Progressively more and more frustrating, this gardening business. When I last wrote here about my gardening, I had just gotten all of my early spring planting done amidst record breaking heat in March. April turned out to be very dry and cool. So cool, in fact, that the average daily temperature in April was cooler than the daily average in March.
Germination of my beets was good and the carrots were marginally adequate. The spinach, however was disappointingly spotty and the peas were unproductively so. I had to sow more seeds to fill in the empty spots in the rows. The rows required watering almost every day and I was fine with that really as the weeds and weed seedlings in the garden remained stunted or dormant for a while.
One of the weeds that I am really having a problem with in the last couple of years in nutgrass. Not a true grass, nutgrass is a sedge. I have found out some more fun facts about nutgrass. It is a sedge. The "nutlet" lies 3 inches below the surface of the soil and is rich in fats. It is edible but bitter. The tops can be easily removed with a hoe, but the plant survives in this nutlet below the soil.
I dug one of the thousands in my garden up and took a hard look at it. Without resorting to a specific groundwater poisoning chemical, the only option that I have is to dig every one of them up. Sounds like a good excuse for a nodermeet: Dig My Nuts Fest! Nutgrass is common turf weed that propagates both from root shoots and by seed. It seems that rototilling has helped to spread it throughout the garden via the former method. Apparently, it also produces a toxin that inhibits the growth of competing vegetation. Great.
While I watered my rows outside, indoors I seeded my tomatoes in my seed starter. They really took off quickly and I was pleased by my happy little seedlings. My eggplant seedlings that I had started in February had been getting nice and big and I transferred them into larger pots. My onion plants came in the mail in mid April and I planted them into two beds of three rows each. It was starting to warm up a bit and so I started putting the tomatoes and eggplants into my cold frame to get the full sun, and took them out when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posted an overnight freeze warning.
During the warmth of March, all of the trees in the region flowered early, which was quite beautiful. My apple and peach trees blossomed as well, but I feared that the blossoms were in danger of frost. Sure enough, when the cool weather returned the frosts damaged the blossoms. I will be enjoying very little fruit this summer from the trees. It is a shame and I will not be as welcoming of early spring warmth from now on.
By the end of April we were starting to get some rain, but not very much, just enough for the weeds to grow. I set about to germinate my summer crop seedlings. For many years now, I have started the larger summer seeds indoors in small containers by soaking them for 24 hours and then rinsing and draining the containers twice a day until germination. I usually would start this in May after the danger of the last frost and then sow the germinated seeds directly into the garden, but this year I thought that I would start the seeds early and them put them into pots in the garage.
I had hoped that the average temperature in the garage would be warm enough for the seedlings to continue to grow. But this was not the case and most of the seedlings languished and rotted. Looks like I will now be starting the seeds indoors again and, once the soil is consistently above 60 degrees, sowing directly to the garden.
I need a greenhouse.
Last weekend, I went on a retreat. In a moment of negligence, I left my tomato and eggplant seedlings outside in the cold frame without checking the overnight forecast. We had a freeze that night. Not just a light frost in which the seedlings would have been protected inside the cold frame. The condensation from the inside of the lid dripped onto my seedlings and where they dripped the water froze and killed the plants. The following week, the weather went from March to July and we hit a high of 85 degrees. Again I was negligent. I should have left the cold frame lid open but I forgot to do this. The tomato plants which survived freezing now cooked and wilted and died. The eggplants, which were older, seemed to have survived.
I have since replaced the tomatoes with a few other varieties from my local farm stand. Tomatoes can be bought nearly anywhere. Eggplants can be sort of hard to find early on and I am glad that mine did not die. They do not have any cucumbers, squash or melons out yet either, which makes me feel a bit better. They are the professionals after all, and if they do not have them out that means I am not ahead of the season. Because of my early start with the brassicas, my cabbages, broccolis and cauliflowers are much further along than the ones they have out. I guess, so far, my early starts have paid off where it counts.
Anyway, storms came with the heat and we received a drenching. The weeds in the garden, which I should have been taking care of in the weeks past, erupted with growth. To add insult to my injuries, I found that many farmers had sown their fields before the rains and now rows of green corn seedlings mock me as I drive by.
I have begun to make amends. All year, I have been lusting after something called http://www.flameengineering.com/Weed_Dragon.htmlThe Weed Dragon. I bought one! It is fairly simple, a 18PSI liquid propane regulator, a fitting, a hose, a valve and metal tube with a cylindrical bell on the end. It produces a flame rated at 100,000 BTU ‘s of heat to cook the weeds. Organic gardening is fun!
Does it work? Well it excels in killing the plants above the surface, and tiny seedlings die en masse'. But so many weeds survive below the soil to grow again. A useful tool in the arsenal it is, and it also starts charcoal grills and bonfires with ease. It was particularly preparing the edges of the garden where much of my summer planting will be. But will it replace my stirrup hoe and my gardening knife? Not at all. Manual labor really seems to be the only way to truly deal with the most entrenched weeds. Both of these tools attack the weeds below the soil surface and can be used close to the vegetable plants. This nutgrass business though, is going to be hard to crack.
Soon enough it shall be hot and humid and the garden shall be a jungle swarming with mosquitoes out for my blood and cucumber beetles munching on my cucurbits. To fight these little bastards I have placed an order for millions of a nematode called Heterorhabditis Bacteriophora. These nematodes are a natural predator of a variety of grubs, including those of the cucumber beetle. They should, I hope, help to control the beetle population this year.
Well, it is supposed to dry up and be mild by midweek and I have lots of weeding and planting ahead of me. Cucumber, summer squash, corn, bean and melons have to be germinated and then planted. My seed potatoes arrived last week and I have to prepare their beds and plant them. I have a lot of catching up to do. Hopefully, the Good Lord is a willin' an' the creeks don't rise!
Update: Apparently, the Good Lord ain't willin'. Cool weather, unsuitable for warm-soil loving sprouts, has returned for the forcastable future.