Sunday, October 12, 2008

We've Moved!

Siler's Path is moving over to WordPress. This blog will go dormant now, so come catch up on my life at

Monday, September 01, 2008

Perkins Update

pickins080901I'd be surprised if we received as much as an inch of rainfall in Grand Rapids during the entire month of August. But it appears the tomatoes at Perkins have tapped in to the shallow aquifer below. Today I picked a whole mess of maters, and Julie and Abbey are busy canning them right now. Abbey has memorized the ingredients for a quart of canned maters.

The dry weather also made it ideal for picking shallots. They did pretty well at Perkins and are on the list again for next year.

The pumpkin vines all dried out while we were on Beaver Island, so this year's crop will be modest and the carvers are small. We'll probably eat them and buy something more impressive to decorate the front porch for Halloween.

The sweet corn is excellent given the drought. While ears are small, kernels are big, sweet and juicy. We'll certainly be bringing some ears up to Wheatland this weekend.

The row cover continues to amaze me. Pac choi grows on, and vigorously. The broccoli and cabbage I direct seeded under the row cover looks better than any transplant I've ever planted and the broccoli stands more than 15" tall.

Today I seeded in some more late lettuce and spinach. It's supposed to be a steamer tomorrow, but after that the weather report calls for all low to mid 70's, great temps for growing greens.

The electric fence continues to do its job, with the racoons only getting one ear of corn while we were gone and one squirrel trespassing to bury some nuts in a squash mound. Now if it would only keep out the flea beetles, squash bugs and cucumber beetles...


Beaver Island

We're back from a week on Beaver Island. The week was so relaxing that the camera rarely came out. But I did snap a picture of Abbey on her first fishing trip. She out-fished me two-to-one.
abbeyfishUPDATE - Here are some photos from the first few days of our trip, taken by my friend Eric Doyle.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Perkins Update

lettuce080722While some things have been a real challenge this year, other things are going amazingly well. The new electric fence means that we have un-nibbled lettuce this year. Add to this the discovery of a good variety of buttercrunch and a good variety of romaine and we have some serious lettuce available.

carrots080722Carrots are also doing amazingly well in the hard, clay soil at Perkins. I tried five different varieties to see what works, and the four that have been in long enough are all producing reasonable carrots.

Even the sorry-looking eggplants I reported on earlier are now bouncing back.

But we're still waiting for the first of the broccoli and we discovered clubroot in one corner of the garden. Next year I'll just have to get out there a spread 50-pounds of lime between the first and second tilling.

But the best surprise of all has been the value of floating row cover. Below are two photos of cucumbers. The scraggly ones planted by the trellis were planted two weeks before the big, healthy-looking ones in the other photo. But without serving as the singles bar for disease-spreading cucumber beetles, the later cucumbers have surpassed the earlier ones and promise to produce much healthier fruit. The same results appear to be happening with the pac choi and mustard greens planted under row cover and protected from flea beetles.

Things we've eaten from Perkins so far this year:
Mixed salad greens
Garlic scapes
Mustard Greens
Broccoli raab
Snow peas
Shell peas
Purple bush beans
Golden zucchini
Green onions
Cipolini onions

As for our venture into selling our surplus produce, we've almost paid for our seed costs. This week, some surplus basil and green onions will be sold to the chef at the Amway Grand for use at Cygnus 27 and the 1913 Room.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Fighting Critters

solarWhile the excessive rain has probably been the biggest challenge to gardening this spring and early summer, I've been taking on a couple of other pests as well.

I went to the garden one evening in mid June to find that some rabbits had snatched three broccoli plants and snacked on some Swiss chard. Fortunately, they had not yet found the romaine and bibb lettuce.

fenceThinking back to the previous year and the ways in which my full-sized broccoli consistently got nibbled away, I decided I had had enough. I drove on up to Family Home & Garden that night and plunked down the cash for the materials for a solar-charged electric fence.

I got half of it set up the next night before some thunderstorms rolled in, and then the rest set up on the next day. Upon being plugged in, the fence put out a decent charge. If you're wearing sneakers, the charge is not much, but if you touch the fence while simultaneously touching the ground with a bare hand, the shock is unmistakable and has you impulsively snatching away your hand from the fence.

The second battle is with the bugs. A few weeks ago, I put floating row cover over some newly planted cucumbers. Protected from the striped cucumber beetles, the covered plants took off and grew more vigorously than the uncovered plants seeded two week earlier.

With this success, I decided to put floating row cover over some other crops planted this weekend. I planted a row of pac choi and a row of mustard, two plants viciously attacked by flea beetles this spring. Given the hoards of European cabbage moths flying about the garden, I also planted some fall broccoli and cabbage under the row cover as well.

So now my thoughts turn to how to fill up the little remaining space in the garden bed, and how to use the space that will soon be vacated by spinach, onions, and other greens. During the next week, I think I'll maker a summer planting of the following crops: peas, romaine and bibb lettuce, spinach and some large Spanish radishes.


Sunday, June 15, 2008


The rains continued into this week, with another good dumping on Friday, but since then it has been sunny, dry and windy - in the end, good conditions for drying things out.

