September Garden Harvest

Just a quick post to show you what I picked out of the vegetable garden today:

We’ve had glorious hot weather for a bit now, and everything is ripening rather nicely.  I’ve got pictured a bunch of bush and runner beans.  This year I grew ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans, which are lovely and prolific, as well as ‘Scarlet Emperor’ and ‘Violet Podded Stringless’ runner beans (excellent hummingbird flowers, and then you get the beans, too!).  I planted them as seed outdoors on June 21st, and I finally picked them today and froze several bags.  Very easy to do–after you clean and cut the tips off, you boil them for 3 minutes at a rolling boil, and then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the beans from cooking any further.  Put in zip lock bags, being careful to remove as much air from the bag as possible (I take a straw and suck the extra air out of the bag–be careful when you do this so you don’t get lightheaded), and then label and pop them in the freezer.  If you want to learn more about preserving foods, I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving–a slim volume that gives clear instructions for safely canning and freezing just about anything you can imagine.  Also pictured are some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes, and a few ‘Green Slam’ slicing cukes.  Tomatoes are ‘Costoluto Genovese’, a ‘Gardeners’ Delight’ cherry tomato and the very first of the ‘Super San Marzano,’ which look like a larger Roma tomato.  Also the last handful of the ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ snow peas.  In the background of this picture is a yellow-cupped ‘Bill MacKenzie’ clematis, as well as some bright orange nasturtiums and a white fuschia.

I kept a small batch of the green beans out for dinner tonight.  Made a simple recipe that I got out of an old Bon Appetit magazine:  steam the beans, then rinse with cold water, drain and put in a large bowl.  Add a couple of chopped fresh tomatoes, some fresh basil, some feta to your taste, and then season with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Mix and enjoy as a salad–so easy and wonderful with homegrown produce.

Hope you are enjoying a great harvest this year from your own garden, or are taking advantage of all the wonderful produce at your farmers’ markets now.  What are you cooking with your fresh veggis–I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And visit the Garden Party.


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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!

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.

Guerilla Gardening on the Summer Solstice

Here is something to think about:

“Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.” 

Theodore Roosevelt

That statement has always spoken to me, to not make excuses but to make an effort to move in the direction I want to go, in whatever aspect and capacity of life to which I wish to apply it. 

There was a film director that I met one time, and she made her mark in films way back when she was getting started by loading up her van with her camera and limited equipment, a skeleton crew and a very few actors, and heading off down the road.  When she saw a likely spot, they all got out and proceeded to shoot some scenes for a film, right where they were at.  She ended up with some good films.  She eventually was asked to direct a well-know television series as a guest director, and they wanted her to do her “guerilla directing” thing with the big show, but she couldn’t be spontaneous when it took 4 semi-truck loads of equipment to shoot one little scene for that big show.

But I digress.  Roosevelt’s statement also applies to gardening.

After spending a spring wishing and hoping for warm weather and that the rain would cease to fall in excessive amounts, I think I am finally past it.  I can wish and hope all I want, but the fact is it appears that this growing season is going to be quite similar to last year’s growing season, which was short and cold. 

This is a not a bad combination for my flowers, which are doing great and growing well.  It could spell disaster, however, for my vegetable garden. 

But, what I have going into this, and to my advantage, is the knowledge of the growing season last year.  This will help me to get into what I have been calling “guerilla gardening” mode, to help me get some kind of a reasonable vegetable crop from my garden this year.  Here are some tips that I am using with my vegetables this year, and I hope that they might help you as well in your gardening pursuits.

Get-real gardening.

