Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I'm Not Dead! ... And Neither is That Pumpkin Plant

I said to myself, "I will post to my blog tomorrow, I promise!"  Well I said that several days in a row and then I got sick!  That further delayed the posting.  But the good news is, I am not dead!

After reviewing my last post, I realize that much has happened in the way of the pumpkins since August 18th.  The harvested Sweet Sugar Pie pumpkin that sat patiently on my kitchen table, finally got used.  My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on the 22nd and got treated to a homemade pumpkin pie!  For this being my first time making a pumpkin pie from an actually pumpkin, I was trying to keep my expectations low.  Well, it turned out to be the best pumpkin pie I have ever eaten!  And to my surprise, the small pumpkin yielded one and a half cups pumpkin "gulp" (technically puree) in excess!  I essentially had enough for one and a half pies from that one small pumpkin.  Good to know, because the next pumpkin that will be harvested is slightly bigger.  Most likely a two pie pumpkin!  I may need to plan a dinner or dessert party.  Hmmm....

In addition to a possible event in my home centering around pie, I may have to find a bake sale or charity event (or all three!), because I keep finding more pumpkins that have gotten pollinated!  It is almost as if the plant knows that fall is just around the corner, and it has finally decided to start cranking out the pumpkins like there is no tomorrow.  And of course the Mega vine is still continuing its pursuit of garden domination, and has not only reached the fence opposite its starting mound, but it also continues to send out perpendicular mini vines!  I would not be surprised if it ends up using the entire garden space once the other plants have met their end.  The mystery remains as to how all these new pumpkin upstarts are getting pollinated, but I know it is not bumble bees.  I watched a bumble bee dance in front of two separate closed pumpkin flowers; smelling the nectar, but not being able to get to it.  Not to worry Mr. Bee, there are plenty of other flowers that are open and in need of pollinating in the garden still.  Though none quite so big and tempting.

There is one thing that may stop my Mega vine in its tracks and end its reign; powdery mildew.  The area around the pumpkin mound is well shaded and seems to be blocked off from most of the breezes that make their way through the rest of the garden.  This, combined with the wet and humid weather we have had all summer, has lead to what I call 'mosquito corner' and great conditions for powdery mildew.  In an effort to curb the spread and effects of the fungus, I trimmed a large number of leaves off of all three vines in mosquito corner, and sprayed all the other leaves with Bonide Copper Fungicide.  The rather short Batwing plant got the most dramatic make over, with almost all of its leaves gone.  When I was sick, my mom came up to help out.  One of the things she did was water the garden.  Although I was rather out of it, I was lucid enough to warn her that when she got up there, she would notice a TON of leaves were missing.  FYI, I did that, not an animal.  And not to worry, that pumpkin plant in the middle is not dead, it is just a little naked.  No plant resuscitation required!

And how about everyone else in the garden?  Well I have picked two of the three watermelons that were growing, and they are/were very delicious!  I highly recommend Sugar Baby watermelons, especially if there are a small number of people who will be consuming the fruits.  Since there are only two at my house, a large watermelon is just a bit too much.  In addition, my refrigerator can only hold so much produce, and we like to chill our watermelon before eating it.  They weren't joking when they said the Sugar Baby watermelons are 'icebox' size!  I think they would even fit well in a dorm fridge!  I am also happy to report that I have spotted two more watermelon fruit upstarts on the vines and flowers continue to pop up.  I am hoping they grow quickly and are able to beat the first frosts!

I also picked my first Nu Mexico Big Jim pepper, but have not tasted it just yet.  The rest of the pepper plants are pumping out more fruits on a daily basis, and are on my list of things to can next.  I also have several green tomatoes that are slowing ripening, and my zucchini plants just won't quit!  I await the yellowing of my peanut plants' leaves, which supposedly is the indicator of ripe peanuts, and suspect the color change will come with cooler days.  And despite what I have been told, my bean plants that were planted in May are still producing beans.  Apparently they are supposed to stop at some point before the end of summer and new plants are to be planted.  Well, two years in a row with two different species, I have gotten the same result.  Never ending beans!

And for those of you who are visual like me, Pictures!
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gunner, Borers, and Mice?

