October 11, 2017 0 comments By: m

Is Autumn Finally Here?

Our temperatures lately have been lovely.  But not at all fall-like.  Until yesterday, it was still quite sunny and very warm.  We had a spell of almost a month without any rain, but this week we accumulated over two inches, and yesterday was rainy and chilly.  Today is just overcast and chilly.  (But then, a couple of 80+ degree days are forecast for the end of the week!)

The tomatoes stopped growing and started dying around the first of September.  Other people in the area have still been harvesting the last of theirs.  I'm wondering if it's the difference between the heirlooms I plant and their hybridized varieties.  The plants looked so unsightly that I harvested what was left, whether it was ripe or not, and pulled them out of the ground.


I never did pay proper attention to the fall cabbages I planted.  They got eaten up, but I've left them to see if they do anything at all.  Looks like they should have been planted a lot earlier if I wanted any heads.  I thought I was giving them enough time by getting them in the ground on the 11th of July, but I guess with the harsher late summer growing conditions (and the severe insect feeding), they needed longer.



Poor babies.

I've probably gotten the last of whatever else was still growing, with the exception of the lettuces.  I pulled the last of the beets, and while I've left the pepper plants growing, I don't expect them to do much more now that the temperatures are down.



So, now it just remains to watch the rest of the marigolds gradually die off and collect seeds from the okra when the pods dry.  And maybe harvest some more rhubarb if I get energetic.   (I'm actually waiting to see if the stems of the "red" varieties actually get red as the weather gets cooler.)



The last few weeks seemed to bring out the praying mantids, which are one of my - and perhaps everybody's - favorite insects.



Sadly, I came across a Monarch butterfly flopping in the grass that had apparently dropped from wherever it was emerging from its chrysallis.  I did a little online research and learned that when that happens, their wings will never unfurl properly, so they can't fly.  I placed it on the lantana so it could at least feed.  I don't know if it did.  At least it didn't when I watched it over the course of a couple of days, and then I didn't see it any more.  



And, speaking of Monarchs, the earlier ones had completely stripped the leaves of the butterfly milkweed, and it has since put out a new flush.  


My rose garden is still in bloom.  I don't know how long the self-seeded  annual sage will keep going, but it's about to flower.  The roses should continue until a hard frost.  At least I'm hoping.   I'm pretty sure the lavender will, although it's flowering less.


Since that picture was taken, I've pulled up and stored all the dahlia bulbs (center top), and the wildflowers are all dried up.





That is a picture of 'Charles Darwin' almost the color it's advertised to be.  For the most part, the blooms have been all confused.  Sometimes pinkish, sometimes pale yellow, but mostly a kind of  dull tan color.  I did a little online research of this rose, which I should have done before buying it.  I came across a forum where one of the contributors led off by saying, "This is the ugliest rose I've ever grown."  The form of it is quite arching, which is not something I wanted in my garden, either.  I decided I would move it out to a road bank, and then I smelled it.  Heavenly.  Just like an aromatic old fashioned rose.  None of the others have that fragrance.  So, it gets a reprieve.  I'm hoping that it will do better next year as far as color is concerned, and maybe I can manage to keep it a little more contained to its spot with some choice pruning.  But that might ruin the look of it.  I'll just have to see when I get there.

Since the Japanese beetles have been gone, the roses have been putting on quite the show.  Enough to even bring some in.


'Shazam!', 'Pink Enchantment' and 'Pat Austin'

'Shazam!' - in its third year, but first to actually thrive (since I put it in the rose garden) - has really been amazing.  This last few that I brought in took on a very dark hue - well, hues, since there are two colors - to it as it wilted. I hadn't seen it do that before, either outdoors on the bush or cut in a vase.  I've seen some pictures of roses advertised that look this intensely striking, but they seemed too loud.  I don't know...this color combo is looking pretty darned attractive to me at the moment.


It's a good thing after ordering three more rose bushes than I planned for that I REALLY don't have any more room for another.  Or ....  do I?

I don't expect to be posting much from here on until early spring, but I do have to install some winter protection for the roses after the first hard frost - whenever that might come this year - and I'll try to remember to take some pictures of that process.  

Until then...
Have a great Thanksgiving.

August 28, 2017 0 comments By: m

The End of Summer

The total eclipse of the sun a week ago was a wonderful sight to see, and since then, the weather has been unusually mild. There's not much happening in the garden.