  • Grow warm-season plants under plastic.  Let’s face the facts, shall we?  Where I live in SW Washington state, it has not reliably hit 50 degrees air temperature at night yet, on June 21st.  On and off, but not consistently.  It needs to be at least 50 degrees, and preferably 55 degrees overnight, before tomatoes will ripen–their ability to ripen, mature and turn red is based much more on the nighttime temperatures than the daytime.  What this means is that I am looking for ways to increase the nighttime temperature around my tomatoes.  I have planted my tomatoes, and placed tomato cages over them, then I put clear plastic over the top and sides of the cages, holding down the edges with rocks.   This plastic will raise the nighttime temperature by 3-4 degrees, which will help bump it up to at least 50 degrees, if not a bit more.  This will help your tomatoes ripen a lot faster than if they were uncovered.  Last year, I asked most of the farmers who had ripe tomatoes at the farmers’ market how they got their tomatoes to ripen, and nearly all of them, with farms located in this area, said that they had to cover them with plastic to get them to ripen, so that is what the professionals are doing.   Rain and any kind of water falling on the fruits is also another big enemy of a perfectly ripe tomato.  You want to keep rainfall off the tomato fruits as much as possible, or they rot very quickly and have lots of blemishes.  Plastic is very good for this purpose as well.  I also pretty much gave up growing the tomatoes that are late-season varieties–only one ‘Brandywine’ plant this year, for example, and more of the quicker cherry tomatoes.
  • It gets worse if you want to try to grow cucumbers, eggplant and peppers, or any of the melons.  These plants need 60 degree temperatures at night in order to mature.  For these, put hoop houses over your planting beds.    If you use PVC plastic pipe, found at a hardware store, and push it into the ground over your plants, it will form a half-circle, or a hoop.  On these hoops you can place clear plastic and hold it down with rocks at the corners, and clothes pins on top of the hoops.  The idea is that you don’t want the plastic to touch the plants.  Water condenses under the plastic, which helps to keep things moist under there.  Unfortunately, this will be high maintenance, because eventually July will roll around, and we will get some days that will be in the 80s and 90s.  On those hot days, you will need to open the plastic in the morning, make sure everything has enough water so they don’t dry out, and then cover them at night.  You will have to decide how much you love cukes, peppers and eggplant, and how much time you have to spend babying these plants, because they will take more work than some of the other things that are easier to grow.  Nearly every local grower at the farmers’ market last year who had ripe peppers for sale had to cover them with plastic to get them to turn red.  Just sayin’.   And every variety of eggplant, pepper and cuke that I grow are suited to short growing seasons, because those that need a long growing season will never ripen before we start getting colder autumn weather.  This is pretty hard with cukes, because I want to get as much growth as possible under plastic, to increase the temperature to improve growth, but eventually they get too big, and you have to put a trellis up for them to grow upon, so eventually (I wait until the last possible minute), you will not be able to cover the cukes any longer.  Then they have to be big enough to hopefully swim and not sink on their own with whatever the weather hands out.  The eggplant and peppers stay covered throughout the entire growing season until they die in the fall.  I have never had good luck with melons, so I wish you well if you want to give it a go–just be sure to plant short-season melons, and you might fare better than I.
  • To give them a headstart, I also cover my corn bed, as well as the pumpkin and squash bed, to warm it up for them to get a good start.  After the plants get too big, I end up uncovering them, but not until partway through July.

    'Ruby Red' Swiss Chard is a winner

  • So, what can you grow that will not be a pain in the neck for the gardener?  Here are some plants that I had good luck with last year, even though it was a very cold summer:  Lettuce, arugula, beets and beet greens, tatsoi, mustard greens, swiss chard, green beans, both bush and runner bean types, sugar snap peas.  It also appears that we are going to have a bumper crop of blackberries, raspberries and marionberries this year as well, without much work on my part.  (The bees have been very busy, on the other hand,  polinating all those flowers for me.)  If you want a garden that you don’t have to cover with plastic, you might want to focus on these crops that will grow just fine in cooler temperatures.  And that is totally an okay thing to do–why fight nature?  It is a fight very difficult to win, so why not go with what gets handed out and make it easy on yourself?  I have no problems with that.  It is just that I love, absolutely live for, home-grown tomatoes, and so I am willing to take the extra steps in order to get some of our own.  (I am also someone who monkeys around with fussy delphinium plants that need to be protected from slug attacks and need to have each bloom stem individually staked–you love what you love, what can I say.)  Another option is to purchase those warm-weather crops from farmers that are coming over from sunny and dry Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon to the farmers’ markets to sell their wares, and then you grow what is easier to grow in your garden–this works very well, too. 

