Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strawberries and Storms

Just when we thought the yard couldn't get any emptier, we were hit by a storm this month that produced an EF1 tornado.  When we first moved into the duplex, we had to stare at an incredibly ugly tree that sat smack dab in the middle of the hill that is our backyard.  My dad was convinced it had been planted to act as a shade tree, but that theory quickly went out when the tree failed to even slightly shade the house or porch at any point during the day.  The next guess was that it was to keep the hill from eroding.  That theory seems more likely as the tree itself was a rapidly growing, invasive species not native to North America.  I'm sure the roots are doing their part to keep the hill in place, but the tree also managed to kill large portions of grass, invite grubs to take up residence below its long branches, and of course provide an eyesore of a view to all who gazed upon it.  Not to mention the thrill of trying to mow under the darn thing!  So one can imagine the joy that filled our home the night the tree was struck by lightning!  (Picture is of said tree after getting struck in 2009.)  The lightning strike was confirmation that someone out there, high in the sky, agreed that the tree had to go.  A tree 'expert' reviewed the situation and informed our landlord that the tree was a goner and needed to be removed.

By September of 2009, some trees in a neighbor's yard decided they too wanted to join in the fun.  Most likely caused by disease or over-crowding, a bunch of heavy trunks and branches fell into our yard and broke the fence in three different spots. (Some of the broken fence shown in photo above.) There was no storm that could be blamed this time, unless it was old damage that finally got the better of the trees.  This did not exactly clear space in our yard per say, but it did remove some visual aspects.

Fast forward to June 8th, 2011.  I was just minding my own business, sitting and watching the evening storm roll in.  I noticed that the wind was wiping things around and I kept hoping my plants were safe.  At some point, when I wasn't looking, the tall pine tree at the top of the hill fell down.  Just snapped right at the base and fell flat.  I didn't hear anything other than the sound of the storm, and I didn't see it at first, because it was dark. (Pine tree still standing at left.)  It was so odd and surreal and became even more so the next day when it came to light that there was in fact a tornado.  An EF1 tornado is the lowest grade they give, and from the time frame confirmed by the National Weather Service, the tornado sirens that DID go off were after the fact.  Rather scary, but I did not see anything that would have indicated a tornado.  Except of course the tree that went down!  Unlike the first tree that kicked the bucket, this tree loss was sad.  It was a rather nice looking pine tree and will be missed!

The good news in this story is that no one was hurt and my garden plants did not suffer the same fate as the tree.  Not to be outdone though, the strawberry plants have been experiencing their own issues.  We are days away from fresh, homegrown strawberries ripe for the picking.  This does not mean the berries will come quietly.  I first noticed holes appearing in some of the leaves of the plants after fruits had started forming.  This lead to an investigation that turned up two different insect pests!  One was easy to identify; the spittle bug.  Not a pest that one needs to do anything about, since they rarely cause significant damage, and they move on rather quickly.  The other pest was a bit trickier to identify and involved contacting an entomologist.  Turns out there are Strawberry Sawfly larvae feeding on my strawberry leaves.  How these little buggers got to Wisconsin is anyone's guess since they are normally found no further East than North Dakota!  Regardless I have been removing them by hand as I find them, and hope the ones I miss hurry up and turn into the primitive wasps they become as adults.

The hand removal technique has had a wrench thrown into it in recent days, because the strawberry fruits have started turning red.  This has caught the attention of other, larger creatures who could care less about the leaves.  I noticed some half eaten fruits and decided despite the insects, I had to cover the strawberries.  So now they are covered.  I checked today and there is no new fruit damage!  Success!  I hope this means we will actually get to enjoy some yummy, whole berries.  So far so good!

In addition to the above activities, I finally got all the tomatoes and peppers in the garden.  I also did something new this year; I mulched!  I have used black plastic 'mulch' in the past to prevent weeds, conserve moisture, and keep my plants' roots warm.  This year I put down the plastic mulch in some areas, and cocoa mulch in the areas I normally put grass clippings or nothing.  I am very pleased with the outcome.  It looks great!  And being cocoa mulch, it smells great too.  I also made a point to leave space for walking when I mapped out my garden this year, so that I can harvest easier.  Though I am not sure if it will work as planned since things have yet to reach their full size.  But at least I tried!

Now I leave you with a photo album, because there were too many pictures to post here.  Enjoy!

Blog Update June 14, 2011
 Click above to see album :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Weeds And Other Garden Plants

The month of May brought with it lots of rain, a few nights of frosts, and about a week and a half worth of random 80 and 80+ degree days!  This led to the inevitable growth of weeds in large numbers.  I have yet to completely rid the garden of the bulk of them (not that they won't come back), but I am working on it.  I did clear a rather good portion and then immediately covered it with black garden plastic, so at least I don't need to re-do that section.  Now to do the same or similar with the rest of the garden and I am good to go!

Since the temperature did not want to remain stable this month, I decided to delay planting my tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and watermelon in the garden.  But since they were all outside already, I had to do something to protect them when we got two nights of frost in a row.  That is where my lightweight row cover came in handy.  I simply made a giant tent for my seedlings, and therefore avoided mass death!  And mass death is something my peppers had already flirted with earlier in the month, so I wasn't in the mood to take chances.  For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you already know about the "pepper incident".  For the rest of you and for those who would like to revisit the horror (there is a happy ending though!), you can view it here:  Pepper Incident

Even with all the insanity, I did manage to get some actual non-weeding work done.  I finished digging those pesky old fence posts out of the garden and put down the plastic for the pumpkin and watermelon vines.  I got my lettuce bin half planted (seen at right) and swore at a squirrel just this evening who decided that the lettuce babies looked rather delicious.  This prompted the covering of the lettuce bin with more lightweight row cover.  (Take THAT squirrel!)

I finished off my direct-sow list with zucchini (first sprout seen at left) and cucumber.  When I planned my garden, I didn't realize that the cucumber seeds I got were a variety that prefer to be on a trellis.  So next on my list of things to do is build a cucumber trellis using bamboo sticks and twine.  Luckily I figured it out before I planted them, or that would have been interesting!

And speaking of trellises, two of my bean plants magically appeared out of nowhere (At right; May 24th).  There were signs of one plant peeking through earlier, but that was it.  I checked again two days later and BAM!  Two plants had come up in a completely different area!  And to confuse matters even more, the original plant I saw peeking it's head out of the ground, was still in the exact same position.  As though it had pressed the 'pause' button.  After seeing today that the 'paused' plant does not seem to want to press 'play', I went ahead and replanted.  It seems like I have had that happen every year with one or two bean seeds, even though I am trying a different variety this year.  I think they may be toying with me!

Even with the high winds today, I decided to put the pumpkins in their summer home.  They were getting way too big for their pots and I didn't want them to become root-bound.  I am sure they will enjoy their new home even with a bit of wind.  The watermelon seedlings will be joining their fellow super viners in the next few days!

And while I was getting the pumpkins acclimated, I noticed that the radishes looked ready.  Sure enough, they were ripe for the picking!  Now I don't like radishes, so I can't tell you if they are any good, but one of my radish-loving family members can fill me in and I will get back to you.  This is the first year I have grown French Breakfast radishes, so we will have to see how they compare to the round ones of years past!

I ended my day, and month, with the filling of the pots.  All 14 of them.  The two green ones in the back were already filled, so I am not counting them.  One never realizes how many pots one has until they fill those pots with dirt.  I think it is safe to say I have more than enough. :)

I hope to return relatively soon with a post or two about accessible gardening and a guide to growing and preserving catnip.  Until then, I wish you pleasant growing weather and happy gardening!