Our 2021 garden: morning in the garden

While checking on the sunflowers this morning, I found one of the Mongolian Giant seed heads finally starting to open.

I had actually expected this one to open up first. Look how dark the middle is!

Hard to believe this is the same type of sunflower as this…

They look completely different!

One of the smaller seed heads sprouting out the side is starting to open, too.

With our fall planting, only a few of the rainbow chard has survived the grasshoppers and the heat. Enough that, when they are large enough, we can find out if we actually like chard! 😀

The lettuces protected by the window screen covered frame are coming up quite nicely! It’ll still be a while before they are large enough to start picking baby greens for salads, but being under the adapted cover, they should be protected from both groundhogs and insects, so I expect to actually have some this time. Unlike our first planting in the spring, that got eaten before we’d had more than a handful ourselves! Even the weather is supposed to be cooler and potentially rainier, over the next while, so we won’t have to use the shade clothes, either.

As rough of a gardening year it has been, we’re still getting some produce, and I’m happy with that!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: defensive strategies

While going through the old kitchen garden this morning, I was seeing more of our beets, slowly being nibbled away. We’d added stinky soap, cat fur, hot chili flakes, and a motion sensor light. The only thing they seem to be doing is spreading out the damage, as the various things get avoided.

So today, we tried something else.

Since there’s no point keeping the mosquito netting wall up to keep the deer away from the lettuces that the groundhog decimated, it was taken down. The sheet was then torn in half, lengthwise, to be used as floating row covers.

One half was used to cover the L shaped beet bed. The other half was cut into two pieces, with one covering the beets by the retaining wall, and the other covering the carrot bed. The edges are weighted down with bricks and whatever rocks we could find that had some weight to them.

It won’t stop a determined critter, but it might be enough to convince it to not bother, and move on to easier pickings.

My only concern about that is, “easy pickings” would be the poppies and the couple of sunflowers growing next to them. They’re too tall to cover with anything, without damaging them, but not too tall for a critter to reach.

That done, we moved on to the cucamelons and gourds.

For this, we rigged a chicken wire “cage. The top is laced to the chain link fence with twine, above the cucamelons. Over the gourds, it’s just tacked in place at the end, so that a gap can be make for the plants to grow through. The ends were cut and folded in to close them off, and the bottoms are tacked down with tent pegs.

Again, this is not going to stop a determined critters. But it is better than nothing.

As I write this, it was past 9pm, and we are still at 30C/86F, with the humidex at 33C/91F. Tomorrow’s forecasted high is 34C/93F, with the humidex at 38C/100F. Hot, though not quite as hot as the previous heat wave. The girls have been diligent about the evening watering, though I think we’re going to have to keep it to just one watering a day, after something concerning happened last night.

The sweet corn and sunflower beds have been the most difficult to properly water, so we have started to use a sprinkler, turned on for about an hour before the rest of the watering is done. It reaches almost all of the corn and sunflower beds, leaving only a row and a bit at each end that need to be watered manually. Yesterday, as one daughter headed out to switch the hose from the sprinkler to the spray nozzle, my other daughter started to use the front hose to water the old kitchen garden.

This is something we have done before without issue, but this time, all pressure was lost. My younger daughter went into the basement to check the pump, and found it making that grinding noise we have managed to avoid for quite a while now, and the presser was down to zero. By the time she called me over to look, the pressure was back up to 30psi, which is where it should be, but the taps to outside were shut off, anyhow. After the pump shut itself off again, we turned the taps back on, and the girls continued watering, but with just using the back tap.

Now, when we first noticed the pump making that noise and we would lose all water pressure, it was quite a concern. There was a possibility that the foot valve was leaking. We had two plumbers look at the pump, and one even crawled into the well shaft, and my brother even bought a new pump to replace this one, which is about 20 years old. The problem is, the system is so old, neither plumber was willing to chance doing the work, because the risk of something breaking in the well and losing our water completely was too high. At the very least, we’d have to hire someone to find parts for a system that’s almost 50 years old and are in different sizes than modern wells, break the well cap to access the well and replace the parts, or dig a new well.

Digging a new well was the recommended course of action.

