Plodding along.

Things are plodding along in the garden beds here. We’re getting close to the “too hot to work outside” season. This is part of what motivates me to stay as busy as I can from Christmas through March around here, so that now, when the heat turns up, I mostly water, watch, and pull a weed or four.

Which takes beans on March 23rd…

To beans on April 4th

To beans that are now three feet tall.

It also takes us from orange-yet-shy squash blossoms…

To mystery squash!

And yellow crookneck

Unfortunately, my largest squash plants so far, the lemons (in the middle bed below)…

Are currently wilting due to a re-invasion (or perhaps never-left-asion) of fire ants. I sifted diatomaceous earth on them, as that had seemed to work on the ones by the walk-up at home, but apparently instead of causing them to relocate like the ones at home did – they simply burrowed deeper. I’m afraid boiling water might kill the squash along with the ants though. Before I try and scheme a plot to get boiling water two miles from my stove, I’ll dig the diatomaceous earth down where they live and see if that doesn’t agitate them enough to leave. Any other ideas on ousting fire ants? If only I had some phorid flies handy…

(A quick side note: Someone was asking about growth rates for melons. This is my second attempt at melons, but feel it safe to say they are slower growers. The picture above is of three squash varieties, all direct sown on the same day as three melon varieties.) The melon varieties?

A fair bit smaller than two of the squash types. Yet a mere three days later and we have a new surprise!

Melon blossoms!

Things I learned:

  • Fire ants aren’t gone just because you think they are.
  • Melons will take their time, but may surprise you in fits and bursts.
  • It’s ok to not be super busy in the garden all the time. Keeping it watered will keep it patient for your return.

Structure.

I like to play with structure. Build forts. Rope ladders. Tree houses. Box caves. I think so many wondrous things fall by the wayside on the wander into adulthood that sometimes as adults we may be just as boring as our childselves would say we were.

I find that there a few tried-and-true cures for such mature doldrums:

  • Sprinklers (even more so with four footed friends or the squeals of toddlers that belong to someone else.)
  • The consequent mud from said sprinklers.
  • Wrapping paper tubes (fort supports, light sabers, ski poles, I could go on…)
  • The ever sought and ever rare refrigerator box.
  • Sticks.

Perhaps by chance, or perhaps through purpose, my garden time tends to incorporate a lot of the same material. Sprinklers are a given. Mud – also a given. Wrapping paper tubes? I’ve heard that if you cut them (or toilet paper or paper towel tubes) into one inch rings and place them around seedlings, they help combat pests. (I have yet to confirm this, how about you?)

The fridge box: I’m not a cardboard composter or mulcher, but others are.

Sticks! Sticks are great for small tomato stakes, pea trellising, pole beans, and likely many other things.

I’ve known for a bit that I needed some kind of structure for my tiger beans. They’ll survive, and produce, decently without structure. With structure, I’ll get to more of the beans before the bugs do, and I haven’t tested the theory but would almost swear they make more beans while climbing. The issue? I planted them in a row in the middle of a long bed. Oops. I hadn’t planned it that way. I had it drawn up differently. When the day came to sow the seeds, my mind left me so much that I neglected to even reference the plan I’d carefully graphed, and simply sowed away. So it goes.

So what was I to do? Perhaps, I postulated, I could put a forked stick at either end of the bean patch, run a cross stick from end to end, and drop lines down from the beam. Except I was fresh out of forked sticks. Teepees? I’ve never had luck with teepees.

And then I realized that at some point I had also hoped to enclose the bed. A neighbor down at the garden plots warned of the possibility of large, wandering, hungry wild game (in the form of humans) who would help themselves to the literal fruits of your literal labors. I would like to think this wouldn’t really happen, but apparently it has in the past.

DH and I tossed some ideas around. The bed at home has a nice structure that is flexible to the needs of the plants within. We didn’t really want to invest that much lumber into a top structure that would be anchored to a weak (and in places rotting) base structure provided by the community garden maintenance crew. I knew I wanted a shade cloth option, and he convinced me that we could do double duty if we hatched a plan to replace shade cloth with plastic in the winter.

And then it struck. We were wandering Home Depot, as we are known to do, halfway through a list of soil sulfur, air filters, and rope for a cat scratching post, when we found ourselves on the plumbing aisle. We were caught in a stare. We both knew at once. And we both started talking at once: “What if we did this for the garden!”

Supplies for a 20′ x 10′ bed:

  • Twelve pieces of 3/8″ thick, 12″ long (or longer), rebar ($9.00 – we would have liked to have longer rebar, but with $0.75 each for 12″ jumping to $3 each for 24″, we made do.)
  • Seven lengths of 20′ x 3/4″ PVC ($30)
  • Four pieces of twine about 18″ long (Free after using it to tie the PVC into the truck on the way home.)
  • Hammer (we already had one, so free for us. A rock would also work.)
  • Something to stand on. (We borrowed a neighboring gardener’s lawn chair.)
  • Duct tape (we already had this as well. More twine (still free) would also work.)

