Simply Grateful Gardener

Gardening To Fill The Pantry!


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Taming My Zucchini

This is the first year I have planted zucchini in our garden. Last year I was given some from our neighbors and found so many wonderful uses for it, I knew I had to plant some for myself.

Being part of the squash family I felt fairly confident I’d be able to grow this, as I’d planted pumpkins in the past and enjoyed some success. Plus, everyone told me it was easy to grow and I’d have so much zucchini I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Really? I wouldn’t know what to do with it? Well, over the winter I began collecting recipes for canning, freezing, and cooking with zucchini. Believe me, whatever the zucchini gods have in store for me, I’m ready.

Anyway, planting the zucchini wasn’t much of a problem. I just hilled up some dirt, put in the seeds, watered, and waited. Fairly quickly the seeds germinated and quickly filled in the area around the tiny a-frame I built for it. It grew and grew and grew and grew. And I just watched. Never did it occur to me that I should be doing something. The leaves were beautiful, full, and spreading like wildfire.

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Unfortunately, spreading is something I hadn’t really taken into account when I planted the zucchini. I figured it would climb the trusty A-frame and remain civil toward all the neighboring vegetables. How naive of me. Zucchini is quite a bully when it comes to being confined to a designated space. Actually “bully” is probably the wrong term here. Non-compliant would be more appropriate.

Fairly quickly the zucchini plants spread into the beets, radishes, and carrots. This might have been tolerated but when the zucchini leaves spread into the peppers and began covering several of them completely, I knew I couldn’t allow things to continue. Something had to be done.

I checked several of my gardening books, but none of them talked about pruning squash plants or how to control their spreading. They all however warned to be sure to give them enough space to grow. Oops! Was that there before? I must have skipped over that part.

The internet wasn’t much help either. Most people who pruned their zucchini had much smaller plants and they were through producing their first crops. Pruning I learned would help assure a second crop and continual crops through the summer and fall.

I also learned that most of the pruning was being done on leaves that were covered with fungus or drying up. My leaves were perfect. Aside from one Japanese beetle I found this morning, the leaves couldn’t have been in better shape. My concern was whether or not pruning a perfectly healthy plant would stunt or even stop the zucchini’s growth.

Still…I had to consider the rest of the garden. Left unchecked the zucchini would spread far into the peppers and definitely hinder growth and production. I had to chance it.

With pruning shears in hand I headed into the jungle this morning and began cutting. I cut and cut and cut and cut. Pruning is one of those things that I probably shouldn’t do, because I typically get carried away. You might recall my incident with sun scald last year on my tomatoes because of my over-zealous pruning tendencies (check out my post My Tomatoes Are Sunburned). Learning from my mistakes, however, especially in the garden, is something I have tried to force myself to do.

I first pruned all the largest leaves because I knew that they were the oldest and the outer most leaves. This gave me some room to work in as well as thinned things out considerably. Then I pruned away any leaves that were starting to turn yellow because they’d been buried under the over abundance of foliage.

Snip, snip, snip.

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Cut, cut, cut.

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Prune, prune, prune.

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Stop, stop, stop.

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Okay, an entire garbage can full of leaves later I could actually see some zucchini!

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In fact, I was able to pick 6 right away and counted more than 15 babies that will probably be ready in a few days.

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Much better! You can actually see the tiny A-frame now.

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Now the garden isn’t being over taken by the zucchini, my pepper plants are free to grow and bask in the sun, the beets have gained their ground back, and I have zucchini in hand to eat and play with. Could it get any better? Not for this gardener, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Rainwater Harvesting – Rain Barrel Crazy

Last July Hubby and I installed our first rain barrel for harvesting rainwater. At the time I wasn’t sure if this was legal in Michigan, but have since learned that the only two states that had laws against rainwater harvesting were Colorado and Nevada. Michigan, in fact, has legislation that encourages homeowners to collect and use rainwater.

For our first rain barrel I purchased a kit from Wal-Mart as well as a brand new 32 gallon garbage can. The kit cost around $20 and the can was $8, so for a $28 investment I thought it would be a good way to save some money on water bills.

It took us less than 1/2 and hour to install the rain barrel.