None of this is an option for us, so basically, we’re being really careful. The main thing is that problems would start when water was being used faster than the pump could refill the pressure tank. As long as we don’t do things like run the bath as full pressure, or use multiple sinks at once, etc., we can keep it from happening. We know we’re on borrowed time, though.

The hoses do not use a lot of water at once, and even with both taps being used, we never had issues with the pressure before. So why did it happen last night?

I can think of only one thing.

The water table is dropping.

I don’t remember this even happening before, but I can’t think of anything else. It’s not like someone decided to take a shower or something at the same time – and we’ve even the shower get used by someone not knowing the hose was in use, with no loss of pressure.

So for now, we’re going to stick to watering just once a day.

Hopefully, it will be enough.

This is when we could really use more mulch! In the future, when we build our permanent garden beds, a drip irrigation system is also very much in the plans.

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden; made in the shade, and we have melons!

While doing the evening watering, the girls spotted a couple of little melons last night! I just had to go looking for them this morning.

Aren’t they adorable?

The bigger one is about 2 inches long. I wasn’t expecting them to be fuzzy. 😀

These are the Halona melons. Still nothing among the Pixies – at least not that we can see. Lots of flowers, though.

In thinking of how to protect our Crespo squash from being nibbled on, and our new sprouts from the upcoming heat, I scrounged in the old garden shed and dug up some old, bent up, decorative wire border fences.

Most of the sections went around the Crespo squash. Whatever has been eating them has not tried to go past the hoops, so I’m hoping the new border will further dissuade it.

The ground here is so rocky, I wasn’t able to push all the wire “legs” into the soil! Enough are in to keep it from falling over, though, so it should be fine.

There were a few sections left, and they got used in the garden bed that doesn’t have a row cover on it. Then I used some bed sheets as shade covers. I neglected to take progress photos, though. :-/

There were 6 individual sections that got evenly spaced over the seedlings. The bundle of fencing had been tied with a fairly long ribbon, so I used that to join the tops of as many of the middle ones as I could. As I was laying the sheets down, though, there was nothing in the centre to support the ends. I had a short piece cut from a hula hoop left, so that’s now in the middle, on a couple of sticks in the ground to hold it up. It was too short to bend well, so there’s a kink in the hula hoop piece, but at long as it holds the sheet up, I don’t care! 😀

After that, rocks and bricks were used to pull the fabric taught and weigh it down.

For this bed, I could use some old Twin sheets. For the other two, I had some queen and kind sized sheets to use.

The one top sheet was easy enough, but the fitted sheets needed to have their elastics cut off, and one of them was cut in half and used to cover the ends of the rows. With these, the fabric could be secured by tucking it under the wooden frame. The sheet that was cut in half is barely wide enough on one frame, and a few inches too narrow on the other, but the ends are tucked, and in the middle of the row, the other sheets were laid on top to hold it in place.

So now our shade-loving seedlings have their shade, and protection from the heat of the day. We can uncover them when we start the evening watering, so they get some less direct light during a cooler time of the day. Then I can cover them again when I do my morning rounds.

We’re supposed to start hitting 30C/86F and higher, tomorrow, though the hourly forecast on one of my apps says we’re supposed to hit 32C/90F this afternoon. The record high for today is 33C/91F, set back in 2002. I think we were actually living in this province again in 2002, though I believe we moved back in the fall. The record low for today is 9C/48F, set in 1993.

Anyhow, we’re supposed to stay about 30C/86F for almost a week, and these sheets should help keep the seedlings a bit cooler. I’m considering whether it would be a good idea to moisten the sheets, too, but the extra weight of water might be too much for the frames to hold.

It should be interesting to see how these work out!

The Re-Farmer

Second row cover, a determined little bugger, and happy times!

Today, I was able to find a piece of wood of the right size to put end caps on the second chicken wire row cover. When I headed out to start working on it this evening, I discovered…

… that little woodchuck is a determined little bugger!

Over the next while, I made sure to make lots of noise as I went past the stairs to make sure that, if the woodchuck were in there, it would run off.

My daughters told me earlier that they’d seen the littlest woodchuck in the birth bath, drinking water. At least it was just the little one. The big one would have knocked the bird bath right off its pedestal!

