well -- movement and stretching is supposed to be beneficial, according to the doctor, and I 'can't do any harm' - he said. Hmm.)

Woody, the river dog...
On a cooling note, Woody, on a recent swim, is the picture of a fellow happy to be in the river.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pesticide safety

I'm (largely) in the 'just say no' category when it comes to pesticides. 

Yes, we've used a systemic to protect our Eastern hemlocks from woolly adelgids (only once so far), but that's the only pesticide that I can remember using personally (we have sprayed yellowjacket nests, too, now that I think about it).   We've used a herbicide, glyphosate, on Bermuda grass and poison ivy, too, to be complete. No sprays inside or outside the house (hmm, roach and ant baits at times, I guess).

But, I was alarmed at a call yesterday on our statewide gardening call-in program about caterpillars on horseradish.  He said that the caterpillars had pretty much defoliated it.  So he sprayed a pesticide.  The remaining leaf tissue didn't look so good. What to do? 

Yikes.  I asked what he sprayed, first of all, thinking what sort of caterpillar eats horseradish? He said a pesticide, and I asked again 'what kind'?  Diazinon, he said.

Alarmed, I said that I hoped that he wasn't planning to use the horseradish as an edible, mentally trying to remember what diazinon USED to be applied to control (it's been banned for homeowner use since 2004).  I don't think it was for caterpillars.

My colleagues and I try to be encouraging to callers, but this was a 'teachable moment' and I suggested that he needed to dispose of this pesticide as hazardous waste, ASAP.  Fortunately, he was growing horseradish as an ornamental plant.

He took my cautionary 'scolding' quite well  (I reminded him about reading the labels on pesticides and herbicides; there's a reason that we have them!) 

And I was glad that our statewide audience could be reminded that it's important to look at the detailed information on labels of whatever garden 'product' that you use.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Amending vegetable beds

Getting ready for fall vegetables, I dug some (commercial) mushroom compost into some of my already well-worked beds (in the Piedmont).  They were like dust, as I turned over the soil, incorporating the compost.  Yikes.

And leaving the office this afternoon (at the botanical garden where I work), I was startled by a couple of woodchucks foraging in the lantana (weird).  They popped out, saw me, fussed, and ducked back into the lantana.  Hmm.

Very strange, and it isn't a good sign for our nearby kitchen garden, as woodchucks need to get their moisture from green plants, and that's in short supply right now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mid-August gardening

In the South, mid-August is solidly summer, really the midpoint of our year-round gardening cycle, both in terms of landscape and vegetables.

It's not time to think about fall planting for native (or non-native) perennials, shrubs or trees, but it's time for vegetables. 

I'm trying to get the mountain beds ready for a fall season, and know that the Piedmont vegetable beds are ready for clean-up and amending. (They looked awful on a quick trip last week;  everything was parched and dry, and the surviving plants had been munched by presumably thirsty woodchucks, and maybe squirrels, too).  Yikes!

A couple of drenching afternoon thunderstorms have helped the mountain beds, vegetables and perennials alike.  The sedum bed (even though drought-tolerant) had been looking wan, but perked up with plenty of moisture.

But, on a (21st century) school schedule, whatever the grade level, fall comes early, and mid-to-late August means back to school.  I'm doing a fall vegetable gardening class on Tuesday, so it's on my mind!

But late summer and fall are great times to enjoy perennials in the Southern U.S.  It's probably our best time, really -- the spring display is best (aside for our native woodland wildflowers) elsewhere, I think.

Rudbeckia, Helenium, and Salvia

Rudbeckia triloba
I enjoyed an unexpected combination of Salvia guaranitica, a Helenium cultivar, and Rudbeckia triloba (a standout this summer in terms of flowers, even it droops on hot days).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Finally some rain

We've had a very long dry (and hot) spell in the mountains, requiring daily watering of the raised beds (of vegetables), and even watering of the deep-rooted meadow plants in front. 

(I'm not looking forward to what my Piedmont beds are like, later in the week).

rain through the front door
So it was a welcome late afternoon thunderstorm, bringing a downpour visible both through the front door...
rain in the ravine

 and from the deck.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tomatoes (and harvest)

tomato harvest
I've got a backlog of things to reflect upon (with lots of photos, too), but my attention, after spending time cleaning up the raised beds and harvesting, and more harvesting, is struck by tomatoes, today.

It's been beans over the last week - yikes, as a local eater, I'm getting just a wee bit tired of green beans, both the young and tender sort, but particularly of the beany sort that's gotten too big to be really tasty.

But the tomato harvest has been amazing so far.  Chalk one up for exceptionally warm and sunny weather in the mountains of western North Carolina, however out-of-the ordinary that it is. 

One of my Cherokee Purple tomato plants keeps producing.  More and bigger.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes
Check these out.

(That's a teaspoon for scale).

These are from vines that look like they're in decline.

(I'd be too, after all the tomatoes that this plant has already produced.)
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