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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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!

Pre-spring cleaning

The succession of temperate days here is a blessing I haven’t taken for granted. The weekend was both warm and sunny, cool and cloudy. This was a ripe time for some pre-spring cleaning to prepare my garden for planting. But first, a nice surprise welcomed me after being estranged from the garden all winter:

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The garlic that I planted last November made it through the winter and has sprouted! Holler! After admiring the garlic shoots, I proceeded with the necessary business:

1. Uproot the remaining dead weeds from the winter

I’ve incorporated no-till gardening practices into my routine to alleviate the cleaning duties. At the end of last year’s growing season (5 months ago), I collected cardboard from work and used it as an organic weed mat on my garden plot. For something that was free, it did an excellent job. Most of last year’s weeds and plants had decomposed underneath the cardboard sheets, so all I had to do was pull out roots here and there. This method also gave the added bonus of providing compost for the soil.

2. Amend the soil with compost, chicken manure, blood meal, and bone meal

This is the organic fertilizer formula that a friend taught me to use years ago in San Diego. It has continued to serve my gardens well since then.

3. Mulch with grass clippings

In my humble opinion, grass clippings are the preferred vegetable garden mulch. It stays put despite strong winds (unlike leaves), it provides nitrogen to the soil, and in my current situation, it’s available in large mounds for free next to the community garden. Before I discovered this boon, I made the mistake last year of applying bark mulch. I was afterwards informed to avoid using bark mulch in the vegetable garden because it would leach acid into the soil. Thankfully, I was able to rake the bark mulch off before I planted anything. This page on vegetable garden maintenance provides a good breakdown of the different types of garden mulch.

4. Build trellis for peas

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The stakes were reinforced with 3 ft U-posts, which will hopefully withstand the occasional 20-30 mph winds here. Welded wire was secured to the stakes/posts with velcro tape.

5. Put pest controls into place

I don’t believe in pesticides. I also don’t care for traps, which would force me to deal with pest carcasses. Mice, rabbits, and gophers do roam freely within the community garden, unfortunately. The prevention methods I’m trying this season are gopher baskets for root crops and boxes for leafy vegetables.

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I purchased 10 of these 5 gallon gopher baskets from Peaceful Valley ($4 each). These require some shaping and it’s tedious work to have to dig them into the ground, but I’ll do almost anything to protect my precious plants.

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I constructed a few boxes (2′ x 4′ x 1′) from 1/4″ mesh hardware cloth to guard against mice and rabbits. The boxes are held in place at each corner with 2 ft rebar stakes.

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And now the garden is ready, bring it on!

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