Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn -- Endings and Beginnings

September sugar snack peas

     Today is the first day of fall, and, step by step, our outdoor season for 2013 will be coming to an end. But just as we tend to get a bit over-anxious to get started in spring, we tend to give up on our yards earlier than we have to.

     Many of our flowers are gone, but others, like my Limelight Hydrangea, are going strong and others are just coming into bloom. If you have nothing blooming in your yard today you should consider a trip to the nursery.

Our Limelight Hydrangea.

      In my vegetable garden only one planting is just this week spluttering to an end after a gigantic harvest-- my pickling cucumbers. They are always the first casualty of autumn.

     September is as much about beginnings as it is about endings. Today, for example, is a perfect day to sow grass seed. We can finally expect temperatures to stay low enough for us to provide the surface dampness seeds need without watering every half hour. And if we get started this week, we will have time for the grass to get rooted before the frosts.

This grass median was sown a few weeks ago.

     Now is also a good time to plant perennials. I continue to buy them as long as I can tell they are healthy. And if they are on a good sale, I am even willing to gamble on buying what look like pots of dirt from a reputable nursery. We can plant trees and shrubs as long as we can get a shovel in the ground. And it is too early to plant bulbs.

This Brussels sprout plant is as tall as Wan. 

     Aside from the cukes, our vegetable garden is still going full blast. Our tomatoes, pole beans, and peppers are producing more than we can handle. The broccoli we planted early last spring is continuing to provide us with harvest after harvest, as are our kale and Swiss chard. We are packing the freezer with basil and parsley pesto because we have more than we can eat.

     But what is really fun is that we are just beginning to get whole new crops based on plantings we made in late July and early  August. We have new Romain lettuce and we are going to eat our first new bok choy tonight.
Recently planted bok choy with new lettuce to the right.

     And, best of all, we are getting in a whole new crop of sugar snack and snow peas that we can continue to harvest when our beans have decided it is too cold.

Two snow pea pods both on the bush and in the hand. 


Sunday, September 8, 2013


Soaker hose

          Last month was the third driest August on record in Illinois and so far September has not been much better. Once more trees and established shrubs that we can usually take for granted are in trouble. It is time once again to get out there and give our larger plants a good soaking.

     Spraying with a garden hose until the ground puddles up won't cut it. Leaving a sprinkler on all day will come closer, but most of your water will go where it is not needed.

     For individual trees and large shrubs you are better off taking the nozzle off your hose and let your water trickle out near your plant roots at a pace the ground can absorb. "Slowly, but deeply," is the rule.

     The best way to water trees, shrubs, and perennial beds, however, is to use soaker hoses. These hoses are wonderful. They allow you to water exactly where you need it without watering half the rest of the planet as well -- to say nothing of half the atmosphere like sprinklers do. This is merciful on your water bill.

One of my soakers peeks out from under ground cover.
     Soakers can become invisible easily. You can cover them with mulch or allow ground cover to creep over them.

     And best of all for lazy gardeners like me, you can simply turn on the faucet and walk away for a few hours. If you wake up one morning and realize that you forgot to shut the water off, you will not find a lake outside.

     The key to lazy-gardener watering lies in the layout of your hoses. You should buy a bunch of landscape pins -- the kind used to hold down landscape cloth that look like large staples.  The pins will help you lay the hoses exactly where you want them.

     You also want to look for hoses of different lengths. The standard is 50 feet, but if you look hard enough you can find 25 footers or even smaller lengths. With a choice of lengths, you can combine your hoses in a rational way so that they cover the plants you want without having lengths of extra hose to cope with. Similarly, you should buy different lengths of ordinary hose to get you from the faucet to where you want to start watering.

     Don't try to run more than 100 feet of soakers in series. Since the water leaks out along the entire length of the hose, the water pressure decreases toward the end and the plants there receive less water.

4-way splitter

     The key to setting up your hoses to make up watering zones is the use of splitters. They allow you to equalize your water pressure and volume right at the faucet and give you almost infinite flexibility to run soakers anywhere you want.

     At the end of the season I simply disconnect my hoses from the faucet and cover the brass ends with a baggies to keep dirt and debris out. The following spring I can be ready to water in about 10 minutes.