Garden Harvests,TLC and a Flower

Nantindo Carrots, Strike Green Beans and  a Couple Radishes

First green beans were harvested today! These are heirloom Strike green beans which are about five inches long. So sweet and tender when  they’re harvested fresh from the garden. Carrots too, are always a welcome veggie year around in our home and daily salad.  Nantindo a Nantes type is a hybrid that I pick up as untreated seed. They are about six to seven inches long and good for spring, summer and fall carrots. I’ve also harvested them into January. But while it’s fun and rewarding to harvest all those veggies it was time to do some needed maintenance or tender loving care (TLC) for the garden plants this week.

Compost or Black Gold

Compost or black gold heals many  summer maladies of your vegetable garden. Good soil plus adding a side dressing of compost gives that needed boost to your garden to help continued flowering and production over these hot and rainy (here) summer months. We have three compost bins that we alternately use and  the above photo shows the one we are using this year. Yesterday many of the veggies received a dressing of nutrient rich compost.

Minnesota Midget Cantaloupe

See those mesh like markings on the Minnesota Midget melon, now it is really looking like a member of the cantaloupe family.

Blacktail Mountain Watermelon

The dark color is starting to dominate on these Blacktail Mountain watermelons! Can’t wait.

Redwing Onions

Onions are starting to bulb, won’t be long. These are the Redwing  long day variety which stores very well for northern gardeners. I’ve grown these for several years. It’s such a wonderful time in the garden these days watching all the development.

Indian Blanket Sunflower

But wait I don’t want to forget to show you the beautiful Indian Blanket sunflower brightening every day in the hilltop garden. Until next time.




Garden Gifts and a Blue Blossom

Blueberries, calendula flowers, zucchini and cucumber with Irish Poet tassel flowers

Blueberries, zucchini and cucumbers are producing now and it’s a joy to go into the garden.  At this time of year everything I receive from the garden seems like a gift. Except for the weeds but even they are less with most of the plants shading them out.

Cube of Butter squash and Dark Star zucchini with a Longfellow cucumber

I haven’t grown cucumbers for years because of a disaster I had in the early 2000 with squash vine borers SVB  and powdery mildew. But last year I was convinced to grow watermelon and cantaloupe by a fellow garden friend in North Dakota, and I actually had a harvest. I thought if I could grow cantaloupe I could grow cucumbers. So this year I decided to try cucumbers again. It worked! Oh how crisp and tasty they are. These are a salad slicer type and the variety is a Longfellow cucumber.

Minnesota Midget cantaloupe

But I haven’t forgotten what a treat the cantaloupes were last year. The Minnesota Midget cantaloupe babies are in various stages of development in the garden as I planted them a few weeks apart. They are only softball size at full growth but as a northern gardener I’m happy. They are the perfect one serving size!

Little watermelon

Watermelons are forming too! So excited but still yet apprehensive with that first tentative step into the garden and I gaze at the vines. They’re not wilted! Yes! I think this might be a Blacktail Mountain watermelon  but I have other melon varieties such as Early Moonbeam , White Sugar Lump  and Janosik.

Balloon Flower

My special gift today was finding this balloon flower blooming for the first time. I had given up on them when I planted them last year and not a bloom. So you can imagine my surprise when I found it nestled among the calendulas and snapdragons this morning.  The botanical name is platycodon grandiflorus and resides in the Campanula family.  I’m so glad it bloomed since I’ve heard they’re very hardy every year. Until next time.


Summer Blooms and a Heartbreak

20170702_081846Grandpa Ott’s morning-glory has been a pleasure this year in the garden and around our home. We have several. They bloom earlier than others I’ve grown over the years and their intense purple color is a beautiful sight every morning.

Little Dahlias

These lovely little dahlias I planted from seed about twenty-five years ago by the west side of our home and they faithfully come up every year. They’re only about two to three inches wide with colors ranging from red to purple.

Sweet Alyssum

Another favorite is sweet alyssum with tiny flowers for the little beneficial insects and a wonderful aromatic scent everytime you walk past them. They’re excellent to place in your garden to bring in the pollinators as there is always a hive of activity surrounding them.

