May 31, 2011 - What to Do With the Rhodies...finale. For Now.

I'm through slaughtering the largest rhododendron (scroll down two posts for the previous photos). I'll wait a week or so, when the flowers begin to die, before I tackle the smaller one. It will be easier, as not so much has to be removed from it. I did remove two large branches that were growing into the other rhodie, and it makes it look more balanced.

It looks pretty bad, huh? I can see the bedroom window again, at least for now. I'm sure more new growth will come from those top branches.

May 31, 2011 - What to Do With the Rhodies...continued

After quite a few comments on pruning the rhodies, I want to better explain what has already been done and what is left to do.

I left the loppers and my brand new pruning shears out on top of the heat pump yesterday, and it rained on them all night :-(

First all dead wood was removed. Then I took off as many crossing branches as I could, although many are quite twisted and crossing toward the main trunk. I think there is one large secondary trunk that can now be removed, as it has very few leafy branches on it. It will require bringing out the chain saw.

This, the larger of the two bushes, had finished flowering (at that half-dead flowers stage). I always snap the spent blossoms off at this time, making sure not to injure the new growth just below the flower. That's one thing I have actually done correctly over the past twenty years!

Next I cut back each branch to new growth, where the growth was pointing upwards. Each of these branches has a whorl of leaves that will blossom next year.

So far, so good.

Now comes the problem. If I remove anything but the new growth at the top, I'll have to cut right into bare growth of any kind coming from them. I can't see leaving bare stubs sticking up, so this means all I could do is control future growth in height, not bring down its present height.

My previous neighbor, Pat, had a huge rhodie that was cut nearly to the ground last year, and it is up and blossoming again. Maybe I'll go look at it and see if it was cut back to bare stubs.

Pruning and Deadheading Rhododendrons

This tells me I am pruning it at the correct time, which was a concern of some:

If a plant grows out over a walk or needs to be restricted for some reason, it may be pruned back moderately without fear that the plant as a whole will be damaged. It is often possible to do this pruning during the blooming season and have flowers for the house. Light maintenance pruning at the time "dead-heading" is done (see below), can help keep the plant in shape. Light to moderate pruning done at the time the plant is flowering or immediately thereafter will not affect flower bud formation for the following year.

And this tells me it's probably OK to cut it down to stubs on the top, but it won't be very pretty next year.

Old leggy plants may need pruning, but often these are better replaced with smaller newer varieties. Old plants, however, can be cut back severely and still recover, although it may be a while before they bloom again.

May 31, 2011 - Chive Blossom Vinegar, Too Much Lettuce & What to Do With the Rhodies

Up until yesterday, we kept up with the lettuce production. There was a lot, but with a big salad every evening and the little rabbit with the ginormous appetite, not one leaf of lettuce went to waste.

Then yesterday came along......

More than three pounds of outer leaves from six Iceberg lettuce plants.

The leaves are huge. As big as my new Woman's Day magazine.

It looks like there will be even more salads at Granny's house this week. I got my youngest son to take a big bag of it home, but it looks like I'll have to call the other kids and try to pawn some off on them. Because there is a lot more lettuce out there ready to pick.

I wanted to try making chive blossom vinegar, it looks so pretty. However, it's supposed to be made with white vinegar, and all I had was cider vinegar. I don't like the taste of white vinegar. Sometimes I use it for cleaning, but that's all it's good for in my opinion. A couple of years ago we did a taste test on pickles and relishes made with white vinegar, as called for in the recipes, and with cider vinegar. The flavor of the pickles canned with cider vinegar won hands down, and the color was just fine as far as we were concerned. So I decided to make a small sample jar of chive blossom cider vinegar, just to see what the color would turn out to be.

Well, it turned out just fine! Not pink, like it is with white vinegar, but a very pretty light orange. A pint jar of chive blossom vinegar has been started. Tonight we'll be taking our first taste of the pretty vinegar, mixed with oil, on a big dinner salad.


I'm stuck in the middle of pruning the grossly overgrown rhodies.

This is a photo from a couple of weeks ago. They're pretty, but almost obliterating a bedroom window. These were here when we bought this house, twenty-two years ago, and they've never been properly pruned.

