Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Food All Around

My little garden is just about ready to explode with food. We are still getting the earliest veggies: green beans, chard, lettuce (a miracle!), cherry tomatoes, and zucchini. In addition, we’re beginning to get cucumbers and peppers, and the first of the eggplants and okra will be ready in just a few days.

We ate the first trombocino squash last night, and we have been eating blueberries for a few days now. In addition, the onions and garlic that were pulled out of the ground earlier this month will keep us from needing to buy more of those for at least a couple of months. None of the big tomatoes are ready yet, but some are beginning to change to a deeper shade of green. If we are lucky, other colors (red! pink!) will follow shortly afterwards.

We have yet to dump out the big pots that are growing potato plants. I am hoping for enough potatoes to last three months, but the world doesn’t revolve around me and my desires, so I will just have to take what I get.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I've Got Company!

The yard is getting plenty of visitors, including these bees --a big carpenter bee and an amber-colored honeybee-- on the Anise Hyssop. This year there are more honeybees than I’ve ever seen, but two hives were recently installed at the nearby public garden, just about a half mile away, as the bee flies. It seems a reasonable guess that the bees are from those hives.

It doesn’t show here, but hundreds of tiny bees are also buzzing around that plant, which is one of five just like it in the yard. The mother-of-thyme, planted up near the road, gets mostly tiny wasps, and the flat-leafed parsley, which is so far past bloom that it is turning yellow, gets insects of all kinds, including bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and ants, and of course it gets those caterpillars that eventually mature into swallowtail butterflies.

In some yards, those caterpillars might count as less desirable insects, but I like the adult stage well enough to not mind the damage done by the babies.

Other insect visitors, less pleasant company, include Japanese Beetles, squash vine borers, and squash bugs. In addition, this seems to be a big year for mealy bugs. Luckily, they drown just as completely in soapy water as the other less desirable insects that I knock into my little pail.

Larger visitors include the birds that have already (!) found my ripening blueberries—the robins, thrashers, and catbirds. Other, more welcome, bird visitors are the little finches, both gold and house, that come to eat seeds from the Verbena bonaris, and a great crested flycatcher that hangs out on the top wires of the tomato cages.

Mammals come, too, including assorted dogs, cats, squirrels, and that darn rabbit, a relatively fearless beast that just sits there eating my plants, even when we release the coonhound. Belle, our hound, isn’t quite sure what to do about a small mammal that won’t run away.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Space Management

People with small gardens might assume that they couldn’t possibly grow such space hogs as sweet potatoes and melons. There is a way, though, to manage the crazy vines and still have room for other plants. In my garden, I just make sure that the vining plants are near patches of taller plants that the vines can creep under.

Some management of the vines, in terms of picking them up out of the lawn and redirecting them in the desired direction, is needed for this method to work most successfully, but this isn’t a huge task in my little garden.

This year, the melons are already heading toward the little patch of corn. They also will be directed toward this year’s onion and garlic patch, that has tomatoes in it now that the onions and garlic have been harvested.

Choosing the smaller cantaloupe and canary melons, instead of watermelons, is also helpful in growing sprawling plants in a small garden. I am pretty sure that no amount of redirecting vines would keep watermelons off my lawn.

The sweet potatoes, as their vines get longer, will be helped to grow under the okra and sunflowers. The variety Beauregard, which I have grown for several years, vines vigorously, so it can be a bit difficult to keep up with. The variety Puerto Rican is new to me this year, but I assume that it will give Beauregard a good race.

The size of each patch of taller plants –small— means that the vines won’t be too shaded when using this method. The corn patch is three rows of 4,4, and 5 plants (it was supposed to be 3 x 5, but a rabbit ate two plants at the ends of the rows). The okra patch is three rows of 4 plants each, and the sunflower row has just 4 plants in it.

In addition, even my tallest plants aren’t especially tall, since I tend to choose short varieties for my garden. This keeps the shading for the rest of the garden at a minimum.

