Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Vegetable Garden Update September 2015

Where has this year gone? Can you all believe it is almost October??? It's hard to believe. Especially when I look at the vegetable garden which is still going strong. Above is a long shot of it and I tell you I never get tired of looking at it. It's a good thing since it is in my front yard and visible from the kitchen window.

The outer border on all four sides of the vegetable garden proper consists of a three foot raised garden where irises and zinnias grow. I love the zinnias and plan to plant them here each year if they don't self seed on their own. I am a lazy gardener so I am hoping all of the zinnias will drop seeds and come back on their own next spring.  The zinnias are annuals and won't bother the irises; which are perennials. Additionally, the zinnias bloom and get big only after the irises are mostly done with their bloom; although I do have a rebloomer in this garden that keeps showing its pretty white face amongst the zinnias.

The zinnias are pretty to look at, but the best part of the zinnias for me is that they, and the short section of cosmos shown in this picture, bring in the butterflies. I garden for pollinators so I am really enjoying all of the butterflies, and bees of course. Right now monarchs are migrating and are stopping by these zinnias to partake of their goodness. I even captured a video of two monarchs mating right here in this garden. I posted the video at the end of the post.

Now on to the veggies. The southeast bed held watermelons, cucumbers, and cantaloupes during the summer. All three crops were a huge success and right up to this past weekend I was picking watermelon and cantaloupe. With the days getting shorter and the nights growing colder tho, I am sure I will not be able to harvest anymore fruit from the vines so I pulled all the vines and planted cold weather crops in their place. I prefer to start with seedlings and not mess with seeds of most cold weather crops. Cold weather seedlings should be showing up pretty soon here in Tennessee. In the first row I planted red cabbage, next are two rows of Brussels sprouts, then one row of cauliflower, and in the far corner under the dark brown leaves I planted about 30 cloves of garlic. Garlic is a fun vegetable to grow and will continue growing all winter long-underground. Come spring it will be the first bit of green I'll find in the garden. The garlic cloves I planted were from some heads of garlic I purchased in my local grocery store.
My garden beds are mostly devoid of organic material so I am trying hard to add in organic material in any way I can. Straw mulches help but take a lot of time to really begin to work. I happened to have some fairly well decomposed oak leaves so I not only added them to the top of the bed but I also hand worked the leaves into the soil as I turned over the soil. I also added a lot of rabbit manure and cedar shavings, an organic fertilizer, and some wood ash. I did NOT add wood ash to the area the garlic is planted in. Garlic and onions like an acid soil and wood ash will cause the acidity to decrease and I do not want that. My soil is naturally acid which is great for the garlic and onions but not so great for other crops. After these garlic are harvested next May or June, I'll add amendments then if I need to change the pH.
The northeast bed still has its summer bounty of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and basil. It's getting its second wind now that the weather has cooled down.
I have harvested dozens of eggplants of the variety 'Black Beauty' off from just three plants. I also planted one plant of 'Ichiban' eggplant and have harvested about five fruit from that plant. I prefer 'Black Beauty' tho and enjoy slicing them, dipping the slices in a beaten egg, then in flour and frying them up. Yummy! Even Mr. Fix-it will eat them when prepared this way. He is not normally a fan of eggplant.
The three basil plants I planted at the western edge of this bed have gone crazy. The flower heads have produced thousands of seeds and I suspect I'll be pulling basil seedlings out of the gravel paths quite a bit come next spring. That is not a good thing for me as it means more weeding.
The strawberry bed is still loaded with strawberry plants. I did weed it a bit and cut off all the runners so they would not take over the gravel.
The herb garden has filled in quite nicely with herbs. The red zinnias I planted have all gotten mildew and are in decline. I'll soon be pulling them out and replacing them with a cold weather flower, probably pansies.
The southwest bed still has a big harvest of carrots to be dug, and at the far end are green beans. They keep coming and coming. I am pretty bad about harvesting them because I don't like them. Anyone want some green beans?