First I cut back branches that were hanging over the lawn. They kept getting caught in the lawnmower handle.

Look at the mess inside. I had even used ropes to tie up branches that were drooping badly.

I'm getting quite a pile of prunings, and Mr. Granny is having fits.....he thinks I'm going to ruin it, and he might be right!

This is where I gave up for the day. The height needs to be brought down, and I have no idea where to make the next cuts!

May 30, 2011 - Harvest Monday

5/24 - 9 oz. Austrian Red and 6 oz. Red Sails lettuce.

5/24 -3 oz. Walla Walla sweet onion was 28" long.

5/24 - 7 oz. radishes, the end of the spring planting.

5/26 - green garlic and shallots.

Only 6 ounces after cleaning them up, but I needed them for my spaghetti sauce. There are lots more that will be allowed to mature.

5/26 - 3 oz. parsley, 6 oz. Walla Walla sweet onions, 24 oz. spinach, 11 oz. lettuce.

5/27 - 12 oz. baby lettuce. This was cut from the "lettuce nursery", as it was getting too large to transplant. After I cut this, I planted the roots. Hopefully they will continue growing.

5/29 - The first broccoli harvest of the year, 8 oz.

5/29 - 15 oz. lettuce. These heads, from an area unprotected by bird netting, had the outer leaves severely chomped. Cookie, the rabbit, got most of it, but we got the best part, the tender inner leaves.

Total harvest for the week: 6 pounds 14 ounces
Total harvest for the year to date: 24 pounds 14 ounces

This is right on target with last year's year to date total of 24 pounds 4 ounces. Also, a year ago this week, I picked my first ripe raspberry. This year they are way behind.

Please join in the Monday Harvest at Daphne's Dandelions!

May 29, 2011 - The Garden at the End of May

The north and east gardens at the end of May

The East garden.....

Beds 1,2 & 3 are the "short beds". They are only 7' long, due to the lilac tree and flowers on one side. Bed #1 (back) holds the sugar snap peas, which are now at the top of the 3-foot fence. The first picture gives a much better view of these pea plants. No blossoms are showing yet. Bed #2 (center) has cabbage, broccoli and yellow onions. The first broccoli was harvested from this bed today, as it looked as though it was ready to bolt. It never did form a tight head, but had quite a few side sprouts. Bed #3 (foreground) holds the Walla Walla sweet onions, which are now getting nice, fat bulbs.

Bed #4 has the lilac tree, a rose bush that is almost hidden by the hollyhocks, and my "no cut just for pretty" chives.

Bed #5 has some very puny basil plants on the left, four sweet peppers and the earliest planted carrots. At the front edge are parsley and sweet alyssum.

The basil in bed #6 is doing much better. I have more basil planted than I could use in ten years, so I'm not too concerned about the ones that aren't growing well. This bed also has four sweet peppers, a triple row of bush beans that are way too close together. These are some that were reseeded when most of them failed to survive the cold, wet spring. I planted the seeds close to compensate, now I'll have to thin them. Parsley, alyssum and marigolds are in the front of the bed.

Carrots are just beginning to emerge in bed #7, and so far look to be rather spotty in their growth. I'll give them a week before I decide whether to reseed. Those are green onions on the left, leftovers from a couple of bunches from the grocery store. The three Rutgers tomato plants are growing well and looking healthy, although it's difficult to see them with all the lettuce that is growing between them. The beans that survived are growing fine, and I think I reseeded the bare spots. Parsley, alyssum and marigolds are in the front of the bed.

The netting isn't working so well in bed #8. It has definitely slowed the leaf miners down, but they are still getting into the beets. Most of the miner damage is toward the center of the bed, which surprises me. I would think it might be easier for the flies to reach the plants along the edges. At least we had a few good harvests of spinach from this bed, whereas the unprotected spinach plantings were ruined by miners long ago. Some of the spinach in this bed is beginning to go to seed, but there is still quite a bit left to harvest. I picked a few leaves of chard, which is also showing some leaf miner damage. I had never grown nor eaten it before. I can't say I really liked it raw, it had a slightly salty, bitter flavor. I cooked the rest with the spinach, and couldn't tell which was chard and which was spinach. I haven't checked the turnips in this bed to see if they've been ravaged by wireworms. I'll check them soon, and if they show damage, I'll pull them and plant something else in their place.

