Friday, August 31, 2018

August's Garden (2018)


It has been a normal August: hot, humid, and dry.  

Carrots, tomatoes, and peppers have been harvested underneath as the yard-long, green bean plants have taken over the top of the arch.  The cucumber plants which were here in the spring are long forgotten.  


The sweet potatoes and beans are loving the heat.  The large plant on the left side of the picture is a self-planted okra.  It decided to sprout in the sweet potatoes and I decided to let it grow.  I wasn't sure how they would like each other but so far, both are happy.  The test will come when it is time to dig the potatoes.  Okra has big, wide deep roots so it might be a problem.  We'll see.


The tomatoes look a bit, well, they look extremely ratty - this is normal.  Next month around the middle of September, the weather will cool down and everything in the garden will suddenly come back to life.  

The plastic netting worked perfectly and repelled the rascally raccoon.  He hasn't been back.  The mesh will stay until I pull up the tomatoes because they are tangled together.


The okra plants were topped when they were small so they would branch out instead of growing tall.  This is easier for me to reach when harvesting; although, they won't get very big since they were planted late.  Smaller plants and herbs were planted with them in the same row.


This was a success.  I planted Buttercrunch lettuce in an empty space under the okra.  The leaves shaded the seedlings and helped them survive the heat.  Lettuce doesn't like hot weather.  No other seeds planted anywhere in the garden this month have survived, only those under the little wire cage fence.  I think we have a baby rabbit.  No, I know for certain we have a cute, precious, adorable, irritating baby rabbit.  We have seen him hiding in the deep grass.  Bill is making more cages so I can get my fall garden seeds planted...AGAIN!

Buttercrunch lettuce under the okra leaves.
The winter hoop houses are in need of many more plants.  This will not be enough for us.


The melon patch has croaked.  It looks as bad in real life as it does in the picture. The problem is the soil - it is worn out.  I need to add more compost to increase the nutrients, but I just don't have enough.  This is the area that grew collard greens for two years straight.  It will lie fallow for a while and be piled with leaves all winter.  Maybe by next year, it can handle a light feeder like lettuce.

I dug the potatoes and only got a handful.  It wasn't worth the effort.  I have stopped bothering to water so the beans have died.


Last month the cantaloupes did fine in this area but when the summer drought hit, it stressed the watermelons too much.  There was not enough calcium in the soil so they died from blossom end rot.  


However, the one watermelon plant which miraculously appeared in my strawberry patch has performed beyond my wildest imaginations.  The one and only difference between the strawberry patch and the melon patch is the soil.  The ground around the strawberries has been heavily mulch every winter with oak leaves.  Over the years, the soil improved and is exceptionally rich.  I wish my whole garden was like it but I can't add enough organic matter to keep ahead.  

The vines are showing wear due to all of the heavy work they have accomplished.  I will be adding compost with a bit of fertilizer this week as a reward for its success.  Hopefully, it can keep growing until frost.


It has been impossible for me to know when a watermelon is ripe.  I have tried everything over the years and failed miserably.  Thumping and listening for a "hollow sound" was worthless because all the notes sound the same to a tone-deaf, non-musical person like me.  Rolling them over and checking to see if the underside is yellow, not white doesn't apply to all varieties.  Orangeglo has an orange tint and Royal Golden turns yellow all over.  Keeping track and counting the days from bloom to harvest is beyond my mental ability.  Pushing down and listening for a squishing sound has worked for me in the past but the rinds on these melons are too thick.  I want a foolproof, reliable method to harvest at peak season - I think I found it.

This was the first watermelon we picked.  It was yellow on the underside, not white so this is a maybe yes, or maybe no?

 


Another sign which indicates ripeness is the curly-Q tendril located beside the leaf stems where the melon attaches to the vine.  When it turns brown, the melon is ripe.  This first melon I picked on August 13th, had a brown tendril close to the melon but green tendrils on either side.  The melon was ripe but I wondered if it would be better if we waited longer.

The tendril below is thin. The leaf stem is thick and has been cut so it is easier to see.

Tendril close by melon turned brown.
The side tendrils (in front of my hands) were green and had not changed much.

Side tendrils are still green.
One week later on August 19th, we picked watermelon #2.  The tendril by the melon was completely brown.

Tendril by melon is brown.
However, the tendrils on either side were only half brown. Waiting until both were half brown, half green, made a difference in the flavor.  This melon was sweeter than the first one. We were onto something.

The picture below shows a long tendril, a chopped leaf stem and another smaller tendril which I didn't notice until I magnified the picture.

Side tendril is half brown and half green.
On August 28th we picked the biggest melon of all and dubbed it "Monster Melon."


The tendril close by the melon was definitely dead.

Tendril by melon was brown.
Both side tendrils were brown all the way down to the stem. We were concerned the melon might be too ripe and beginning to sour.  There is a point of no return.

The picture below shows two thick, green leaf stems plus the completely brown, thin tendril.

