Sunday, August 30, 2015

The slow transition to autumn

Here at Living Low Acre, the slow transition from summer to autumn is underway. Some of the leaves on one of our dogwood trees have changed to their fall colors. Birds such as robins eat the ripe berries; I walk over broken berry parts on the way from the house to the vegetable garden. While most of the leaves are still green, they are taking on the washed-out tint of the transition.

I had intended to include a photo of the dogwood leaves as proof that my digital camera again works and also because the leaves turn to a beautiful red color that I thought you all would enjoy. However, although the camera works again, Blogger is not responding when I click on the photo button to add a photo. Bad Blogger! Although I suppose that someone who insists on using a 14 year old computer should not complain about a relatively small thing like that.

Anyway, regarding the camera, it turns out that when I put new batteries in it, the batteries were the wrong chemistry. For some reason it does not work with ordinary, non-alkaline batteries. While I had read that in the owners manual, that was a few years ago, and I had forgotten to pay attention when we bought a pack of non-alkaline AA batteries recently. At least those batteries can be used for flashlights and clocks.

Yesterday I planted seedlings of four varieties of lettuce as well as bok choy, kale, collards, and mustard greens. While I can grow all but the lettuce by direct-seeding into the garden in early August, I prefer to raise and transplant seedlings of these larger plants. I have enough thinning work for the next week as it is since the radishes, arugula, and turnips that I sowed in the middle of the month are now large enough for their first thinning.

As for the lettuce, I have not been able to grow it from direct-sown seeds in our August heat, even when I have sown the seeds during a cool spell when direct-sowing of root crops works. Lettuce seeds need to be cool to germinate. Apparently I have not been able to keep the soil cool enough for them to sprout at this time of year, when they need to be sown if they are to mature before it gets too cold for them to grow. I’ve read in different places that freezing lettuce seeds for a few days prior to sowing them helps when sowing them in summer for fall crops. Since I have a cool basement in which I can hold a flat of lettuce seeds for long enough to germinate them, I have not yet been tempted to experiment with freezing the seeds and then direct-sowing them.

While starting seeds in the cool basement works, it has its disadvantages. The major disadvantage is that the lights under which I hold the flats are not bright enough to produce stocky seedlings. Even though I hold the flat in the basement just long enough to get most of the seedlings up and growing and then put them on the front porch where they get more light, they grow long and gangly. Long, gangly seedlings are difficult to separate from one another when I prick them out into cell packs to grow on. As they grow, they tangle together again, making it difficult to remove them from the cell packs without breaking them or the other seedlings tangled together with them. Then, too, I have to keep them watered and growing during July and August heat. Keeping them in a shaded spot so they stay a little cooler helps, but it also promotes more long, gangly, tangle-prone growth. On top of that, I didn’t start the seedlings soon enough this year so I had to transplant them before their roots had filled enough of the cell space that the root ball was easy to handle. And now the weather pattern has changed to a hot, dry pattern, with highs around 90F / 32C predicted for the next week, so I’ll have to keep the seedlings well watered. It will be worth it, however, to have the lettuce for salads in the fall and the greens for stir-fries into early winter. I’ll let you know the results.

Speaking of the transition into fall reminds me that I want to write about how we minimize our use of fossil fuel heating. Although I’ve been promising to get back to the human-powered tools series (and I will, one of these days), with the fast cool-down we get here it’s not too soon to post on this topic for those of you who might want to start looking for things like warm sweaters and wool blankets. Yes, I know it sounds odd to think about heating season if it is as warm where you are as it is here while I am writing this. But St. Louis almost always records at least a few low temperatures near 40F / 4C before the end of September, and sometimes lows close to freezing. And most years we have our first frost around mid-October to the first week in November. If all goes as planned, I’ll have the post on keeping warm with a minimum of fossil fuel use up before the end of September.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Always good to hear from you! I think I'll adopt your system of responding to some comments in the following post. I tend not to check for comments till I start on the next post - in fact, I don't use the computer every day, especially during the growing season.

    You'll have seen above that I did get the camera to work. I felt a bit silly about the cause, to be truthful. It was entirely my own fault. Whether or not the difficulty with Blogger is my own fault as well is unclear at this point.

    My other camera is a 33 year old Canon SLR film camera. It takes far better photos than the digital camera, which is a point-and-shoot type that is a hand-me-down. The film camera needs a little repair work. It has a light leak that can be fixed but is only now moving up far enough on my personal priority list to get the work done.

    The rabbits are wild rabbits who know a good place to live when they have found it. I don't mind their being here at all as long as they stick to eating herbaceous plants outside of the vegetable gardens. In fact, I enjoy watching them go about their rabbit business. Yes, I do have to fence them away from young shrubs and trees; they bite off part of the trunk if it's small enough for them to get their mouths around. Any woody plant that small has a circle of hardware cloth (like chicken wire but much smaller openings and much sturdier) around it that is tall enough to keep the rabbits from biting the trunk. Once the trunk is big enough around I remove the hardware cloth. So far the rabbits have been content to leave the bark on the trees and shrubs alone or at least not eat it the whole way around the trunk. I fence in the vegetable gardens, but not well enough to keep out all the rabbits. This is the first time they have eaten the carrot crop; next year I'll be prepared for them. (Later this year, when rabbit hunting season opens, I hope at least one of them finds its way into a meal. Mike has a hunting license, and I and rabbit stew go a long way back.)

    I'm sorry to hear about the flooding in NSW. Not at all good. Hurricanes can bring that level of rain to the US, and sometimes training thunderstorms bring several inches or more to this area in a day. It's always bad flooding when that happens. Hope that dam in NSW held.

    My meditations will include musings on potential housing for pollinators. Mike has made houses for wrens (small insect-eating birds) and might be interested in making housing for other critters. We already have southern leopard frogs living on our property and I have found wasp nests the hard way as well as the preferable way of seeing them first. We leave wasp nests be as they are helpful predators. I see plenty of bees of different kinds around the herb garden already but I need to learn if I can improve on the habitat for them. We used to have lots of butterflies - sadly, butterfly populations seem to have gone down a lot everywhere, not just in our yard. We still see butterflies but lots less than in past years.

  2. I just direct-sowed lettuce, spinach, and cilantro in our St. Louis metro yard (St. Charles County.) My first time trying planting for a fall crop. I'll let you know how it goes.

  3. Hi Claire,

    No worries, that is a good system for replies - to be honest, I only have so much tolerance for screen time.

    Yeah, batteries aren't all the same and I stick to quality "Eneloop" NiMh (Nickel Metal Hydride) rechargeable here and they operate at a lower voltage than alkaline batteries so it can be a nuisance from time to time.

    Your lettuce plants are interesting to read about because they self-seed here and are even starting to turn up in paths and garden beds, but are happily growing right now. I wonder about the benefits of selecting seed from the best growing lettuce from your garden and seeing what happens over a few generations? You never know.

    I do hope that you enjoy a garden fed, fresh rabbit! Yum!

    The dam held, but overflowed severely and caused flooding downstream, but with the exception of the unusually cold winter the weather here has been mild - so far.

    Really good to read about the frogs and wrens in your garden as they will work very hard for you. The decline in the butterfly population is a bit of a worry though. Do you get many caterpillars in your garden?

    You can either purchase or make insect hotels and they will significantly increase the diversity and resiliency of your garden. The first year that I brought bees onto the farm, the fruit set increased quite markedly.

    Cheers. Chris