The lettuce in bed #9 is supposed to be Iceberg, but it, like the ones in the north garden, doesn't show any sign of forming a head. The plants get huge! I haven't harvested any outer leaves from these, as the birds and slugs have kept them quite tattered. There are red noodle beans planted behind them, but the plants suffered from the early cold weather, just as most of the other beans did. I'll be replanting this bed too. That's a Russian Baby tomato on the right, grown from seeds from Mr. H.

The north garden......

Speaking of reseeding, I gave up on this bed in the north garden. I had a nice crop of baby carrots showing one day, and the next day they were eaten right to the ground. Only one lone carrot survived. The pole beans had also been decapitated. Yesterday I double dug the entire bed and replanted it. Carrot seeds are under the boards until they begin to germinate, and the minute I see signs of life, the bird netting is going up until the plants are large enough to fend for themselves.

I may have to resort to bird netting on the strawberry beds, too. As much as I dislike the netting, I do want to have some strawberries that haven't been pecked by the birds.

Soon I'll not be able to get to the other side of the north garden from the shed. The brassica garden is right up against the fence on the right, and the flowers to the left are getting too tall to step over. Speaking of tall, notice the lilies against the wood fence. They are over 5' tall this year, and loaded with buds.

Some of the lily plants have as many as ten buds! I'm anxious for them all to open, they should put on a gorgeous show.

Behind the shed, the lettuce bed is keeping us well fed. Protected from birds, there is lettuce in three stages of growth. As I pull mature plants, there are seedlings to take their place. My seedlings are getting so large, I'm harvesting the leaves and planting the root ball. I hope they grow!

In the kitchen......

Two loaves of bread, fresh from the oven.

May 28, 2011 - Dirty Little Buggers

I just pulled out all of my turnips and threw them in the compost. Why? Because the soil in my garden is infested with wireworms. If you don't know what wireworms are, be very, very glad.

Wireworms are the larvae of the Click beetle. They are slender, elongate, cylindrical or somewhat flattened, and relatively hard-shelled for larvae—bearing resemblance to common mealworms. Although some species complete their development in one year, wireworms usually spend three or four years in the soil, feeding on decaying vegetation and the roots of plants, and often causing damage to agricultural crops such as potato, strawberry, corn, and wheat. The subterranean habits of wireworms, their ability to quickly locate food by following carbon dioxide gradients produced by plant material in the soil, and their remarkable ability to recover from illness induced by insecticide exposure (sometimes after many months), make it hard to exterminate them once they have begun to attack a crop. Wireworms can pass easily through the soil on account of their shape and their propensity for following pre-existing burrows, and can travel from plant to plant, thus injuring the roots of multiple plants within a short time.

I have always had a wireworm infestation at this property. They are often problematic in gardens where sod has recently been removed. It's all but impossible to get rid of them, now that the strong insecticides of years past have been banned for the home garden.

In my garden, the crops that seem to suffer the most damage are radishes and turnips. Occasionally I'll find some minor damage to carrots and potatoes, but so far it hasn't been severe. I have lost a few plants (one broccoli and several lettuce plants) that I suspect had their roots consumed by wireworms. As the plants began wilting, I pulled them and checked the roots. They were almost nonexistent, and there were wireworms in the surrounding soil.

These wireworms were all found in a cluster in the soil after pulling just one small turnip. They are about one inch in length and very hard, which is probably why they are called "wire" worms.

Wireworm damage on a small turnip root.

The damage goes deep. Every turnip I checked had major damage, leaving them inedible.

May 26, 2011 - What's For Dinner?

"What are you having for dinner?" asks Zentmrs. She's having a delicious sounding Layered Chicken Cordon Bleu.

My answer.....