    'Purple Queen' bush beans and sunflowers in containers

  • In addition to colder weather, you might also have a lot of shade on your property due to large trees.  Vegetables need sun, so one solution is to go in for large container gardening.  You can grow all sorts of vegetables successfully in large containers.  I’ve grown tomatoes, peppers , eggplant, corn, sunflowers, lettuce, beans, peas and cukes in big containers.  The plants will not produce as much as they would if growing in the ground, but you can place the containers anywhere you have a sun spot, so you will likely have much more success in growing vegetables in this manner.  You will discover that the garden hose and fertilizer are your friends if you take this route, which is high maintenance.

    Corn and salad greens in containers

“Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.”   If you want to vegetable garden this year, then don’t let the weather stop you.  Just know what you’re in for, so you can decide how you want to spend your time and energy.  And garden smart, like a guerilla gardener would, and you’ll have some success. 

Do enjoy the first day of summer, the Summer Solstice, today, and visit the Garden Party.


Garden Update and Troubleshooting Guide

I am in Southwest Washington State, gardening zone 8, and until recently the weather has been extremely cold for this time of year and damp.  Last week, it shot up to 99 degrees.  The plants actually loved all that warm weather, as did I, although I was out watering vegetable beds twice a day to keep them going in the heat.  Here is a little guided tour of the vegetable beds:

The Cukes:

Now, I know you’re being polite, but you’re probably thinking to yourself, “That bed looks mighty empty.”  And I would concur.  This is due to my having to replant this bed three times before anything would grow.  I did chitted cuke seeds, which worked very well last year, twice, and twice they all died but the one bigger one at the bottom of the photo.  I then decided that I should plant plain old seeds in the 90 degree weather we had last week.  I kept the bed watered, which you typically are not supposed to do with cuke chitted seeds, and four days later all these babies appeared!  So now I have all salad slicing cukes, because I ran out of pickling cuke seed in all the replants, and they are about 2-3 weeks later than they should be.  Such is life in my vegetable beds this year.  And did I mention that I am a Master Gardener and have been through all the training, and have about ten+ years of vegetable growing experience under my belt?  So don’t feel bad if you have problems sometimes in your garden–we all do at one time or another!  The trick is to think like a detective and try to figure out how to fix it or do it better or differently next time to get a different result, hopefully a better one.  Also, notice I still have hoops and plastic in place–I cover this bed every night it is below 60 degrees or until the plants outgrow the hoop area.  Cukes, eggplant and peppers require it to be 60 degrees at night before they will set fruit and the fruit will mature, so if Mother Nature does not provide that for the plants, you need to do it for them.  This is one big reason why people can’t get eggplant and peppers to mature around here–it’s too cold and we have a short growing season because it takes forever for the temperatures to warm up at night in the spring (and this year in the summer until about last week).  The only way I’ve been successful with eggplant and peppers is to cover them at night, and then they produce well.  Usually.

The Eggplant, Peppers and Green Onions: (Voted Most Likely To Succeed)

 

So this bed looks a bit better than the last one.  To my eye, the plants are on the small side for this time of year, and that is purely due to cold temperatures for the entire month of June.  Also, I cannot for the life of me get green onions to germinate from seed outside.  I followed all of Steve Solomon’s tips, to no avail.  So I tried some thing different to get a different result–I started some seed inside under light, and transplanted the little guys out when they were big enough–about 4-5 inches tall.  They are doing alright, but they too would prefer some warmer weather.  No flowers yet on the eggplant (and they are a gorgeous lavender color!), but the peppers have a few flowers and baby peppers on them.  Now you may notice some leaf damage to the pepper plant in the corner.  Here is more of a close up of the damage to the leaves on some of the bigger peppers:

You see those holes and part of the leaves chewed off?  That is slug damage.  How do I know?  Experience gardening here–slugs are notorious for this, and I saw a huge slug on the inside of the plastic when I uncovered this bed today.  Remedy:  Pick the slugs off when you see them and smash them to bits with a rock.  Not the violent type like I am when I see a slug?  You can also put out beer traps and Sluggo.  A good and cheap slug trap is to get a clean and empty cottage cheese carton or a yogurt carton with a lid.  Use an exacto knife to carefully cut slug-sized holes in the upper side of the container(go slow and be careful–easy to cut yourself doing this–don’t ask how I know), then fill it with beer (don’t use non-alcoholic beer–it won’t attract the little devils–alcoholics all–don’t ask how I know), and then put the lid on it.  Dig a little hole in the dirt so the holes in your container are level with the soil line, and put the container in the hole.  Come back in a couple of days, and there should be drowned slugs in the container, which you can empty in the trash and refill with beer and replace.  Hey, at least they die happy.

