How Does My Garden Grow?

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As of today, here’s what it looks like. At any given time in my garden, you’ll find plants in various stages from seedling to bloom to setting seed for next year.

Grandpa Ott morning glories climbing the boundary fence.
Grandpa Ott – the picture doesn’t do justice to the color, which is a deep royal purple.
Sweet Alyssum with Cactus Chrysanthemum Zinnia about to blossom.
Amish Pie Pumpkin. I misread the description on this. Seems a 35-pound pumpkin is “small” and they can be 60 to 85 pounds! Needless to say, it’s a lot bigger than I expected.
Amish Pie leaf and my hand.
Amish Pie Pumpkin blossom.
Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck winter squash, Connecticut Field pumpkin (much smaller than the Amish Pie even though planted on the same date) and Canada Crookneck winter squash. Radar the Batcat in the background supervising and keeping a wary eye out for little brother Max, who likes to pounce on his sibling.
The upper edge of that trellis is six feet tall; there’s a good three feet of bean vine above it. I’ll have to put some extensions on for next year’s crop.
Yellow storage onion blossom. These pretty white blossoms will produce seed in about 30 days.
Karan barley ready to harvest.
Oats ready to harvest for seed.
These are either Beurre d’ Roquencourt, a bush wax bean, or Henderson’s Black Valentine, a green black-seeded bush snap bean. Or they could be Roma II, a bush romano. There are variety labels buried in the thicket somewhere, but at the moment I can’t find them.
Cimarron Romaine lettuce about to go to seed.
Mung beans for winter bean sprouts in the foreground, with Dark Red Kidney, Henderson’s Black Valentine, Beurre D’ Rocquencourt and Roma II (not necessarily in that order) in the rest of the bed.
I collected the seeds for this hollyhock from plants in the little town where my husband goes hunting every fall. They’ve been next to that old store for at least 30 years and sat on the shelf for another four or five before I finally got them in the ground. Next year, these biennials should produce lots of single white flowers.
Home-grown ginger (for next year’s harvest) from a store-bought root.

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COVID Up Close and Personal

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It was the call I’ve been dreading.

My 22-year-old granddaughter was on the phone. She had a fever, cough, fatigue, nausea, headache, changes in her sense of taste – in short, pretty much all the symptoms of COVID-19. As she had been exposed to a coworker who tested positive, it wasn’t that hard to make a diagnosis. Her COVID test, however, came back negative. I’ve seen this repeatedly. The patient has all the symptoms but the test is negative. I’ve also seen a number of cases where the health care professionals involved go with the test results rather than the evidence of the patient in front of them. One of those cases was a woman who had every single symptom, as well as a chest X-ray that showed the typical “ground glass” opacities. The odds that this woman did not have COVID were vanishingly small, yet the ER doctor sent her home with a blithe, “the test is negative, you’ll be fine.” I consider that nothing short of criminal.

Tests are not perfect. That’s especially true with coronavirus. The timing of specimen collection seems to have a major effect on the results, as does the user technique. There have also been concerns about the quality of the reagents – the delays in testing during the early stages of the pandemic were partly because one of the reagents in the CDC’s test kits was contaminated. In addition, all coronavirus tests currently on the market were rushed through under emergency FDA approval. Estimates of false negative rates for the PCR diagnostic test run 30-40% (I suspect it’s higher, based on my experience). False positives are much less likely – if the test is positive, it’s a pretty good bet you have COVID. For the antibody test, the false negative rate may be as high as 50%.

This is definitely one of those situations where the patient’s symptoms should trump test results. There are others – you can have low thyroid function with “normal” test results. In that case, doctors treat based on symptoms. My granddaughter has been on elderberry syrup for months as a preventive strategy. Yesterday, I started her on Quercetin, vitamin D and extra vitamin C, and sent down an extra bottle of elderberry syrup with instructions to take one tablespoon every four hours. I also started her on the homeopathic remedy oscillococcinum, which Wikipedia will tell you is a “fraudulent” remedy for flu and viral infections. Maybe. Or maybe Big Pharma and other self-interested parties are involved. I find it interesting that during the 1918 pandemic, patients treated with homeopathic remedies were more likely to survive than those treated with conventional remedies.