One of the things I was thinking of while adding the end pieces to the row cover, was how to support the chicken wire. I no longer had any hula hoop pieces, like I used in the last one. I thought I might be able to use some old hose pieces, so I went to the pile of junk and odd bits and pieces by the old garden shed. I had left a damaged hose there, and used pieces of it to hold the mosquito netting onto the hula hoops when we had that rigged up as a cover over one of the spinach beds. When I looked at the hose, though, it was so floppy from the heat, that I could see it would never be able to hold up the wire mesh.

However…

… among the miscellaneous bits and pieces, I noticed some wire that looked pliable enough to bend into a curve, yet stiff enough to hold up the chicken wire. I was able to cut three lengths that I could weave through the chicken wire, and was able to push the ends in between the boards the chicken wire was held by. It did the job really well!

With the heatwave returning, I am thinking to sacrifice some old sheets to use as shade cloths, draped over these frames. The problem is, there is still one more newly planted bed, and I am out of the materials needed to made another row cover like these. We are going to have to figure something out! We finally have the radishes, kohlrabi and kale sprouting, along with the chard. I’d like for them to actually survive!

After this was done, I banged around the concrete steps for a while and, once sure that there was no critter under there, brought over some bigger rocks and broken pieces of bricks to fill the hole in again. Hopefully, these are big enough and heavy enough that it won’t be able to dig through again.

I was just about to head back inside while the girls were getting ready to do the evening watering, when I had a very happy surprise.

My husband actually felt well enough to walk around outside! He got a tour of most of the garden beds, and even felt well enough to walk to squash tunnel. He didn’t use his walker – it may be a heavy duty walker, but even it can’t handled the rough ground out there – and he didn’t even use a cane! Granted, it was slow going, and walking over those old plow furrows took extra care, but he did it! Gosh, I can’t remember the last time he felt well enough to go outside, without needing to go to a medical appointment or something. I’m so happy! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: protective measures

I got a couple of photos of what we did yesterday, to try and protect parts of our garden.

There is plenty of slack in the cover for things to grow, and if it ever reaches a point where it needs more, we can unroll the netting wrapped around the scrap wood weighing it down on the ends. It won’t stop small critters like skunks or the woodchuck, but they don’t tend to go here, anyhow. Deer are the ones that seem to find beet green delicious. 😀

While walking towards the Crespo squash mound, those tart tins were flashing away, and there was hardly any breeze at all, so that was good to see.

As for the woodchuck, I’m now 99% sure it has a new den under the garden shed. The only reason it’s not 100% is because we have no way to see under there to confirm.

A couple of times today already, the brazen bugger parked his adorable furry butt under the bird feeder and was eating sunflower seeds. Which, I guess, is better than him being in the garden and eating our vegetables! Still, I went out to chase him away, startling a skunk away from the cat kibble. :-/

On a more positive note, I saw Junk Pile’s kittens again. It does seem like there are 4 of them in total, but they ran off as soon as they saw me. The only one I did not see was the little grey and white one. The tuxedo dashed under the storage house, while two mostly grey kittens ran past the fire pit and out the yard near the old threshing machine.

Those little guys are FAST!

Most of the kittens are getting braver, and wandering around the yard more. Butterscotch’s kittens were seen around the old compost pile. No surprise that they went in that direction, as Butterscotch frequents the old farmyard across the road. Rosencrantz’ kittens have been playing in the white lilacs and climbing the willow tree.

It would be good if we can convince them to stay close to the protection of the house and inner yard!

The Re-Farmer

Protecting the jade tree, and critter capers

So… we’ve had problems with the more recent additions to our cat colony indoors. They’ve decided our plants are for them to play with and dig in.

One of the pots we’ve been trying to protect is has the parent jade trees that we brought with us when we moved. During the drive out, it got cold enough to kill some of the plants in the back of the van, and most of the jade tree died off, but it amazingly did recover and has been doing very well.

Now the cats are trying to kill it.

Mostly Cabbages, and her dirt digging, but the other cats have discovered that jade tree leaves make good toys. We’ve done a number of things to protect the plants but, with this particular pot, some cats – and we’re not sure which ones – have managed to knock aside the things we’ve used to protect it, and get right into the middle of the pot. Along with the soil being dug up, the stems of the plants were being bent outwards, with some getting snapped off.

