Container Gardening in the Blazing Heat & Outsmarting the Squirrels

Dear Friends,

Today is day five of 100-105 degree heat index. It’s hard to believe that two months ago highs were lingering in the 40’s and 50’s and I was worried about how long I had to wait to get my Spring vegetables planted. By the first of May it was in the mid-to-upper 80’s, and has been staying consistently in the low 90’s for a month. The last few days the humidity has risen to match it, forcing us into a miserable heat not fit for anything outdoors.

Surprisingly enough, probably due to my back yard being so shaded by 5 p.m., my plants are all handling the heat rather well. It rained on Thursday evening, and I didn’t get around to watering my plants until Sunday evening, but they didn’t seem to be the least bit droopy. I’ve harvested my first Early Girl tomato, and the container green beans are producing now. I picked the first batch last week, which was just enough for one serving of green beans with new potatoes that I picked up from the produce stand.

I’ve also picked three jalapenos now, and the potatoes are getting ever-so-close to being ready. My Brandywine and Roma tomato plants are also filling up with tiny green tomatoes, and the sweet pepper plants have tiny peppers on them as well. With everything being in containers, I was nervous about the heat because the roots are more exposed and should dry out faster than if they were in the ground. But, so far so good! I also wasn’t sure how well the plants would produce since they only get a maximum of 6 hours of sun per day. The success (so far) of container gardening is a pleasant surprise!

My bee and butterfly garden, on the other hand….

The butterfly bushes, Burt and Cletus II, are healthy and prosperous. My clematis is taking off like wildfire. And the onions are going strong in the concrete blocks. I also have Zinnias on the verge of blooming. But that’s about as successful as that garden is going to be this year, I’m afraid. None of the other wildflowers I tried to start from seed ever came up. I have no idea what it is about me, but I cannot seem to grow things from seed to save my life!

The few things I did successfully start from seed have undergone a never-ending battle with the squirrels. I had two rows of sunflower seeds out, all of which were dug up except for two seeds. I had watermelon and pie pumpkins out and had to re-sow them three or four times because they kept getting dug up. They also kept digging up the herb seeds I had in a long plastic planter that sits on top of my retaining wall.

A while back I found a pin on Pinterest where someone had used plastic forks, stuck into the ground prong-side-up, to deter squirrels. I decided to give my seeds one last (and late) start using this method. And I’m thrilled to report–it worked! At long last, watermelon and pumpkins sprouted. I re-sowed the sunflowers, and several have started to Spring up, even with the now-super-hot ground temperatures. And I have oregano and thyme starting to peek through the soil in the planter.

Each place I planted a seed in the soil, I stuck a fork in the ground right beside it with the prongs facing in the direction of the seed. I have not had a single one of the seeds dug up since I put the forks in the ground! There have been a couple of forks that had some prongs chewed off, but the squirrels were still not able to get into the seed beneath them without getting poked. And, as a little added protection, I sprinkled some cayenne pepper over the ground around the seeds for a deterrent boost.

My only problem now, is my small garden plot where I placed my Spring vegetables. Since these are cool weather vegetables that are supposed to do okay in the shade, I was really expecting so much more that I’ve gotten. That blasted crabapple tree is stunting the growth of everything big time. I finally just got my first cutting of lettuce a week ago, and should have some more in a day or two. The radishes have come up to the point that they are blooming at the tops, but they are nothing more than a skinny little red root below the surface.

My kale all has just three or four small leaves, and the beet greens are only a few inches tall. The spinach? The few spindly little plants that did come up have shriveled and produced nothing. The only thing that seems like it may be growing well is the carrots. I think this coming weekend I am going to unearth one to see what I have. Everything else I’m afraid I may have to give up on until fall.

The crabapple tree had a branch break off a couple of weeks ago and a friend came over to cut it up and haul it off for me. He also cut off another dead section while he was there, and offered to take down the last dead section but I told him he couldn’t just yet since a Robin is nesting there. I told him that when the babies are gone I really want to just have the whole tree taken down because not only is it starting to die, but it’s a major nuisance to my gardening.

He said he would take it down for me whenever I’m ready, but it’s so hot now that it will probably have to wait until the end of summer. Nonetheless…my shade problems will be over! And I might just get one last chance this gardening season for some greens, carrots and beets. Here’s to hoping!


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