Friday, August 5, 2016

Eary August Update - Hilltop


Before I get going on some Fling posts, I thought I had better do a couple of updates on the garden – the summer is flying by and it will be September before we know it!

This year the hilltop was planted up with most of the root crops – carrots, potatoes, onions, leeks, garlic and shallots – plus the corn and squash.

A new problem, however, emerged this year – voles.  In early summer, vole holes appeared in practically every bed.  Last year, when this area was created, all of the beds were lined with cardboard (to smother weeds and grass) before they were filled with soil, which is likely why this issue wasn’t apparent.  The cardboard would now be decomposed, giving the voles unrestricted access.

In an effort to avoid digging out every bed and laying down hardware cloth, I decided to purchase a “Yard Sentinel” ultrasonic device and so far, it actually seems to be working.

Yard Sentinel Ultrasonic Pest Control

At this stage, I’ve simply placed it on top of a stool which is a few inches higher than the top of the beds.  Next year, I’ll be installing a post to attach it to as it apparently works best if it’s over the garden at a downward angle.

So I know you’re asking….why do I think it’s working?  Well, up until I started using it, I was seeing one or two new holes in the carrot bed each week, this bed being the most visible as the others are either covered with netting, straw or large plants.  Since setting up the device, however, I’ve not seen any new holes and the carrots (and volunteer potato plants) growing in this bed are doing really well:

Carrot Bed

In fact, the existing holes have closed up somewhat with the couple of rains we have had lately and they have not been re-opened.  Could this be the solution to my vole issues?  Time will tell.  And as an FYI, I’m not affiliated with this product or it’s manufacturer in any way – it’s simply something I’ve purchased which seems, at least at this stage, to be working.

Different animals respond to different frequencies and I’ve set the frequency on my gadget to the “rodent” setting.   Unfortunately, this has not helped when it comes to keeping the corn muncher out of the corn patch.  Remember my corn muncher problems from last year?  Well, (s)he is back.  Many of the cobs have been munched or broken off:

Munched Corn

One possible solution to corn problems was devised by Daphne, who is very much missed btw (if I was better with html, I would insert a teary eyed emoji here).  She solved her corn problem (which happened to be raccoons) by growing butternut squash in the same bed and letting the vines run through the corn.  The theory is that they will not want to tread through the prickly squash vines to get to the corn.

Well, last year my butternut squash took a while to start running, so I thought that that was the main issue.  However, this years munching started just as the squash vines were completely surrounding the corn and there was some munching even afterwards.  Also, I highly doubt that my problem is raccoons as there is little damage to the outer row of stalks, even when stalks near the center of the bed are munched.  A raccoon would undoubtedly cause a lot more damage just getting to those interior stalks.

Corn/Butternut Squash Bed

Last year, I tried a homemade cayenne pepper spray, but I sprayed it more on the stalks than the cobs as that's what seemed to be getting damaged/chewed off.  This year, the damage seems to be all about the cobs - perhaps I have a different pest?  Anyhow, I've decided to give the pepper spray another go - hopefully one spicy bite will make them think twice about taking another.

This one looks perfect....so far.
The butternut squash, btw, is just starting to set some fruit:

This butternut squash has set...happy, happy :)
The garlic was harvested this past week and, as with most beds on the hilltop, there were vole holes in the bed.  I had read that voles do not like alliums and this does in fact appear to be the case as none of the bulbs – over 150 of them – had any damage to them.

Pitarelli - One of seven garlic varieties harvested
I was also anxious about the garlic harvest for another reason – leek moths*.  There was leek moth* damage on most of the scapes this year so I was worried that they may have infiltrated the garlic bulbs.  So far, I don’t see any evidence of that, so that’s good.

Most of the garlic looked to be a great size and a couple of the varieties actually produced the biggest bulbs I have ever harvested.  The season didn’t get off to a great start, what with all the heat and irregular watering, so I think that the application of organic fertilizer to the bed in the spring must have made all the difference.

The onions, on the other hand, look to be a mixed bag this year with some doing well while others are not.

Rossa di Milano (foreground) and Ailsa Craigs in the back
Both of these are bulbing up fairly well

The Copras are still tiny - most appear to be only 1" or so across
I’ve not had sizing up issues with onions before, so I’m not exactly sure what the story is.  The weather has been consistently and unseasonably hot since early June, and the drip irrigation was not installed until early July, the combination of which could be a factor.  I suppose that every crop is entitled to an “off” year so I’m not getting too down in the mouth about it.

The leeks are not sizing up that quickly either, likely for the same reason as the onions.

The leeks still have a long way to go
The perennial bunching onions are doing ok but what I’ve noticed is that I don’t really seem to use them very much.