The final bed has been hand tilled and half of it is planted with a cover crop from Botanical Interests. I chose oats and field peas for my cover crop.  I have never used a cover crop before so this will be a new thing for me. The cover crop is supposed to keep down weeds and improve the soil by fixing nitrogen and by adding organic matter to the soil once the cover crop is killed by frost. I am very interested to see if I can tell a difference between this half of the bed and the other half; which is planted with cool weather crops. I planted a lot of seeds in the half of this bed just past the A frame trellis. The seeds included: peas, beets, radishes, kohlrabi, mesclun, spinach, and lettuce. Almost all of the seeds germinated and it is pretty exciting to see them growing. I'll share more on them next month. 

Normally our first frost for my area of northern Middle Tennessee is around the middle of October. Depending on the severity of the frost almost all hot weather crops and flowers will be killed. If it is a light frost and a garden has some protection over it in the form of a frost blanket or even a canopy of tree limbs and leaves, the season might last a bit longer. Here in Tennessee our seasons tend to be wishy washy with their changes. The seasons don't come on strong and stay for a while, they bounce back and forth between seasons for a while. Nonetheless, winter is coming to Tennessee as we can all see by the change in the tree leaves and the shorter days. This year I will most likely be using a frost blanket and also tunnels over some of the crops. I hope to have them all set up by the time I next post about my vegetable garden. So, until next time....

enjoy being in the garden....

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's the Bees Knees! Haha, A Day Checking the Gals

"I think you should go ahead and get some bees Tina. It will be good for you and fun." says Mr. Fix-it. I do love my husband and he is always considering my happiness in all he says and does but perhaps I was a bit disillusioned about beekeeping, and it is all his fault. My revenge is to ask him to help me with the bees. He has obliged willingly, but after he got stung once he is not so obliging anymore. That did not stop my hero from taking pictures during his lesson on beekeeping on this day.  And lucky him he did not get stung! Maybe the bee thing will work out for us after all.

Prior to getting into beekeeping I heard a lot of good things about bees. The optimism of everyone I spoke to made me think bees would be easy to care for. As a benefit to beekeeping I would have ready pollinators in my garden and I'd be helping the bees. Hmmmmmm, this is the reality of beekeeping:

It's easy, you only need to spend about 15 minutes a week on beekeeping. Truth: It's more like 30-60 minutes or so per week for me and while that does not seem to be a long time, it really is a long time when in a bee jacket in 90 degree weather.

Bees make their own food. Truth: Yes and no. It all depends on what is blooming that the bees can eat. Even though there are flowers blooming the bees might not be able to use them for pollen or nectar. Case in point, goldenrod has been blooming for quite a while, but the bees apparently did not like the kind blooming and so they preferred to dine at my five hummingbird feeders. That was my clue to feed my bees. Now that the good goldenrod is blooming they've left the hummingbird feeders alone but they still don't seem to have enough to eat so everyone in bee groups says to feed. Feeding is difficult for a good deal of reasons. Not to mention it means I have to get in the hive. Urgh.

Bees are gentle and usually don't sting. Truth: Bees don't appreciate you opening up their house and rummaging around in it. They appreciate it even less when you want to take all their food away. Bees will sting to defend their homes. Who can blame them? If you are a beekeeper expect to get stung. The good news is bee stings are way less painful than a wasp sting and I've been stung by both this summer.

Bees will repay you in spades with honey. You might even get some the first year! Truth: I really had no intentions of harvesting honey this year. It's a good thing too! There really isn't any extra for me. I suspect I may be feeding my bees all winter and that is so not fun. Maybe at some point I'll get honey but each teaspoon will have costed me about $5. Haha, I could just as easily buy honey for a lot less money and let someone else do all the work.

You become one with nature when checking your beehives. Truth: I try ever so hard to really get into a groove and to enjoy checking the beehives. It's true the gentle hum of the bees can be lulling and it is kind of neat conversing with nature. As long as I can get past sweat running down my brow so much that I can't see to do things right and I don't bump a frame or the box and the bees get angry, then yes, becoming one with nature might take effect-might.  In the meantime it is a lot of nervousness when in the beehives and not so much enjoyment of nature.

