Return to the Garden

When we returned from Europe, after a month, the first thing we did was check out our garden. Upon driving onto Fermilab property, we caught the amazing sight on the way to the garden. This is one of the ponds, stocked with fish, by the highrise at Fermilab.

Egrets perching on trees at the pond

So I haven’t been contributing updates as to our garden’s progress because we were gone July 29-August 26. How could we leave our garden that long and hope to come back to anything but a disaster? We figured we’d already gotten a lot of good experience in what we’d done so far, so if everything was dead, we still had gained. We left it in the care of two different people. We left it set up to take care of itself, mostly – soaker hoses on a timer, a sprinkling of lime, gypsum and bonemeal for fertility, and then wood chips to keep the weeds down. We offered them to harvest freely in return for keeping a watch out.

So what did we find when we arrived?

Huge sunflowers, hanging ripe with seed that the birds had begun eating. There were no blooms when we left, so we missed most of the blooming period. They grew a few feet taller too! I asked Daniel to demonstrate the height. Be sure to click on the pictures for a larger view.

Sunflowers 8-10 feet tall!

Powdery mildew on our squash and our zombie tomatoes lived! Ok, it’s the time of year for mildew, but, had I been tending the garden for that month, I would’ve given weekly feeds and some foliar sprays that should have not let that problem take root, so to speak. Our zombie tomatoes had actually survived (they were nearly dead and hardly any leaves when we left for Europe).

Powdery mildew on zombie tomatoes that survived!Seeking the advice of others in the garden club, someone suggested trimming off all the mildewed leaves. But, how would the plants get the last bits of sunlight if only the fruit was left? I set to work removing the leaves that were not capable of making a comeback and leaving others that were still green and whole, albeit coated with mildew.

This was a video the garden member sent me. I found it useful.

A few plants (notably the chard and newly planted kale) had some holes in the leaves from our friendly bug diners. But nothing had eaten any of our other produce. Our tomato plants were bursting with ripe and unripe fruit.

Tomato plantsThere were surprisingly few weeds, and the ones that were there were small and easily removed.

All the basil, parsley, peppers, green onion, beets and fennel had grown – either some or considerably. The cilantro had all gone very tall and completely to seed, so we are letting that happen to harvest seeds for the next crop, which we will plant this fall. We lost one complete boxwood basil plant. The four red rubin basil were absolutely huge. The fennel was overgrown, and we pulled it all except one, which we’re letting go to seed. The fennel greens, I’ve used for juicing and the more tender part of the bulbs, I added to a fermented beet mixture or sauteed with onion and garlic. Still lots of beets.

Before we left for Europe, none of the lemon cucumbers had even begun forming. There were very few blooms. The plant had struggled so much to survive, we weren’t sure if we’d get any cucumbers. Now there are several, some a bit too large but still tasty.

Lemon cucumber

We came back to lots of bell peppers, some green and some red. Different sizes (we didn’t thin them enough, so some were very small). The color of this pepper is awe inspiring to me.

The butternut squash are everywhere now, and the majority are a good size. They are still developing, and there are new flowers forming, especially, and probably because I gave the feed mixtures I list below.

The cantaloupe! This was our most doubtful crop! The starts had done so terrible, we moved them to a part of the garden that got too much water and thought, well if they survive, we’ll be surprised. Seven cantaloupe formed while we were gone. There were only flowers when we left. A week after we returned, we ate the one that’s pictured below. It could’ve been sweeter, but it was perfect and tasty.


Our first of only two watermelons that actually ripened and even though quite small (they are sugar baby variety, but this is smaller than they should be), they were delicious! Here is one of the tasty watermelons and the cantaloupe from the picture above, ready to eat now.

Last, but not least, our Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) on our front porch. Wow! Our timed soaker hose worked perfectly while we were gone! At this time, it’s close to 10 feet tall (from the soil, not from the deck). We’re hoping for a bunch of great tubers in that pot!

Sunchokes at our house

Now it was time to put in practice what I’d been preaching. Get rid of the mildew and bugs. So, my recipe is in other posts, but I used 2 oz. of milk and 2 oz. of cola per one gallon of water and set to work spraying the leaves.

Doing a Google search for organic means of mildew control or elimination, someone suggested spraying leaves with a diluted baking soda solution, for the pH to alkaline to combat the disease. But this could potentially kill the plant, so I decided to try the milk (calcium) idea.

Next I sprinkled lime, gypsum and bone meal around the plants. Then I mixed up my Nutrient Dense Gardening formula for feeding the roots.

Checking the next day, the mildew was much better. Calcium deficiency is the biggest cause of disease and this calcium (milk) remedy was showing it had already helped. I sprayed a second time two days after the first and the leaves mostly have bounced back. They weren’t dying anymore, at least not due to mildew but rather the coming Fall season, and the mildew is less and not prominent. Good enough for me, otherwise I’d spray a third time, and I probably will anyway.

Overall, we discovered we hadn’t set the water frequently enough. We’d been getting too much moisture in the Spring and early Summer, so had it set to water for 40 minutes, at 5am every two days, which would’ve been sufficient had it not stopped raining. When I heard there was drought-like conditions predicted for August (we were also having a heatwave in Europe), I asked one of the people tending the garden to increase it to daily watering. Fortunately they did, otherwise we may have found more dead crops. It had been my hope that putting the wood chips down (we had a thick layer) would require less watering. It did, but the soil needs more buildup to retain more water and the roots to go deeper.

And now, this was a nice view of the sunset when we left our garden. A bad storm was brewing and a funnel cloud further west of us. But it didn’t spoil the beauty.


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