Yesterday, I engaged in a bit of a rescue.

You can see cat toothmarks on a number of leaves!

I was able to get the pot outside – a job that required one daughter with a spray bottle to keep the cats at bay, while the other opened the doors for me.

The pipes that you see are the spare uprights from one of the shelves we put up in the old basement. The basement is too low for the full height of the shelves, so we never added on the top self. In trying to protect the several jade trees in this pot, I shoved 4 of the unused uprights from the shelf into the pot, and used them and some cotton yarn as supports.

I discovered they also work really well to water the pot. I can just pour water into a pipe to water from below. The pot is actually a self-watering pot, but the opening to the reservoir on the bottom is small and hard to get at.

In their efforts to get at the middle of the pot, the cats ended up pushing the yarn down the pipes, and they were no longer supporting the plant stems. All the stems were bent and spread outwards, like a massive spider. So I redid it, this time making sure to loop around some of the bigger stems. It should not slide down anymore.

I’m amazed by how resilient jade trees are!

After replacing the dug out soil in the middle, I had the thought that using some of the grass clippings and garden soil mix I had left over from “hilling” the potato bags might help keep the cats out of it. Then I gave the whole thing a nice shower with the hose, with water that had been warmed by the sun.

When it was brought back inside, one of the first things that happened was several cats going over to investigate.

Then start chewing on the grass clippings.

*sigh*

They were so determined to get at it, I ended up trying to put a leftover piece of wire mesh around the bottom. It wasn’t big enough, so I tried protecting the rest with a transparent recycling bag. We still had to make liberal use of the spray bottle to keep the cats away!

Of course, we couldn’t stay in the living room all evening, monitoring a plant pot. Coming back a couple of hours later, we found some determined cat had managed to get under the plastic and spread grass clippings all over the place.

And our vacuum cleaner is broken, with no budget to replace it until next month.

*sigh*

In the end, with the assistance of a daughter keeping the cats at bay while opening doors for me, we moved the pot into the sun room to keep it safe.

In the process, I discovered a piece of the jade tree had been broken off, so I stuck it into another jade tree pot; a smaller one with a plastic ring cut from the top of a Costco corn puff container to protect it.

That was yesterday.

This morning, I was awakened by the noise of cats trying to get through the screen between the basements again. There’s nothing I can do about that, so I tried to ignore it.

Then I heard the big thump.

Going into the living room, I found one of the pots with an aloe vera in it, on the floor.

Thankfully, between the dense plant and the plastic protector around it, it didn’t actually fall out of the pot and virtually no soil was lost.

As I put it back on the shelf, I saw the dirt.

The smaller jade tree, with its protective collar, had been dug into. Some small, determined cat managed to reach through the opening and get at the soil.

I moved the pot to the dining table, went back to clean up a bit, returned to the dining room, just in time to discover Susan – SUSAN!! – on the table, trying to get into the pot.

*sigh*

I ended up shoving some mesh fabric around the opening, but it looks like this pot is going to have to go into the sun room, too.

A while later, I went to do my rounds outside and found two cats on the platform under the basement window, looking at me. Possibly Turmeric and Susan. Or Saffron and Big Rig. It’s a bit hard to see through the two layers of mesh on the window.

*sigh*

I let the girls know they were there. The last time I tried to go into that basement to get cats out, I popped a kneecap on the stairs.

So… that was my start to the day. :-/

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: protecting the tomatoes

I’m glad I “wasted” some time on the computer last night, scrolling through Facebook. I came upon a question in one of the local gardening groups I’m on, asking advice on how to protect their transplants if there is a frost.

Frost???

So I checked the forecasts, and instead of the somewhat cooler overnight temperatures I’d seen earlier, it was forecasting a low of 4C/39F, with possible frost in lower areas.

Yes, on the night of June 20.

The problem is, we don’t have a lot available to protect our garden beds. Most wouldn’t need it, but I was concerned about the tomatoes in particular.

Since we buy cases of water to keep in the van, we had quite a few empties that I’d used to help keep the aquarium greenhouses warm. I gathered all I could find and started filling them with hot water. It wasn’t enough, so I started filling gallon jugs. It still wasn’t enough, so I went scrounging in the van’s recycling bag and found some vitamin water bottles to use.

