A Summertime Saunter Through the Garden — butterflies, pruning winter squash, hand-pollinating corn, saving seeds

Winter squash
Homemade espresso drink
We are a multi-caffeine-type household, but a top fave is this homemade one: Kicking Horse “Kick Ass” organic espresso, foamed Straus milk, with some dark chocolate grated on top. Yaas.

Every day when we get up, after my spouse and I have fortified ourselves with caffeine, we go outside for a slow saunter through the vegetable garden. Today I’m taking you with us.

And just for more fun, I’m going to try squeezing this post into a #sixonsaturday format because I love mingling with other gardeners.

1 — Butterflies

Gray Hairstreak / Strymon melinus
Gray Hairstreak / Strymon melinus

Most days there is a butterfly or two to marvel at as we proceed on our stroll. Recently we spotted the first monarch butterfly we’ve seen here, which I wrote about in my last post. Click here if you missed that. With the new butterfly garden we’re developing, I’ve become more focused on observing which kinds we have here and identifying them. I was particularly hoping to see some of the “blues” like the acmon blue, and this week I was delighted to spot one–at least I think it’s an acmon blue. If anyone knows definitively, let me know. My Seek app wasn’t sure. 😉 It’s a small butterfly, but easy to spot against the warm tones of the coreopsis.

I brought home some additional butterfly nectar and host plants last week and set them on the porch. Moments later, a Gray Hairstreak was sipping from the yarrow. And I was delighted to see a Lorquin’s Admiral on a buddleia recently.

2 — Veggie Garden

The organic vegetable garden is having a modest year, which I wrote about last time, but at long last things are taking shape and producing. I just pruned back my winter squash a bit to encourage the growth and ripening of the existing fruits. I’ve never done this before, but Monty Don suggested it, so I’m giving it a go. (I couldn’t find a link for that episode, but similar info is here on The Spruce.)

Hand-pollinating corn
Hand-pollinating corn–cut a piece of tassel from the top when the dangling anthers are producing pollen, and rub it all over the hair-like silks at the top of an ear. Each silk strand attaches to a kernel. Repeat with other ears.

Since we have to grow our vegetables in gopher-protected raised beds, the space for growing corn is limited. Corn is wind-pollinated and a large patch is recommended for good kernel development. So we do a work-around for that, and hand-pollinate. It’s actually rather fun. I recommend watching this video for instructions.

Our peas and beans had to be replanted many times, due, we think, to a buck deer, hungry birds and earwigs. All the creatures seem especially hungry this year, possibly because of the ongoing drought. All food crops, including fruit trees, are on drip irrigation, but the dry air and soil seems to suck away the moisture and most are peaky-looking and needing rain. Let’s hope we get a good soaking this winter.

3 — Technically Fruits, but basically just a continuation of the veg garden

There are also the usual zucchini, cucumbers, chard, tomatoes, yacon, tree collards, potatoes, artichokes, and probably some other veg I’m forgetting. (We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire, hence the “compulsive” admission.)

4 — Going Nuts About a Squirrel — luckily it doesn’t harvest the Asian Pears

We planted our oldest English walnut about twenty years or so ago and it is doing well and has a voluminous set of nuts this year. They must be getting close to ripe, as the resident squirrel has been sampling a great many of them — the evidence of rampant snacking is all over the ground. I can only hope that it gets too fat to climb the tree, so we can actually harvest a few for ourselves. 😉 If the squirrels are winning the walnut game in your garden, you may like this funny and amazing video of a backyard squirrel maze created by former NASA and Apple engineer Mark Rober. Yeah, no wonder we’re not getting any of the nut harvest. Squirrels are scary amazing.

The Asian Pears do well here and are just starting to ripen. They are perhaps my favorite fruit that we can grow here–so juicy, crisp and delicately sweet with a hint of anise. The trees are beautiful too, providing pretty blossoms in spring, cool shade in summer, and golden autumn color as well. When harvesting, be aware that the yellow jacket wasps enjoy them too. I always wear gloves when picking and check first where I’m grasping.

5 — Starting to Save Seeds

Our first nectarines are just coming into bearing age. This one was as juicy and delicious as it looks.
Our first nectarine trees are just coming into bearing age. This one was as juicy and delicious as it looks.