The damnable Japanese beetles are fewer, but still enough to keep me going out to pick them off the roses and okra at least twice a day.  The okra itself is still producing larger quantities than anyone wants at this point.  Enough is enough.  I'm letting many of the pods go to maturity in order to have seed for next year.

'Jing Orange'

I've pulled out tomato plants that were no longer doing very well, and that weren't producing tomatoes to care for in the first place:  'Black Beauty' and 'Gold Medal'.  The good ones - 'Missouri Pink Love Apple' - still have lots of tomatoes on them, but they don't seem to be ripening.  The same thing occurred at the beginning of the season, but I don't know if they still have time to ripen at this end of things if they don't get to it.

The cucumbers have been finished for about a week.  This one got stuck early on and I couldn't get it out so just left it.

I've been harvesting what little fall lettuce came up, and it looks like time to start considering a lima bean harvest, but I just haven't had the urge to do it.  I think it's all that okra I'm sick of that makes me not care about harvesting.  The peppers that I planted later than usual are now ripening.  Now, THOSE, I will get.  They're easy to pick and very tasty. The yellow mini bells are doing great.  They're thick-walled and juicy.  The last couple of years they've been so thin-walled that they weren't very good.  I don't know what variety they are because I plant seed from peppers I get in the produce section of the grocery store.

'Gold Medal' tomatoes and yellow mini bell peppers

Otherwise, things are coming to a halt, and I'm clearing them out as they do.  A few pictures then is all I have left to offer.

 'Gold Medal'  - pretty but pretty much tasteless


 Okra is still going strong


Still looks good from this view: peppers in foreground

'Cardinal' basil

tomato plants about to be pulled

Japanese beetles make a mess of my beautiful roses.  They especially like 'Pink Enchantment'.


Which means they generally leave 'Shazam!' alone.  Unless there are no pale pink blooms available.


'Shazam!' and lavender


These guys are showing up in numbers on the okra.  I had a feeling they're assassin bugs after Japenese beetles, so I've been leaving them alone.  Unfotunately, they're a relative that feeds on plants - leaf-footed bugs.  Fortunately, at this point, I don't care.  

The next flush of volunteer cilantro is coming up in the area where I pulled mature plants that had gone to seed several weeks ago.



The dahlias are still merrily pumping out blooms in the cut flower garden.


ornamental pepper


hyacinth bean vine

Hooray!  The creeping orange thyme has recovered.  I thought it was a goner during the heavy rains.  I really should move it to a higher spot, though.


See that rain gauge at the bottom of the picture?  It's catching Japanese beetles.  I use it to capture them from the plants.  The shape of it prevents them from escaping, and I realized that if I leave it uncovered, it will also attract others, acting like a trap.  Unfortunately, it doesn't attract them ALL.

I'm so happy to see that the butterfly milkweed I planted this year is not only lovely, but it's already doing what I hoped for: attracting and feeding Monarchs.  I counted eleven of the colorful caterpillars on the plants yesterday, which means they'll pupate here and hatch out....???....some time.


It's also attracting and feeding jillions of aphids.  I guess I'll just leave them alone.  I don't want to risk harming the Monarch caterpillars with anything I might do to rid it of aphids.  


The aphid colonies look like a treasure trove for lady bugs, but I haven't seen any feeding on them yet.

I was hoping that the Japanese beetles would be gone before the roses quit blooming, but I'm beginning to lose that hope.  I keep thinking of that advice I read in an online article a while back that said to just leave the beetles alone, because they'd be gone in a short while.  I've been battling them since the second week of June.  And if I hadn't been giving battle, I wouldn't have any rhubarb, okra, or roses left.  I don't know what they would have moved on to after that.  I guess the soybean field .

I have to cut the rose blooms and bring them in if I want to enjoy them.  Unfortunately, the two David Austin roses ('Charles Darwin' and 'Pat Austin') don't last more than a day once they're cut.  

'Pat Austin'

Thinking of my Texas friends in the devasting wake of Hurricane Harvey this week.
August 10, 2017 0 comments By: m

Tomatoes, Okra and Insects

Since we had August weather in June, I suppose it's only fair that we have June weather in August.  The last week, and forecasted for the rest of this week, the temperature is holding in the low 80s.  Very nice.

Fall plantings of lettuce, carrots and beets are up, along with transplants of cabbages.  Since I never planted any fall crops before, I don't know how this will go, but I'm up for whatever grows.