The Beans:

They look pretty good–about where they ought to be for this time of year and when I planted them.  I have both bush beans and runner beans. 

The runner beans produce red and lavender flowers that the hummingbirds love, so I planted these right next to our pergola so we could see some hummers up close, and then from the flowers come the beans.  It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but it will soon be covered with bean vines and flowers, and eventually, beans for dinner and freezing.  I put garden twine on the outer edges of the trellis to provide more room for the outer bean plants to grow up.  Here’s a close up or two:

I use what I have to hold those strings taut in the dirt–a heavy wire u-shaped garden staple, or even tent stakes.  Tie your string on, and then use a mallet to drive them into the dirt.  Easy.  The beans will climb up those strings–you might have to point them in the right direction to give them a little help at first.

The bush beans are next to the peppers, so guess what I noticed is going on up there?

In the bottom-left corner of the photo you will see the telltale holes and unevenly chewed edges on a few of the leaves indicating slug damage.  And now you know what to do about that.  However, you will also notice that most of the plants are clean and look great, so this is a relatively small issue.  C’est la vie.  I may just sprinkle a little Sluggo around the chomped plant and call it good.

The Corn and Pumpkins: (Voted Best Body)

Just had room for one little bed, but they are doing as well as can be expected due to the colder weather we’ve had.  I would like these plants to be bigger (kind of a recurring theme with me, you’ve probably noticed), but the good news is that they are pest and disease free, which is great–a success story!

They would be happier with more sun and warmer weather.  (So would I. )  I probably should cover these with plastic, but I took it off because we had company over, and the plastic was pretty ugly.  Perhaps an excuse to get some better looking plastic.  Is there such a thing?  I could also cover them with row covers, but they are quite expensive to buy so plastic it probably will be.

The Tomatoes: 

They loved the warm weather last week, and shot up!  Still, very few have flowers yet, no green tomatoes yet.  I have one tomatillo at the end that has some flowers–yay!

This is about half of our tomato crop this year.  I hope we have a “crop”–come on warm weather!

Okay, I have kept the worst for last.  That honor goes to . . . (drum roll, please):

The Salad Greens and The Potatoes: (Mustard Greens voted Miss Congeniality)

I have had so much trouble with the salad beds this year, beds that ordinarily are really super easy to grow.  First off, could not get any lettuce seeds whatsoever to germinate outside.  I finally am starting some seed inside under lights so that I can transplant it out.  Next, I have planted the mustard greens that will not die.  Seriously.  We had a warm winter, and I started a bed very early, on Feb. 2nd, of course covered with plastic.  We had salad greens to eat for dinner in four weeks!  Only thing was, all the the cold-tolerant seeds that I had planted, like spinach, beets, arugula, swiss chard, etc., all had been overtaken by the mustard greens.  So I think to myself, not a problem, quit your whining, at least you have salad from the garden in March!  So then I started another bed in March with a variety of seed types, and guess what?  All mustard greens again.  The problem continues, but to a lesser extent now that the weather has warmed up a bit, and I have clued in.  I think what was going on is that I used my own homemade compost on the beds, and my guess is that I had composed mustard greens that had gone to seed, and the seed did not die but remained viable over the winter, and then when I added fertilizer to the bed, they said “Yippie!” and shot up, smothering the other plants.  I have been trying to be more scrupulous about keeping the beds weeded, but as you can see, I have a lot of beds, and I am the only gardener in the family, so I do my best to keep up, but in all honesty I hate weeding (don’t tell the Master Gardeners–they’ll excommunicate me), and it sometimes finds its way to the bottom of my gardening to-do list.  But I do love salad, and so I have been trying to mend my wicked ways.