I have two hives because the best advice says to start with two hives. This way I (the beekeeper) can gauge how each hive is doing by comparing the two. In the above picture the hive on the right is doing a LOT better than the hive on the left. There are more bees and they have more stores in those extra boxes and this is amazing since the queen in this hive disappeared early on in the season. I actually had to requeen this hive which can set a hive back. The left hive should be in a better position because it has the original queen and was not set back like the other hive. That is, until I fed the bees and most of the bees in the left hive drowned in their nectar. None of the bees in the right hive drowned. What? Yes, bees are a quandary. Let's look at a beehive check in Tiger Way Gardens.

Remove the top cover (after you unstrap the hives--straps are important to keep the hives from blowing over in severe weather). Note all the bees? This is the strong hive and lots of bees are a good thing. Just be sure you have some protection from the bees. There is always one that gets kind of mad you are in their home and that one bee will persist in attacking you by stinging you if she can. My strong hive is the hive that has a bit more aggression issues than the weaker hive. I have gotten to the point of not smoking the bees and with experience I am getting better with hive checks. There is no school like the school of hard knocks and experience and with each check it seems to get easier.
The entry to the strong hive is full of bees busy going about their business. Right now they are loaded with a golden pollen and it is a delight to see. I always check the bees during the day when hopefully more workers are in the field (less bees to worry about bothering me) and when it is sunny outside with no rain predicted.
Once the top cover comes off I take off my top feeder (it's empty right now and not shown in the picture), then the inner cover and walah, I am in the hive proper. See the bees? They are working in one of the two supers (honey holding boxes), though there doesn't seem to be much honey in the supers.
I get my hive tool and try really hard to pry the frames apart so I can remove one. It is a difficult feat to get those frames and boxes apart because the bees glue everything together with something called propolis. Propolis is good for the bees but not so good for the beekeeper. I think if I had to pick my most difficult task when checking the hives it would be to separate the boxes and frames without damaging them so that I can inspect everything.
Aha! One frame removed. I am now checking for honey and drawn comb since this is a honey super and not a brood box. There is some honeycomb on this frame but not as much as I'd like.
I will sit the first frame down in a safe place on my table then proceed to pull the other frames using my handy frame puller (the steel pinchers you see there). The frame puller is great! I just have to remember to keep a tight grip on it so that I don't drop any frames. When you drop frames the bees get mad and if you drop the frames on grass or the ground the frames will pick up dirt and grass because the propolis just loves debris. This is not a good thing for your beehive.
I don't always go through all frames in all boxes but I do try to look for pests, drawn comb, honey stores, and eventually brood once I get lower in the hive.
Here I've pulled both honey supers and am getting into the first of two deep brood boxes. These two boxes are theoretically where the queen should be located. In the better than four months I've had the bees I have never found a queen in either hive. One time Mr. Fix-it and my daughter Liz spotted one of the queens and that was exciting for us. It's okay if I don't spot the queen because as long as I find brood and eggs I think I'm doing okay and the queen is also okay.
Can you see how dark this frame is? As compared to the frame above that came out of the honey super? The darkness comes from multiple bees hatching out and leaving behind their pupal skin. Apparently they leave behind some skin which attracts wax moths. So far I do not have any problems with wax moths or any other pests of beehives. I am absolutely thrilled this is the case--thus far.
Here is an up close of a frame. I am running eight frame hives. The other type you can run are ten frame hives. The brood boxes in my hives are deeps. As you can imagine these boxes can get heavy so that is why I opted for eight frame hives versus the ten frame hives. Also, my hives are small cell frames. Bees can be large and some small. The natural way of bees is to be smaller but with breeding folks have tried to increase the bees size to presumably get more honey from larger bees. Some feel this works and others don't. I went with the smaller cells because bees are naturally small celled and I am trying to run my apiary as near to nature as I can.
Getting into the weaker hive is a lot less stressful because there are not as many bees and because these bees are nicer. After removing the top cover, the feeder, and the inner cover this is the amount of bees I find. As compared to the stronger hive this is a stark difference in bee numbers. Checking this hive goes a lot faster and I am quite happy to find brood on the frames.
Observing the bees and the baby bees is really fascinating. You can hardly tell it is 90 degrees and I am wearing multiple layers of clothing can you? As much as I am fascinated by the bees I try to do my business and get out of the suit just as fast as I can. The whole process takes me about 45 minutes and it sometimes seems like it is over in two minutes! I check my hives about every two weeks and other than feeding them for about a week in the spring and also about a week last month I have not added anything to the hives nor have I tried to manipulate things. I guess I am lucky the bees have done well. As the days are getting shorter and the temperature begins to drop I am very worried about what winter will bring but for now this is a day in the beehive during the summer....