This method is a bit more difficult to use with cucumbers than with other vining plants, because cucumbers are strong climbers; they tend to go up rather than stay on the ground underneath whatever they’ve been directed toward.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tomato Disease: Bacterial Speck

Yesterday, I went to look at a friend’s tomato plants, which were doing poorly. A quick inspection showed that, whatever the plants were suffering from, it wasn’t one of the fungal “wilt” diseases, and it wasn’t Early Blight (I recognize those on sight), so we wrapped a leaf in a damp paper towel for me to bring home for research.

I used Cornell’s Vegetable MD Online pages for tomato diseases to figure out the problem, which seems to be Bacterial Speck. The black dots were small, numerous, and ringed with yellow. In addition, one characteristic of this disease is that it thrives in cool, wet weather, which is exactly what we had for most of the early part of this year’s growing season, in April, May, and the first week of June.

It’s hot now, but my friend’s plants are in bad shape. One plant has lost nearly all of its leaves, some plants have several leaves that are completely wilted, and all the plants have spots on all of their leaves.

The several websites that I eventually read agree that the most common way a garden becomes infected with this disease is through infected seeds or transplants. I started from seed most of the tomato plants that my friend is growing, but my garden is not infected, which means that the disease is unlikely to have come from the Cherokee Purple, Arkansas Traveler, Rutgers, Yellow Marble, or Amish tomatoes that I gave her.

I did grow one variety for her that I did not keep any plants of for myself; it was the variety Black Seaman. She also brought in at least one other tomato plant from another source. Either one of these could have been the source of infection (and I plan to burn that packet of Black Seaman seeds, just in case…), but for now, the biggest question is whether any of her plants will survive.

The remedy mentioned on most websites I visited was spraying with a copper-based fungicide: either a Bordeaux mixture or a copper-maneb spray. However, research from western North Carolina suggests that some strains of the bacteria that causes speck (Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato) have developed resistance to copper sprays. I am hoping that the strain in my friend’s garden is not among them.

Ways to limit the spread of this disease were mentioned in several online sources:

1. practicing clean cultivation (removing and disposing of plant debris--continually)
2. keeping tomato leaves dry
3. using mulch to avoid spread by splashing in heavy rains
4. choosing disease-free seeds and transplants (though this, obviously, is tough)
5. making sure plants are far enough apart that they get good air circulation and that one infected plant has a lessened chance of infecting all the others through splashing

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer Harvest

I am usually the last of my gardening friends to start getting ripe tomatoes from the garden. I haven’t called around to check (that would be too much like gloating!), but this year may be different. This morning, when Joe and I were out checking the garden, we went to look at the Yellow Marble cherry tomato and saw two very yellow little tomatoes.

A better blogger might have run inside to grab the camera, to document the event. Instead, we looked at those two tomatoes, looked at each other, then each picked one to eat right then. Mine was delicious, and Joe says his was, too.

We noticed that more little tomatoes are turning yellow on that plant, and some on the Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato plant are turning red. Most years, my first ripe tomatoes appear at the end of June, or even in the first few days of July—not sure what made the difference. I’m not complaining, but I would like to be able to repeat this event in other years!

In addition to the first tomatoes being ripe, another zucchini (the third one!) was ready to come into the kitchen, along with another big pile of green beans. It’s the kind of day that gardeners really look forward to—when the previous hard work is paid off with good food.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pest Control: Prevention

I tend to not use pesticides in my garden, even the approved-for-use-in-organic-gardens ones. I have always been concerned that I would accidentally kill some helpful critters, the pollinators and predators, along with the unwanted, plant-destroying critters.

These are my main methods of pest and disease control:

1. choosing to grow disease and pest resistant varieties

Growing VF-resistant tomatoes means that my garden will produce tomatoes even in very wet years. V and F stand for verticillium and fusarium; these are fungal “wilt” diseases that lurk as spores in soil all across north Georgia—and beyond! Unfortunately, other plants in the tomato family (Solanaceae) are not strongly resistant.

If my tomatoes routinely succumbed to Early Blight, I would look for blight-resistant tomatoes, but, so far, that hasn’t been a problem.

Growing the Cucurbita moschata (example: trombocino) species of squash in addition to Cucurbita pepo (example: zucchini) is a way to avoid losing all the squash to the squash vine borers, which routinely kill members of the C. pepo species.

