The nematode report
It worked! Last spring I sprayed a combination of HB and SB nematodes on a 10 foot buffer zone around the house. It was a pain putting them down in the rain and keeping them damp for two weeks. I also attacked the biggest mounds with spinosad drench and hot water out of the solar heated hose (down here that means hot enough that I can only hold the rubber insulated part of the nozzle). The combination seems to have worked. I'm able to hang out clothes with nothing more than flipflops on my feet. BN, my feet would have been covered with fire ant bites. This fall there are two tiny colonies within the buffer zone, both under sections of the concrete slab.

The near end of the garden is in better shape than it was. I didn't use as much spinosad in the garden so there are still a few colonies. I ran out of HB nematodes before I got to the far end of the garden so I'm collecting a lot of stings out there. I will order enough nematodes next spring to treat the whole two acres that we use. They are too expensive to consider treating the whole 5 acre property. I'm only out to the fringes to mow a couple of times a year anyway.

The other news is that the first bits of the hoop house arrived today. The local lumber company dropped off some 2 x 4s and a bundle of PVC pipe. I plan to grow snow peas, lettuce, broccoli and, perhaps, rhubarb in the hoop house this fall. I will try an early tomato crop after Christmas.

Back to the garden
I'm back from my month in the mountains. Keith was able to join me for two weeks. We did some maintenance on the retirement home, mostly replacing worn out plumbing fixtures and touching up paint. Hard to believe that we've owned that place for 19 years.

The vacation is timed, not only to escape the Louisiana summer, but also to attend the Endless Mountains Music Festival. We were able to attend half a dozen marvelous performances. There are few things as thrilling as a live, full orchestral performance. We also got in some very nice bike rides in spite of being sideswiped by a car on one ride. Thank goodness for folding side view mirrors.

The garden is in amazingly good shape for having been neglected for almost four weeks. It has been such a strange summer. Normally the cantaloupes and cucumbers would have died long ago. I'm still picking a few. The years of soil conditioning a paying off this year. I transplanted and mulched pumpkins, squash and cantaloupe before I left. They grew like crazy while I was gone. I may actually have a reasonable harvest of butternut squash for the first time on this farm. This week I been mowing lots of weeds and tilling them in. If I can keep up the pace, I'll have the worst of the tilling done before it starts to rain later this week. On the planting schedule: seed flats of lettuce (germinated in the fridge), cucumbers and broccoli and rows of snap beans and lima beans.

Home made snack food
Brought home a food dehydrator this morning. I have it full of green beans at the moment. I really don't care for frozen green beans and I'm not daring enough to try canning low acid foods (can you say botulism boys and girls?). Besides, every time I get the freezer full of produce our power goes off and I loose it all. I thought I'd try an alternative to potato chips. Next up - pickling!

Finally - some garden produce!
Thought I'd post something more cheerful. The good news on the health front is that Keith continues to improve. He still tires pretty easily.

This is the year that the garden is supposed to take off - year three of soil conditioning. The pole beans have obliged. In just over a week, I have picked 50 pounds off an 80 foot row. Hard to tell what the cukes are going to do. They are sort of sputtering to a productive start. I'll get out there this afternoon and see what is under the row cover. I just swapped the tiller for the brush cutter on the tractor. Time to go tame some weeds on the fallow ground.

Not quite the vacation we planned
We spent the long Memorial Day weekend on Lookout Mountain overlooking Chattanooga, TN. Saturday morning we did a lovely 30 mile bike ride to raise money for the Erlanger Children's Hospital. We spent the afternoon watching the individual time trials for the U.S National cycling championships. Ran into our friend Roxanne at the races and had dinner with her. Keith had been fighting an intestinal bug for almost two weeks so we took it easy on Sunday. Lots of naps and hanging out in the lovely cool gardens of B and B.

On Monday morning, Keith was feeling worse so he stayed at the B and B while I rode the mile to the top of the hill climb of the women's road race championship. He felt well enough to go with me to watch the men's race that afternoon even though he didn't feel like eating. Bad decision. We spent almost the whole day on Tuesday at the emergency room as his intestinal upset had morphed into serious colitis. I'm impressed with Erlanger hospital (and with Chattanooga). They did a CAT scan, diagnosed the colitis and loaded him up with the antibiotics that he probably should have had several days earlier. He had already visited a walk-in clinic and our GP. Both said "let's see what develops." Hah! We drove halfway home on Tuesday night, got home about noon on Wednesday. Thursday morning we were back at our GP's office when it opened to arrange an emergency colonoscopy for Friday morning.

The gastroenterologist confirmed that it was acute colitis and added enough anti-inflammatories to choke a horse to his earlier antibiotic prescription. The doctor took a lot of samples and started a lot of cultures. We'll get whatever results he comes up with in a couple of weeks.

The good news is that whatever bug he had was not antibiotic resistant and that the inflammation doesn't seem to be persisting. He went back to work for a half day (the observatory opened late due to not having a water supply this morning). He was pretty wiped out this evening but does seem to be on the mend.

Happy Birthday samwinolj
Happy Birthday a few days late. We've been a bit distracted lately. Keith has been having some serious intestinal issues after contracting some kind of stomach bug.