So this weekend was dedicated to catching up on weeding and seeding. Saturday I finally got the winter squash and pumpkins planted (Butternut, Sunshine, Hubbards, pie pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns). I also planted a second sowing a few other items - purple bush beans, soy beans, cucumbers, and golden bush zucchini. I replanted two varieties of corn that got flooded out (Spring Treat and Luscious). Lastly, I planted another variety of carrots for later harvesting (Sugarsnax).

Lots of weeding was also in order. Among other things, I had to find the basil buried among the weeds. Just a few more things still need weeding, most of them flowers, so I'm feeling just about caught up. I'm certainly getting good use of my scuttle hoe these days.

Here's what you're seeing in the photo:

  • Upper left corner is broccoli, with some small zucchini sprouting to the right and some pumpkin mounds along the top of the photo.
  • The white thing is some floating row cover over newly planted cucumbers. The eggplants are to the immediate left of the row cover.
  • Left of the row cover is some very small basil starts, to the right are beans.
  • In front of the row cover are onions, with the shallots to the left, and some radishes (and tons of weeds) to the left of the shallots.
  • In the foreground are various greens - Tatsoi mustard, pac choi, arugula, lettuce mix and some small romaine bottom right.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Perkins Update

080608aAn update from the People's Republic of Perkins is long overdue. To say it's been a challenging year for gardening in west Michigan is darn understatement. But tonight we took the first major cutting of lettuce and spinach, so I can't say all the trouble has not been worth it.

To begin with, spring is about two weeks behind this year. Our last frost came the week before Memorial Day, and I didn't get peas planted until May. I usually plant my peas in late March!

We did, however, have great weather on Memorial Day weekend for planting. Cool temps, nice breezes and clear blue skies. I got many things planted on target and the cool weather helped the greens germinate well. Shortly thereafter, I planted the tomato (30 plants!) and pepper starts.

080608cBut then more trouble came. First were the bugs. Last week I noticed two expected pests, but in near epic numbers. Midweek I noticed that there were the flea beetles taking up residence on my eggplants. I also saw their telltale bite holes on some pac choi and tatsoi that had sprouted. I was going to spray on Friday, but there was rain in the air and more predicted for Saturday, so I just went out to the garden to check progress on in the evening. Indeed, the flea beetles were making progress.

As I was commiserating about the flea beetles, another gardener shared with me that the week's 80-degree temperatures were also bringing out the cucumber beetles. She had them all over her cucurbits and melons. My summer squash, melons and cucumbers were not up yet, so I was not too worried, but I still could not believe that the beetles were that heavy already.

I planned to spray a little rotenon this weekend to deal with the flea beetles, but regular thunderstorms made spraying less than feasible. And apparently flea beetles don't mind eating in a storm. By the time I sprayed today, my eggplants were quite decimated.

The other problem has been, ironically, rain. Too much of it. We've been getting daily dumpings of 1-2 inches since Friday. Warm weather and rain has been great for the weeds, but not real good for the rest of the garden. The corn is looking terrible, so I'm thinking another planting is going to be in order this year. The onion beds look like rice paddies.

All the water is making it so that weeds cannot be controlled by pulling or hoeing, so the garden is also becoming a jumble of seedlings and weeds. Thankfully, today's forecast is calling for dry skies for a few days starting this Tuesday. Hopefully I will be able to get some of the more critical weeding done some evenings this week.

But, like I said, getting that first cutting of fresh lettuce and spinach has been a modest reward for this year's work. The peas are also coming along nicely (although weedy), and the radishes are plump and mild.

I'm hitting the catalogs tonight and putting in an order for more seed for corn and chinese greens and some floating row cover. If things don't come up the way they should, there's still plenty of time to plant other things. After all, a pack of seeds is only a couple of bucks, so we'll just try again.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Big Shots

Today was too rainy for working in the yard, so I went out and did some maintenance on my adopted section of the North Country Trail in the Rogue River Sate Game Area. The birds didn't seem to mind the rain and were chirping away. I wished I wasn't so busy, I would have liked to watch them.

It was only about 40 degrees, and raining off and on. I had to keep moving to keep warm. So I guess it was good that there were a number of fallen trees across the trail that required me to swing my ax.

Other than the birds, the woods were silent in their wetness. As I swung my ax into a fallen oak, the blade cracked through the woods. Each swing was like a gun shot going off. Crack! Crack! Crack!

Just me, the birds, the dripping rain and the sound of my ax.

At one point, as I was rummaging through my rucksack, I saw some tiny hepatica pushing up the leaves nearby. I had to look twice. The woods are late coming into spring this year.

Everything was so brown and gray. So when I saw these tiny hepatica closed up from the cold and rain, I was quite pleasantly surprised.

As bold as they were, pushing back last year's oak leaves, I thought they too were big shots. Braving the icy rains to bring forth the promise of spring.

Spring rain and birdsong
in a brown and gray woods.
Soft leaves under my feet.
Sharp ax meets hard oak
like a shot from a gun, cracking
through the woods.
dripping rain,
the sound of my ax.

Look! There are some tiny hepatica pushing back last year's oak leaves!

They too are big shots,
braving the the icy rain
the promise of spring.