New lettuce


I still have several of the older cabbage heads that I harvested without uprooting and got a flush of small heads forming on each one.  I'm interested to see if they get to be a harvestable size.


Golden beets

The cucumbers petered out in the heat.  I wonder if they'll pick up again with the cooler weather we've been having.

Cat and cucumbers


I did manage to can a few jars of pickles from them.



The pepper plot is coming on and producing jalapeƱos, bell peppers, mini bells and something I didn't order that looks like it's probably a cross between different varieties of hot peppers I planted in a previous year and collected seed.

Overcrowded pepper patch

Because I started so many flowers this year, I ended up getting my peppers started late.  They're just now producing.  Only the jalapeƱos are harvestable yet.  The bells I planted from seed of peppers I bought in the produce section will be a surprise, because I don't remember what colors I planted.  

Bell peppers

Possible cross between red chilies and 'Black Hungarian' 

The limas are full of blossoms and a few new pods.  There won't be nearly enough beans to satisfy, because I love baby limas simply boiled and buttered.  But I hate to harvest them.  It's a pain in the neck, back and everything else to pick out the ones that are ready and leave the others to keep growing - it's not so easy to tell which is which.  And you have to stand on your head to do it.  Ideally, I'd have some raised beds for lima beans.



Tomatoes are ripening daily.  This is the best year I've had yet for tomatoes.  I don't know why that is, but I'm very pleased.  I'll have lots of soup base and sauce come winter.

Tomato plants growing out the top of their cages

'Black Beauty'



'Gold Medal'  -  at first, they're mostly yellow, and when fully ripe, they're mostly red 
- and much tastier


'Missouri Pink Love Apple' (in basket); 'Black Beauty' and 'Gold Medal'

Out of all the tomato seedlings I started, I kept and planted two each of 'Missouri Pink Love Apple', 'Gold Medal' and 'Black Beauty'.  The two 'Gold Medal' plants are different from each other.  One of them is what I expected looking at the picture and description in the online seed catalog: red and gold mottled.  The other is a throwback that's all gold, more uniformly rounded, a bit smaller, and with lemon-colored flesh.   


Ready for the freezer

I've been putting crystalized coyote urine around the bottom of my tomato plants, which has kept raccoons and other critters away.  Apparently I didn't get fresh crystals out soon enough recently:


Raccoons know precisely when tomatoes are at their peak ripeness.

The okra has been producing nicely, as okra always does in summer heat.  'Jing Orange' is shoulder high, and 'Red Burgundy' is as tall as I am.  'Jing Orange' pods are stout and heavily ridged.  'Red Burgundy' pods are darker red, thin and more flat-sided.  They taste alike.



Rhubarb (foreground); 'Red Burgundy' okra (middle left); 'Jing Orange' okra (middle right); tomatoes (background)

All stages of the plant are present at this time of the year.

New flower bud

Flower unfurling

 Flower in full bloom 



Flower re-furled and fading

Dead flower being cast off a new green pod beside dark red day-old pod 
(with new flower buds also forming in the cluster)

Newly exposed green fruit pod



New flower and growing pod.  The pods will remain green if the old flower fails to fall, leaving them unexposed to sunlight.  This one in the picture above obviously had a piece of the flower petal stuck onto its mid-section for a while.

'Jing Orange' okra: Perfect

I've battled the dreaded Japanese beetles since the second week in June - two whole months and I'm still finding some.  They riddle the okra leaves and destroy the flowers - so irritating and frustrating, but absolutely infuriating when they're destroying my roses!


Japanese beetles on okra leaf (above) and flower (below)


Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!


Late summer:  'Jing Orange' okra (back tier); 'Henderson's Bush' lima beans (mid tier); 
fall carrots (front left); zinnia mix (right); marigold mix (far right)


The zinnias are still going strong.



Over in the cut flower garden, the Dahlias are still blooming, but the blooms are getting smaller and smaller.  The pepper plants I started from the seed of one 'Black Pearl' ornamental pepper are all different, but all lovely.


'Black Pearl' offspring

Mixed Dahlias (foreground) and butterfly milkweed; black-eyed Susan in background

I read recently that butterfly houses are essentially just ornaments since butterflies don't normally use them.  I have one in my cut flower garden, and I planted butterfly milkweed - food for the Monarch butterflies - next to it, hoping to provide a home for them.  Oh well, at least they can still eat.

