Cantaloupe!

One of my favorite meals is half a cantaloupe with a scoop of cottage cheese. Even though a favorite, I haven’t indulged for years. I’m lactose intolerant, so nix the cottage cheese. And I’ve been ‘off’ cantaloupe since the listeria deaths in 2011.

Recently, I discovered that Lactaid – a company that manufactures a lactose free milk – now makes a 1 percent lactose free cottage cheese. Heaven! And pretty good melons have been showing up in the grocery stores this year. Not as good as you’d expect to find at the Farmer’s Market, but pretty good.

Yummy!

Yummy!

As I put together plans for this year’s garden, I thought to grow some melons, both cantaloupe and watermelon. The seeds for both melons were a total bust. Nothing grew. But one day, as I was running through Walmart looking for shampoo, I spied both cantaloupe and watermelon plants. I bought two of the first and one of the second.

Today I have three cantaloupe vines – one of my seeds actually ‘took’ – and the one watermelon. They take up a huge amount of space in one of my raised beds, along with two rows of Delicata squash plants.

Thanks to the manure put down last fall and our recent, just-in-the-nick-of-time seven inches of rain, I have a profusion of squash and melon vines that have outgrown the confines of my raised bed.

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Now comes the part that I’m learning is somewhat problematic for all my vegetables. How and when to harvest.

I recall about four or five years ago, I went to a party given by some golf buddy friends of my husband. They had an enormous garden with lovely looking melons, each on its own little blanket. And indeed, the instructions I’ve found online suggest placing the fruit on some sort of cover over the soil – either paper or organic mulch.

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Fortunately, this is the one bed where I put down cypress mulch.

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As of today, my cantaloupe plants have blossomed, but I don’t know whether these are male or female flowers. According to http://www.organicgardening.com, only the female flowers produce fruit. And while I may have many female flowers, each vine will produce only three or four melons. The rest are supposed to send nutrients back to the vines.

Again, according to what I’ve read, I need to soon give the plants a drink of compost tea. You can find a recipe at http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/compost-tea.

And gardeners living in zones colder than Zone 7 are supposed to pick off flowers and smaller fruits after ‘midsummer.’

Midsummer. When is that exactly? According to most articles I’ve read, midsummer is the summer solstice, which has come and gone without fruits per se. And I’m uncertain which flowers to cull. Hmmm… I did read one article that said that midsummer was July 5. I guess I’ll be waiting to see if I have fruit in the next couple of weeks.

As for harvesting, my research has led to similarly vague instructions: “The stem of a vine-ripened fruit should break cleanly with no pressure at all on the stem; just picking up the fruit should be sufficient.” I imagine myself lifting the fruit up from the ground every day once I think it’s big enough just to see if it breaks off.

Next week I’m going to a class on bugs … excuse me, insects and other pests. I hope I can sit through it. I have to admit that I skipped the copious research on possible melon bugs.

Gross. But okay, baby steps…

Anniversary!

Here is Fat Boy helping to guard the garden.  Thanks, fella!  Now go get a mouse…

Here is Fat Boy helping to guard the garden. Thanks, fella! Now go get a mouse…

Six months ago, I retired. Happy Anniversary to me!

This seemed like a perfect week to reflect on what I’ve learned about gardening since January. I’ve had plenty of help from some experienced Master Gardeners, and have learned a lot in the Miami County Extension Office classes. So much so, in fact, that I’ve decided to take the full EMG classes this fall. I hope my memory is up to going back to school.

As I think about the more personal aspects of learning, aside from the “what, where, and how” topics, I decided on the three P’s: Pain, Persistence, and Patience.

Lavender clematis in my so-called pink garden.  Close enough.  Right?

Lavender clematis in my so-called pink garden. Close enough. Right?

While pain seems unexpected – not to mention a downer – let’s do the math. I’m 65 years old and I’ve been sitting at a desk, either in front of a typewriter or a computer, for the last 40 years. Sure, I’ve done some weekend gardening. But let me tell you, two to five hours a day of physical labor is not what my body is used to.

Ouch! I’ve learned to stay well hydrated with plenty of water and to quit for a while when the temperature gets above 85 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit).

Lovely, luscious cantaloupe in bloom.  Here’s hoping…

Lovely, luscious cantaloupe in bloom. Here’s hoping…

My grandmother used to say that three days after the world’s best housekeeper passes from this life, her house is dirty. Same is true with gardening. Keeping the garden watered and weed-free doesn’t happen once. Persistence is key.

Persistence also means to keep watering and weeding even when it doesn’t look like you’re getting anywhere. Which brings me to the third “P” … patience!

Gardening takes a lot of time, both the doing of it and the waiting for results. At the moment, I’m waiting for my potato plants to finish dying back so I can dig for potatoes. I’m waiting to see if any of the beans I planted actually produce beans. I’m waiting for all those lovely squash and melon blossoms to turn into fruit.

The fourth “P” is the one I left off my personal list and that is POSITIVE ATTITUDE.

Lovely flowers from a packet of seeds that I threw out in February.  I didn't think anything would come up!

