August 15, 2012

Garden 2012: Pretty Was Last Year

I love a pretty garden: neat, trim, weedless, well cared for, loads of blooming and interesting plants, inviting, storybook-like, etc., However, that takes a lot of work and this year, I've had a lot of gardening challenges, obstacles, challenges to deal with. This year I'm just trying to get by.

Time was one problem, which is no surprise because of our kitchen remodel. In retrospect, I probably should have foregone a garden this year. Most of our house repair and remodel projects are reserved for winter months, when it's too wet and cold to do anything outside. But, when you don't have a floor or a sink, you press on no matter what time of year it is. No regrets about doing that. ;)

Weather too has been a problem. We usually have a drought-like dry spell every summer. This year, in addition to a very wet spring which delayed planting, we've had a very wet July (9 inches), and August has started off the same (6.65 inches so far). August has also had cooler temperatures, which are welcome, but that means the ground isn't drying out as fast. Going to pick tomatoes has meant walking on paths squishy with mud. It's also why my tomato cages fell over....

Staked & caged tomatoes fell over due to rain & wind

They looked better after being retied...

The empty bed in the above photo was where I planted an experimental patch of beardless barley. Obviously it didn't make it. Disappointing, but I'll try again next year.

Knee highs as tomato ties
For tomato ties, my stepmom turned me on to strips cut from pantyhose or knee highs. Not that I wear them anymore LOL, (does anybody?) They're strong and don't cut into the plants.

I used my volunteer broom corn here for the stakes.

I have to say I'm pleased with this year's variety, Amish Paste.

Amish Paste tomatoes in all shapes & sizes

Prolific and tasty for both fresh eating and sauce, I think I have a new favorite. Canned pizza sauce is my preservation priority. After that I'd like to can more tomato and okra gumbo. I made it with chicken last year and with rice it made the tastiest lunch! This year I'd like to try it with chevon, but that will depend on how much okra I get...

Late planted okra in front, 4 o'clocks in the back

Like everything else, I was late getting it planted. Still, it usually produces too much, so hopefully I can get enough for a batch or two of gumbo. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind canning more pickled okra too. Once it starts producing, it will continue until first frost, usually around the middle of October for us.

My other (and perpetual) problem, is wire grass.

Wiregrass taking over my strawberry bed &
spreading to the cucumbers & bush beans.

Wiregrass is another name for Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) aka couch grass. It's promoted in the US as a cover crop, and for pasture, hay, lawn, sports turf, and erosion control. Gardeners don't like nor want it, and nobody seems to have much success in permanently getting rid of it. "Respectable" cultivars include costal bermuda and the tiftons, all sold as hay around here. Actually the goats will eat it, a bite here and there. Unfortunately it chokes everything else out and spreads where it isn't wanted. Plus being prostrate, it's not easy to cut with a scythe for hay.

We've found that smothering works the best. Not just a 6 to 12 inch layer of mulch, but several layers of cardboard or a 4 foot tall pile of leaves, sticks, and branches. For now, I covered one empty bed with a tarp, and mulched the aisle with feedbags and leaves. I tried to weed and mulch the bed, but if it can find even a smidge of light, it grows.

A month or so after weeding and tarping. The covered wiregrass is
still under control. What I weeded grew right back.

Honestly, this stuff has me so discouraged that I hardly have the heart to battle it. It's everywhere and is taking over everything. Cardboard works best for the the aisles and even lasts awhile.

Main path in cardboard mulch (mostly)

Dan's objection to cardboard mulch is that it looks, well, ugly. Still, it does the trick and lasts for the season. The next year, it starts to look unkempt ....

Remnants of 2011's cardboard mulch.

Some things are looking good however, like my sweet potatoes...

2 beds of Vardaman sweet potatoes

These are Vardamans. I grew them last year and was very pleased with how well they stored in the pantry. My problem with them this year has been deer. These have been the deers' snack of choice this year. In fact they almost wiped out one bed. To try to save the harvest, Dan made me a scaredeer...

My scaredeer. Get it? A scarecrow for deer? 