2. growing plants that might not be disease-resistant in pots, in commercial potting soil

The yellow marble cherry tomato is in a very big pot because I couldn’t find any information about its disease resistance (or lack there-of). A friend gave me a Japanese Trifle tomato, and it is also in a pot—same reason.

3. using fabric barriers to exclude pests from susceptible plants

Growing cabbage family plants under fabric row-covers, either the Remay-type, available through garden-supply stores, or tulle, available at fabric stores in the bridal area, keeps those white cabbage moths from laying eggs on the plants, which keeps those caterpillars from eating the plants before the gardener does.

This year I am also experimenting with keeping some of my cucumbers covered at night, to exclude the night-flying moth that is parent to the cucumber pickleworm.

4. working to improve the soil so that my plants are as healthy as I can help them to be

Amending with plenty of organic matter (my own compost, plus bagged soil conditioner) helps improve the soil structure. Plants do better when their roots are not in soil that turns into soggy playdough in Spring or bakes to brick-hardness in Summer. It is also important to keep an eye on soil pH. Most garden vegetables do best with a soil pH around 6-6.5. One big exception is potatoes, which do well at a much lower pH, closer to 5.

5. rotating crops through the garden, so that plants in one family are not grown in the same place two years in a row (more years in between than just one is preferable)

Keeping a family of plants from growing over and over in the same soil is important in limiting the buildup of diseases and pests that affect that family. Unfortunately, my garden is small, so crop rotation for me is complex and less-than-perfect. I usually manage a three-year rotation, but sometimes, in some parts of the garden, I only manage to alternate years.

This is partly why I have more plants in pots than I used to; they help me keep the peppers and eggplants out of the standard rotation, so that it is easier to keep members of the Solanaceae (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes), for example, from growing in the same place within that three years.

This also is part of why I’ve expanded my food growing to crops that my family may be less familiar with (or enthusiastic about!) but that are in plant families other than the tomato, squash, and bean families. Chard is one example. It is in the same family as spinach and beets.

6. patrolling the garden, watching for problems

Keeping a watch for problems is an important part of any attempt to limit damage in the garden. For example, noticing an infestation of squash bugs when there are just a few platoons of tiny, immature nymphs means that a gardener has a better chance to limit the damage than if those nymphs all reach maturity, do serious damage to the plants, and then reproduce by the thousands to compound that damage.

For large insects, knocking the pests into a bucket of soapy water drowns them, putting an end to their pestiferous ways and to their reproduction in my garden. This works really well for Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and Mexican bean beetles. For little critters like the flea beetles that can turn eggplant leaves into sad scraps of torn lace, I catch the little critters between a finger and thumb and just roll them around until I am sure they are dead or at least severely damaged. Sound heartless, I know, but it is the insects or my plants…

Some of these methods of control are feasible only because my garden is small. If I had a very large garden, or if my family’s winter-eating absolutely depended on the production of my garden, I would probably look a bit more closely at the approved-for-use-in-organic-gardens pest products, and then use them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On the Radio

I was an actual live guest on the “America’s Home Grown Veggie Hour” on Sandy Springs Radio last Saturday. Even though I have never been in a radio station before, I managed to not ruin the program! Actually, it was a lot of fun, and I had a great time talking about growing food.

The station, which is available online as both real-time and archived shows, has a lot to offer gardeners. On Saturday mornings, the veggie hour follows “The Chicken Whisperer,” and “The Master Gardener Hour” follows the veggie hour. In addition, a new chef is going to have an hour on Tuesdays, which will give gardeners more ideas about what to do with all their good produce.

One of the topics Kate Copsey (the host) and I talked about was the value of networking sites like the one provided at Kitchen Gardeners International. That particular site (also linked on the sidebar of this blog!) provides useful information about growing and using veggies, and it also promotes some great garden-related projects/endeavors. In addition, it includes a Groups area where people can register to join groups that are centered around their own gardening interests. Groups are centered around, for example, container gardening, urban gardening, front-yard gardening, and gardening in Georgia.