Lovely flowers from a packet of seeds that I threw out in February. I didn’t think anything would come up!

If anything, I think gardening this year has made me a tad more pessimistic than positive. Yes, pessimistic starts with “P” but not a desirable quality for the gardener. I’m still more than two-thirds convinced, despite evidence to the contrary, that stuff I plant will die, all things being equal. It may take some time to make an attitude adjustment.

One of my mystery flowers… a beautiful pink zinnia.

One of my mystery flowers… a beautiful pink zinnia.

Next week, I’m going to an EMG class on soil amendment. I hope to have lots of interesting information to pass along!

Six Inches of Rain Later

We’ve had about six inches of rain in the last week, at least two yesterday. Whew! The only word to use for the garden is “burgeoning!”

For regular followers of my blues Blog, you remember what my raised beds looked like last fall. They were in development!

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Today, they look like this:

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A bit of soil, a few seeds or seedlings and boom! Groceries.

At least we hope so. I’m a little worried about my blueberries. Something is eating at the leaves. If anyone knows what to spray them with, please leave a comment!

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But my beets, which I’ve worried over incessantly, have produced a first baby crop.

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For some reason, my nice straight row of beets turned into a clump. I thinned them out, but I don’t think I was ruthless enough. Today, I pulled the ones that had pushed their way above ground. I hope that gives the remaining beets more room to grow. Dinner tonight? Baby roasted beets. Yum.

I’ve also worried about my Delicata squash. They’ve produced huge plants and humongous leaves, but no flowers. Today, I found several lovely squash blossoms under the leaves.

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And finally, my bit of whimsy in the garden. I had no room for beans. I found some hanging frog planters at the Dollar Store, hung them on my fence and threw in some bean seeds. I didn’t think I’d get anything, but look!

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Maybe I’ll actually grow some beans!

And the plus of it all? I haven’t had to haul hose for a week. Thank you Mother Nature.

Seedling or Weedling?

Remember the definition from my weed class? A weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it to grow. But now I realize that I don’t always know how to tell a seedling from a “weedling.”

One of my “regular” chores as a child was to weed around my mother’s fruit trees. We lived on about a third of an acre in suburban New Jersey where Mom grew apples, pears, peaches, and cherries. I never wondered before why the kids got to weed the trees and only the trees. Now I know. Even a child can distinguish between a weed and a tree.

Every spring I plant a mass of petunias in a little bed near the front steps of my house. How boring. One year I planted Ajuga, thinking that I’d would never have to plant that plot again. Instead, the Ajuga turned spotty and quickly became a “weed” that I tore out. This year, because I was racing to get the vegetable beds planted, I bought a handful of flower seed packets. One day, in the middle of an early, cold rainstorm, I sprinkled that plot with the seeds from those packets.

This is what I have today:

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How do I tell what’s what? I can identify the grass, but not much else.

Here’s the corner of the plot:

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Sort of looks like cone flowers. Right? Or maybe that’s one of the weedy brassicas my friend Lenora identified for me a couple of weeks ago. At this stage, they all look pretty much the same to me.

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I can figure out the different sedums I planted and the one hardy chrysanthemum that came back from last fall. But the rest of it? What a hot mess!

It may end up being pretty when they flower, always assuming that I don’t have a bed of weedlings on my hands. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m taking some time to Google zinnias, cone flowers, poppies, and sunflowers, which are the seed packets I remember.

Oh and yes, next time I’ll write down what I plant. My bad.

Bonus Blog – Breakfast and Dinner and Weeds

I’m racing to keep up with what’s happening in the garden. Seeds planted in our raised beds have now turned into plants, hungry for water and attention. But I’ve started to reap the benefits. Yesterday, I ate both breakfast and dinner from the garden.

We’ve been harvesting asparagus for about 90 days. This may be the last of it in a yummy egg and goat cheese omelet for breakfast.

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And now … drum roll, please … the first bit of spinach this year, grown from seed sown directly in the garden.

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Paired with corn-on-the-cob, which I didn’t grow.

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And now for an update on Weeds.

First, a correction. Dandelions are a perennial weed. Thanks to everyone who helped me identify that error in my notes!

Next, let me introduce you to horse-nettle.

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This noxious and thorny plant is growing among my Autumn Joy Sedum. The sedum originally was planted around a pond (now filled in). Moved and divided many times, it thrives in front of the barn.

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I started finding horse-nettle about three years ago. Now that Lenora Larson graciously identified it for me and I’ve had a chance to check it out, I understand why it’s so difficult to destroy! Horse-nettle, or Solanum carolinense, is a member of the nightshade family – same as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. A perennial, it spreads by seed and underground rhizomes. Oh yeah, it’s spreading like wildfire…

The darn thing is also resistant to post-emergent and broad-spectrum herbicides. One of the articles I read indicated that herbicides can “select” for horse-nettle by killing the competing weeds!

Did I mention thorns? I have to use my heaviest leather gloves when cutting it back! Just so you know, the fruit is poisonous.

Meanwhile, it’s time for the sedum to be divided. This fall after they bloom, I’ll need to make a decision about where to go with them in the garden to get away from horse-nettle.