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All summer as the rain barrel would fill, I would empty it into my watering can and water as much of the gardens and potted plants as I could before opting to use the hose attached to the house. This was so successful, because we had a fairly regular pattern of rain and dry spells, that this year I decided I wanted to expand our water collecting.

Although they do sell connector kits to attach rain barrels so as one fills it will overflow into the next, Hubby decided he could rig something up using — what else — PVC pipe. This would be a fairly inexpensive investment. The major expense would be in purchasing additional rain barrels/garbage cans and another initial rain barrel kit to attach to another downspout on the other side of the house.

Being frugal when it comes to spending money even on things that will eventually save us money in the future, I really did not want to fork out the money for more garbage cans. I mean if Hubby could come up with a way to attach the rain barrels together without having to buy the connecting kits, there had to be another option for the garbage cans as well.

Do you believe in: The universe shall provide? Well, I do, especially after what happened.

A few days after we decided we were going to expand our rain collection, we received a notification from our garbage collecting service that we would be issued a brand new 50 gallon garbage can (free of charge) that we would be required to use for all garbage pickup. They went on to state that any other trash cans could either be left on the curb for pickup/recycling or labeled with a “Compost” sticker and used for that purpose.

So being a daughter of a true sheeny-man-at-heart father, I knew what I had to do. The Sunday after the new garbage cans were delivered, which is the night before our garbage pickup, Hubby and I headed out into our subdivision in search of garbage cans with notes stuck to them stating “PLEASE TAKE.” That’s all we needed!

Within two weeks we had collected 6 perfectly usable garbage cans with lids. Four of them would be used for additional rainwater collection while the other two would be used for compost (why buy those paper bags when you can keep reusing the plastic cans?).

What luck! So for about $30 (which included the complete rain barrel kit we had to purchase for $20 to attach to a different down spout) we had four more rain barrels set up and ready to go. Three barrels were installed on the side of the house with room for more if I want.

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The black tube running from the down spout to the garbage can in the back fills that can first, then any overflow is run to the can in front of it as well as the one to the right. In retrospect Hubby thinks we should have attached the cans together at the bottom with the PVC pipe so they would all fill up at the time. I’m not so sure. This year the rain water has been nearly non-existent, so rather than having one can full, I’d have three cans 1/3 full. Much harder to retrieve water from using a watering can. For now I’m content with they way he set them up.

The first rain barrel that was installed last year was moved into the garden directly below where it had been attached and a 50 gallon Rubbermaid garbage can that we found in someone’s trash was put on the patio.

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Once the yellow can fills, the overflow goes into the can in the garden.

In all we now have the ability to collect 178 gallons of water with still room for expansion.

Now this is all well and good, but there is one catch to this wonderful rain harvesting system — it has to rain in order to use it!!!!

We installed all the new rain barrels at the beginning of June and since then we have not had enough rain to fill one rain barrel even half-way, let alone five. It has been very frustrating. Then, last night while we slept it happened! You got it — IT FINALLY RAINED. And we’re not talking just a passing shower. No, we got enough rain to fill every one of our rain barrels.

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I didn't take a picture of the other two full barrels, but they get filled before this one. Trust me, they are all full.

I didn’t take a picture of the other two full barrels, but they get filled before this one. Trust me, they are all full.

Success! And now we are really getting ambitious. Hubby doesn’t like the fact that I plan on just using my watering can to empty the barrels. It doesn’t bother me to walk back and forth, and in fact it would be a great way to workout my biceps, but Hubby has bigger ideas. He wants to invest in a pump that we would place in the full rain barrels and then attach to our hose and use it to water the gardens that way. It would be about a $60 investment, with coupons, and would save me a lot of time and he thinks aggravation.

I’m still not completely sold on the idea, probably because I haven’t had the joy of emptying all five barrels yet, but it is an option. For now, I am excited to have all my rain barrels full, the garden presently drenched with rain water, and a day off of watering, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


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Why Aren’t My Carrots Growing?

Back in early May I planted two six-foot rows of carrots, watered them, and then waited. For nearly a month I checked and watered the carrot rows without any growth. Then about a week into June a few plants finally sprouted.