(Notice the gigantic mustard green leering at them from the other bed.)  The rows need to be thinned, and I can take the thinned out ones and either replant them in all the empty rows that had lettuce seed in them, or I can put them in tonight’s salad.  A win-win situation.  And if I am going to be really on top of things, the old mustard greens that have now gone to seed?  I will cut off the flower and seed heads and those will go into the trash rather than the compost heap.

Now for the potatoes.  As readers of my blog know, I have been battling flea beetles out here all season.  Several factors led to this situation, the biggest one being a long cold and wet spring and summer until a couple of weeks ago.  Normally in the past, I have applied diatomaceous earth early when I first notice leaf pin hole damage on early growth, and that tends to get rid of them.  Then normally the weather warms up and the flea beetles are no longer a problem, because they tend to go after new growth on potatoes and tomatoes for me, but they get killed or are less interested in the older growth on plants.  Well, along came the Spring and Early Summer of Our Weather Discontent.  Because it stayed cold for so long, the flea beetles really dug in and caused a lot more damage than they normally do.  Thus the following pictures:

I did everything right in starting these potatoes.  I spaced them correctly(rows should be 36″ apart on the centers).  I started with certified clean seed potatoes from a reputable nursery(if you use potatoes that come from the grocery store, you run the risk of introducing the disease called scab into the soil, which is very hard to eradicate once there).  I used the appropriate fertilizer on the hills (which is complete organic fertilizer minus the dolomite lime, or four parts seed or alfalfa meal, one part bone meal and a half-part kelp meal.)  I planted them at the right time (when the minimun air temperature is at least 43-45 degrees and the minimum soil temperature is at least 39-41 degrees–I planted on April 20th, but could have done it even a couple of weeks earlier but was too busy).  As they grew I hilled them up properly, ending with hills that are about 10 inches tall and about 18 inches wide.  What more could a potato ask for?  Well, it could ask to not be devoured by flea beetles, apparently. 

The good news is that it was really hot last week, and I am hoping that put a damper on the flea beetles.  I also found out that diatomaceous earth will harm beneficial insects, so then I ran to the gardening center to find something that would work on organically grown vegetables that actually works.  I ended up with Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew.  This I sprayed on the tops and bottoms of the potato leaves and vines twice.  I think that, plus the warming weather, helped to stop the infestation.  I am seeing dark green leaves with almost no leaf damage now.  This stuff is not perfect, however, because it can kill bees for up to three hours after application.  The good news is that there are no bees around these plants because they have no flowers yet, so the bees were kept safe.  I am a little worried that there are no flowers yet–it seems pretty late in the growing season to not have flowers.  I guess time will tell with this bed.

I will be writing other posts soon about how to troubleshoot problems in your garden, so tune in frequently!

I don’t want this to be a complete gardening buzz-kill post, so here are some pictures I took this morning of pretty flowers and other plants.

Summer jasmine, dark purple ‘Jackmanii’ clematis and lighter lavender ‘General Sikorski’ clematis

This is ‘Niobe’ clematis reblooming.  If you keep this one deadheaded, and fertilize once a month, it will usually bloom through September.

This is the Garage Rooftop Garden.

Flowers and grasses and sedums.  Okay, I gotta confess–that green tall plant has a story.  Went to a plant sale, saw a plant, liked the plant, bought the plant.  Got plant home, realized it had no name tag, and I had forgotten the name of the plant on the drive home.  Solution:  Pot the plant up and get it to flower so that I can identify the plant.  (Sheesh, I hope no other Master Gardeners are reading this . . . excommunication here I come . . .)

A plant rack I got for $5 for a pair of them at a salvage yard (!), attached to the fence and filled with strawberry plants.  And do you know that slugs still occasionally find the fortitude to climb all the way up there?  (Dirty bastids . . .)

 My basil plant flotilla.  ‘Genovese’ basil.  The flower container is filled with coleus that I started from seed, a burgundy petunia, ‘Cambridge Blue’ lobelia that I started from seed, and Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’.

That’s all I got.  Please visit the Tuesday Garden Party for more gardening fun!