Baby Cucumber

My heartbreak today was finding this baby cucumber nibbled on by a field mouse. I had just spotted it yesterday as it was my first cucumber! After the holiday I’ll be taking steps to remove some hiding places in the weeds on the outskirts of the garden. Maybe also some traps and I hope the hawks spot them too. Until next time.

Garden Woes – Harlequin Bugs, Squash Vine Borers, Squash Bugs and Potato Bugs

Squash, Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Cucumbers

One journey into the garden this week I found a harlequin bug on a broccoli plant, squash bug borer moth flying around the stems of zucchini and a potato beetle on a potato leaf. Sometimes I feel like a crime fighter, because I immediately went into battle mode.

Calabrese and Acadia broccoli
Harlequin bug enlarged..normally about 1/2 inch long

Last year I found that a solution of kaolin clay helps combat harlequin bugs on my broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and other brassicas.  I use the Surround brand of kaolin clay which is a fine powder.

Kaolin Clay Solution

Add the following ingredients after filling a 5 gallon bucket with about one gallon of water

4 cups kaolin clay powder

1 tablespoon castile soap solution ( I use Dr Bronners unscented)

Carefully stir in the powder so it is thoroughly wetted , add liquid soap .

Add additional 1 gallon water.

Spray on plants early morning or evening when air is still but avoiding the broccoli buds (difficult to wash off broccoli but easier on smoother veggies) . Reapply after rain.

Zucchini with other cucurbits in the background

There are studies that a  kaolin clay solution also works on the zucchini, cucumbers, cantaloupes, melon and squash stems negating the effect of the squash vine borer (SVB). However I’m not sure I am sold on that concept as I did this and  the next day several ants were in  the zucchini and squash flowers. I’ve read some gardeners have noticed an increase in aphids on cucurbits after application and aphids have a symbiotic relationship with ants. Not sure if that was a cause or because we had an intensive rain storm. I need to make more observations before I’m sure about this.

Squash bug eggs on a zucchini leaf

Additionally  check the underside of the leaves for egg clusters from the squash bug every day. Either rub them off  or use packing tape to pick off the eggs and deposit those eggs in a container of soapy water when you’re done.

One other thing organically in my arsenal is neem oil , cold pressed one hundred percent virgin neem oil not the extract. The solution I generally use is:

Neem Oil Solution

1  Tablespoon  neem oil (cold pressed, 100% virgin, not an extract)

1/2 teaspoon castile soap

1 gallon water

Neem oil applied on the asparargus beetle larvae and beetles  works very well. With an infestion I apply about every 3 days or reapply after rain. Used on cucurbits it seems to cut down on infestations and deters powdery mildew somewhat. With cooler temperatures in the forecast for next week I’m a little concerned about those plants becoming more susceptible to disease.

Potatoes in  root pouches

On potato bugs, I seldom use neem oil but if I do I avoid the flowers. Actually  I have more confidence with the predator bugs eating the eggs before they hatch, so hand picking is another option.

Becoming a detective in the garden is essential since it’s necessary to recognize the bad bugs as well as the good bugs. Paying attention to vegetable plant symptoms or distress signals are necessary crime fighting tools. Until next time.



Garden Updates

20170614_163857Whew! Can’t believe how hot the weather has been this past week with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s uncharacteristic of a normal June. The Hilltop garden changes quickly day by day.

Cucumber – Longfellow

Look at that cucumber climb! A few of the larger plants have opened their blossoms. A couple of weeks ago I was worried about the Cushaw squash surviving overnight temperatures in the 50s. They might make it now. Other vegetables have flourished in the warmer temperatures.


Zucchini have exploded in their growth rate and are setting buds. The Katahdin potatoes have developed blooms and some of the watermelons too. But the real success story are the brussel sprouts.


Nibbled down to one leaf each by field mice, I left them in the ground but planted more sprouts next to them. I was sure they wouldn’t make it or be forever deformed. The larger plants in the foreground are the originals, top right – a close up. I’m amazed at their resilience. In the lower right a broccoli plant is forming its first head. Both rows of brassicas were planted at the end of April. Harvests are continuing with greens.