The girls set them out, while I found and filled more.

I really appreciate that yard light on the power pole. We’d have had to juggle water bottles and flashlights, otherwise! 😀

I don’t know what temperature we actually hit last night, but this morning, the tomatoes seemed fine. From what I’ve read, we didn’t necessarily need to use hot water in the bottles for them to be able to protect nearby plants, but if I’d used cold water from the well, they would have been ice cold, and I doubt that would have helped at all. As it was, it took almost a full minute of letting the tap run just to get hot water to the kitchen sink. It’s the farthest away from the hot water tank, so there’s a fair amount of pipe to clear of chilled water, first. And chilled it was!

We should pick up pipe insulation at some point. If only for the pipes leading to the kitchen!

Anyhow.

While doing my rounds this morning, I made sure to check the squash, melons and gourds. So far, they look like they handled the chill all right, but we’ll see over the next couple of days. We’re supposed to get hot again, though today is supposed to reach a high of only 15C/59F, so there isn’t going to be a jump from one extreme to the other.

Another thing to keep in mind as we build our permanent garden beds. Being able to have and use different types of covers, to protect from critters or the weather, as needed.

I look forward to when we can set up a polytunnel or greenhouse, too.

All in good time. It’s only our second year gardening, and we’re learning lots that will be useful when it comes time to build permanent garden beds and structures.

Little by little, it’ll get done.

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: netted

The heat has kept us indoors, for the must part, but a daughter and I did make a trip into town for some errands. I took advantage of the trip to see if the dollar store had stocked up on pinwheels and whirlygigs. They have not, but I did get their last hula hoops, to use as supports in the garden beds.

The post office was one of our stops, and happily, the mosquito netting we ordered has finally come in!

My daughter had ordered it to protect our lettuces in the retaining wall blocks, and the beets planted near them, from deer.

We used the T posts that I was never able to remove when we cleaned up the fence that used to be around this garden. Like most of what we’re doing this year, this is temporary, so we just used rope, tent pegs and clothes pins to drape it over the plants. It was long enough that we cut some off at one end, to use somewhere else. Holes and slits were cut into sections of it so it could be tied to the ornamental apple trees.

It should be interesting to see how it holds out if we get the potential storms over the next couple of days. I don’t expect the clothes pins to hold, but it’s attached to the trees solidly enough, it shouldn’t blow away completely. Meanwhile, it should be able to withstand normal rain and winds.

Even though we were doing this in the shade, it was still ridiculously hot, and we didn’t even try to do anything else outside.

I think the different things we’re using to startle away the deer seem to be working. The tulip cam is being triggered by wind blowing the dandelions in front of it. Other than that, we’re seeing the odd cat going by, or a bird on the ground in front of the camera. Nothing is going for the tulips, and aside from that one day, there have been no deer picked up by the camera. Not even a skunk, and I saw two of them in the yard, yesterday!

I’m thinking of moving the camera to overlook the big garden. Depending on where I set it up, it should be able to cover the beds near the house, as well as anything large enough that goes near the far beds. That should tell us if deer are still trying to go through the old garden area or not.

The forecasts have changed again, and they’re now predicting storms 2 days from now, instead of over the next couple of days. Once things cool down some more, and we go out to do the evening watering, we can move the trail cam over. The leftover mosquito netting is so light, I might just set it over the last spinach bed as a floating row cover, until we can build another wire mesh cover.

If this netting works out, we will order more. If not… well. We tried! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Desperate Measures

One of the down sides of having so many cats in the house is how much they “love” our houseplants! We’ve had to get increasingly creative to protect them. The smaller ones ended up getting hung up. Thankfully, my daughter’s orchid kokedama are very light, as they ended up being hung from a curtain rod we don’t use. I had several succulents, one of which was apparently delicious to cats. I’ve managed to save two, while a third ended up being totally destroyed.

The problem is with the larger plants. I have a big umbrella tree, we have a whole bunch of aloe vera (less than we started out with) and several jade trees. We’re down a few jade trees, too. 😦 I also had 5 avocados growing in one large pot. They had been doing very well, too.