Perennial Bunching Onions
In fact, I’ve not harvested any yet this year as my daughter doesn’t enjoy fresh onions in dishes & that is how I would normally use these.  I’m undecided as to what I’m going to do with them or whether I’ll even continue with them for next year.  At this stage, I’m thinking it’s not worth the bother for the few times I may want to use them for my own lunch.

The shallots were harvested a couple of weeks ago but I kept forgetting to mention them in my Harvest Monday posts.

Golden shallots on drying rack
Initially, I thought most of the shallots were going to be a complete write-off as many of them were bolting.  I did see a few poking out of the soil that were not, so I decided to leave them in the ground and hopefully be able to get enough stock to plant up in the fall.  We had a lot of up and down temperatures earlier in the year and a very mild winter, so I’m assuming that’s why I had bolting issues - something that has never happened in the 5 years I've been growing shallots.

But once I pulled them up, I realized that only one or two bulbs in each clump were bolting (the clumps consisting of 6-7 bulbs), so it looks like I’ll have shallots for both planting and eating this year.  The shallots are not large, mind you, but not altogether tiny either.  The bolters were discarded and the rest are now curing.

Based on the foliage, the potatoes have done so-so this year.  The Yukon Gold foliage has completely died back – and I’ve harvested a few of the potatoes that were right near the surface of the soil – while the other varieties are now starting to fade.

Potato Bed
(the empty section on the left is where a couple of the Linzer's didn't come up)
I’ll likely harvest a few potatoes as needed for meals in the coming weeks, but the majority of them won’t be harvested until September as I want them to cure a bit in the soil which will make for better winter storage.

The sweet potatoes are also growing on the hilltop, but these are in containers.  They were planted out late – I didn’t get them into their pots until the first week of July - but they have done very well since then.

After planting up on July 6

August 4th
 I decided to grow these in 2 types of containers to see which one performs best.  The green tubs were purchased for $6 each and I originally got them for general use around the garden (holding debris, carrying produce, etc.).  Once I got them home, however, I thought they were a great size to use as pots for the sweet potatoes as they hold about 35 litres/9.2gallons, so I purchased a couple more, drilled a bunch of holes in the bottom, and planted up a couple of sweet potato slips into each tub.

The other two “pots” are grow bags that I purchased from Greenhouse Megastore.  These were very inexpensive, costing $6 for 10 of them.  They ended up being about the same size as the tubs and I planted each bag up with a couple of slips as well.  The plastic is fairly thick, so I may even be able to get two seasons out of them.

Drip hoses in sweet potato pots
I have drip hoses running to each of the pots which I think will be key in getting a good harvest.  In fact, I can already see a big difference in the size of the sweet potato plants this year vs. last year (when I constantly forgot to water them), even though I planted them out a month later this time round:

Sweet Potatoes (4 slips)
mid-August 2015
August 4th, 2016 (2 slips) looking larger & healthier than last year
I also moved the fig trees to the top of the hill and they are benefiting from having a drip line too – they are looking MUCH better than a month ago, when I was actually worried they wouldn’t make it.

Fig tree
A bit hard to see with all the green behind it
The asparagus is doing very well – lots of ferns and new spears are still coming up:
Asparagus Beds

Newly emerged spear
Hopefully the ultrasonic device is keeping the voles out of that bed as well – who knows how well my fragile, young asparagus plants would take to being pulled out if I did end up having to line the bottom with hardware cloth.

The blueberries are NOT looking good.

Blueberry "bush"...if you can call it that
They seem to have barely grown at all since the spring.  I did purchase some acidifying fertilizer (Elemental Sulphur) and I’ll be applying some to the bed this week.

The haskaps are doing ok considering they are not on the drip system yet as I’m missing a small part.

Haskaps (and Virginia Creeper in the background
that is proving difficult to get rid of)
The part will be ordered once I figure out how I’ll be doing the drip installation on the ornamental beds at the front of the house (a project for next year).

And then there is the squash.  Let’s do a little comparison, shall we?  First, the old straw bales from last year that were never properly conditioned, although the plants in these are included in my bi-weekly fish emulsion fertilizer rounds.

Old Bales
Now, the new bales that I purchased this spring and which were properly conditioned:

New Bales
Pretty impressive isn’t it?  I have a few similar varieties in each type of bale as well – the Romanesco, scallop and Thai Rai Kaw Tok are being grown in both the old and new bales.  There’s no comparison, really:

Thai Rai Kaw Tok - Old Bales

Thai Rai Kaw Tok - New Bales
The Patisson Panache Jaune et Vert scallop squash in the new bales is going a bit crazy setting fruit:

Patisson Panache Jaune et Vert Scallop Squash
I can't believe that I'm actually saying that...I've never had a squash plant "go crazy" before :)

The winter squash, however, have only produced a few female flowers.  So far, I see 3 fruit that have set among all of the winter squash in the bales.