I also told her to spend at least four hours a day lying on her stomach to allow her lungs to inflate more fully, to drink at least two quarts of water a day, get some light exercise daily, and avoid all sugar and refined carbohydrates. All of these tactics are designed to boost the immune system and support her body so she can fight off the infection.

Now we wait.

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Hand Watering

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Volume control makes all the difference.

Hand watering is an art. These days, people tend to go for drip systems and soaker hoses, or use sprinklers. I’m of the opinion that drip systems are good for orchards and vineyards, but in a home vegetable garden, they aren’t really practical. Soaker hoses work well if you plant in rows, but not as well if you use intensive planting techniques, as I do. I admit, that this year I am experimenting with soaker hoses, simply because of time constraints. The jury is still out. My biggest objection to sprinklers is that they are very wasteful of water. In my dry climate on a windy day, I might lose half my water to evaporation. The other issue for me, as I’ve mentioned before, is that the spring that supplies our well does not refill very quickly. I could run something like a lawn sprinkler for about 30 minutes, after which I would have to shut it off to let the well recharge for an hour or more.

The Nozzle

Thus, hand watering. There are several keys to hand watering. First, choose the right nozzle. I like a fan nozzle. First, they’re simple. Most have only one moving part – the lever that controls the water flow. Second, they are metal, and therefore more durable. The fancy ones with a variety of adjustable settings don’t seem to last as long – probably because they’re made out of plastic and rubber. Third, the shape works better for garden beds, which usually have square corners and straight lines. With a round-headed nozzle, the water falls unevenly (more in the center, less on the sides) and you get more water on the paths – again, it’s wasteful. And if you’re watering a narrow bed or don’t want to get a lot of water on a house wall, you can turn the fan so you have a narrow band of water. Finally, it’s easy to clean out the mineral deposits that build up around the holes. Once or twice a year I take a safety pin and poke it in each hole, working it around to dislodge any crud.

Water Flow

After the nozzle, the next most important thing about hand watering is the water flow. If the flow is too high, it dislodges soil around the roots. It can even knock plants over or wash out seedlings. A fan nozzle can be adjusted to produce a very fine spray. Or you can stand at one end of a bed and turn it full on. The force is dissipated, so it’s possible to put quite a bit of water on the other end of the bed without flattening plants or causing runoff. This technique saves you walking the length of the bed and dragging a hose.

Timing

Timing is the last of the important aspects of hand watering. You have to get enough water on the bed to keep the soil evenly moist at least a foot down. If the top foot is moist, the water will percolate down to the lower levels. If only the top six inches is moist, the water tends to move up and evaporate. By the way, hand watering only works well if your soil is light and fluffy, with lots of organic matter. Your soil must also be thoroughly moist to begin with. I check my beds before I plant – if the soil is not evenly moist to well below the 12-inch mark, I water repeatedly over a short time period until it is. When you water by hand, you’re shooting for what John Jeavons calls “the shiny.” As you water, the water will begin to puddle on top of the soil. With my clay soil, I want it wet enough that it takes about 15 seconds for the puddle (“the shiny”) to disappear. In a sandy, soil, you might only need a shiny of five or six seconds. Time yourself at first, until you get a good feel for it. Do not increase the water flow to get done faster – the water won’t penetrate properly but will run off instead.

Hand Watering – Last Words

Your soil type will affect water retention. Sandy soils drain faster. My soil is primarily clay, which means it holds water well (and turns into gumbo when wet). And you can only see the surface. If you practice daily watering, your plants may look lush and grow well even if the soil is moist only in the top four inches. Miss a watering session, and plants will wilt or even die. Don’t make assumptions about whether you are getting enough water on your garden. At least once a week, shove a trowel of some sort deep enough into the soil to check the level of soil moisture. I know from experience that when the weather is very hot and windy, I have to water twice a day. If my soil were sandy, I might need to increase the interval to three times a day or water longer during the twice-daily sessions.

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