The last of the 'Golden Zucchini' plants essentially stopped producing and started wilting, so I pulled it out. (It was actually producing green fruit.  I've had a number of surprises with seeds I planted this year.)



The 'Golden zucchini' (that was actually golden) I planted on the compost heap didn't produce much.  It's dying now and full of squash bugs (which is probably why it's dying).  Those in the tomato cage had hardly any on them - that was a surprise, since I've always seen this type of infestation with zucchini I've let sprawl on the ground:


 Various stages of juvenile squash bugs on zucchini

 So it must now be time for some insect pix:

1-1/2 inches of Japanese beetles

Tachinid fly

Note this guy's appearance compared to your houseflies, because this guy is a beneficial insect, and you don't want to kill it.  I hesitate to tell you how it's beneficial, because it's not pleasant, but here goes:  It lays its eggs on caterpillars in a substance that makes them stick on.  When the eggs hatch, the little fly larvae bore into the caterpillar and feed on its insides slowly killing it.

Remember this guy?


In a previous post, I asked if anyone knew what this ladybug type beetle is.  Nobody came up with an answer, but I did find a website where I could ask for ID.  I didn't get an answer from them, either, but then I found another site:  Iowa State University Bug Guide.  I posted the picture there and within a half hour (!) I had a response:  Milkweed leaf beetle (Labidomera clivicollis).  Thank you bug people!  (Specifically:  Maggie Furtak)

Painted lady butterflies are out in force.




I've finally seen a couple of Monarch butterflies in the last week or so.  The one in the picture below is feeding on Echinacea (purple coneflower).


To differentiate the Monarch from the Viceroy is easy even if you don't see them together to note that the Monarch is larger:  the Viceroy has a black band parallel to the edge of its back wings.



The Viceroy in the picture above is perched on bee balm - Monarda - which has finished blooming for a couple of weeks now. 

So, you can tell which one the butterfly in the picture below is.  I promise I didn't kill it.  I found it dead in the grass, and the dragonfly beside it dead on the patio. 



The wildflowers still in bloom are mostly Echinacea and Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan).  There's also a bit of the beautiful wild blue Salvia (Salvia azurea).



The rose garden has already been worth all the work that went into it.  I just hope I can overwinter the plants successfully and see what they look like when they get well-established.


I've had no problem with black spot on these roses, and I'm going to attribute that not to the resistance some of them are supposed to have, but to a preventative spray I read about and tried:  1 part milk to 2 parts water.  Sounds crazy, but even 'Julia Child', which had severe black spot problems in the past three years since I've had it, hasn't had any this year.  I sprayed the  plants every five or six days in the spring when the weather was damp and cool, and haven't sprayed them at all for six weeks or more.  I also pruned them early in the spring to get all the extraneous inner leaves out of the way of air flow.  And, lest I might figure it just wasn't a bad year for black spot, there's an older rose out in the yard I didn't spray that has no leaves at all on it right now because they all dropped from black spot.  When you look at the following pictures, take note of how nice the foliage looks - no chemicals!

When 'Grand Amore' first bloomed this spring, I didn't think I was going to be that impressed with it, but I was wrong.  







'Pink Enchantment' hasn't performed as well as the one I lost by the house, but I'm expecting greater things once it gets back in the swing of things after some heavy winter damage.  It would do better if those dastardly Japanese beetles would leave it alone.

The new foliage is lovely.


And when a flower does get to open undisturbed, it's very nice indeed.



Every time 'Shazam!' puts out a new flush of blooms, it outdoes itself from the previous flush.  I've got to get some cuttings to root this fall so I don't lose this beauty.






'Pat Austin' blooms are gorgeous.  Before they fade, they're a rich canteloupe orange.  The only complaint I have is that their stems are thin and flimsy, so their heads flop.  I'm hoping that's just because this is their first year.









'Charles Darwin' is another David Austin rose.  It's been really weird.  I was expecting yellow, and sometimes I get yellow.  Sometimes I get peach; sometimes pink.  I hope that sraightens out after this, it's first, year, as well.



'Julia Child' is unmistakenly, screamingly yellow.  She's not in my rose garden, though.  She's up by the house.


'Til next time.  (I'll be watching the total solar eclipse on the 21st.  Hope you're somewhere you can see it, too.)