Side tendrils were completely brown.
All three melons were too heavy for me to lift.  Dustin always cooperates when I need help.  He was eager to hold the heavy watermelons while balancing on the bathroom scales as I tried to read the weight numbers while focusing the camera.  He was promised all he could eat (which is a shockingly large amount) if he did a good job.

34.5 Pounds
35.2 Pounds




49.2 Pounds
The Monster Melon weighed 49.2 pounds! It was huge! I had to clean out my refrigerator before it would fit inside.

Monster Melon

22 1/2 Inches
On the inside, there were not many seeds and we unanimously voted the flavor, THE BEST IN THE WORLD!!!!!!  Three brown tendrils are the secret to achieving the sweetest watermelon flavor!  Now I finally know how to pick a watermelon at peak ripeness.  I have arrived.

The original seed which began this melon was miraculously dropped in the perfect spot in my strawberry patch by someone or something unknown.  I give credit for this success to the Good Lord.  This has been too good to keep to myself so I will be giving away free seeds to anyone who sends me their mailing address at jmorrrris9@gmail.com.  I will leave this message posted until all of the seeds are gone.

YUM!
I found another foolproof method for detecting perfect watermelon ripeness but it will only work for me.  We plugged melon #1 which involved cutting a chunk out while it was still on the vine.  If it doesn't taste ready, stick the plug back in so it can continue to mature.  We were going to put duct tape over the hole to keep ants out but our expert taste-testing judge deemed it ready.




CRUNCH! Tough rind!
Who knew a dog would like watermelon???  I didn't.  However, not everyone is blessed to have Scooter so this method will only work for us.

There are still more melons on the vine and I feel confident I can pick them when they are perfect.  What an amazing watermelon plant.


Additional Links

Last Month's July Garden (2018)

Last Year's August Garden (2017)

Monday, August 27, 2018

HAY!


We have not been able to bush hog our field because the man who normally does the work has been unavailable.  His tractor broke down and he has been waiting for new parts to arrive. The field was looking rough.  While shopping, I ran into a neighbor (in the country, everyone in town is a neighbor) and mentioned my problem.  He said he knew someone close to us who needed winter forage and might cut my field in exchange for the hay.  I jumped at the chance. We have wanted someone to do this for years but have had no success finding anyone interested.

Soon they came to inspect the field and I held my breath as I sat on the porch.  It was overgrown, weedy and would not be good quality forage.  He agreed to do it because the first cutting could be fed to goats then the regrowth would be excellent for horses and cattle. 


A few weeks later while I was away from home they arrived and began mowing.  I really wanted pictures but had taken both my camera and the cell phone camera with me.  Dustin, who is a technical genius (I know I am bragging) grabbed his laptop and used it to take pictures!


They did not use a bush hog mower but something else entirely different.  I wasn't there to see but it cut a few inches above the ground so more grass could be gathered.  The mower was followed by a tedder machine which spreads, turns and fluffs the hay so it will dry better. 

"Tires are marked, job done." said Scooter.
It took a few days for the hay to fully cure and during that time, they watched my field and the weather report closely.  When they next arrived, I was home to take pictures and bother them with questions.


This young feller reminded me of my son Reese. He was having a blast and was very willing to pose for pictures. He knew how to efficiently operate this powerful, complicated machine and seemed to drive it as fast as possible. 




On the back of the tractor was a 10 wheel rake which fluffs the hay into long rows or windrows so the baler can easily scoop up the grass.  The rakes were lowered and away he dashed.


He skillfully maneuvered the large equipment through our tight, broken down gate.


A few hours later the hay baler arrived with another driver.


I didn't ask him to pose for pictures because I could see the exhaustion in his face.  He said he had been awake and working for three days straight trying to beat the rain.  I didn't doubt him since earlier in the week I had heard a machine in the middle of the night in the field beside our house.  I had gotten out of bed to see headlights circling through the trees.


This was a round baler which gathers the cut hay from the windrow, compresses it into rolls, then wraps it with twine. 


After they left, I rushed out in the field to get Scooter to pose for a picture on top of one of the bales.  He was less than excited.

"Pfffttttttttttt!"
The next day my neighbor who lives close by came with his grandson to pick up the hay.  He did the instructing while his grandson did all the work.



The tractor had a front end hay spear and a double bale spear on the back.  They were working rapidly trying to get it in the barn because rain was moving in.



I graciously pointed out the flaw in their plan, a flat tire on the trailer.  My neighbor mumbled a bad word, which I politely ignored.


Since he was having tire problems, he decided not to fully load the trailer.  I could not believe this trailer was not considered to be FULLY loaded as they headed out of my field and toward home.


As the truck turned the corner, the weight began to shift and...OH NO!!!


Thank goodness I was sitting far away on the porch using my telephoto camera lens and could not hear what he said.  


No problem.  The grandson arrived and solved everything. He put another bale on top and carried the last two down the road on his tractor.



Away they drove until this fall when it will all happen again.



Additional Links

A Bush Hog Came to Visit

Making Hay While the Sun Shines