Now, I am very fortunate in having lots of gardening friends, but when I first started gardening here I didn’t know anyone else who was trying to grow food, and knowing some other vegetable gardeners would have been helpful. The growing conditions (soil, climate, pests) here are very different than the growing conditions where I gardened before. That difference meant that my first few years gardening in Georgia did not go as smoothly as I would have preferred.

Online groups like those hosted through Kitchen Gardeners International can help a new gardener, who might not yet have developed a solid network of gardening friends, through that first year with fewer problems. Of course, anyone who is gardening in a community garden has a built-in network, and might have less need of an online group, but out here in west Cobb County, the community garden wave has not yet landed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Zucchini of the Summer

This zucchini plant is the variety Raven. In terms of appearance and flavor, this squash variety has done well for me, and I will probably look for it again when buying new zucchini seeds (next year!). I especially like how darkly green it gets.

The seed packet is from Shepherd’s Seeds, and it doesn’t have a date on it so its exact age is unknown, but I have been growing plants from this packet For Years. Next time I get seeds with undated packets, maybe I will remember to write the purchase-date on them!

Knowing the date of purchase can help in figuring out what is causing problems that might arise. For example, if seeds don't germinate, it could be that they are old! Luckily, these Raven zucchini seeds did germinate, but there aren't any left in the packet.

The larger squash visible in the picture is going onto tonight’s pizza, along with other garden produce: chard, basil, and yellow onion.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Planting is Never Finished

I pulled up the garlic today and put a cherry tomato plant, given to me by a friend (thanks Maddie!), in that space. I had thought that this would be the last tomato plant to go in the garden this year, but I noticed today that the space between the most recently planted tomatoes and the Sakata’s Sweet melons is pretty big, nearly four feet. I may cram in one more tomato plant, especially since the Sakata’s Sweet melons don’t look nearly as robust as the other melons.

In addition to planting the cherry tomato, I finally planted some beans where the radishes had been. I originally had thought to plant the rest of the Hestia dwarf runner beans there, but reading that runner beans don’t like hot weather made me rethink the plan.

Instead, I planted some more Roma beans (bush type) in that 2x3 foot space; they do just fine in the heat. I will save the rest of my packet of Hestia for the containers that currently are full (I hope!) of potatoes. If I plant Hestia in those containers in the first week or so of August, the beans will have a chance to mature in cooler weather, in late September and early October.

The zucchini plants are just about to start providing squash to my kitchen, which means that they probably will be sad little heaps of wilted leaves in about three weeks. Rather than leave the space bare when the plants keel over from the squash vine borers, I will replant their little rectangle with southern peas. There is a packet of Pigott Family Heirloom Cowpeas, from Sand Hill Preservation, waiting in my fridge for this exact occurrence.

14 June edit: I totally forgot that I also planted some New Zealand Spinach last week. I've never grown it before.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Green Beans in the Garden

The bush beans, Burpee Tenderpod and an unknown wax bean that got mixed into the bush bean packet, have produced beans that are eatin' size!

The video above is of The West Girls singing the song "Green Beans in the Garden." The song is just as celebratory as I feel when those first beans come to the table.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What To Do with the Chard?

I have been asked, “what do you do with the chard?” by people who want to know what’s in my garden. Like me, they had heard that chard worked as a spinach substitute that could stand temperature extremes in both directions, and they thought it sounded like a dream come true for extending harvestable food into more seasons. Then, they tried it in their own gardens.

Maybe they grew the variety Bright Lights, which is beautiful, or maybe Lucullus, an old standard, and found that they didn’t like it. They probably gave their chard a fair trial, too, preparing it in a variety of ways, before pulling it out of the garden as a plant that was definitely NOT like spinach.

If those were the only varieties available, I probably wouldn’t like chard either. I know this, because I also have tried them, and had that exact response.

However, before I ever tried to grow chard, I had read in an old Time/Life cookbook about a kind of chard referred to as Perpetual Spinach. It is less tough than other varieties, and tastes a bit like beet greens, which I really enjoy, but it doesn’t turn all the other food it is cooked with purple, like beet greens tend to do.

This is the only kind of chard that I grow now (having given up on the others), and I use it everywhere I would use cooked spinach. For example, it goes in “spinach” lasagna, ravioli, shepherd’s pie, quiche, curried vegetables, and enchiladas.