The nematodes are loose!
The shipment of nematodes arrived last Friday just as the temperatures were predicted to dive overnight. Sure enough, we had frost on Saturday morning. Fortunately nothing got killed, even the beans that I didn't cover in my 4 am trip through the garden.

I left the nematodes in the fridge until yesterday. We had a nice damp day so I went out in the rain with my sprinkler can and spread nematodes. They like wet soil so they should be really happy as the yard and garden range from squishy to ankle deep today. I just hope they didn't wash away in this morning's downpour. I put down a mix of "attack" nematodes, which stay in one place waiting for things like fleas and worker ants to pass by, and "seeker" nematodes, which are supposed to hunt down and kill queen fire ants and such. I hope they take hold. It would be so nice to work in the garden without encountering fire ants.

The spinosad seems to be working well. The bait that I used last summer had no discernable effect. The drench seems to have gotten rid of the ant mounds that I treated. It also stopped the flea beetle damage on the bok choy though I've noticed more holes on the leaves since the rain. I'll have to get out there as soon as the showers are over and spray again. Common wisdom says that the flea beetles are only a problem for a short time. Someone forgot to inform these beetles. They've been chewing on things for weeks. I did worry that the spinosad might kill the nematodes but it seems they work fine together. In fact the combination seems to be more effective than either treatment used alone.

My fertilizer factory
I spent a good bit of Saturday afternoon managing the nitrogen source for my strawberry patch. I plant white clover in the pathways between the rows. I was warned against this by a local grower - too invasive. Of course, he's growing his plants in sheets of black plastic. Yes, this is a pretty much maintenance free growing method. On the other hand, he has to buy a new petroleum product every year and somehow dispose of it at the end of the season. We also try hard not to think about what may be leaching out of that plastic.

On the other hand, my mulch only needs me to spread a handful of seeds in the fall. It may even be perennial though this isn't reliable in the Gulf Coast climate. It smells wonderful. The bees love it. Having ground cover in the paths means that I can walk through the patch with clean shoes after the heaviest rainfall. There is no erosion from the paths. When I mow the clover and spread the clippings around the strawberry plants it smells even more wonderful. My plants may not be as big as the chemically fertilized plants but they are setting a lot of berries. Best of all, my fertilizer factory will never explode and take out the entire neighborhood. An afternoon of edging, mowing and pulling out wandering stems of clover seems a small price to pay.

The Beetle Battle Continues
I goofed. I pulled out too many bok choy plants to feed to the hens. I thought the flea beetle season would be over by now and I wanted that nice, sheet composted row for my butternut and acorn squash. I still have a handful of trap plants left but the beetles have moved on to the new planting of bok choy. I tilled in about 1/2 row of skeletonized seedlings yesterday. I think I'll try some spinosad spray on the next planting.

The good news is that I found a new store in New Orleans - Urban Organics. I'll check them out after I drop Keith at the airport tomorrow. They might actually have the pest control products that I need. It sure would be nice to get these things without paying to have them shipped from the Northeast or California. By the way - it's STILL too cold to apply nematodes. Of course - I may not be able to use them after I spray the spinosad. Just gotta go with the flow of the weather.

The hens are still enjoying whatever bugs I put into the hen run. Nothing escapes the beaks of death! The hens have earned names now. The small henpecked hen with one wing is Uno for obvious reasons. The big hen is Harriet, as in Houdini. Yesterday she tunneled under the fence. OK it was too close to where she was digging for bugs but I swear she can exploit a two inch gap. Today I failed to pull the chicken wire "lid" close enough to the edge to the edge of the coop roof after I reached in to open the coop door. She can't fly over the fence but she can flap her way up to the coop roof and then jump down. I looked out of the greenhouse to see Harriet poised on the edge of a flat of kale seedlings with one claw in the air, ready to dig it up in search of bugs. Fortunately she froze when I shrieked at her, to the point that I was able to pick her up and deposit her back in the hen run.

The garden finally seems to be coming out of cold stasis. The lettuce is growing nicely, though way too much of it has gone bitter. The strawberries are ramping up in spite of the wet weather - 2.5 inches of rain overnight as a result of training thunderstorms from midnight to about four am. In the ground so far: swiss chard, beets, buttercrunch lettuce, red leaf lettuce, a new planting of snow peas (the old one got frozen too often), cantaloupe, corn, bok choy, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, turnips, kale, broccoli, green beans, cucumbers, butternut squash, acorn squash, banana peppers, jalapenos and habaneros. Still to go in the ground, heat tolerant cantaloupe, bell peppers, eggplant, watermelon and basil plus another planting of green beans and three more varieties of tomatoes.

More flea beetle lore
There was a huge population of beetles on the trap crop right before the storm hit on Easter Sunday. The bugs are now being converted to chicken eggs. I hope that I've made a serious dent in the population as I want to put in a spring planting of bok choy. I'd hate to see all those little chewers on my cash crop.

I put in 86 cucumber plants yesterday and got them mulched and tucked up under a row cover. I shouldn't have to do anymore to them until harvest time. Today - another round of lettuce transplants and some chard. It's way late for these crops but we've had so many days of desert dry, cold wind that I didn't think the transplants would survive. We're supposed to have 2 days of rain coming up so it's finally planting time. I'll spend the next few days hardening off seedlings so I can get the rest of the garden in next week: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, winter squash and watermelon.


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