Sunday, August 30, 2009

Laziness Doesn’t Pay

Usually, when I plant the fall greens, I start them in flats and transplant them to their individual places when they reach a decent size. Their individual places are a set distance apart in blocks, in a repeating diamond pattern; the rows that result from this kind of spacing are not especially obvious, and the plants eventually mature to a size that allows them to touch their nearest neighbors on four sides.

This method of starting seedlings and then transplanting them out is some work, initially, but it results in a beautifully filled block, and no thinning is required.

This year, though, I had enough open spaces in the garden that my lazy side won out and I seeded almost all the fall crops directly into furrows, drawn as standard rows. The little plants have come up, which is great, but they’ve come up in abundance, and now they need to be thinned.

Not only is the thinning going to be more work than I would prefer, but it also seems wasteful. Many perfectly viable little plants will have to be pulled up and tossed into the compost. An alternative is to pot them up and find them new homes, but that is even more work. This is all, of course, my own fault.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Day for Surprises

A few weeks back a young man stopped by my yard as he was walking through the neighborhood and asked about the garden. He couldn’t really tell what was in the yard because he had never before seen food growing, and he was curious.

We started at the cucumbers, and when he saw them, he started asking a lot more questions. This gardening suddenly looked very worthwhile! He told me that he liked to make a drink from cucumbers by dropping peeled chunks into a blender with some sugar and ice. I am going to have to remember to try this next year when we reach the time of cucumber-overload.

He was eventually impressed by the sweet potatoes —it was at first hard for him to imagine them underground— and he was definitely interested in the peppers, and tomatoes. He mentioned that most days he prepared his breakfast-eggs with chopped chili peppers. His usual peppers didn’t look exactly like any that I am growing this year, but when I said that we sometimes prepare eggs the same way, he was surprised.

Really, my yard was full of surprises for the young man, but he seemed more disturbed than surprised by the popcorn. Apparently, in Mesoamerica, where he is from, all corn is yellow, all yellow, and only yellow. My popcorn is almost black.

The biggest surprise for the young man, though, was the okra, a vegetable he had never seen before! Then I was surprised by his lack of familiarity with this great Southern vegetable, until I remembered that okra is from Africa.

Reflecting the U.S.A. itself, veggie gardens these days are miniature melting pots, with foods from many places around the world growing, with varying amounts of success, together. I'm a bit surprised that I didn't realize the similarity sooner.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Harvest, Continued

This is most of what I harvested from the yard in the last couple of days. Some veggies are missing, of course, because we ate them. Also, the Heritage raspberries are producing their late-summer batch of berries, but those never make it into the house.

The tomatoes are Cherokee Purple, Wuhib, Arkansas Traveler, and, nestled among the okra, some Matt's Wild Cherry. The peppers are banana peppers and mini-bells. The last of the cucumbers are almost hidden from view behind a Sugar Nut melon. We are getting plenty of okra, and the one garden-section of green beans that’s left, the section that was planted last, is still producing pretty well.

The Casper White eggplant is the first to ripen from the second wave. After harvesting the first wave of eggplants, I put a big shovelful of composted manure under each plant, and the plants have responded well. Plenty of flowers and new fruits developed.

The winter squash is the first of what I hope will be several. It turned completely to its current buff color a few weeks ago, and I decided to bring it in before anything (insects, critters) happened to it.

The really great dough bowl that the veggies are in is a gift from my friend Cheryl. Her grandfather made it a long time ago. She wanted me to have it because she knows how much I like making bread (thanks again, Cheryl!). This bowl will hold twice as much dough as my other bowl, so I am now longing for cooler weather, so I can make bread without overheating the house!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Out in the yard, melons are ripe and ready for eating!

The Schoon’s Hardshell melon that we ate earlier this week was lightly sweet and nicely cantaloupy. So far, none of this variety have split. Since we haven’t had any big rainstorms up from the Gulf yet, I’m not sure that this summer has been a fair test of the variety’s sturdiness in my yard, but I am happy with it so far!

The Sakata’s Sweet melons are not having a good year in my yard. For unknown reasons, the plants were much slower in getting established than the other melons, and the vines have not been especially fruitful. The biggest melon from this variety in my yard is small, just a bit bigger than a softball, and I noticed yesterday that it had split open around the stem even though it wasn’t all that close to being ripe. I picked it to bring into the house anyway. The other melons on these vines are even smaller —baseball size— so it is unlikely that I will grow this variety again, even if they turn out to be delicious. I really want more standard-size melons.

We’ve also eaten a Sugar Nut melon from the yard. This variety is greenish on the inside and so sweet it is like a little sugar-bomb in your mouth. Sadly, I found a split Sugar Nut melon in my garden early yesterday morning, but this variety had never split in my garden until now.

