Thankful for Goodness Around the Garden

July 29th, 2010

Where has July gone already!?    I’m thankful our garden and other activities are coming along nicely, and I hope our harvest keeps on coming.  Or at least progressing… like my weekly battle with squash bugs and tomato wilt (I’m losing!).  

I will say our tomatoes have produced their largest harvest this summer as compared to others ( The boy loves tomatoes!), but the plants look so ragged and are really struggling. Such is life in an organic garden in the midwest.  So much still to learn… but we’ve had enough tomatoes to make a good bit of salsa and more coming for sauce.

Each year I want to plant more and more… you can never have enough tomatoes! 

And what is the deal with pickles anyway?  Why do we like canning them?   You can buy a huge jar of pickles at the store for a few bucks.  Or you can take time to plant cucumbers, weed the garden, grow and pick them,  buy the jars and ingredients, and then take time to can your own…   Granted their is some raw satisfaction in doing it yourself. And it’s fun to share with kids… somehow pickles have a universal appeal.

These are the home-canned variety with dill mix and garden grown dill and other ingredients inside… like garlic and jalapeno peppers. Then processed for 20-30 minutes in boiling water to keep for long-term storage. 

They are very different from the fermented pickles I made last year… those were pretty tasty and I still have a few in the fridge that are still really good.  But it was hard to achieve consistent, firm pickles when I fermented them naturally.  

And do you have a good cucumber and tomato salad recipe in summer? They go so well together, but there’s so many cucumbers!… so maybe pickles just come from trying to figure out what to do with all the extra ones.  I guess it’s fun trying different recipes too… what’s yours?!

I did come up with a natural concoction to help combat tomato wilt/fungus and for discouraging squash bugs and other critters. Here’s my recipe: In a plastic bottle sprayer, combine 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup hot/spicy sesame oil, 1 tablespoon tea tree oil soap or shampoo, 1/2 teaspoon dishwashing soap, and the rest with water… shake well and spray away!

It seems to work pretty well, although I found if you put the milk and oil in a blender first with a few drops of dishwasing soap it mixes a lot better. When I spray it the bugs skedaddle away quickly. It may or may not kill them, and is probably just a temporary protectant.  But hey, it doesn’t cost much!  Do you have a special mix or recipe that works?

The carrots are doing pretty well this year, but we came out a few days ago to find a dozen or more caterpillars happily munching away on the leaf tops.   These look like the caterpillar larva of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. The boy loves them, and we kept a few to grow into butterflies- it worked out well, and we released them back outside after they emerged!

There’s no free lunch in this garden, so out the rest went!    Well okay, there are lots of free lunches…  I’m just trying to get the crowd to leave!   But I threw the extra caterpillars up into the grass and weeds at the fenceline, so maybe they’ll still become butterflies too.  

I did find a really neat plant this month.   Kind of funny too because I was the one who planted it.   A fellow beekeeper gave me a small mint plant a couple of years go, supposedly as an aid to natural beekeeping.   I’m all for that, even though I didn’t know what it was, and planted it at the base of an oak tree near my hives…  this year it finally flowered.   This is a Pycnanthemum species of some kind… try saying that five times really fast!  I love the white bracts that look like leaves at the top of the plant, with a little crown of flowers.

How did I find out what it was?   Well, I was enjoying the beautiful sights at Edifice Rex a couple of weeks ago, and Annie shared some photos including a plant called Mountain Mint…   I had never heard of it and thought it was neat.   Lo and behold when this one bloomed I realized it was the same plant!  Pretty neat way to find out something new- thanks Annie!   I’m not sure which species of Pycnanthemum it is, but it looks like albescens

I’ve also found that a particluar species of wasp really loves these little flowers.   The Double-Banded Scoliid wasp (Scolia bicincta) has covered this plant over the past week, with as many as 18 wasps on the tiny flower heads.   I’ve also seen some tiny flies and other insects, but no other bees, moths or butterflies.   It’s fascinating to see how the wasps really love the nectar from these tiny flowers.   These are commonly known as digger wasps.  They burrow into the ground and parasitize grubs and other insects.  I’ve never seen this species except on this plant.


The bees are doing well and still building up their hive populations. About a month ago I took five frames from a really strong hive, and placed them in a small “nuc” hive.  Here’s a picture of that little nuc hive sitting on top of an empty full-size hive at right in this picture.

The little old boat with flowers is our “Burt Dow Boat”… do you remember the story? I wrote about it here a few years ago.   I love to fill it with petunias each year, and planted a wispy river birch behind it…

Anyway, I checked on that small nuc hive yesterday and it was doing so well that I put those bees right into that full-size hive that it was sitting on!  I was excited because the nuc was a “walk-away split” and the bees raised their own queen.   When I opened it up they had two full frames of brood and newly capped larvae… cool beans!    It looks like they’re in the shade, but the hive gets full sun from the middle of the day until sunset.