Sugar snap peas look like they’ll be ready soon and the red russian kale continues with production for my daily kale salad. The lovely Grandpa Otts morning-glory has been a pleasant surprise here recently. Until next time.

Little Garden Helpers, Herbs and Plant Babies

20170605_184950So many little garden helpers are working for us in our gardens if we would let them. Lady bugs are one. They eat aphids which can weaken your plants and many other insects that destroy our garden goodies. The ladybug pictured above is on a potato leaf looking for its dinner but also keeps the plant bug-free and healthy. Others are not so obvious. They are so tiny that unless you are looking for them, you might miss them.


Syrphid flies belong to the syrphidae family and can consume voluminous amounts of aphids every day. They look like tiny wasps as they are only about 1/4″ to 1/2″ in size. Jessica Walliser  has written a book titled Attracting Beneficial Bugs To Your Garden. After I read this book I changed my gardening techniques and started including many types of small flowering plants in my garden landscapes.  Sweet alyssum plants are famous in my garden for attracting small beneficial insects.  I plant alyssum in between rows of greens and under my broccoli and brussel sprouts to bring in the beneficial bugs. Another bonus – the use of organic insecticides are almost nil if flowers are abundant in your garden because the insects keep your plants healthy and relatively free of bugs.  Yarrow is another that produces a small flower and the wild white has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb for wounds and nosebleed. Aromatic herbs help deter bugs too.


Basil tends to deter asparagus beetles, tomato hornworms, flies, mosquitoes and thrips and helps asparagus and tomatoes. Lavender is a welcome benefit off any deck, patio or porch because it counteracts mosquitoes plus in late spring the aromatic scent is enhanced when the buds form. Parsley occupies a spot next to the asparagus in my garden to help fight off the asparagus beetle. Also in the garden many garden babies are starting to develop.


Longfellow cucumber from Seedsavers Exchange is top left next to the heirloom Red Express cabbage –  High Mowing Seeds   that is forming a head. Below is Dark Star zucchini Seeds of Change, Borlotto tongue of fire bean from  Baker Creek Seeds and Red Pear tomato from Seeds of Italy . Since I’m listing seed companies, another I like is  Pinetree Garden Seeds which is where I’ve purchased broccoli and many other types of veggies seeds. Johnny Selected Seeds is another. Until next time.

Potatoes in a Bag

20170606_185529I started using Root Pouches or bags  to grow potatoes a few years ago and I highly recommend them. The pouches allow for air permeability that automatically stops root formation. In other words no more root bound pots which in turn allows for a healthier plant.  Filling the ten gallon or five gallon bags with about four inches of soil media, I place three or four cut-up potato pieces with at least two eyes each on top of  the soil. Put about another three inches of soil over the potatoes. Once potatoes show a growth of three or four sets of leaves on the stem it’s time to add more soil to the bag. I’m growing Elba, Kathadid and German Butterball potato varieties this year.

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Once your soil mixture is ready , add carefully around the potato stems , unroll bags and fill the pouches up to the top.  I have three 10 gallon and three 5 gallon pouches for the potatoes. You can use larger bags but since I move mine rather frequently to weed trim that’s about my weight limit that I can comfortably move or slide around in the Hilltop garden. Until next time.

Rainy Day

A few sore  muscles but  what a feeling of accomplishment on this rainy day. Trellises are up! Yes! Different sizes for different plants. The best news – all the supplies except the netting I already had from previous years. The photo was taken the day of completion and upside-down buckets made wonderful seats for a weary gardener.


Most of the little watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber  seedlings are snug in their new home with a few marigolds as companion plants.