Before incorporating into a dish, I wash, then chop the leaves, and then wilt the pieces in a big skillet. It isn’t hard, and the product is a lot like what comes in boxes of chopped frozen spinach.


This is supposed to be a butterfly house, but this year it is full of bumblebees. Usually, the little house gets hung under the eaves in Spring, but this year I was late taking down the suet feeders and this got left on the little table on the front porch for too long. One day I noticed that it was full of fluff; now, if the table gets bumped the whole little house starts to buzz.

The little house has never, as far as I know, had an actual butterfly inside. Usually, chickadees nest in there.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lettuce Continues!

Last night’s taco-supper included lettuce, cilantro, and onion from the garden. I am always happy when our meals include what I grow. What is really great is that, even though we have had a couple of days with high temperatures near 90 degrees, the oak leaf lettuces still are not bitter, except for the crunchiest parts of the midribs. Those were easily removed before shredding the lettuce leaves to pile on our taco-shells.

The oak leaf lettuces are, however, beginning to bolt, so they won’t be around to enjoy much longer. Luckily, there aren’t many left in the garden. We’ve eaten them.

The Slobolt lettuce still looks and tastes great. I think the prefix “slo” might also refer to its growth rate, because the loose heads only recently have begun to look like fully grown lettuces. In spite of their slow growth, these are beautiful in the garden, and I am happy with how they are doing so far.

The Slobolt lettuce:

Thursday, June 4, 2009


The tops of about half the yellow onions had fallen over by last weekend, and that is a sign that it is about time to harvest. Overall, the onions didn’t get as big as they do some years, but I did get enough good sized onions that I can’t really complain.

On Monday, I knocked over the rest of the tops, and on Tuesday, I popped them all out of the ground and laid them out in the sunshine. According to “Growing Onions in the Home Garden” by UGA, the outer layer of the bulb should be allowed to dry a bit before storage. I never plant so many that they have to actually keep for very long, just about three months, but I think trying to do this right is good practice, in case I ever end up with a big enough garden that keeping onions for several months becomes a possibility.

The multiplier/potato onions didn’t multiply all that much, but I think I will try growing them one more year before giving up on them. The idea of not having to go out and buy “starts” every year is very appealing, and this kind of onion provides its own starts each year. I dug these up last night, because the forecast is for (surprise!) rain. Their tops have also fallen over, and I didn’t’ want them to get too soaked. I’ve put them on a tray on the covered front porch. When the sun finally comes out again, I will set them out to dry for a day or two.

The red onions, planted three (or four?) weeks after the yellow onions, haven’t made bulbs. but they are sending up flowering stalks, a sign that they are done growing. I am thinking that they needed to get planted out much earlier, at the same time as the yellow onions. Next year, maybe I will be able to make that happen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Off Topic

This morning, I was potting up seedlings of Danae racemosa as part of my volunteer work at the Smith Gilbert Garden in Kennesaw, and I kept thinking lines from a poem I had read, years ago, that mentioned another Danae. I knew that when I got home, I would have to look up the poem, and I did.

The poem is online now, but I first read it in a book, The Poetry Dictionary, by John Drury.

Here is the poem:

The Yellow Steeple
by Andrew Hudgins

On my way home from work, I jumped the fence
and cut across the Baptist cemetery.
As I walked over Sarah Pratt,
I saw a workman standing on a scaffold
and swatting a coat of yellow paint
over the peeling whitewash on the steeple.
He dropped a can of paint, and as it fell
the paint dispersed into a mist
and spread a rain of yellow dots
across a corner of the cemetery—
the bushes, trees, headstones, and me.
It ruined my coat. I didn’t care:
I felt like Danae when she
was loved by Zeus in the golden rain.
Then, looking up, I saw a hawk.
It didn’t move at all—not once—
but hung arrested in the air
till I released the breath I held
in awe of its pinpoint, predatory grace.
Still watching it as I walked home,
I barked my shins on a marble angel,
slid down a bank of slick white mud,
fell in the creek, and came up laughing.

It was one of those sustaining days
when you’re absolutely sure you have a soul.
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