I wondered a little about moving their entrance lower from that little nuc to the bigger hive… if you move a bee hive any appreciable distance, the bees don’t know where to find it.   Supposedly if you need to, you either move them 6 inches a day, or two miles away!   Moving a good distance away is  fine, as long as you wait until all the bees get home in the evening, and then close them up.   But I only moved my bees down a couple of feet, and they quickly figured out how to get into their new home.

Now that I placed them into a new hive, they have five empty frames to draw out with wax, so I mixed up 10 pounds of cane sugar as a syrup, and put that in a hive-top feeder for them.  They won’t draw wax unless their is a good bloom and nectar-flow going on, or if you feed them to stimulate production of wax and additional bees.

With luck that hive population will increase over the next few months and be strong enough to carry right through winter.  I’m thankful they’re doing well and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll have four hives next spring.

Our other visitors lately include a couple of Great Blue Herons who visit the pond a few times each week.   I don’t begrudge them a meal or two, but they never tire of an easy catch at the expense of our little fish.    When I see them I usually clap my hands or try to sneak up on them…   then they “Croawwwk!” loudly and fly away.


July is coming to an end.  It has been a really warm and humid month, but we also enjoyed a good bit of rain.    Hard to believe how fast summer is going by, but we’re not quite to midsummer’s eve yet!  

The evenings are so beautiful however, and the other night was a pretty one…  the boy just marvels at sunsets and the light on the clouds.


I hope your summer is going well too. What are you thankful for today?  See you next time!   :)

11 Responses to “Thankful for Goodness Around the Garden”

  1. Ed

    Whenever we moved hives, we would put a branch or twigs across the opening. I was told the theory was that on their way out, they would see something different and take note so that they could find the entrance on their way back. Can’t tell you that it worked definitely one way or another but it made us feel good that we were doing our due diligence.

    Since I don’t have the option of rotating my tomatoes to different places, I’m going to have to start taking a more aggressive stance on preventing wilt than what I did this year which was nothing. To reward my nothing put into the tomato crop, I got nothing in return. Fortunately, I get plenty of tomatoes from others at the end of the season who don’t want to can any more.

  2. There’s nothing like homemade sweet pickle relish on a burger or dog, in my book. Have you tried making that?


  3. Two years ago I had a glut of Courgettes and Tomatoes. I decided to pickle them. I cannot, not now not ever, explain the waste of noble oil,vinegar and heat.
    I had jam-jars filled like Laura Ingolls mother believing she was about to encounter a famine.
    All of them went to the bin.

  4. That wilt disease sounds exactly like what takes out my tomatoes here. Next time i plant some i’ll try that concoction you recipeed.

    You’re a man after my own heart. I love your stuff … you have a new reader in me for sure.

  5. Wow, you know your wasps! Sounds like you have had a good summer and I agree, you can never have too many tomatoes. Do you make sweet pickles–I like homemade much better than store brought.

  6. Ed- That’s a neat idea for the bees, and it makes sense in a way. I’ll have to remember it… can’t hurt! Bummer about your ‘maters, but with all your rain I’m not surprised.
    Randall- That sounds good… and no! I haven’t tried it… have a recipe? I would love to sample it :)
    Vincent- You’re too funny… and I learned a new word (courgette!) for zucchini it seems. If I went to all that work, I would have to swallow them somehow… in stew or whatever!
    Phil- Thanks :) Maybe the humidity and such there too?
    Sage- If I see something new, I just have to find out what it is! You and Randall with the sweet pickles! I need a recipe… never made the sweet kind, but now I’ll try it! Oh- and I still need to find that grape hull preserve recipe :)

  7. Hey Beau! Sorry I just got around to reading this post. I feel bad about it. We’ve been working so much lately I haven’t had as much time to visit my favorite blogs. Thanks for the shout and the link.
    Now, that mint is just like most in that it will spread any where it can, so if you don’t want it to you may be pulling up lots of little sprouts!
    That same type wasp visits my mint here but I also get bumblybees and a few very tiny bees of some kind.
    Great post!

  8. Hi Annie- Oh goodness I know what you mean, I haven’t looked on line for a couple days it seems! I could use that mint spreading a little, but I’ll watch for it :)

  9. We are in full-blown tomato wilt too but we got just under a million pounds of ‘maters so I am not too upset…

    I make walk-away splits all the time and I don’t think I have ever had one fail. Of course, it depends on providing them with enough young eggs but I have great luck with it too…keep doing it and see if you have great luck at it. I bet you will!

  10. I just discovered your blog and wanted to say how much I enjoy it. It is so inspirational! I will add it on my blogroll. :-)

  11. Greenderella- Thanks so much for your comment, and apologies for my late reply! Some challenges lately at this end, but I so appreciate your thoughts. :)

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

«   - | -   »

Build Your Own Cellar!