The deer come out of the woods at night, right up this path. Happily our scaredeer has worked and the sweet potatoes have recovered. I just have to remember to move it every couple of days so the deer don't get used to seeing it.

Last year their snack of choice was buckwheat.

A bed of volunteer buckwheat, blooming

I didn't mind them eating this so much and considered it a distraction from things I wanted to harvest. They ate it down to nothing but it reseeded anyway and I have a bedfull of volunteer buckwheat.

I know this has been a long post but I've had two months to catch up on. And now it's time to start planting the fall garden. Amazing how quickly the summer has flown by, isn't it?


Carolyn said...

Most gardeners are apalled to find out that we're actually promoting bermuda grass. In the pastures that is. But that pasture isn't too far from the garden areas so I'm sure we'll have our share of cussing and weeding down the road. Our goats LOVE bermuda hay.

Theresa said...

Well, productive bests pretty I would say and while you've been super busy with remodels and the things life throws at you, your garden is still darn productive!
So, is there anyway of sinking edging between paths and garden and just using that wire grass as a pathway?
Probably a terrible stupid idea and more work than it's worth.

Nina said...

The wonderful thing about gardens, is that they will often still produce even when there are some weeds. I love the way cardboard works as mulch. I sometimes use it in areas where I plant seedlings, as it works so well. We fenced for bunnies this year, and it worked well for keeping the large ones out. I did see a baby bunny in there the other day but no deer issues thankfully.

Bridget said...

Considering the weather your production is pretty good. Here in Ireland it's been a bad Summer too. Today is strong wind and driving rain.

Akannie said...

We've had the opposite of your weather problems here in the midwest...terrible drought and temps in the hundreds for days on end. It's a miracle my garden survived as well as it did. I'm still harvesting, and have finally started my fall garden, as the temps have come down to the 80's and we got a tiny bit of rain.

At least the seedlings won't burst into flames as they come out of the ground! lol

Woolly Bits said...

I feel with you about the grass - it's a total nuisance over here, too:( as soon as you turn your back, it grows again... had to laugh about the neat garten though:) I'd take productive over neat any day! and yes, I use cardboard as well, never mind the looks, at least it keeps the weeds out! but what is "chevon"? never heard of it.
and the buckwheat I've sown has come up very measly:( a few lonely plants here and there - and no deer in sight! I have no idea, what happened, but it sure isn't working as a ground cover for me:(
well, I'd say your garden isn't looking too bad, considering how little time you had left to work it!

Crustyrusty said...

Our ugly garden is producing squash. A decent haul of winter squash. Other than that, one cantaloupe, 3 cucumbers, maybe about 25 tomatoes, and some decent hot peppers. Thassit. The heat about did us in.

Leigh said...

Carolyn, the last time we bought hay it was coastal bermuda and my goats loved it too. I suspect our wiregrass is a more primitive variety, though the do eat it and we do cut some for hay.

Theresa, actually, that's an idea worth experimenting with, though you're right about having the time to do the work!

Nina, so true. Rabbits are a nuisance. We have them too, but they're on the other side of the house! Riley has caught quite a few baby bunnies so hopefully they're under control(?) I reckon the deer are too big for him. ;)

Bridget, that makes for a tough growing season. I think you have more annual rain typically and cooler temps making for a challenge for sure.

Akannie, yes the midwest has been experiencing what we had several summers ago. I have to say that drought is worse than too much rain. As much as I dislike the humidity and the mildew is a nuisance, at least I'm not running up a huge water bill irrigating my garden!

Bettina, the stuff is everywhere! Chevon is goat meat. Sounds better than "goat", kind of like "beef" sounds better than cow meat, and "pork" sounds better than pig. Wonder why then we just say "chicken" and "turkey"?

Crusty, I sometimes think that summer gardening in the dead heat is just as bad as freezing temps in the winter. I'm thinking I should focus most of the production on spring and fall.

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Love your post and pictures. Your garden is beautiful compared to our pathetic wannabee garden. What with the squirrels, deer, and rabbits we've been battling we've nearly given up for any kind of decent harvest this year. The critters beat us to it.