"We're having Italian sausage, sliced, browned and then simmered in marinara sauce (made from home canned tomato sauce, 2010 garden) and served over spaghetti. I have onions, parsley, oregano and some green garlic and shallots pulled from the garden today to add to the sauce, with dried basil from last year. I also harvested a big basket of spinach, so I'll steam that and serve it with butter and salt & pepper. Two heads of Austrian Red Butterhead lettuce are crisping up in the fridge for a salad. That's a lot of greens, but when we have a glut of them it's a necessary evil! I also have a fresh loaf of bread rising, so it will come out of the oven just in time for dinner."

I stuck to that menu, with the exception of the Italian sausage. Rather than slice it, I decided to remove it from the casings and then brown it for the sauce.

Mr. Granny is finally eating garden lettuce, rather than insisting on grocery store Iceberg. Of course, it has to be a wilted lettuce salad, with a sweet and sour hot bacon dressing on it, and lots of crisp bacon bits. We easily eat two small heads of butterhead or red leaf lettuce in one sitting when it's fixed this way. The green tops of the onions were also used in the salad, while the bulbs were diced up into the spaghetti sauce. Mr. G was also impressed with that sauce, which was made entirely with either fresh, canned or dried produce from the garden...not counting the sausage, of course. He had two huge helpings! I must say, the bread was exceptionally good tonight. It was light, with a finer crumb than I get when I use the bread machine. This loaf was mixed up in the food processor.

You can tell what my favorite part of the meal is. I usually eat my dinner on a salad plate, as half helpings are just plenty for my appetite. My salad is always larger than my entree.

Alicyn, my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter, came to visit today. She spent the afternoon entertaining me.

Piano for sale. Cheap. ;-)

May 24, 2011 - A Day of Warmth in the Garden

I took advantage of this sunny and warm day to catch up with a few garden chores. Such days have been few and far between this spring, and rain showers are predicted for later in the day.

The first chore on my list was to take care of the disaster that is the Fortex pole beans. They just couldn't handle being attacked by cold weather and slugs/bugs/birds. At first I was going to just dig them under and then replant, but I decided to leave them all in place (there's always hope!) and sacrifice the few radishes that were left in the adjoining row.

Small, but large enough to go into Mr. Granny's salad tonight. Our rabbit, Cookie, will eat all of the radish tops, so there is no waste here.

Of course, I kicked over the beans while I was preparing a bed for them.

There we go.....a second row that will hopefully fill in for all the missing vines from the earlier planting.

And then I kicked over the container of remaining beans. Again.

The second chore on my list was to dig up a few morning glories from the right side of this bed and move them to the back, so that the entire corner can someday be covered with vines. Those that were along the back froze right after they were set out. The others had been direct seeded. They all managed to survive, so thinning was necessary.

A final cleanup and the kennel garden is nearly finished.

Just one more chore to do in the kennel garden, and that is to plant up a pot of bush cucumbers. I don't know why they call them "bush", as they always manage to do a pretty good job of climbing. They did well last year, planted in a pot and trained up a tepee structure, then trained onto the chain link of the kennel. A pot was filled with potting mix, then watered well with hot water. Hot water wets the dry mix immediately, where cold water just likes to sit on top and take forever to soak in.

Once the potting mix cooled down, two seedlings were planted. Two more will be standing by, just in case the first two don't survive.

Not on my list of to-do, but I took time to admire a California Poppy. I'm sure it's happy to feel the sunshine on its shoulders, too.

May 24, 2011 - Sunshine on My Shoulders


Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a day that I could give you
I'd give to you a day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I'd sing a song to make you feel this way

John Denver 1971

May 23, 2011 - Goin' Green With Ribbit!

See what came in my mail today....

It was a seeded postcard from Ribbit!

The instructions were to plant the entire postcard in the garden or in a pot, so I filled a container with potting mix and moistened it using hot water. Hot water moistens a dry mix immediately, so you don't have to soak it for hours on end.

I placed the postcard on top of the damp potting mix. I was tempted to soak the card in water first, but I'd have felt terrible if all the seeds had fallen off of it, so I just followed the directions.

I covered the postcard with a 1/4" layer of potting mix that I had combined with an equal part of vermiculite. That should make it easy for the little seeds to push their way through.

I added a marker, so I wouldn't forget the contents of the container.

Then I sat the container out in the gentle rain. Whatever grows will be a surprise!

Thank you, Ribbit