Hand pollinated watermelons

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I haven’t seen a lot of bees in the garden lately and the watermelon buds weren’t growing so I’ve taken pollination into my own hands. These watermelons were hand pollinated two weeks ago. It was simple to do, I used the following video as a guide:

And here’s a video on pruning watermelon vines to optimize growth:

Too bad I wasn’t able to catch the rest of the watermelon buds before their flowers closed up…I missed hand pollinating at least four other buds. And one of the reasons I don’t have many pollinators in the garden is the lack of bee-friendly flowers. Right now I only have one borage plant and that gets attention from one bee at a time. Next season I’ll start a surplus of seeds from the Save the Bees wildflower mix and make room for other plants that attract pollinators. I also suspect that my backyard has oleander trees, whose nectar is poisonous to bees. I’ll have to confirm with a plant expert.

In the other garden bed, I finally transplanted tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and basil. I’m really hoping these will yield some produce before our “cold” season hits.

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Not all garlic grows in SoCal

It’s the end of July and my garlic plants still haven’t sent up scapes. Another oddity that I noticed is many of the leaves are still green. I dug a few bulbs out to see if they were ready and found them to be disappointingly small.

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For comparison, here’s my garlic harvest in 2014 when I was in Richland, Washington…

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…and my garlic harvest this year in San Diego:

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The ones this year are less developed and don’t have that long neck characteristic of hardneck garlic varieties. After some research, I learned that hardneck garlics aren’t suited for warm climates and need really cold winters to develop their bulbs. It turns out that I should be growing softneck varieties as I’m in zone 10. This kinda makes me sad since hardneck varieties are more diverse and interesting. Here are a couple articles I read: How to Grow Garlic in Warm Winter Areas and Hood River Garlic FAQs

Guess I’m buying a new set of garlic seed bulbs again. Savers Exchange carries mainly hardneck varieties, but Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply has several softneck and California varieties. Because I really like growing varieties I can’t find in the store, I’m purchasing Inchelium Red, a softneck variety that’s won taste tests.

Lesson learned. Let’s see how this one does in the next season.

Raised bed #2 (plus late seed starting)

I’ve had the second raised bed installed for a few months already, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally made the time to prepare it for planting. After mixing in compost with native yard soil, keeping the bed watered and putting up trellises, here’s the result:

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The arch trellis was made using painted 10-foot-long PVC pipes, with the ends of the pipes placed over rebar stakes for stability. Welded wire was zip-tied to the pipes. My plan is to have watermelon and butternut squash grow up this arch. To the left is a standard vertical trellis made from two 6-foot-long stakes woven through welded wire. This one’s going to be for cucumbers. Plans for the rest of the bed include corn, nasturtium, tansy, sweet peppers, carrots and green onions.

Meanwhile, lettuce, carrots and green onions have been harvested from the first raised bed. Green onions are still growing, and I expect that the garlic won’t be ready for harvest until the summer. The rest of the bed is saved for tomatoes, Thai basil, chili peppers, marigold and nasturtium.

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The group of planter pots in the background are saved for okra, borage, tansy and eggplant. A group of smaller planter pots is set up at the side of the house which gets afternoon shade. These pots are saved for herbs and more flowers (in particular, Save the Bees wildflower mix). Right now I have mint, parsley and Genovese basil growing:

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Lastly, I’m experimenting to see how late I can push it with the San Diego growing season. All the plants I mentioned above (which I’ve reserved space in the pots and beds for) were just started from seed this weekend…yup…pretty late in the game. I started a batch of seeds in the winter, but life got in the way and those seedlings never got the chance to grow their first set of true leaves. So here’s the new batch to make up for the original seed starts. Let’s see if they’ll grow and yield anything before the warm season ends!

Winter garden update

With rain coming almost every week, I haven’t had to do much in the garden except weed. Here’s a look at the winter veggie patch:

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  • Back: Cilantro and Samarkand garlic
  • Middle: Green onions and Dragon carrots
  • Front: Georgian Fire garlic and Speckled lettuce

The bare patches used to contain shallot, bok choy, pansy and calendula seedlings. Something ate their tiny leaves and left behind their stems. I’ve restarted bok choy seeds and have extra calendula seedlings that I didn’t plant out yet. I’ll transplant these after they’ve grown several sets of true leaves and hopefully they’ll be big enough to not get fully eaten by whatever took out their siblings.

Ironically, a week after my previous post (in which I declared I’d experiment raising starts without grow lights), the first of several rough storms passed through and I ended up using my indoor grow light setup. And I keep forgetting how cold some of the winter nights can get here in San Diego.  We don’t have frost dates, but it can get cold enough to harm summer seedlings.

And because of the storms and frequent rains, I haven’t had to water my garden or tap into my rain water supply since starting my water saver challenge almost three months ago.

Spring/Summer 2016 container garden

I’ve started my garden this season with container-grown veggies. Here’s what everything looks like so far:

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I started seeds throughout March and April. Seeds that have yet to germinate and young seedlings are housed in the Gatorade bottle cloches (which act as mini greenhouses and protect seeds from the birds).

The plan is to eventually have raised beds, but this piece of land is currently an unlevel patch of tough lawn. So I’ve instituted a no-till gardening approach to make the ground more workable, which will make it easier to level out the dirt and install raised beds on top.

What I’ve done is sort of like lasagna gardening, just with way less layers. I first covered the grass with a layer of wet newspaper.

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Next, I layered wet cardboard on top of the newspaper.

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I finished the foundation with a layer of compost (which I got a nice free load of from Miramar Greenery).

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It looks like I have a freshly tilled garden plot. The layers of newspaper, cardboard and compost will block sunlight to the grass, which will gradually decompose underneath (along with the newspaper and cardboard). The decaying organic matter should attract some earthworms, which will help enrich the yard dirt and transform it into some nice garden soil.

This space, meanwhile, is home to various planters filled with a mixture of (free) compost, yard dirt, blood meal, bone meal, egg shells, coffee grounds and orange peels.

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This was the first iteration of the planter arrangement. It’s changed several times until I settled on the arrangement shown in the first picture. I’ll be adding more plants, so my setup is still evolving.

Rain barrels

My household just upped its sustainable gardening practice with the installation of rain barrels. We had a light rain this morning that filled up two 50 gallon rain barrels! Here’s one of the barrels in our setup:

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This is a Rescue 50 gallon rain barrel with diverter propped up on four 8″ x 8″ x 16″ concrete blocks. The product came with detailed instructions to install everything. We put a second barrel next to another downspout at the opposite side of the house.

We got to test this setup thanks to a light to moderate rain today. Even just a light to moderate drizzle filled up both of these barrels within a few hours. We could even hear the excess water being diverted back into the downspouts after the barrels were full.

Now I just need some vegetable plants to water.