As far as the summer going by fast . . . it's not gone by fast enough for us. It was 90 degrees at 10 o'clock last night, has been triple digits for the last couple of weeks. When will it end?

But, I still count my blessings every day . . . life is good!

Farmers Wife said...

Everything looks great Leigh - even the weeds! I'm with you - it's hard to keep up as there's not enough hours in the day. You just have to pick your battle with the weeds. I like your cardboard idea...I might give that a try for the "devil" grass we have growing in Indiana.

I love the success of your sweet potatoes! Mine failed this year!

Bernadine said...

I had wondered what 'wire grass' was and to find it's 'bermuda'... well, we have the same problem. It grows into our liriope lining the front walk way and always looks a mess. Your tomatoes look amazing. How do you keep hornworms away? I've cleared my garden for fall plantings. I can't wait to see what is produced.

Mama Pea said...

Oh Leigh, you just can't do everything or be in two places at once. (But we still keep trying, don't we?)

I don't think I'll ever complain about our quack grass again after realizing how truly bad your wiregrass is. At least it is possible for me to get ahead of the quack grass.

Don't be ashamed or feel bad about your garden's appearance. Get what you can from it and know you'll have more time for it next year. All of us gardeners understand the work and hours that are involved in gardening.

Misty Pines Homestead said...

I hope my garden next year will look as nice as yours!Squealing!!!we got some land Leigh back home but we got it.And I'm set up.

Anonymous said...

If you can find 20% vinegar and mix it with orange oil and a drop or two of soap, you can spray it on the bermuda grass and it will burn it off. Don't get it on your strawberries though as it will burn them too.
It is a natural alternative to the glyphosates.

Tim in East TX

Sue said...

So jealous of how productive your garden is. No way I can grow sweet potatoes, and I love them. My garden all died off this spring, and I've been too exhausted to fight to get another going. Next year, hopefully!

My eldest is eagerly awaiting the arrival of kids and goat milk, as he has plans for an all goat lasagna. It can't happen soon enough for him!

Frenchie said...

I hate Bermuda grass! I dig it out if I can. The roots can go down 12 - 18 inches, so it is a pain to get rid of. Can you share your recipe for pizza sauce? My goal is to can our spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and salsa for the year. We'll see how it goes! I have planted 30 tomatoes plants, mostly paste tomatoes, and 30 pepper plants. My garden didn't get planted until the first of June so things are just starting to ripen.

Tami said...

My first year with Amish Paste too and "Boy, Oh boy" am I in love! I'll be planting TONS of those next year.

I planted strawberries in 3 of my raised beds keeping in mind your issues with the wiregrass. I didn't intend to plant them there this Spring, but I didn't have their "inground" bed ready when the starts came.

Turns out the strawberries are happy as clams in the raised beds and my inground beds are covered with wiregrass.

So it all worked out for the best. BTW, my raised beds ONLY have soil that I trucked in.

Leigh said...

Janice, thanks. Sounds like you've had a terrible gardening year! Good for you for counting your blessings instead of complaining. :)

Farmers Wife, thanks! You are so right about picking our battles. Every year though, I claim I'm going to mulch better. So far, not yet, LOL

Bernadine, it's ubiquitous! When I researched it, I discovered numerous names for the stuff all around the world. Oddly, we're the only ones who don't label it an invasive weed.

Mama Pea, you know, the thing that bothers me the most is that I'd like to think of us as examples in the community. Most folks around here think we're just weird. I'd love to think I'd inspired someone to start a garden of their own! OTOH, they probably look at all those weeds and think it's too much work. ;)

Mandy, may it be so!

Tim, thank for that. I'll have to try the vinegar mix, but I'll need to find someplace where it won't kill something else, LOL.

My neighbors all use RoundUp but I've read in the gardening forums that it isn't a permanent solution either. Judging that the neighbors have to keep sparying, I'd say that's about right. I wouldn't even consider it though, because all the places I don't want wiregrass is near where I grow edibles.

Sue, this is the first year I haven't battled drought! You'll love having kids and fresh milk! Goat milk mozzarella is the best in the world.

