Monday, October 31, 2016

Corn Harvest and Planting Garlic

I forgot to mention in my last post that I planted 3 cloves of garlic in the little planters next to my garden beds. I have researched how to grow garlic and am excited to give it a try. 

On Sunday, after church I went out to give my garden a late watering and noticed that several ears of corn on the stalks were falling off and looked very dry. I started pulling them off and realized that while many had dried kernels, several ears were ready to be harvested. The corn was miniature, the longest only about 6 inches long and some only 2-3 inches long. I could tell that those ears that I pollinated by hand filled in nicely, even though the corn over-all was very deformed and strange. I was a little nervous to eat it, but we cooked up all the ears that looked good and the kids and I enjoyed trying it. It was more chewy than is desirable, which may be because I was a few days late in picking it. But, it was good overall. The ears of corn that were not pollinated completely or dried out became props in many backyard games with my kids.
Today, I pulled out most of the corn plants, leaving those that the green bean plants are using for support. I learned a lot this year about growing corn and I look forward to trying it again with better soil that is not contaminated with herbicide chemicals.

The entire corn harvest

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I Love Mystery Plants

I have had many compost piles, and I often have plants growing from them because I discard seeds and my composting areas have never been hot enough to kill the seeds. I actually have always enjoyed the surprises that pop up in my garden. This season, after I planted eggplant seeds for the first time, I observed the seedlings in that area of the garden bed popping up, much more than the amount of eggplant seeds I planted and they didn't all look the same. Once they grew bigger I was able to identify which ones were eggplant seedlings (thanks to Google images!) and that left me wondering about the others with very unique leaves. I searched the internet trying to identify the plants while trying to think about the different foods I frequently toss into the compost, but was unable to identify them on my own. I pulled many of them out of the garden, but left the two largest to continue growing since they were unique and weren't crowding anything at the time. It seemed to be growing a trunk like a tree, but mostly I just thought they were a unique weed. 

Mystery Seedling Sept 24 2016
Leaf detail, Sept 29 2016
I discovered a website that I could submit a plant identification question with pictures and it would be answered by volunteers and students from a University. I submitted my question (including the fact that this soil used to be where my compost was located) and photos of the plants at about 1 foot tall. 
I received this helpful response a few days later:
"Any chance you tossed some papaya seeds in the pile some time ago? If so, you could have a batch of seedlings. (If not, please let me know.)
And if that's so, you'll need frost-free conditions to bring them to mature fruiting plants. If you want to try, here’s an informative site:

And this site says “Papayas thrive in USDA hardiness zones 9-11, which corresponds to minimum winter temperatures of 19℉ to 40ºF (-7℃ to 4ºC). They may be damaged or die if exposed to prolonged frost, and prefer climates that are warm throughout most of the year.”"
I had purchased one papaya many months ago, and a quick google search confirmed that Papaya trees are what I have growing in along with my eggplants!
I was so excited to know what these plants are and to realize that they are something awesome like a tree that can grow to 15-20 feet in a very short amount of time and possibly provide us with fruit if I can care for it right. I very cautiously relocated the two papaya trees to an area with more space to grow yesterday (Oct 24, 2016). Not disturbing their roots was impossible since they were growing so close to the eggplants and in the garden bed, but I had better luck with the first one I moved and it seems to have less transplant shock than the other. We will see if they continue to grow at their fast pace. The best time to plant papayas here is in the Spring, since they are very frost tender, so I will need to baby them once the cold hits. Then, once they flower, I will know if they are female, male or hermaphrodite plants, which will determine if we will be getting fruit from them. It should be a fun adventure with 2 free, surprise plants.

Right after transplant, Oct 24 2016
The other tree with less transplant shock, Oct 24 2016
Both young Papaya trees Oct 24 2016, each just over a foot tall.

October Plants Growing!

October is a great growing month in Mesa. The weather has cooled just enough to allow the plants some relief and more rapid growth before the cold comes later in the year.
I wish I had more time to record things I am learning and observing, but I will try to sum up a few of the most important progress that has been happening.

Pumpkins: I have two beautiful pumpkin plants that survived (some didn't grow fast enough so I plucked them out to make room for the others and one got attacked by white flies.) The two survivors have sprawled themselves out and provide a lot of green to my garden area. I have been watching as the male flowers came, followed by the female flowers and then I pollinated female flowers in the early morning when they opened. The first several flowers that I pollinated shriveled and fell off, but then I stopped using a small paint brush to get the male pollen to the female flower and started removing the male flowers, pulling off the yellow petals and placing the male stamens into the female flower directly, which has had success. Although we won't have our pumpkins by Halloween like I was hoping, we have 2-3 pumpkins from one plant that are growing currently. I will plan to try again with pumpkins earlier next year. June/July are the best times to plant them from seed and I was a little late.

male pumpkin flower

Female pumpkin flower barely opened
Pumpkin growing several days after pollination, mid-Oct
Corn: My corn grew very short this season, which I learned that it is normal for fall corn to be shorter than spring corn. But, my corn is definitely shorter and less developed than it should be and I have blamed that on the poor soil (herbicides in our backyard dirt from an application before we purchased the home). Many of the corn stalks grew in a twisted way that would cause the leaves to trap the new growth and tassels until I broke it free. Basically, the growth was either stunted or deformed in most of the corn. Although a decent crop of corn looks unlikely, I have still done my best helping the pollen from the tassels reach the silks on the developing corn. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks what has grown.

Early October 2016
Pole Green Beans: Shortly after my green bean plants sprouted, I discovered that my Russian tortoises like to eat the leaves and entire plants. I opted for a free way to keep them away by using firewood we had in our shed to create a garden barrier. The tortoises still manage to get into this area when they are especially hungry, so most of my green bean plants perished, but I still have several, one of which has grown very large. My grand plan of using my corn stalks to support my pole beans didn't work out as expected since my corn stalks stopped growing at about 3-4 feet tall. I found some bamboo support sticks that go up to 6 feet and are supporting 2 of the larger pole green bean plants. One plant has gotten so large that it is using 2 stalks of corn, the pole and is now reaching up to neighbor's tree nearby the garden for further support. The white flowers on the green bean plant are so beautiful and delicate and the bees are very active on them. Next year I would like to plant beans again because they are so easy to grow and I love how they look. I also like that, as legumes, they fix the balance of nitrogen in the soil for the surrounding plants.

Green Bean flower, growing up corn
Celery: I live on the same street as a local farmer (Brother Garcia). He has given me a lot of advice on gardening and he came by with many celery starts last week, so I planted as many as I could make room for in my garden bed by the carrots and sweet peas and also in a large pot and then shared some with a gardening friend. He says they will be ready for harvest in January and that they are heavy feeders once the roots are visibly established, and no blanching is needed for this variety.

Eggplant: My eggplant bushes have really taken off in the last week. They are beautiful and gaining strength to support fruit soon. I hope they are able to produce before the cold hits.

I also have cilantro, spinach, lettuce varieties, carrots, sweet peas all growing from seeds and have not harvested yet.
The basil plant has been flowering and very attractive to the bees and I have been sharing basil with anyone who will take some. I am going to try and dry some basil leaves before the cold of the winter. Then, I will attempt to keep the beautiful plant alive during the winter, but have been told by another gardener that basil will not live through the winter.

My marigolds are looking beautiful and hopefully helping reduce the garden bugs.
I was having an ant problem in my garden beds a few weeks ago, so I tried creating a borax/sugar ant bait and it seemed to reduce/eliminate the problem in the bed that I placed it in. I used a grape tomato container since it had perfect holes for them to access the bait. I learned how to make it from this youtube video.