Disappointed I decided to replant, this time using a different type of carrot, where no carrots had come up. It has now been nearly a month since I planted and only a few more carrots have shown themselves.

This is the carrot and radish section of the garden. Carrots are supposed to be in rows 1, 3, and 5. Not many to be seen.

This is the carrot and radish section of the garden. Carrots are supposed to be in rows 1, 3, and 5. Not many to be seen.

Yesterday I harvested what was actually usable of the first planting of carrots, about two months after being planted, and found them to be small and many of them were carrot creatures.

I planted three rows of carrots, twice, and this is pretty much more than half of what actually came up. Not much of a harvest, but they are sweet.

I planted three rows of carrots, twice, and this is pretty much more than half of what actually came up. Not much of a harvest, but they are sweet.

Back in 2014 when I had my carrot garden in a different location I also had some carrot creatures, but they were at least big, this years are tiny. Check out my post at Simply Grateful Housewife Carrot Creatures.

So why can’t I get my carrots to grow? Is it the new location? Is it the soil? Is it the seeds? Well once again I headed to the computer and the Internet for some answers. Turns out it’s not the location, soil or the seeds. It’s just me!

Yep, turns out whenever I’ve planted carrots in the past we have had typical Michigan weather. This means we would have regular rain fall. This coupled with me watering the garden in between rain falls assured my carrot growing success.

This year Michigan has been dealing with a terrible drought. Since the end of May we have had no more than 1″ of rain. In June there were four days when there was any measurable rain and so far this July we’ve had one day. Now I do water, but only every other day, sometimes every third day (especially right after the water bill comes in).

According to the information I read, carrots need to be watered each and every day after the seeds are sown into the soil without fail. It isn’t a matter of watering them when they are dry, it is keeping them in a constant state of being wet. This means that for the entire time of germination, which can range from 12 to 18 days, I should have been watering the rows of carrots. Without that, they didn’t have a chance.

The few that actually did germinate and finally grow were a gift, or if you’re a pessimist a slap in the face. I’ll go with gift here for now.

As for the Carrot Creatures I have, well that is the result of planting my carrots in clay. We don’t enjoy the luxury of wonderfully loose soil in our area. We have tightly compacted clay and the three to six inches of top soil that I’ve put on top of the clay doesn’t give the carrots much room to spread out. Unfortunately this probably isn’t going to change because I don’t have an area in the garden that I can build up a foot or more of dirt for them to grow. Although this might be a nice project to consider for a box garden.

Last year I built a box to grow potatoes in and placed it in the garden right along the other rows of potatoes I’d planted. The theory around the box garden was that by hilling the potato plants as they grew and building up the sides of the box, I’d end up with a box full of potatoes by the end of the summer. Well, this didn’t happen. In fact I ended up with less than a handful of potatoes. It is entirely possible I did something wrong, but after that incident I decided that potato gardening was just too much work for not much yield.

This is the first level of the potato box with the potato plants sprouting up.

This is the first level of the potato box with the potato plants sprouting up.

As the potato plants grew, I added more boards on the sides and filled the box with dirt.

As the potato plants grew, I added more boards on the sides and filled the box with dirt.

By fall the box had five levels added and the potato garden looked like this.

By fall the box had five levels added and the potato garden looked like this.

When I removed the box and dug up the plants, there was nothing to be found.

When I removed the box and dug up the plants, there was nothing to be found.

Building up a small area in the existing garden using the boards from the old potato box might be a good option for next year for growing carrots rather than Carrot Creatures. (See Suzanne, even when something doesn’t necessarily work, it still has the potential to inspire – Thanks!) I won’t need to hill the carrots or build up the box as they grow, but a box built within the garden or along side it…now that might work.

So what have I learned? First and foremost, when I plant my carrots I will water them DAILY until they sprout. This is the only way to make sure they germinate. Second, if I want long straight carrots I’ll have to do something about the clay. Otherwise I’m destined to enjoy visitations from Carrot Creatures.

At any rate, another lesson learned in the garden and I am that much smarter (or so I think) for it, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 


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The Incredible Inedible Radish!