Before I even went outside today, I was greeted by the neighbor's dog, who came on our porch and looked at me with his sad eyes through the sliding glass door.  This has never occurred before, so I was a little confused.  I started to wonder if any one was home next door.  I even went out and gave Gunner some water, because he looked thirsty.  It turns out that the neighbor was 'home' (well one of the two anyway), he just happened to be socializing with yet another neighbor, outside the fenced-in portion of our duplex lawn.  So basically, Gunner was simply looking for someone who could let him inside and he noticed that I was visible from the glass door.  This was the first time that the cats got a close up view of Gunner, and Gunner of them.  Zephyr was curious, but somewhat apathetic, and Simon was curious and defensive, though not as bad as when there is another cat out there.  Gunner didn't seem to notice there was anything alive in the house other than me.  I guess he probably figured the cats couldn't let him in.  Well Gunner, I really can't let you in either, but I would at least be better at finding someone who could!

After I figured out that Gunner was not alone and would be O.K., I went about checking on what needed to be harvested.  I picked one zucchini and a few peppers, and decided to let everything else keep growing/ripening.  The pumpkin that is out there is showing a tiny bit of orange, and appears to be bigger than the other pumpkin pie pumpkin I harvested.  I guess that is a good thing, though there are no other pumpkins that have started.  I have seen many more shriveled remnants, but that is it. :-/  Even with the addition of more pollinators via my flowering oregano, there doesn't seem to be an increase in pollination.  I am not even sure how I would hand pollinate either, because the flowers don't really open.  I guess the ants aren't doing their job!

The other thing I am up against with the pumpkins are squash vine borers.  I read something that said they should be done by now, but I think the article lied.  When I was out Monday, I brought up my insecticide to use on the zucchini vine.  It was at that time when I noticed an adult vine borer in the pumpkin area.  I immediately sprayed it in the face!  I then went along the entire length of all three pumpkin vines (including the Mega vine which is most likely 40 ft long), and sprayed.  There does appear to be some damage on parts of all three vines, though not like on the zucchini plant that died on me.  I can't really tell if the damage is due to age or something else, so that confuses the matter as well.  And all three pumpkin plants continue to gain length as well as hold their leaves up, so I am thinking I may have prevented any major damage.  I sure hope so!  There is an added bonus too that the Batwing pumpkin plant I have planted off the porch has NO damage what-so-ever, so if all else fails, I will at least have Batwings for Halloween!

And in other critter news, I put out more coffee after seeing some slug damage.  The rain we got last week washed what coffee was there away, so there was a need to re-apply.  I also got treated to the nice aroma of coffee when I went out in the garden today, two days after application!  Mmmmm, coffee!  I then went inside and drank tea as I am not much of a coffee drinker.  It smells nice though!

My update on the broken air conditioner, is that it is no longer broken!  The A/C repair guys came out Monday and got us back up and running.  When they were finished, one of the guys came and told me that the reason the A/C broke was due to the mice who had moved into our outdoor A/C unit and made a nest.  They also chewed several cords and caused refrigerant to leak out (the mice, not the A/C guys).  In my moment of surprise, I didn't think to ask what they did with the mice.  I realized later, that that was probably best, because I don't think I wanted to know.  I am hoping that when they went and got our hose, that they were using it to 'scare' the mice out and then seal any holes.  I did not go out and look at the unit after they left.  That was on purpose.  We will stick with the mice alive and scared theory.

And the obligatory photos, because I habitually take them!
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mosquito Buffet

So our air conditioning decided to stop working this weekend.  And on Saturday morning no less!  So that meant it was the prefect day to go outside, since it was about the same temperature inside as it was outside.  Yuck!  And after two days of heat advisories, followed by a day of rain, I needed to go out and harvest things anyway!

I started my garden activities checking for ripe fruits and I found quite a few.  JalapeƱos, poblanos, Hungarian wax, green bell peppers, zucchinis (yet more!), tomatoes (including one Big Boy!), and some more green beans.  I also decided it would be a good idea to spray the tomatoes again with my Copper fungicide, and to spray the squash plants, since they have some mildew on the leaves.  I wanted to get more insecticide on my cabbage, since they have actually been growing now too!  Because of the spraying, I harvested a few tomatoes that were orange-ish instead of red.  You need to wait seven days after spraying to harvest.  It is supposed to rain again by Friday, but that could always change.  Better get it done while there is sunshine.