Some of the veggies and flowers are going to seed now and this year I’ve decided to make an effort (again) to start saving seed–at least the easy ones. Saving seed from the California poppies, as in my last post, got me re-inspired, nudged on by blogger Going Batty In Wales in her comment on my post. With a streak of the survivalist in my veins, I always like to be prepared, and it seems a good time to spruce up my seed-saving skills. Some of them are so easy, it’s really silly of me not to, just to save money. Going Batty In Wales recommends the following site for seed saving info and heirloom seeds: Real Seeds. For those of us on the Americas side of the pond, a good resource is Seed Savers Exchange. They’ve been doing amazing work preserving heirloom varieties since 1975. There are some terrific educational articles there, as well as heirloom varieties for sale. Scroll down on this page to the Seed Saving section. If any readers wish to mention any other sites with free and excellent seed-saving info along with heirloom seeds for sale, feel free to put in comments. There may be a spam block turned on in the comments section which may not allow links, but do what you can and I will remedy it.

For beginners, just know that hybrid veggies usually do not come true from seed, and that fruit tree seeds, like an apple from the store, may not produce a tree with the apple type that you were expecting. First of all, fruit trees in nurseries are often grafted on a root-stock for size control and disease resistance. Also, apples are the result of pollination between two parents, so growing a seed from the fruit will likely not produce the same exact flavor. It might be terrific! Or it might be ho-hum:

“As a result of all of this, most apples grown from seed produce apples that are duds — small, tasteless, bitter, etc. The apple may be edible, but not anything you would want to eat (although these apples can be good for hard cider production!). The chances of getting the next wonderful apple variety from seed are 1 in 250,000! This is why apple trees are grafted or cloned to get an exact copy of the parent.” Cited from this article. Click here.

To save seeds from your veggies, start with heirloom varieties. Seed Savers (or similar sites) will get you started with the easy stuff as you learn more. Seed packets usually say if they are heirloom seeds.

6 — The Quintessential Summer Flower — the sunflower

And would summer be complete without sunflowers?!

I love the blend of colors in this sunflower. It's a variety called "Garnet Star" which I got from Renee's Garden Seeds
I love the blend of colors in this sunflower. It’s a variety called “Garnet Star” which I got from Renee’s Garden Seeds. (It’s not an heirloom. I grow a few different types).

Hope those of us who need rain will get it, and those in intense heatwaves will get some cooling relief soon! And thanks to the blogger The Propagator, for collecting all of us gardeners together as we share six things from our gardens. ~lisa

Here’s a link to the Home page if you are reading this from an email or WordPress reader and want to see it from your browser, where it will probably look better. 🙂 The-Compulsive-Gardener.com

27 thoughts on “A Summertime Saunter Through the Garden — butterflies, pruning winter squash, hand-pollinating corn, saving seeds

  1. Hi Lisa. So, here I am on your website and have read this blog with great interest. A good start and a valuable introduction to a person who knows a lot about gardening! I will probably learn a lot from your articles or blogs, even I have a very modest garden. Thank you and have a nice weekend from the Netherlands!

    1. Thank you so much Hans! I loved your last post, especially that photo of the road dipping down and rising again in such a precarious and unusual way. You captured a great perspective there! I felt almost giddy looking at it! If I haven’t comment there yet, I’m going to. I only type when at my bigger computer. I just can’t type well on my phone. 🙂

  2. I love all those butterflies, Lisa and you have a lovely set of photos for us from your garden. I have been saving lots of seed already, I can’t help myself, it seems a sensible option. I have a slightly different recommendation, my mum has lent me a book which I have yet to start reading but it goes hand-in-hand with saving seed. Eating To Extinction by Dan Saladino: The Worlds Rarest Foods And Why We Need To Save Them.

    1. That looks like a fascinating and important read Rosie! Thank you for your kind comments. Do you save both flower and veggie seeds? I would love hearing which. It’s so wonderful to get to connect with gardeners all over the world, isn’t it?

  3. Thank yopu for the mention Lisa. I am glad you found the real seeds site interesting. Youir garden is looking good despite the heat and drought. It has been a tricky year for groing but I geuess we need to get used to it. Planting for wildlife of all kinds seems a good plan on all sorts of levels.