For me growing radishes has been fairly easy. I put the seeds in the ground, cover them lightly, water and then wait a few days. It usually doesn’t take more than that for the little plants to sprout and begin their short growing period until harvest. Typically within a month to 6 weeks we are enjoying wonderfully fresh radishes. Then I replant and we wait again.

This year, however, has been a little different and I didn’t give it much thought until yesterday.

After bringing in the morning harvest I set to work on cleaning the radishes and getting them into some cold water. Anxious for my first taste of our second crop of radish I popped one into my mouth. About 10 seconds later I was spitting it out in the sink and my mouth was on fire. Never in my life had I had a radish that was so hot that I couldn’t at least choke it down. For about 15 minutes my mouth burned and even milk and bread didn’t help to sooth it.

This is part of the second planting of radish.

This is part of the second planting of radish.

Now for a bit of history, the first crop of radishes were somewhat hotter than last years crop too, but I figured it was just the variety I planted and possibly the fact that they were in a new part of the garden with different soil. Although hot, they were by no means inedible. So when the time came to replant after harvesting most of the first crop I went out and bought a package of mild non-GMO seeds. This way I figured we could actually enjoy the radishes.

To my dismay, the new crop of radishes is not only hotter than the first, but inedible. Even Hubby who can tolerate a lot hotter things than me, couldn’t stomach the hotness. Why? What in the world is going on?

Thank God for the Internet! I did a little research and learned that there are several factors that could affect the hotness of a radish.

  1. The length of time the radishes are in the ground.
  2. The radishes may have grown too slowly.
  3. The radishes are too old.
  4. The weather was too hot. Radishes need cool weather.

Well, I didn’t need to go any further. With temperatures close to 90 for nearly the past month it’s not hard to see why my radishes were so hot. I never gave it a second thought when I planted my second crop of radishes at the beginning of June when the weather was really beginning to heat up. My crop was picked just as soon as the radishes were more than a dime in size and rounded out and grew in precisely the amount of time indicated on the package. The heat is the only explanation for this.

Last year we had a much cooler summer, thereby explaining why the radishes were not even close to as hot as the ones this year.

My solution? Well first and foremost I am not going to be replanting radishes again until fall, or the 15 day forecast promises much lower temperatures. Second, the rest of the crop that is in the garden will remain there, unpicked. I will let these go to seed to enrich the soil a bit and possibly gather some seeds for planting in the fall or even next year.

True to form, gardening is a process of learning, trial and error, and an exercise in patience and perseverance. My radishes might be down, but this gardener is by no means out, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


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July 6, 2016 Garden Harvest

Although the unrelenting heat and humidity here in Michigan has been reaping havoc on my garden, at the same time it is truly making up for it in bounty. This morning I picked radishes, carrots, peas, and beets.

Here are the radishes:

I planted a different variety of radish in hopes that these would be less hot than the first.

I planted a different variety of radish in hopes that these would be less hot than the first.

Next the carrots:

I planted three rows of carrots, twice, and this is pretty much more than half of what actually came up. Not much of a harvest, but they are sweet.

I planted three rows of carrots, twice, and this is pretty much more than half of what actually came up. Not much of a harvest, but they are sweet.

The peas:

This is the third harvest of peas and the largest yet. These will be shelled, blanched and frozen, if they don't get eaten raw while I'm shelling them.

This is the third harvest of peas and the largest yet. These will be shelled, blanched and frozen, if they don’t get eaten raw while I’m shelling them.

Finally, the beets:

I really didn’t think the beets were ready, but yesterday while I was clipping the cucumbers to the a-frame I noticed several of them popping out of the ground. Although this is okay for cylindrical beets, when a round beet does this, it’s time to pick.

I used a bushel basket to carry the load of beautiful beets with their greens attached.

I used a bushel basket to carry the load of beautiful beets with their greens attached.

This is only about half of what I planted.

This is only about half of what I planted.

Hopefully the rest of the beets will be ready in a few weeks and then I can replant in August for a fall crop.

Hopefully the rest of the beets will be ready in a few weeks and then I can replant in August for a fall crop.

I was so happy with the harvest that I just had to share some of the beets with my neighbors. They were thrilled and I was thrilled to be able to share the bounty.  In the next couple of days I should be able to start picking zucchini and a few peppers. The cucumbers have tiny pickles on the vines and the tomatoes are full of green little balls.