Then Cabbages happened.

She has a thing for digging in dirt. She’s not interested in the plants themselves. She just wants to dig. The other cats like to bite the aloe vera leaves, which at least won’t harm them, but they also like to break of jade tree leaves, and play with them like cat toys. Jade trees are not good for cats! None of the other cats have Cabbage’s obsession with dirt digging. Thank God for that, or I wouldn’t have any plants left!

We’ve tried many things to deter them. Our aloe vera now all have protective rings of plastic around their bases (except the biggest one, which is so big, with so many babies growing under it, it can protect itself!), cut from those cheese ball and pork rind containers from Costco we’d been keeping to use as garden cloche. They’ve been coming in handy for a lot of other things!

The umbrella tree got a ring of 1 inch wire mesh around its base. The kittens would still jump over it and sit in the middle of the umbrella tree but, as they’ve grown bigger, they seem to have stopped doing that. The smaller plants got the plastic containers put over them as cloche, but some of the cats figure out how to knock those off – and the pots under them. The larger jade trees got various things stuck into the soil to both support their stems, which were being pushed over by cats sitting in the middle of the pots, and to make things difficult for the cats to get in.

The pot the avocado were growing in is a large double-layer pot. The inner pot holds the soil while the outer pot has a reservoir for water, so the roots can be watered from below. In one corner is a triangular piece that holds a float in place, and covered the opening where water is poured into the base.

This pot is on a shelf by the dining room window, along with a number of other plants. Eventually, though, we were down to just one other plant on the shelf; another jade tree. To stop the digging, we tried things like putting duct tape, sticky side up, over the dirt. The jade tree got a plastic collar, which kept getting knocked out of place, so we tried wrapping it with plastic, and even sticking in dozens of bamboo skewers in all directions, to dissuade the digging. Nothing worked for long. We even ended up putting the pot on top of an upturned bucket to raise it higher above the window ledge that cats like to lie on, but Cabbages is very determined, and still managed to get in to dig!

The remaining two avocados got a shield of hardware cloth around the perimeter of the soil. That worked for a while, until Cabbages discovered she could just jump over the top. We ended up putting a box over the top, but it was too late for the avocado. We just needed to stop her from making a mess. When she started digging, she throws dirt everywhere! She knows not to try for it while we’re around, too, so we’d find the mess in the morning, of after we’d been outside for a few hours.

Well, she still managed to get the box off the top and get into the dirt again. She also got into the jade tree again. So today, my daughters got the pot outside. The remains of the avocado were removed, and the jade tree was transplanted into the bigger pot. The hardware cloth got wrapped around it again, and the extra piece I had left from the roll got folded over the top as a cover. Then it went back to the shelf at the dining room window.

This evening, I went into the dining room only to find David lounging on the table – they are not allowed on the dining table – so at first I missed it. My husband was coming in behind me and saw it right away. The hardware cloth that was on top was gone, the rest was askew, and there was dirt, everywhere.

I was not a happy camper!

This time, it looked like Cabbages got under the mesh. The cover for the water reservoir was knocked completely off, too. We found the wire mesh that had been on top, rolled up under the dining table, with Tissue curled up inside. !!

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The hardware cloth got placed around the jade tree again, but instead of putting it on the inside of the put and pushing it into the soil, it was jammed between the inner and outer pots. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long enough anymore, so the piece that had been over the top was squeezed in, too. Then, we got the remains of a roll of 1 inch wire mesh and used that to create a top.

The wire mesh on the sides has been pushed down quite far between the two layers of pots, so there’s no way a cat is getting under it or lifting it out. The 1 inch mesh on the top is wider than paws, so if a cat tries to jump on top, it will hold the weight, but little paws will tend to slip through, which will be a deterrent.

The down sides are, we can no longer use the opening in the corner to water into the bottom of the reservoir, and watering from the top is going to be a challenge! We also can’t reach the plant to tend it. The top is held in place with a couple of twist ties, but the wire ends along some edges were also bent inwards, to help hold it in place. It can be taken off, but it’ll be a pain in the butt.

It should, however, finally be safe from Cabbages and her digging!

This poor plant!

The Re-Farmer