Zao Feng Winter Squash
The bees are quite enjoying the blooms, however, whether male or female - when I looked into these two flowers, all I saw were little tiny bee bottoms:

Busy bees inside squash blossoms
The first to set a fruit was, surprisingly, the Jing Orange – this was the one that I had issues with at the beginning of summer and ended up having to re-sow it over 2 weeks later than the others.

Jing Orange
This late planting was "sort-of” direct sowed in that I sowed the seed in a cell pack indoors, but then planted it in the bale as soon as it germinated.  This actually ended up working really well and the plant flourished right from the beginning compared to the others.  I’m thinking that I will try this method with a good portion of my squash next year and see what happens.

As for the hilltop itself, I’ve been more or less keeping up with pulling the plethora of weeds and invasives that pop up through the mulch in the pathways and am in the process of applying more cardboard/mulch to the particularly bad areas.

A thick layer of mulch also protects the drip lines
that run alongside the beds
All in all, this area has improved a lot since last year and I can already see that next years maintenance will be that much easier, at which point we will likely start on clearing out the invasive wild grape, Virginia creeper & buckthorn from the wooded area beyond the fencing.

Lastly, I was originally planning on planting up some fall crops in the allium beds once they were empty but have since reconsidered.  I’ve started some lettuce – as that’s one essential fall crop I would be hard pressed to do without – and will likely get a few brassicas going as well, but that’s about it.

We have been doing a lot of work on other parts of the property but with the heat it’s been rather slow going.  Planting up more beds would simply add to an already overflowing workload, especially when the tomato avalanche is just about to start, so I’ve decided to hold back.  There’s always next year, right?

*I originally thought that the alliums were being attacked by onion maggots but have subsequently realized that, in fact, I was dealing with leek moths so have adjusted this post accordingly.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

20 comments:

  1. Glad you seem to have got the voles under control, I've heard mixed reviews about these kind of pest controls so it's good to hear that one's working for you. It's a shame about your sweet corn though, I wonder who the culprit is. The patty pan squash behaves the same way as courgettes, once they get going you end up with a glut. I'm really missing them this year, they're a favourite round here.

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    1. I'm really hoping that the device works as I dread the thought of digging up 6 beds plus the asparagus (which may not survive being dug up and replanted) to put the hardware cloth in. I guess I'll know for sure next year when I position it properly and have it in place for the entire season. And I've never had a courgette glut - ever! - so this is quite exciting!

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  2. You squash in the hay bales are doing amazing. And your garlic looks so good and so does the carrot bed. Have you decided how you're going to process your tomatoes this year? I think I'm going to oven roast them with basil and olive oil and then freeze the blended sauce.

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    1. Thanks Phuong - I think that is EXACTLY what I am going to do. August looks like it's going to be a super busy month this year as we are behind on a lot of outdoor projects due to the insufferable heat, so I'm thinking simple is best. I'll probably do some sauces but the majority will be peeled, chopped tomatoes, frozen into 1 or 1.5 cup portions as that's how I generally use them. And if things get really hectic, I'll just fill up a zip lock bag with washed, whole tomatoes & deal with the peeling & chopping as I need them. I did a couple of bags like that last year and it worked out really well.

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  3. Glad you have your vole problem solved and hope you get the corn problem figured out. I miss Daphne's posts also. Did you start your sweet potato plants from slips of your own? I bought sweet potato plants and put them in a pot and a barrel. I think I probably planted too many in a pot. The plants were expensive and I had to dump the one in the pot in the driveway because it was too heavy to move but the one in the barrel I left so wonder if they will get some as with packing to move I stopped watering. Wonderful garden! Nancy

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    1. Yes, I did grow the slips myself from last years crop. I had such a small harvest last year but was still impressed with them considering the neglect they experienced. I have a feeling that so long as the plants don't die outright from lack of water, they may produce some sweet potatoes just like mine did, even when my watering left a lot to be desired.

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  4. Oh my, there's so much going on in your garden now! I'm actually quite amazed that the sonic devices are working, I doubt that the rats around here would take any notice. The difference between the conditioned bales and the others is remarkable. I wonder what it is that is attacking your corn, I know how frustrating it is to suffer such losses. Do you think you could wrap the ears in something? I did that with some of the ears on my corn last year when the rats started to munch on the end of the cobs that were popping out of the husks, I just tied pieces of Agribon fabric around the ears. Of course they were already pollinated at that point.

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    1. I guess my corn muncher is as immune to the ultrasonic frequencies as your rats! So far, the pepper spray seems to be working - the only good part about the lack of rain is that I've only had to re-apply it once & no damage since I've been using it. That Agribon trick is a good one - my muncher is a bit too anxious and he seems to chew up cobs at all stages of maturity, although I've never gotten one all the way to the finish line. Last year it was a real mystery as "it" was chewing & severing the stalks but leaving the immature cobs intact!