I guess I really shouldn’t complain about the heat because it is what’s helping the garden so much. Yet I’d really love it if we’d get just a little rain.

Another successful harvest and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


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Tomato Leaf Curl Epiphany

So in order to try to help resolve the tomato leaf curl situation in the garden, I ended up investing in a moisture meter.

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I say “investing” but it only cost about $6 from Wal-Mart.  This little gizmo is obviously at the low-end of the spectrum on moisture meters, but I figured for a start it would be fine.

When I took it out of the package I immediately started testing it on the house plants. Everything came out on the dry side. I watered and measured the moisture again and this time the level was right in the middle. Perfect.

Heading outside I started with the tomatoes planted in the big garden. We’d had rain the night before so I figured there should be some reading. I was right. It was right in the middle.

Then to the side of the house where the tomatoes are planted in small boxes with either mulch or rock around them as well as a planter top marking the base of the plant and giving me a guide for watering. These too showed they were moist enough.

The meter is right in the middle, where it should be.

The meter is right in the middle, where it should be.

On further inspection though I noticed that the planter tops that were around the bases of the three plants with severe leaf curl were smaller. This meant that when I watered them, they would not get as much water as the other plants. Could this be why these are pretty much the only plants in the ground that are affected?

Small planter top.

Small planter top.

Larger planter top.

Larger planter top.

I tested my theory last night when the moisture meter indicated the plants were dry enough for watering. When I watered the three plants with the smaller planter tops, I watered them twice, filling the space around the roots twice with water.

When I went out to the tomatoes this evening, 24 hours later, already some of the curly leaves are uncurling!

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Success!? Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in gardening — Don’t get too excited. Who knows if what I did made a difference. It could be the actual rain we got a few nights ago, it could be that the weather has been cooler, or what I’m really hoping for — it was me watering them twice.

Well, after noting that the tomatoes on the side of the house seemed to be doing slightly better, I headed to the tomatoes planted in pots. These too have been fighting the leaf curl a lot more than the plants planted directly in the ground. With these I have been sure to water them until the water flows from the bottom of the pots. When I checked for worsening leaf curl, there was none. In fact they too seemed to be improving.

The evidence seems to support the fact that I have been under-watering, so I am going to continue watering more and using my moisture meter to gauge when I should be watering. Just looking at the soil is deceiving. This pot here looks like it’s bone dry and yet when I put the meter in the soil it comes out right in the middle. I won’t water now until tomorrow.

See how the dirt looks completely dry?

See how the dirt looks completely dry?

But when the moisture meter is inserted, it's moist.

But when the moisture meter is inserted, it’s moist.

I’m not sure if anything has been resolved, but it does seem like I’m getting closer to a solution/cause for the tomato leaf curl in my garden, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


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The Beginning of July and All’s Well in the Garden

Although I am still struggling with tomato leaf curl on several of my plants, for the most part, the garden is doing well for the beginning of July.

Tomatoes:

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Peppers:

There are six different types of peppers planted in the garden: Anaheim, Jalapeno, Sweet Banana, Yellow Bell, Romanian Bell, and Pablano. Of these only the sweet banana and Romanian actually have peppers. The remaining are full of flowers and continuing to grow.

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Zucchini:

This being my first year growing zucchini, I’m very happy with the results. I think that perhaps I should have given the plants more space as they are taking over the radishes, beets, and even sneaking into the peppers. Next year I’ll know better.

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The rest of the garden:

Beets:

The beets are getting big and will probably be ready for harvest soon. I’m not too optomistic, as they seem to be small. I’m not sure the ground is soft enough for them to grow.

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Cucumbers:

The cucumbers are finally big enough to climb the a-frame and there are tons of flowers already. Without many bees around though I’m not sure how many cucumbers we’ll get this year. I might be out there pollinating the flowers myself.

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Radishes:

The second planting of radishes are doing well and will probably be ready for picking in a week or two.

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Peas:

The peas continue to flourish and I’ve picked three times now and the flowers are still coming.

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Overall everything seems to be on schedule so barring anything catastrophic, hopefully by late July we’ll be getting some pretty bountiful harvests, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.