Another interesting tid-bit is the strange dance I saw in my backyard.  It was evening, and so the sun was starting to get low in the sky providing plenty of shade.  This meant the mosquitoes were coming out in droves.  There is a steep hill between the house and the garden, so there is quite a bit of grass that is mostly undisturbed on a daily basis.  There, on the hill, I saw a swarm on dragonflies dancing around, mostly right above the grass.  I was in awe!  I have never seen so many dragonflies in one place!  I had to look up their diet to confirm what I thought was happening; mosquito hunting.  Because I have a movie function on my camera, I sat down in the grass and filmed it.  The dragonflies went buzzing past my head as though I wasn't even there.  It was crazy!  I can only hope they make a dent in our mosquito population.  I might have to make a sign that says, "Dragonflies Welcome!  Come get your free mosquitoes!"  Here is a link to the video for your viewing pleasure.  I wasn't really sure what to say, so I said, "Dragonfly swarm".  I feel a bit silly about it.  Oh well! Link--> Dragonflies!

And some photos too!
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Canning, Pumpkins and a Frog

On Tuesday, my mom came up for more canning.  We decided to do more Zany Zucchini Pickles, as well as zucchini bread (baked, not canned).  The plan was to double the Zany and bread recipes in order to eliminate as many zucchinis from my fridge as possible.  Somehow we still managed to have some left over!  My mom had to leave early, so she was not around for the actual 'canning' part.  Which is unfortunate, because it was quite the experience!  

First, I did something a little different than normal.  Instead of warming the canning jars in water, I ran the dishwasher.  The instructions for canning say that that is a viable option, so I figured it would work out.  I also timed it so that the dish washer would be finished about the time I would need the jars.  So I got a couple jars out, filled them accordingly, and then went to put them in the water-bath canner (the huge pot in the picture above).  First jar went in fine.  Second jar made a sound like gun fire two seconds after I placed it on the rack inside.  I jumped, and swore, and then went to remove the jar.  That is when I started swearing more.  The bottom of the jar had blown off, so when I was lifting it out, the contents of the jar emptied into the water-bath!  I didn't know what to do.  Should I empty the water out and start over?  Or leave the icky water in, and just remove the chunks?  Since I wasn't sure if there were glass shards or not, I decided to empty the entire canner and start over.  To my surprise, the colander only caught one piece of glass.  It was almost as if a laser had been used to cut off the bottom of the jar; it was that exact!  And yes, I thought about that in the middle of all the insanity.  Must be the scientist in me!   

I guess the good news is I was finally able to finish the canning.  The bad news is, I had to wait for the water-bath to heat back up before I could process anything.  All in all an hour was added on to my project.  Not very happy about that.  Hopefully the pickles still taste ok, especially since there are 13 jars worth!  Cross your fingers!

And while all the canning drama was taking place, the zucchini bread was happily baking away in the oven.  It was a bright spot when the oven timer went off, and out came four perfect loaves of bread!  Tom and I ended up digging into one of the loaves right after he got home, because I was still finishing up with the processing, and we were both hungry!   I decided not to include that loaf in the above picture.  But there really were four!  I am happy to report the zucchini bread tastes fabulous.  Extra thanks to Aunt Sandy for providing the recipe.  Yum!

Because Tom and I were extra hungry and the kitchen was a mess, we decided to head out for dinner.  We went to Culver's (fast food burger place), and found a seat near one of the windows facing the drive thru lane.  As we were waiting for our food, I noticed something odd on the outside windowsill.  It was a frog!  First of all, the Culver's is right next to a busy highway that runs through the city.  Second, there is asphalt and pavement for at least a half mile in every direction surrounding the restaurant. And third, there is a pet shop in the shopping center directly behind the Culver's, so I was starting to think that someone did something cruel.  It was obvious that that frog was coming home with us.  Tom knows that look!  I wasn't going to leave that amphibian in the urban jungle!  (Zephyr, seen above enjoyed watching the frog.)

So we grabbed a cup and lid (with straw hole for air) and we rescued the frog!  I decided to do an internet search before releasing it in our backyard, because I wanted to make sure it was native and NOT from the pet shop.  Turns out it is most likely a Cope's Gray Tree-frog.  You may notice that the frog is green and not gray in the photo.  I was confused as well.  They can change colors from green to gray and back rather rapidly, and are normally green at night.  And they are native to Wisconsin!  Since it was pitch black out when I released the frog, I snapped this picture in the dark hoping that I would get the frog.  Success!  Tiny little thing!  Hope it eats some of the mosquitoes in our backyard!