How:

  1. Split the length of the bed into four foot sections, starting in a corner.
  2. Dig out a small hole (maybe four inches deep) and push a piece of rebar into the soil.
  3. Hammer the rebar into the soil so the end of it is just below the edge of the bed. (About 8″ underground, 4″ above ground.)
  4. Thread the PVC end over the rebar (this gets wiggly, as it it is twenty feet long and bendy. Feel free to laugh, we did.)
  5. Bend the PVC down to thread the other end over the rebar on the opposite edge of the bed. You just made your first “rib”
  6. Like this: 
  7. Tie the PVC to the corner posts to help anchor. 
  8. Continue on down the bed, threading PVC onto the rebar that you spaced every four feet.
  9. Your “ribs” are up! 
  10. Like DH is doing on the left of this picture, press each side of each rib down into the earth to help anchor it. The bowing of the pipe should create pressure against the side boards of the bed, but pushing the tubing into the ground helps prevent lift-off.
  11. Set the chair up under the first rib, and with the seventh length of pipe running under the ribs, lash the “spine” to the “ribs” with duct tape (or twine) just enough to tack it up.
  12. Proceed down the length of the structure, tacking each rib to the spine.
  13. When you reach the other end, lash it securely, and then work your way back up the bed. This time, tighten the meeting of the two pipes and tape in a cross-cross pattern.
  14. Ta da! 

Why “ribs” and “spine”? Well, aside from looking a bit like a giant rib cage, PVC and tape were what we used to construct a whale in third grade to put on a showing of The Old Man and the Sea. That, and you knew exactly what I meant, didn’t you?

I do plan to do similarly with the Right Bed now that I see our idea in real life (and love it!) But first, we need to trellis-up those tomatoes! (Another day.) And drop lines for the beans (maybe tomorrow…)

And a hush fell…

I apologize for the quiet as of late. I am currently out of town, travelling for seven days on business. I took pictures in preparation for the trip, thinking I would have time in the evenings to draft posts.

Silly me.

I forgot the camera at home, with the photos still on it. I have not had evening time like I expected, but for good enough reason. I was able to spend a precious three hours with a dear cousin catching up. I was able to catch up on sleep and beat off a bug of my own before it took hold. I was able to get lost in Houston traffic for an hour trying to find socks, only to find instead a travelling carnival, a helipad, a parking lot full of grass-filled cracks in the middle of pristine shiny glass and steel, and then finally – when I’d given up on the search and resigned myself to gladly wander: socks.

Tonight was a run. A glorious, much needed, too-long-put-off-for-no-good-enough-reason, run. Little did I realize I had picked just the park that housed the Houston Garden Center. Even littler did I realize I did such a thing until driving out of the park in need of a shower. Perhaps tomorrow when the work is finished but the Rockets game has yet to begin, I’ll have time to go for another glad wandering.

While I’m gone, DH is caring for the gardens for me. They’re almost to the Water and Wait Til Harvest Stage, but not quite yet. On Tuesday, he planted the last of the tomatoes and peppers. I lost two Cherry Chadwicks in the final transplanting process, and so picked up two transplants from Johnson’s Backyard at the Farmer’s Market last Saturday. A Green Zebra and a Cherokee Purple. I needed three peppers as well – having mis-planned my space for two, and lost just one in the transplanting process (it was a itty bitty wee one I would have been shocked to see survive.) Green and Growing set me up with two Purple Beauties and one Orange Bell (all bell peppers.)

And! He took pictures! Don’t those beans look promising?

I am blown away at how happy the squash look (and how big the leaves are already!)

I’ve been carefully checking the undersides of the leaves on each visit in an effort to find any Squash Bug eggs before they hatch. Last year I lost every squash plant to Squash Bugs (not knowing yet what they were.) This year I hope to lose less. I’ve also been warned by my neighboring gardener that the plots are susceptible to Squash Vine Borers, which are new to me. I’m keeping an eye out for any vine anomalies, but am not sure exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll have to read up a bit. I did find one squash leaf coated on the underside with aphids, and it was quickly pinched off and ushered to the trash bin.

Here are the peppers and tomatoes. The tomatoes are already needing more pruning than I’ve had time to keep up with. Next week when I’m home, I really need to get them staked before they completely go wild on me. There was a flower bud on one Sunday before I left, so perhaps when I make it home this Sunday I’ll have some flowers to tickle until the bees find their new buffet.

I planted some strawberries and sweet potatoes last weekend as well, but that will have to wait for me to be reunited with my camera.