Napa cabbage sprouts are in one of the smaller hi-rise beds by the greenhouse and I hope the snails and slugs left them alone overnight. Hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes are planted and one lonely tomatillo was placed next to the garlic. I have read not to place them next to the tomatoes in case of cross-pollination. 20170525_140347 Basil babies – genovese, thai, lime and purple are still in the greenhouse but their home by the asparagus bed is waiting for them.PhotoGrid_1495763321934

My petunia, salpiglossis ( looks like a taller petunia, new one for me), Irish Poet Tassel  and zinnia seedlings are waiting patiently. Alyssum are still little. But my treat today was to go to a family owned  garden center and pick up  some larger flowers for the front of our home. 20170525_200717Just some early color as I have calendula that have readily reseeded from previous years. Until next time.

Under construction. Can I get it all done?

20170521_081212I love gardening but sometimes at this time of year I wonder can I  get this all done by the end of May? Not counting succession planting either.  The hilltop garden – fourteen low-rise and three high-rise raised beds plus a trellis has kept me busy prepping this week. Let’s not forget the two smaller high-rise raised beds by the greenhouse, the old strawberry bed which will be an insectary of flowers for the pollinators, the raised bed by house, side beds of flowers and the front of the house.  As always weeds seem to find a way into the beds but each year it has been a little bit less. With raised beds the weeds are less and cover crops of buckwheat have helped. A late April frost nearly finished the buckwheat in the hilltop garden but only in parts.20170521_105508

  • The former bean trellis was transformed into a squash trellis  with cushaw and butternut squash – two on each side.  Waltham and Polaris are the two varieties of the butternut that I’m trying this year. Previously I had grown smaller varieties of butternut squash  but found they weren’t enough for us. We’ve been eating more and more veggies over the years.  Waltham is one of the largest types with Polaris right behind it. This year I’m using a different trellis system for the beans. Under construction are the many trellis fixtures we are erecting for the vining vegetables – cucumbers, squash, cantaloupes and beans.


  • Sweet peppers were planted in one of the high raised beds – 21 in fact. Marconi Yellow , Sweet Red Apple to Margaret  and a very mild semi-hot type that has evolved over the years. Hot peppers are next in another high-rise bed but that’s for another day .


  • Created another netting tunnel for the back row of brassicas, primarily brussels sprouts and one red cabbage.  Long Island and Doric F1 are the brussels sprouts varieties with Long Island being the new one this year. Red Express is the only red cabbage  variety. Field mice I found love brassicas. So the brussels have been nibbled down to one leaf each but are making a comeback.
  • In front of the sprouts were broccoli plants that I quickly covered when I discovered the destruction in the back row a few weeks ago. Calabrese has been my standby on broccoli with excellent side shoot production through out the year but I’m also giving Acadia a try this year as well. It’s supposed have a  six to eight head main head with tight flowers and side-shoot production too. Until next time. Happy gardening.

Swamped With Seedlings

20170506_202444Swamped with seedlings inside the house I’m waiting for this latest cold snap to move on and give us warmer weather. All of the warm season plants are still under T5 6500K lights. They’re crowded, just waiting to make a move out to the little greenhouse, where they can finally stretch out their roots.

Squash, melons, cucumbers and zucchini. New types of squash that I’m trying this year are Green Striped Cushaw and Delicata . Cushaw a winter squash is resistant to the squash vine borer (SVB) and I hope that is the case.  I’m about to find out. Some use this in place of pumpkin or butternut squash in recipes. Delicata also a winter variety has had rave reviews about taste, more like a sweet potato . In either case I look forward to the harvest.

2016-08-14 11.11.06
Minnesota Midget Cantaloupe from last year

Minnesota Midget melons – I successfully grew last year and though small like a softball , are an excellent tasting cantaloupe. Haven’t grown cucumbers for years but this year I am taking the plunge with the Longfellow variety, which was introduced in 1927 by Jerome B. Rice Seed Company in New York. I plan on using it as a slicing cucumber for salads. I also have a new variety of watermelon – Blacktail. It has a short growing season and is perfect for northern growers. All of these veggies will be grown vertically, since I don’t have the room in my garden for all of these vines. They also require a careful watch for powdery mildew and insects. That’s another story.


Basil. I can’t forget to mention. I love basil- Genovese, Thai, Purple and Lime. More than likely I have too much. Until next time.