Frenchie, my pizza sauce is very easy, directions here. :)

Tami, congrats on the strawberries! We're building four beds at the bottom of the garden, cuz the water puddles down there. Maybe I should plant them with strawberries!!!!!

Mama Pea said...

I know exactly what you mean. There are times when my garden looks a total mess and I don't want anyone to even LOOK at it because it doesn't set a good example.

Yet, for us to inspire others to start becoming aware of what needs to be done for us all to survive, those other people need to have a desire to garden, to live responsibly, to live self-sufficiently, etc. Perhaps we would do them a disservice if we gave the message it's all easy? That gardening isn't hard work? That animals don't get sick or die?

I still totally share your frustration at not being able to do the kind of job you want on your homestead. My hubby and I are very private people and yet there are times when we wonder why communes or close communities of like-minded people don't seem to work. When you are doing alone (just the two of you) all you're trying to do, it is extremely hard and one thing or another gets short-shift. Once again I have to say that my fondest wish would be that some of us lived closer together. I would love to spend time helping in your garden, or mucking out the barn, or whatever. It would be so, so beneficial to us all.

Instead, we all just keep doing the very best we can and try to remember that every year we learn more and it all gets better, some aspects faster than others.

Lisa said...

Leigh, I think your garden looks both beautiful and bountiful. Our weather has been so strange this year our garden has suffered in unique ways too... what usually has done well, did bad; what usually has done bad, did well.

I do hear you about 'being examples in the community' and there are still those in our community who 'live' like 'us', and when I lived a little further out and a newcomer to the homestead/farm way of life, those were the folks who took me under their wing, not only teaching me, but inspiring me. One man even sent his farmhand to my property to till my soil for a garden one year when I was unable to do so myself. Not only me, he did that for others nearby as he wanted us to all have an opportunity to grow our food. He was so sick. He died of cancer shortly thereafter. I miss him and his leadership. So, even though maybe you might not feel you are inspiring others, maybe you are by simply doing what you are doing, living the way you are living. You are certainly inspiring others through your blog.

Mama Pea said...

It's me again. I hope I didn't sound "preachy" in my second comment above. Wish I could have said what I meant as eloquently as Lisa just did. (Thanks, Lisa!)

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, you don't sound preachy at all, you sound like a concerned friend who wants to encourage. I think partly what makes it harder for gardeners like us, is putting pressure on ourselves to conform to a certain concept of what a garden should look like; a concept we think most folks hold, i.e. the better homes & gardens look. I know my neighbors think I'm nuts for not using round-up on that wiregrass, but I can't do that. Not sure in the end what they'll think. Or do. You're right when you say we just do the best we can and try to learn some useful things along the way.

Lisa, that's the kind of neighbor we all should be! What a great testimony to the man. And see what kind of impression he left behind.

Em said...

Hi, new reader here, first time commenter :) Couch grass (the most common name for it here in Australia) is the bane of my existence but I have learnt how to cope with it - I found the trick is to mulch very heavily with cardboard or newspaper over the ENTIRE garden area including pathways so that you then only have to control it around the very edges. If you let it grow in the paths between beds you will always be fighting it.

Leigh said...

Welcome Em! You are confirming the conclusion I have been coming too. My real problem is where I have perennials in the garden, like my strawberries. No way to completely smother it out in beds like that, so every year I end up moving the bed and not getting many strawberries. My perennial herb beds are the same way. :(

Em said...

It might be worth while 'starting again' with the grass control, working out from beds where there isn't any growing and mulching over what are currently perennial beds? Moving the plants might seem like a pain but it is probably easier than constantly fighting the grass invasion!!! I have found that it only takes one good mulching to make it die off. After that you only have to stop it coming back in from around the edges; you don't need to re-newspaper each year :)

Leigh said...

Oh Em, I've started my strawberry bed three times in three years because of wiregrass. The wiregrass has spread exponentially since we got here. Our fescue/vetch pasture is now about 75% wiregrass. This year I don't have the heart to do it again. Nor the time. We're working on some raised beds at the bottom of the garden, where the water collects after a rain. I may be able to get a fresh start again down there.