 


Got Some Things Planted Before It Started Raining This Evening

The weather was quite nice this afternoon, and so I dug in and reseeded a lettuce bed that did nothing earlier.  Normally I’d put a thin layer of fine compost on the top of the bed, make my rows and plant, but I didn’t have any really fine compost left, so I spread what compost I did have, and on top of where I wanted rows I put seed starting plant mix, which is very fine and light, and then planted the seeds into that.  I decided to cover the bed with PVC pipes and clear plastic, just to warm it up a bit and give those seeds a fighting chance.  I think I may also be having issues with flea beetles in this bed as well, so as soon as the seedlings emerge, I will dust the whole thing with diatomaceous earth.  And Sluggo, as always.

I then moved on and planted my chitted cucumber seeds.  See how to chit seeds here .I started chitting the seeds on June 11th, they sprouted in the plastic bags by June 16th, but the weather was crummy, so I had to wait to plant them until today, June 18th.  In my composted and fertilized bed, I made super-fertile hills that had extra compost and an extra cup of complete organic fertilizer, and worked it into the soil, then I scooped a little bit out of the center of the hill, and put three chitted seeds in every hill, which I will eventually thin to the one strongest plant.  This is the method recommended by Steve Solomon in Gardening When It Counts, and I tried it out last year, and had tons of cucumbers.  I left room in between my hills for trellises to be placed after the seedlings get growing, but for now I covered the bed with plastic and hoops, because you don’t want the chitted seeds to get rained on until they emerge from the soil.  Obviously, Mother Nature is in no mood to cooperate about this, so I covered the bed, which worked for me last year in this same situation.

I also planted three kinds of runner beans that have very pretty flowers–‘Scarlet Emperor’, ‘Violet Podded Stringless’, and ‘Trionfo Violetto’, all of which the hummingbirds like as well.  I left room in between the rows to place trellises after they emerge, and, you guessed it, covered the beds with plastic.  I also planted a small spot with ‘Quickie’ hybrid sugar enhanced corn, and did the plastic cover with them as well.  Beans and corn like warm weather, and since it’s cool, this will hopefully help to warm things up for them.  About half-way through planting the beans and corn, it started raining, so I was none too soon in getting these things in the ground.

In all honesty, my beautiful tomato starts that I planted out on June 3rd are looking a little worse for wear due to sun deprivation, so I put plastic around the tomato cages–I probably should have done this earlier. 

Surely it will warm up soon–we’ve had, according to my records at our place for the month of June thus far, eleven days out of eighteen with rain.  Only four days out of eighteen with actual sun. 

Onward and upward, fellow gardeners!

Chitted Cucumber, Pumpkin and Squash Seeds Today

I chitted cucumber, pumpkin and squash seeds today.  I hope to plant them out about three days from now.  For more information about how to chit curcurbit seeds, see this.

Top Seed Picks for The 2010 Growing Season

Here is a list of some of the most reliable seeds that I have grown in the past and will continue to grow this year:

  • Salad Greens:  ‘Tyee’ spinach,  ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss Chard, ‘Chioggia’ and ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets, Arugula (also called Roquette), ‘Southern Giant Curled’ Mustard Greens, ‘Red Giant’ Red Mustard Greens (also called Gai Choy), Mizuna mustard greens (also called Siu Cai, and Xiu Cai), Double Purple Orach (deep purple leaves–tastes a bit like spinach)
  • Eggplant:  ‘Nadia’ eggplant (dark purple skin), ‘Casper’ eggplant (white skin)
  • Sweet peppers:  ‘Marconi’ Sweet Italian Frying Pepper (These are long red peppers), ‘Gypsy’ peppers (yellow peppers that ripen a bit before ‘Marconi)
  • Tomatoes:  ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes(great for fresh salads), ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes (excellent for drying and for making sauce–good fresh as well), ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes (these ripen late in the season and are huge and delicious)
  • Pumpkin:  ‘Rouge Vif d’Entemt’ Cinderella pumpkin(beautiful for decorating, and good to eat)
  • Bush Beans:  ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans (lavender flowers produce purple beans that cook up green), ‘Purple Queen’ bush beans(beautiful purple flowers and stems on the plants that produce purple beans that cook up green), ‘Pencil Pod’ bush beans(chartreuse foliage, lavender flowers and yellow beans that cook up green)
  • Pole Beans:  ‘Scarlet Emperor’ Runner or Pole beans (beautiful red flowers that hummingbirds like, and great green beans), ‘Violet Podded Stringless’ Pole beans (beautiful lavender flowers and purple beans that cook up green)
  • Basil:  ‘Genovese Italian’ basil (large leaves are wonderful fresh in salads or prepared in pesto, you can also freeze the leaves for winter use)
  • Cucumbers:  ‘Green Slam’ cucumbers (These are great for fresh eating and they produced early in the season and tons of them)