    1. Hi! Yes, that site: https://www.realseeds.co.uk/ looks excellent! I’m going to keep perusing it. Yes, what a challenging year for so many gardeners around the world with the weather extremes. Hard to adjust fast enough. I feel for the wildlife and all the flora and fauna. I really enjoyed your last garden post! I’m going to reread it. Would you say you garden according to permaculture principles? I’ve adopted from several gardening ways over the years, including permaculture, but I can’t say I do anything purely. Just what is working for me at present. But permaculture seems very harmonious to me. My “orchard” was inspired by “How to Make a Forest Garden” by Patrick Whitefield, and I’ve read a great many permie books.

    2. Hi Lisa, yes my gardening is guided by permaculture ideas – mainly because they make sense to me! It is less work, creates room for wildlife of all kinds and I prefer the aesthetic to straight lines and suburban neatness. But to me the kay ideas are the ones most often sidelined – Observe, which I take to mean learn by experience what works for ME HERE, and ‘Evalute and Tweak’ – so often designs are percieved as written in stone. It is why, when I redo my veg patch, it will be with beds which can be moved fairly easily.

    3. This sounds like excellent gardening practice. Yes, I guess that is more or less what I’ve done too—evaluated and made it work here. At first we were planting in the ground with sheet-mulching and keyhole shaped beds and things like that. But we have rampant gophers here and their population exploded with the addition of the protective and rich sheet-mulch and irrigation. So we were forced to created raised beds with gopher wire on bottom. We even tried to do more creative beds at first, using logs or upcycled cement blocks, but ultimately those just didn’t work. I long to garden in an climate with summer rains, good soil and no gophers so I could do something more natural looking. Alas I cannot. I LOVE the look of your garden!!! I see you wrote another post and I’m eager to read it. Well wishes!

    1. Thank you! So glad you could join the saunter. Have you done winter squash pruning? If so, how did it work out? Some of my tendrils were already rather large, and, being hollow, I wondered if bugs/infection might get inside them, so I clothes-pinned the cut end. haha. Wish me luck. Also, I loved your rhyming garden post! Very enjoyable and creative.

    1. Haha.. thank you 🙂 well… the coffee is to offset the laziness… 🙂 haha Those were some cool sparkle boots your brother created for your b-day! Sounds like you had a memorable day! I’m close on your heels and feelin’ it.

  4. Gorgeous butterflies Lisa as always. I love the Mark Rober video – am familiar with it as my son is a fan of his and we both absolutely loved his squirrel maze, so clever! I hope you won’t have to resort to anything that complicated to save your produce!

    1. Haha, I hope not too! The squirrel may take over the whole garden and relegate us to indoor gardening. 😉 Did you see the Rober glitter package video? To prank those stealing packages from porches?! What’s your favorite?

  5. What a beautiful Six-on-Saturday! Everything looks so green. When I walk down the garden, the grass crunches like straw under my feet. A lovely selection of unusual butterflies

    1. Thank you so much! As I joke, the plants in the photos are green, just outside the frame it is dry as dust. 😉 The veg garden is on drip irrigation, as are the fruit trees. We don’t get summer rainfall here in Sonoma County CA. Plus we’re in a horrible drought. Aren’t the butterflies fun? I love them so much. Such a balm for all the worries of the world.

  6. An interesting read, especially about your veg garden. I have hesitated at cutting back my winter squash as I read it can introduce bacteria into the stems. It seems there a hundred ways of doing things, and it all depends on what works best for each individual! Saving seeds is something I intended to start doing this year too, but I have been a. it lax. Must get started! I am so envious of your nectarine. Hope you get a good crop. 😃

    1. Hi Cathy! Thanks! Yes, I’ve always wondered about that with the squash pruning. Also I worried about plant bugs crawling inside the hollow stem. So, I clothes-pinned the cut. It will be an interesting experiment. I have also been pruning side-shoots from my tomatoes which I never used to do. Indeed the tomatoes are growing huge and getting much better air circulation, but some of the stems are turning brown and I do wonder if the pruning allowed some kind of bacteria. Hope you write about your seed saving and which plants you do. Happy Gardening! -lisa

  7. Your garden has been very productive this year, you have been working hard. It must be lovely strolling through it at the moment to appreciate the fruits of your labour and see all those lovely butterflies. We had a storm last night and when the rain started I made tea and toast so we could sit and listen to it falling and watch the flashing thunder – bliss. Amelia

    1. Oh how wonderful! I’m so glad the thunderstorm gave you some much needed moisture! I love that you made tea and toast for the occasion. I love a good thunderstorm. Your garden must be happy today.

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