in the garden....
Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden

Friday, September 4, 2015

The New Pond Gardens

Koi! Love these colorful fish!
There are several areas of the new property I am trying to landscape. The koi pond is one of them and is in a very important spot visible from the house so its landscaping is vital to our enjoyment. It has been a slow and painful process but it is coming along.


I choose predominantly pink plants for this garden. The Pink Drift roses that circle the far edge of the pond carry the theme the best but we also have: Joe Pye weed, Pink Gaura, Pink Maltese Cross, Surprise lilies, old fashioned bleeding hearts, and Queen of the Prairie. I also added in texture plants to include amsonia and a weeping Japanese maple.  For accent we have white lilies, Japanese roof irises, penstemon, and bergenias. Now that this area is mulched and weeded the plants are beginning to take hold and show off a bit.
Inside of the pond itself I have dark purple water irises, white hardy water lilies, and pickerel weed.
The fish are quite happy and of the original nine I moved from my old pond I was gifted with eight beautiful baby koi who are growing large quickly.
I mulched this large bed with cardboard and straw. The ragweed was taller than me in this bed and something had to be done. While the mulch won't last forever it is a start, and as time goes by weeds will become less of a problem. Especially once the shade trees begin growing. The yellow one pictured is 'Sango Kaku'. I have two in the backyard and think they are one of the prettiest Japanese maples around. Their fall color is a clear yellow that glows. Right now the trees are under stress since they are fairly newly planted and since it has been hot and dry lately. 

The irises under the tree in the foreground are Japanese roof irises. These are by far my favorite irises because they look great all season long, can be grown in the shade or sun (they would appreciate a little shade so don't plant them in a western or southern exposure, here they are planted on the east side of my home), and happily multiply into larger clumps (they will self seed too).

The back side of the pond slopes down with some of the famous rolling hill topography Tennessee is known for. Landscaping that side is a challenge because you don't want to block the lower plants yet you must have them tiered so they all layer well together. For instance; the Pink Drift roses are a bit shorter than the pink gaura which is just behind the roses. As we go down the slope the plants will have to get taller. There are three mophead type hydrangeas planted just below the gaura along with some amsonias and a Japanese style boxwood. Joe Pye weed also helps with the tiered effect. Hopefully when it is all grown in the appearance should be pleasant from both sides of the garden but honestly, the side I look at the most is across the pond to the roses so it is my main concern.

 One last photo of the back side of the garden. For me color is secondary to texture and heights when I plan out a garden. I want the plants to complement each other and set off one another whether they are blooming or not. Here the gaura and roses work out so well. The little shrub in the foreground is a 'Lady in Red' hydrangea my friend Angie gave me this spring. It is doing awesomely and I hope it, along with the other two hydrangeas in the bed, will fill in nicely as time goes on....

in the garden....
Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Some Garden Pictures from Tiger Way Gardens

The first year with new gardens is a very trying year in my opinion. We at Tiger Way Gardens are still dealing with all the weeds and woody growth that had been allowed to take over our property prior to us purchasing it. On top of that, during the house build we had a very opportunistic annual weed get out of control on all the disturbed soil. That weed is ragweed. Ragweed is an annual that is very prolific in self seeding and it is a very tough weed. Roundup doesn't even faze it. Fortunately we've had a lot more rain than is normal for the summertime in Tennessee and I've been able to pull a good amount of the ragweed plants. It's a good thing too since it is all blooming or beginning to bloom and setting those seeds for next year's crop. Sigh, such is gardening. 