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  5. I hope your device works and you find out what his munching your corn and find a device that works on that one too. Your garden seems to be thriving in spite of being under attack.

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    1. Thanks Sue - I have my fingers crossed that my impression on how well the device is working on the voles is correct and I won't have a nasty surprise once I pull up the potatoes and carrots (which I may have even if it is working as I didn't get the device until halfway through the season).

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  6. Hi Margaret-I'm glad the ultrasonic device seems to be doing it's job. I'm not having any problems in the veg garden this year with voles, but the yard is a different story.

    The corn problem might be RATS. Yes, rats. This is the first year I have been catching RATS in our traps. And looking at your corn and the problem I had last year, that might be something to consider. I had no idea I even had any of those around here---never seen them before, but we've caught 7 so far this year!!!

    As for the Copras, got a bit of bad news on that one for you. I NEVER water my copras and we've been dry as toast , hot as , well, you know, and mine are HUGE. Could you have gotten another variety by mistake??? I know you grow yours from seed--I've had TWO different things come up wrong this year from seed, like it was a packing error or something. I just mentioned my onions because this might be a possibility.
    Anywho, enough of my novel. Loved the update. Have a great weekend

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    1. Yikes! I've never seen rats around here either, but that doesn't mean they aren't around. Ugh!! Now you've got me thinking....after the corn attack, I did move the device to the opposite end of the corn bed - and since it's on the rodent setting, that means it "should" work on rats as well as the voles. So now the question is - does the lack of damage in the past couple of weeks has to do with that or the pepper spray

      Oh....your Copra's are huge?? Now I'm really stymied - I do grow them from seed and we've all had situations where a packet contains the wrong seeds. Only thing is that I've noticed the other onions in that bed - can't recall the variety now, perhaps Red Wing - also don't look to be doing that well. Maybe it's something to do with the bed itself? Maybe the voles got to the roots? A mystery - and I think a bit of research is in order....

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  7. I hope your sentinel works out for you. My own devices haven't although it maybe a bit early.

    Nice garden. Have you any over view photos as I'd like to see more. Perhaps they're on another post? Looks like a very interesting garden :)

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    1. Thanks Andy! To give you an idea about the garden, it is divided into 3 areas since the "prime" flat area of our backyard is a septic bed which has to remain grass, so I've had to work around that.

      Area #1 is the closest to the house, area #2 is also in the main backyard, but further back and holds only 4 beds and then there is the hilltop which was added last year.

      I did a Garden Plan post back in March which gives a pretty good idea about the layout of the garden: http://homegrown-adventuresinmygarden.blogspot.ca/2016/03/2016-garden-plan.html.

      And I've got my fingers crossed that this device works, at the very least for those voles - what a pain it would be if I had to dig out all of the beds!

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  8. Wow, look at all that garlic! And onions! Yum! Sorry to hear about the corn. I've only grown it once in a previous garden and I didn't have much luck. I'm having a bit of an issue with crows munching my tomatoes this year. So, I read about encasing the almost-ripe fruits in old pantyhose (LOL), since they keep growing but the crows (and other critters) don't like to much through the nylon. It seems to be working--we shall see. ;) Your weekly harvest always amazes me!

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    1. Thanks Beth! That's so funny about the pantyhose - I can just see all those hole covered tomatoes and visitors wondering..."what on earth is growing on those plants?" :)

      I've actually heard of covering apples with pantyhose footies to keep the pests off and am planning on doing that once my trees start to produce. I'm sure THAT will make the neighbours talk ;)

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  9. Good luck with the vole problem. They were the bane of my existence for years until we replaced our raised beds and, during that process, lined the bottoms with hardware cloth. Not one vole problem since doing that! I tell everyone who asks me about gardening nowadays to line their beds with hardware cloth. It's a pain in the butt while you're doing it, but pays off for years.

    It's always so interesting to see what people way up north are doing. You're a t least 2 months behind us in North Carolina. Nice harvests!

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    1. Thanks! I really hope that I don't have to dig up the beds - what a lot of work that would be! If my luck holds out, my Sentinel gadget will be enough to keep the critters at bay. If not, then I'll be wielding that shovel sooner rather than later.

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  10. Well, that is a truly amazing array of veggies! Shame about the voles though - but defence against animals and insects seems to be the top subject on most of the blogs I follow. I wonder if the corn-munchers are rats? But I suppose if you have your ultrasonic thingy set to "Rodents" then it should deter rats as well as voles...

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    1. Thanks Mark - I would think it would deter rats, if it works. So far so good - no munching on the corn since I moved the gadget near that bed & sprayed it with pepper spray and they are almost ready for harvest.

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