Try some of these out–I’ve had good success growing them!

The Tomatoes and Cukes Carry On

I have soooo many cukes and tomatoes right now. I have made tomato sauce and salsa, which is safely tucked into the freezer for the winter. But the veggis keep coming–I looked up no fewer than 11 recipes for using cucumbers, and I have an entire cookbook for tomatoes, so I am working my way through several.

A good time of year to give extras to food pantries as well.

Chitting Curcurbit Seeds For Better Germination

I have had pretty good luck growing pumpkin and winter squash, and terrible luck the last couple of years growing cucumbers.  I want some cukes this year, so I decided to try some techniques that Steve Solomon advises in his book Gardening When It Counts.

You get some paper towel squares, fold them into quarters, and then dip them in a bowl of tepid water, letting most of the water drip out of the towel.  Then unfold the towel, and along the fold lines place your seeds that you want to presprout, or chit.  Chit 3-4 seeds for every one finished plant you want.  I did this with cuke, pumpkin, and winter squash seeds, but you can also use this technique with bean and pea seeds as well.  Then fold the damp towel back into quarters, and place it in a ziplock bag that you seal shut.  Label the bag with a permanent marker with the name of the seeds inside, and put them somewhere somewhat warm for about three days.  Then start checking the seeds twice a day after that.  You will see a little sprout coming out of the seed.  This is what will turn into the root.

At this stage you can plant the chitted seeds outdoors in soil that’s been prepared and watered a day or two before, because once you put the seeds in the ground you do not want to water until the seed sends its stem up through the earth.   You’ll want to prepare a very fertile soil for these plants.  To do it, pick a spot in the garden that’s been weeded, and dig it up to loosen the soil.  Then dig in about a 1/4 inch of compost and 4-6 quarts of a good complete organic fertilizer into a 100 square foot planting bed–obviously reduce the fertilizer quantity if you are preparing a smaller bed.  Then you are going to create a really fertile hill in which you will plant your chitted curcurbit seeds.  To do this, dump a couple of shovelfuls of compost in a spot, along with a cup of complete organic fertilizer, and dig this into a 12 to 18 inch area.  The center of this is where you will plant your chitted seeds,  2-3 per hill, and then thin to the one best plant as the grow  and mature.

Curcurbit seeds need warm nighttime temperatures for the plants to grow well, so wait until it’s at least 50 degrees at night on a consistent basis before planting these types of seeds out;  with melons, peppers and eggplant, it needs to be 60 degrees at night.    This year we were lucky and it warmed up to the 50’s at night sooner than usual, but it’s usually not warm enough in garden zone 8 to plant these things until June sometime.  Getting up to the 60s at night is a different matter, however.  Since we are almost never consistently that hot here, I usually grow those plants under plastic with pvc pipe hoops to hold the plastic off the plants, and have had good success in this way.  This is a bit of work though, because you will need to cover the plants at night, and then open the plastic during the hot day temperatures.

You will want to put something in place for the cukes to grow up rather than sprawl on the ground.  Two metal fence posts with a string grid can work, or wooden or metal trellises also are good.  Pumpkins and squash that put out long vines can be kept more compact by spiraling them around the center stem on the plant, and then holding it in place with metal garden staples.

I will let you know how it worked out this year.  I am at the stage where I am checking my seeds in bags twice a day, and hope to plant out in my prepared hills anyday now!