And last but not least, I picked my first Pumpkin Pie pumpkin!  I am thinking one will be enough for a pie, but I have no idea.  Only one way to find out.  Will let you know!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fence Complete! (And a weather update)

Well Gary lied.  And by Gary, I mean Chief Meteorologist Gary of our local news .  Though he really cannot be blamed for what I assume was an accurate interpretation of the computer's weather data, so maybe I should say the computer lied.  Most likely it was just Mother Nature changing her mind that caused both the computer and Gary to come to the conclusion that it was going to rain every day this week, only to have it be sunny every day instead.  (Well, there was a light sprinkle for about 20 mins one evening, but I don't really count that.)  Regardless the lack of rain meant that, GASP, I actually had to water things!  And it was the first week all summer where conditions were actually less than ideal for the growth of fungus and other diseases.  Yay!!!  But guess what?  Gary and the computer are currently predicting rain Monday through Friday of next week, so we might be back to 'ideal' conditions soon. :-(  We'll see.

I made it to my local garden store earlier this week and had both my zucchini and Peter pepper plants diagnosed.  The lady told me that my zucchini was probably the victim of a squash vine borer, and that I should get that plant out of there before the others are affected.  She also said that my mildew prevention was a good decision, and to keep it up! With the high probability that a borer caused the death of my zucchini, I decided to spray all my other squash vines with the insecticide I have.  When I checked today though, it looks like one of the remaining zucchini plants may have fallen victim to a borer as well.  (The leaves are fine, but the main stem looks damaged.)  I will keep my eyes peeled, and for now, both zucchini plants have a good dose of insecticide on their base vines!

I also noticed earlier this week that the leaves on my Batwing pumpkin plant in the garden were starting to droop in a similar fashion to the zucchini that bit the dust.  The pumpkin plants were already on my "to spray" list, but I definitely got concerned.  I sprayed all three pumpkin plants and then decided to wait a few days to see if the Batwing plant improved.  Well it looked better today, so I am not entirely sure what is going on with it.  It is not 100%, but better enough that I have decided to leave it in there for now.  I would hate to have to pull it out!

My Peter pepper plants have a much happier ending then their zucchini friend.  It turns out that, yes, there is some type of bacterial disease on the leaves, but the fungicide I have should help with the problem.  It is also good to know that the fruits do not get affected, and so far the plants are still doing their thing, so let's hope it stays that way!  As I have mentioned before, there has been SO much rain this summer that diseases have been thriving.  I feel for the people who decided this year would be their first adventure in gardening.  They may decide not to try again next year!

I am happy to report that if it does rain all next week, my beet seedlings will be in heaven on earth!  I have seen new ones pop up everyday this week and they have definitely appreciated their daily waterings.  I am hoping this batch will thrive since the last one didn't make it.  I have been wanting to plant some more carrots and maybe some spinach or cabbage, but it may be too late.  I might just give it a try since I have extra seeds, and perhaps I will be successful.  Only one way to find out!

And where might I plant all these Fall crops?  Well I could rip up more grass if I really wanted too, because the fence is finally finished!  Tom was able to get out there today and he went to town.  The garden is now approximately 32 feet x 20 feet, give or take a foot.  Most likely give since we ended up widening it at the last minute.  We had 100 feet worth of fence that we planned on using to encompass the garden.  This does not take into consideration the 5 foot door that we left in place or the fact that Tom thinks there may have been a little more than 50 feet of fence on each of the two spools we had.  He did overlap the ends somewhat, but that still left some extra.  Since the measuring tape we were using only goes to 25 feet, we can't be certain at this time the exact measurements.  So like I said, 32 x 20 feet, give or take.  It is very exciting regardless!  And since there was some extra space, I had Tom bring up the oregano/basil bin to put inside the fence.  I wanted it up there because it is a super magnet for pollinators, and it seems that the reason a lot of my pumpkin potentials shrivel up and fall off, is because they are not getting pollinated.  Have no fear!  Oregano flower power is here!  Tom was NOT amused by the bees.  He wanted to wait for them to fly away before bringing the bin up.  I told him he'd be waiting forever.  He came trudging up the hill, bin awkwardly in hand, saying "The bees are following me!!!"  I thought to myself, "Well good!  That's what we want!"  But as I said, he was NOT amused.  Lol  No one got hurt.  We walked away sting free, and the bees didn't seem to mind the move one bit.  It was a win win!