Despite all the weeds I have been able to mulch some gardens and the design of my new gardens is beginning to show itself. The one really neat and different thing from Tiger Way Gardens versus Tiger Gardens is that I have lots of full sun here. Roses were a first order of business. I like old roses and roses with scents. This is an old Bourbon rose I purchased at Lowes. At the present time I cannot tell you its name because I've lost the tag. It smells wonderful tho.
The foundation gardens are brand new and are a bit easier to maintain because I was able to mulch them a bit last fall with cardboard left over from the home build and also with pine needles. The pine needles are now fading away and you can see the cardboard but even tho that is not a pretty sight it is prettier than seeing weeds! I have a combination of evergreens and deciduous shrubs as well as some specimen plants and perennials. There is a wide variety of plants in my large foundation beds.
Here is a view of the other side of the foundation. I placed stepping stones to allow me access to the hose on the side of the house. I have spireas backed by low growing nandinas with 'Black Dragon' trees in the corners shown here.
The front of the same bed is not finished. Here we have newly planted Japanese roof irises along with the chartreuse annual foliage plant. I really like the plant (the name escapes me) even tho it does not bloom and is an annual. It has kept this color all year long and requires little care for me. This area of the bed was not mulched so it was covered by ragweed most of the summer as it will soon be if I don't get it mulched quickly. Needless to say mulch is the name of the game here.
These 'Autumn Joy' sedums are the stars in the front gardens right now. I moved these from the old garden last fall and they are doing wonderfully.
This little corner garden is filled mainly with gravel and leftover dirt from the house build. I was able to pick up all of the debris around the house including three pallets of bricks, wood, nails, tar paper and other stuff so none of that has been buried in the ground around our house. Unfortunately gravel and subsoil are not easy things to pick up and since this garden is so close to the driveway it has really no good soil in it. I have planted tough plants in this bed. Artemisia 'Powis Castle', 'Homestead' verbena, daylilies, irises, butterflyweed, and 'Shenandoah' (Panicum virgatum) switch grass are all doing well along with the one old Bourbon rose.
Here is a longer shot of the cutout garden. The grass 'Shenandoah' is an awesomely tough plant that looks good all the time. This link says it can be used in rain gardens and is very adaptable. I simply know grasses as being tough so I stuck three clumps into this corner last fall and it has so far done well. This garden has no drainage or very little drainage. It is surrounded on three sides by either gravel or concrete and has a gravelly crush in run base to it. This is a tough garden for any plants and I have had issues with bulbs in it but the grass rocks. I highly recommend the switch grasses.
Another view of it across the driveway toward another garden and a pink crepe myrtle. Most of the crepe myrtles took hits from this past winter and were all severely damaged. This one, however, has done really well despite only being planted right before winter set in. It is a keeper in my book.
The crabapple garden is doing a good job of looking good, attracting butterflies, and keeping down the weeds. This garden was one of the first ones I planted with it being about eighteen months old. Weeds have not been a major ordeal in this garden but there is always maintenance. Because it is planted closely I do not have to mulch this bed at all. To see the evolution of this garden from last year check this post. Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is a perennial I would never be without in the garden. Give it a good spot and stand back and let it go. It's awesome! There is also a lot of jumping verbena (Verbena bonariensis) which is the tall airy purple plant. The verbena was not part of the plan but when I transplanted the other perennials out here seed from the verbena tagged along and sprouted in this garden. I love it and so do the butterflies so I let it go wild in the garden and have begun transplanting around the farm into other gardens and the wildflower areas. Verbena is not a native plant but butterflies love it and it fits into the wildflower meadows beautifully so I am keeping it.
Coming up in the next post you'll see some of my pond gardens and my koi. This trout is not found around here in my ponds but I sure like looking at it so thought I'd share it. Some enterprising individual (not me) made it out of garage door metal and did a good job painting it. I found the perfect spot for it outside of my kitchen window....

in the garden....
Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden