Rainy Day Tomatoes

We have had the most glorious weather as of late–in the upper eighties and sunny!  Today, however, is a rainy day.  It made me feel like autumn is approaching, which makes me a little bit sad that summer is almost at an end, but I do love the colors of fall, and am looking forward to it.  (I got some sheets to turn into fall tableclothes and napkins, and have been scouring the second-hand stores for dishes and serving plates in autumn colors, plus have a few other decorations to put up–I want to have fun this fall!)  It may be a rain day, but that didn’t stop me from showing you the first of our tomato harvest:

These are all various shapes and sizes of ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes, with a little ‘Gardeners’ Delight’ cherry tomato at the far right side.  The flowers are a spray of ‘Phylis Bide’ rambling roses that grow exuberantly up the front columns of our house.

I also have basil and cucumbers that are ripe and ready now.  I grow, strangely enough, ‘Genovese’ basil–it has large flavorful leaves that are great for cooking or eating fresh, and I’ve just started picking ‘Rocky’ hybrid slicing cukes, the first to ripen for me, followed by ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes, and the beginnings of ‘Green Slam’ cukes, another slicing variety.  I hope to experiment soon with making some refrigerator dill pickles out of the ‘Harmonie’ ones. 

My eggplant and peppers are still at the small baby stage, not nearly big enough to pick yet, so I got an eggplant at the store and made an easy but good dinner last night with some of the garden tomatoes:  Slice the eggplant, and brush each side with olive oil.  I like to make a little mix of pepper, garlic powder, and allspice  and sprinkle each side with this spice mix.  Put the oven on 425 degrees, and put parchment paper down on a baking sheet, and put the eggplant slices on.  Bake for about 10 minutes, then take the pan out of the oven.  Slice some fresh sourdough bread, or your favorite bread, brush both sides with olive oil, spread on some basil pesto on one side, and then place on baking sheet, olive oil-side down and pesto side up. Then put a slice of eggplant on top of the pesto.  Slice up some fresh tomatoes from the garden, and put tomato on top of the eggplant, and then top with thin slices of mozzarella cheese–also good with provolone.  Pop it back into the oven for about 10 minutes, long enough for the eggplant to finish cooking and the cheese to melt.  Serve with a green salad, and a slice of watermelon or nectarines and French Vanilla ice cream, and you are good to go for a fantastic summer meal!

Hope you are having fun in your garden and that it is producing well for you.  A shoutout to those on the East Coast–hope all the water and winds subside and the damage was not too great where you were at.  Heard they shut down Broadway and off-Broadway all weekend because the subways were shut down–they were expecting 5-10 inches of rainwater in the streets and subway tunnels!  Have to say we are pretty lucky out here on the West Coast, all things considered.  Leave a comment–what are you growing in your garden, and are you using it in the kitchen or preserving it in some way?  I’d love to hear from you!

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Hummingbird Plants

I have had a great deal of amusement around here lately by watching the hummingbirds feeding on the summer flowers.

I’ve tried to make it a point to have something flowering each season that the hummingbirds like.  Right now, in warm (!) August, they are relishing the:

  • nasturtiums
  • petunias
  • pelargonium, also commonly known as geranium
  • liatris
  • Jupiter’s Beard
  • verbena bonariensis
  • butterfly bushes

At the moment, what we have are Anna’s hummingbirds in the area.  We’ve got two or three that always stop by and hang out in our garden.  I use a combination of plants that produce hummingbird nectar flowers, plus I have a hummingbird feeder, in order to entice them to come to the garden. 

Here are a few tips to get hummingbirds to stop by your garden for a visit:

  • Set up a feeder.  I’ve had the best luck with a wide-mouth feeder made of glass, because it’s durable and much easier to clean than some of the ones that have a tiny opening.  My feeder has red plastic on it where the hummingbirds can sit to feed.
  • Hummingbird food you can easily make yourself.  Put one cup of sugar and four cups of water in a pot, bring to a boil, cover and boil for 5 minutes.  Let it cool, and I then like to line a funnel with a paper coffee filter and I pour the solution through it to filter it, and store it in a glass container with a lid in your refrigerator.  You do not have to add red food coloring to it; in fact, it is better for the birds if you don’t.
  • Although hummers are attracted to the color red, it does not have to be in their liquid nectar.  Instead, the bird feeders often have red on them, and this will help.  You can grow red flowers that they like nearby, like pelargonium and Jupiter’s Beard, or you can simply tie some plastic red bows from outdoor Christmas decorations nearby the feeder to help attract them.  They will go after any tubular-shaped flower, which is their key criteria, no matter what color or size it is.  They are not attracted by fragrant plants, but you might see them dining on those with tubular-shaped flowers.
  • Change out your hummingbird food, and clean the feeder, at least a couple of times a week in cooler weather, and up to daily in really hot weather, or else you can make the birds sick if the sugar water ferments and goes bad in the high heat.
  • Place the feeder nearby something that the hummingbirds can perch on and find shelter.  Birds do not like eating out in the open, so if you provide a plant with some foliage where they can go and hide in between feeding, it helps to attract them to your feeder.   In my garden, I have an espaliered belgian fence of apple and pear trees, and we have it strung with an orchard wire frame.  They eat at the feeder or flowers, and then zoom over to the trees and perch on the wire–just the right size for their claws–or in a nearby large butterfly bush.
  • Provide the birds shelter plants.  Hummingbirds like to nest in arborvitae, and so I have several growing in the back and front yards.
  • If you can provide water, this also helps.  The hummingbirds like a mist of sprinkling water, so a small fountain can work well in this regard.  In a regular birdbath, don’t fill it more than one-half of an inch deep, or it will be too deep for these little guys.
  •  This year I grew two types of nasturtiums that worked very well.  If you want a spreading variety, which is a great choice for filling up a hanging basket inexpensively and fast, try the ‘Tall Climbing Single Mix’ and for a more compact version, the ‘Gleam Mix’ nasturtiums.  I got mine from Pinetree Garden Seeds for $1.35 per package, the cheapest I found them anywhere, and they had a very good germination rate–quality seeds.  Find them at www.superseeds.com

I have not been able to get a good picture, because they are so fast, but I will describe to you what I see nearly every morning out of our bedroom glass door that overlooks the back yard:  I look at the large nasturtium bed that grows on either side of a blue and white old gate that I use as a trellis-support structure for the nasturiums.   So, while I’m looking at the nasturtiums, I see the large green leaves start to shake.  I look up at the trees, and they are not moving, so there is no wind.  I look back again, and see a tiny hummingbird zooming in and out of the nasturtium vines, going in for nectar and insects on the bright flowers.  The leaves are much larger than the bird, so he has to get right in there to reach the flowers.  He next goes around to all the hanging baskets and feeders that contain yet more nasturtiums and petunias.  Both flowers are hummingbird favorites.  He finally finishes by lapping up (hummingbirds have tongues), nectar from the many pelargoniums that also grow in the baskets and containers.  They drink for around thirty or so seconds, and then they go away to rest for a minute or so, and repeat the process. 

If you have more than one Anna’s hummingbird around, they may battle each other for domination over the food.  It helps to spread your hummingbird food plants and feeders out around your property, rather than clustering them all in one spot, to avoid squabbles and so everyone has a chance to feed unhampered. 

You don’t need a lot of room to have a great hummingbird feeding/gardening area–I have a friend with a tiny balcony on his apartment that attracts the little birds with his feeder and some of the annuals that he grows in containers.  The birds really appreciate finding these feeding havens in city areas where it’s more difficult for them to find food and shelter.  You can easily grow hanging baskets with nothing more than nasturtiums, and you would get a good result, or add petunias and pelargoniums to make for a fuller display.  Nasturtiums will grow in even tiny containers if you keep them watered and fertilized.  Case in point”

This is a little wire container with a flat back that I picked up last year at Goodwill for one dollar.  It is approximately 12 inches long and about 4 inches wide and deep.  I lined it with a little piece of leftover burlap from the hanging baskets, and then lined the burlap with a little piece of clear plastic with no holes in it, filled it with potting soil and hung it from two little nails that I nailed into the top rail of the fence.  Planted smaller ‘Gleam’ nasturium, and this is the result.  It adds inexpensive and bright flowers at around eye level as you walk through this narrow area on the side of the house, but it also provide a little extra food for the hummingbirds.  A little chicken garden art hangs next to it, and there is a large flowering jasmine vine with white flowers on the other side, which provides a resting spot for the hummers in between feeding.

That’s all from me–do you have hummingbirds in your garden?  What plants are they eating from now?  Any gardening tips to attract hummingbirds to the garden that you have used?  Do share in the comments–I love hearing from you.  And visit the Garden Party.


I Can’t Get Started With You–Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest, August 2011 Edition

A little mid-summer update for the vegetables I’ve been growing.  As anyone living in the Pacific Northwest knows, this summer has been just as cold as last summer, and the result is that all the warm-season vegetables are very late to ripen this year, as they were last year.  I hope this is not a trend, but it may be (thanks, global climate change–I was hoping we’d turn into Napa Valley here . . .)  Anyway, as I mentioned in this earlier post on Guerilla Gardening, I’m growing a lot of my heat-lovers under hoops and plastic this year.  It helps to raise the night-time temperatures a little bit, which is what the problem is.  Cold nights are not good, because the vegetables mature and ripen at night, so you want higher night-time temperatures for crops to ripen earlier.  This we have not had here at all, and thus the plastic.

Here are the tomatoes:

These are tomato plants in cages under plastic taken earlier in June.  Here they are now:

Those babies have really taken off, and barely fit under plastic anymore.  A veritable jungle of tomato vines . . . but

Green ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes, and  . . .

yet more green tomatoes–I’ve got green tomatoes as far as the eye can see, and no red and ripe ones yet.  Soon, hopefully.

On to the pumpkin and squash:

The first baby ‘Rouge Vif d’Entemps’ pumpkin, also known as Cinderella pumpkin.  They start out this pretty shade of yellow and deepen to orange as they mature.  They are wonderful for eating, but most of the time I use them for decorating in the autumn months. 

And now a grouping of vegetables:

At the bottom are ‘Mesa Queen’ acorn squash flowers, and above are fava beans, corn and the last of the peas.  (I can’t believe I still have peas–normally they are done in by mid-July here.)   I am just barely seeing some tassels forming on the corn, but the peas have been going strong since July.

I think the fava beans are quite interesting plants to look at.  Here are the flowers from earlier this season:

Other vegetable plants in the garden:

These are ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans (curious name, because they are decidedly purple to me).  I’ve grown these for three years and they always produce a good crop, even under these cold growing conditions.  They are just at the picking and eating stage.

I’m also growing:

‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans.  I love the flowers and the beans on this pretty hummingbird plant.  Here’s more of a close-up:

Runner bean flowers, with some picasette garden art thrown in the rear of the photo.

Cucumbers have been problematic both this and last year.  Just like last year, I had to restart seeds three times before they would germinate–it was just too darn wet and cold for them earlier.  And it’s still realy cold for them, because they like it to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and not once has it been that warm here.  Nevertheless, they grow on apace under plastic:

Here are the cukes tucked into bed for the night, and . . .

Here they are uncovered.  It needs to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and thus my problem.  However, I am optimistically growing ‘Green Slam’, an early (ha) ripening slicing cuke, along with a new hybrid called ‘Rocky’, and some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes.  The ‘Harmonie’ cukes are the largest so far, but only a couple of inches long, and there are lots of flowers still on the vines.  We may have some cukes come September, who knows.

Some crops thrive in cooler weather:

These are beets that I use for beet greens in salads and for sauteeing.  The green leaves are ‘Chioggia’ beets, and the red leaves are ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets.  Both grow quite well here.

One success story is in the fruit department.  In my area and at my house, the berries have been tremendous this season.  We u-picked strawberries–39 pounds–which I made into freezer preserves and individually quick froze, and blueberries–35 pounds–that I preserved in the same manner.  Raspberries did not do so well at the u-pick farm that I went to, so I only ended up with a little cranberry-raspberry freezer preserves, but my own raspberries were very prolific.  I think there was so much rain earlier that it mooshed (that’s scientific of me) the roots of a lot of the raspberry plants here, so they just died, but mine came through unscathed.  Right now the June-bearing raspberries are finishing up, in August(!), and the bees are busy at work polinating the buds and flowers on the fall-bearing raspberries.  I have these beauties ripe and ready to eat now:

They are blackberries and marionberries in various stages of ripeness.  I wrote an earlier post showing and telling about how I trellis, prune and fertilize my berries, and they responded well to this treatment.  I grow a ‘Lochness’ blackberry, which is a thornless variety.  I have to say I’ve changed my tune a lot about the blackberries and marionberries.  They needed a few years to settle in and put down roots, but once they did, youza, have they been producing.

I also have apples:

This is the ‘Spitzenberg’ apple tree, which is part of my espaliered belgian fence in our backyard.  This heirloom is the first the ripen, but they don’t ripen until probably October this year.  I will give more updates as they mature.  Behind it is a ginormous butterfly bush, which the hummingbirds, swallowtail and monarch butterflies have been enjoying for several weeks.

I also have grapes (!) this year, once I got brave and took the pruners to this vine:

This is our ‘Einset’ grape, which is a red seedless table grape.  Obviously, it’s not ripe because the grapes are still green, but I’m thinking end of September or beginning of October these should be ready.  They grow on the open-air roof of a pergola where we dine during the warmer summer months (I’m still waiting for those months.)

Lettuce and salad greens have also been very successful this year as well.

This is mizuna on the top, which is an Asian mustard green that is not as invasive as the regular mustard greens, and Tatsoi–Bok Choy with the round dark green leaves at the bottom.  Both go into our salad bowls, as does the ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard with the red stems growing next to them.

My best lettuce to date has been the very earliest starts that I put in the ground in chilly March of this year.  However, here is a little bed that I planted in June.  This contains ‘Two Star’ leaf lettuce in the back with the frillier leaves, and ‘Concept’ lettuce, with more rounded leaves, in the front.  Both of these have consistently produced good lettuce all season.  I will put up a results list of my favorite lettuce and salad greens seeds based on how they grew in my garden later in the year.  I’ll leave you with this garden picture:

(PS–I dug my first new potatoes of the season, called ‘Dark Red Norland’ and they were great.  Had a lot less trouble with flea beatles this year, because I think the cold weather diminished their numbers.  I forgot to take a picture of the harvest, so intent was I on cooking and eating those red round tasties.)  How are your vegetables faring this interesting growing season?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And don’t forget to visit the garden party.

Mid-Summer Flowers At Minerva’s Garden

I thought you might enjoy an update on some of the flowers that are blooming right now in my garden.  This is just a tiny sampling, but a few of the ones that are very noticeable and showy.

First, the calla lilies . . .

Yellow calla lily

This yellow calla is really tall–close to three feet.  There is a fragrant white star jasmine in bloom behind it, and golden creeping jenny in the foreground as the groundcover.  A pelargonium I started from seed back in February is in bud but not yet in bloom and sharing the container.

A closeup of the leaf . . .

One calla lily leaf

What a glorious leaf–can you imaging a single huge leaf in a modern-looking geometric glass vase for a formal dinner party?

Here is a pink calla lily.

Pink calla lily

This one is in a huge pond liner that I turned into a gigantic container, and it is engulfed by shares space with blue borage, which the bees adore, as well as nasturtiums.

Calla lilies are easy to grow, and you can save them over from year to year.  Because our weather has been cold in winter lately, I bring the tubers indoors for the winter, and start them in one-gallon pots indoors under lights in March to prepare them for planting outside in mid-May.  Water daily as needed, and Miracle Gro once a week throughout the summer, and they do great.

Now for some snapdragons.

Cherry snapdragon

I just think the color of this one is so amazing–such a bright, happy cherry color that screams “Summer is here!”  I started these from seed back in February, and then planted them outdoors in mid-May.  I have upright blue-grey Russian sage growing in the background, and Jupiter’s Beard in the same shade growing around it.

Here are snaps in white . . .

White snapdragon

I love the clean, crisp look of this flower, and especially like it with a background of grey-toned weathered wood behind it.  My hope is that both of these beauties will reseed in the garden and come back next year, as snapdragons sometimes will for me.

Here is a pretty combination:

'Double Lavender(?)' pelargonium, white yarrow and nasturtiums

I grew the pelargonium, commonly and confusingly known as geranium, from seed back in February.  The seeds are teeny tiny, and they came 10 seeds for three dollars–needless to say, you don’t want to try planting these in a wind storm or sneeze at the wrong moment!  However, they had a super germination rate, and I ended up with many new pelargoniums for my containers.  Although listed as ‘Double lavender,’ these look a decidedly baby pink to me, but I am still happy with them.  I like pelargoniums–you can bring them inside at the end of the growing season, pot them up in one-gallon containers, grow them under lights and have flowers all winter long!  One trick is to water them, in the winter months when they live indoors, only once every two weeks, and Miracle Grow them at the same rate.  I have some that are going on eight years old doing this!

Other summer flowers include zinnias and dahlia.

2 'State Fair Mixed' zinnias and an 'Arabian Nights' dahlia

I love this color combination of  shades of pinks with deeper burgundy–one of my mom’s favorites as well.  The zinnias I started from seed indoors in February,and the dahlia is a new one to me.  I potted it up indoors in mid-March, grew it under lights, and planted it outside in mid-May.  These are all growing in full sun in containers in my rooftop garage garden.  I adore these hues with the grey cedar fence background–so pretty.

Another look at different colored zinnias . . .

Bright 'State Fair Mixed' zinnias with blue tea cart

I love bright colors in the garden as well!  And it’s a good thing, because at this time of year the pastels are usually fading, and the flowers are turning brighter shades, mostly in order to attract bees so that the flowers can reproduce and then die.  Those bright colors help to attract the bees, so that the life cycle continues.  All I know is, the flowers are gorgeous–look at all that orange-red with the blue(!) and the bees are happy!

More zinnias . . .

'State Fair Mixed' zinnias

Wouldn’t you like to use these bright colors on your table for an outdoor party or dinner?  Imagine a green tablecloth with bright pink and orange blooms, and blue dishes?  Or blue and white print tablecloth, with white dishes and the bright flowers?  Stunning–get thee to a second-hand store and pick up fun dishes!  Many possibilities . . .

What flowers are blooming for you now in the middle of summer–leave me a comment below, because I love to hear from you and what is going on in your garden!

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