And what would a post of mine be without pictures?  Enjoy!
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Bugs, Disease, Rain, and a Late Blight Alert!

Well we had a short break in the rain over the weekend, but of course it's back.  I was able to get a some things done while the sun was out for a few days.  Saturday I reapplied Bonide Copper Fungicide to my tomato plants since it rained on Friday, and I also sprayed my cabbage and beans again with Bonide Rotenone-Pyrethrins, to prevent flea beetle and Japanese beetle damage.  It's a good thing I decided to re-spray the insecticide, because when I sprayed the cabbage, flea beetles came out from the base of the leaves. Sorry fellas, dinner is NOT served!  :)  I also got to witness the lovely sound of Japanese Beetles hitting the plastic in the garden, as they fell after being sprayed.  I remember thinking, 'Yikes!  That was fast!'.  And since I was in a spraying mood, I reapplied Cutter Bug Spray to the lawn as well.  The neighbors were out of town on a camping trip, so I figured it was an excellent time to get out there a spray while they and their dog were gone.  That way the Cutter spray would have a chance to dry before Gunner, the dog, went in the yard again.  And I know the human neighbors will appreciate the reduction in mosquitoes!  So far there has been a reduction, but there are still quite a few out there.  No where near as bad as other places I have been to in Wisconsin though!

And speaking of destructive critters, I have two plant pathogens of some sort reeking havoc this year.  One is affecting my Peter Pepper plants.  It looks like some kind of bacterial infection, from what I have seen online, but I will be bringing some of the leaves into my local garden center to confirm.  I am crossing my fingers that it is something treatable!  The other peppers in the garden still look fine, but they probably have more resistance because they are not a novelty species.  The other problem is pictured above.  Something seems to have destroyed my zucchini plant!  The other two plants look fine at the moment, so I am at a bit of a loss.  I think it may be Powery Mildew, which is a group of fungi that can affect many plants. However, I had mildew on my zucchini leaves last year, and they didn't die.  In fact, they seemed to be completely immune!  And the fact that the other two plants are still doing fine is a bit puzzling.  If anyone has an suggestions, let me know!  (I did spray some fungicide on the zucchinis in case it is Mildew.  I think the plant in the picture is no more though.)

And while we are on a disease kick, let me bring to your attention the latest on Late Blight in Wisconsin.  As of July 23rd (the latest report to date), five counties have reported Late Blight on both potato and tomato crops.  Here are two links for more information! http://www.uwex.edu/ces/admin/2010_tomato_late_blight.html  http://www.plantpath.wisc.edu/wivegdis/

While there have been a few incidents of bad news recently, it hasn't all been bad.  Everything is still producing.  Even the 'dead' zucchini plant has a few fruits on it somehow!  Another good thing is the Pumpkin Pie mega vine has a couple new pumpkins on it that are actually getting bigger!  This is exciting news since most new growths would appear one day and be yellow and fall off a couple days later.  The current contenders have been on there for days and are increasing in size.  That is a sure sign that they are on their way to being full grown pumpkins!  

Another thing that I did that should help the pumpkin plants, including the two that are 'normal' size, is cover the "compost" section with black plastic.  This will provide the smaller vines with a better surface to expand onto, as well as protect any fruits from the sticks, hay and other random organics in the "compost" section.  There is an off shoot from the mega vine that was already in the "compost" section, so I guess it will benefit as well.  I tell you, that vine is INSANE!  Tom went out to check out the garden with me today and when I showed him where the end of the mega vine is currently, he said, "Wait, is this vine from ALL the way back there!?"  Yeah, it is.

In other news, the fence remains in limbo, but is trying to make progress.  I put markers out for the remaining fence posts, and started getting the ground ready so that the fence will lay flat.  I can't remove anymore old fence at this point, because if I do the garden will be a free access location.  Unfortunately I just don't have the strength to put the posts in, so I  can't put up the rest of the new fence without Tom.  After the rain ends, he said he'll be out there; with a massive coating of bug spray all over his body.  The mosquitoes REALLY love him!

I have a very limited photo gallery this time around, but it does show the pumpkin vine and a couple of the new pumpkins that are on their way.  Feel free to check it out!
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