The great irony is that, this year, I recommended that we try growing Sugar Nut at the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry (PAR) garden where I am a volunteer, because the other varieties that we had grown split so easily. We just have never been able to take many small melons to the donation center where we drop off our veggies, because so many little melons exploded before they were completely ripe. I had hoped that the Sugar Nuts would stay intact, like they had in my yard for the previous several years.

However, at the PAR garden yesterday morning, we found two Sugar Nut melons that had split. Of course, one of the Athenas had also split, and more dramatically than the Sugar Nuts, but I am a bit disappointed. The good news is that we were able to take 17.5 pounds of good, sweet, unexploded melons to the donation center in Marietta.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Late Blight, Continued

Right before I took off for Oklahoma for the 4th of July family gathering, I posted about late blight of tomatoes and potatoes having become a huge problem in the Northeast. My garden seemed okay, and I hadn’t heard any more about it in the news, so I quit thinking about it.

However, I’ve been reading garden blogs from other parts of the country, and it turns out that late blight is very widespread, killing plants all across the Northeast, East, and Southeast. After reading several posts by frustrated gardeners, I looked around online and found that late blight has been found in Georgia.

The Master Gardener blog for the Western North Carolina mountains posted on July 21st that late blight had been identified in a commercial field near Dillard, GA, in the northeast tip of the state.

They recommend that growers/gardeners read this webpage from North Carolina State University’s Plant Pathology Department to learn more about the disease, which can, apparently, wipe out a whole field of plants in a week or less. If your plants have late blight, this is what you’ll see:

“The pathogen attacks all aboveground parts of the tomato plant. The first symptoms of late blight on tomato leaves are irregularly shaped, water-soaked lesions (Figure 1); these lesions are typically found on the younger, more succulent leaves in the top portion of the plant canopy. During humid conditions, white cottony growth may be visible on the underside of affected leaves (Figure 2). As the disease progresses, lesions enlarge causing leaves to brown, shrivel and die (Figure 3). Late blight can also attack tomato fruit in all stages of development. Rotted fruit are typically firm with greasy spots that eventually become leathery and chocolate brown in color (Figure 4); these spots can enlarge to the point of encompassing the entire fruit.”

It is thought that the late blight is so widespread and early this year because it was introduced across the entire Eastern US on infected transplants from Bonnie Plants.

Interestingly, this 28 July ’09 article seems to indicate that the source of the late blight infection in Bonnie Plants was its “facilities in Georgia”!

I have been longing for rain here, and my yard did get a half inch this afternoon, but mostly it has been hot and dry for several weeks. Since late blight thrives in cool, damp conditions, maybe I should be a little happier with our current weather!

Family Affair

I know, it’s been a long time since that last Biology class for most of us, but I ran across an interesting article on upcoming changes to a lot of plant families, and thought I would tell a bit about it here. For everyone who’s forgotten, not only do plants have common names that we use in everyday conversation (tomato!), but they also have two part genus and species names, in Latin (tomato’s two part name is Solanum lycopersicum).

In addition, plants are grouped into families of related genera. It’s that family level of organization that is addressed in Ellen Dean’s article Upcoming Changes in Flowering Plant Family Names: Those Pesky Taxonomists are at it Again!.

When I took a class in plant taxonomy (1979?), some of the easiest plant family names to remember were descriptive of some feature of plants in that family. For example, plants in the family Cruciferae had four-petaled flowers in the shape of a cross, and plants in the family Umbelliferae had flowers in specialized clusters called umbels that looked a bit like umbrellas. Since we had to learn the plant families, these clues were welcome.

Taxonomists, though, have been busy in the last several decades, reworking some plant family names and even entire families. Some family names were changed partly to regularize the word endings, so that all family names end with “aceae.” Some have been changed because an older type specimen, with a different name, has been found in a herbarium someplace. These are reasons for name changes of the Umbelliferae and the Cruciferae.

In addition, closer examination of plant characteristics using a method called Cladistics, added to DNA evidence, has led to the reworking of some groups of plants. This week, I came across Ellen Dean’s article that explains that even more family names, and the groups of plants within some families, are changing.

Plant families are important to gardeners because plants within one family may be more likely to have similar disease and/or pest problems than plants in different families. This is one reason why we are told to rotate plants within a family through the garden in such a way that they don’t follow each other in the same location for several years.

Another reason for crop rotation in the garden is that plants within a family tend to make similar nutrient demands on the soil. Tomatoes are likely to use up exactly the nutrients that peppers also need, so planting peppers after tomatoes would make soil preparation for the peppers more difficult than if peas were following those tomatoes.

Being familiar with the plant families is useful in managing crop rotations, and knowing both the old and the new names can help avoid any confusion. For gardeners, the number of plant families to keep up with is fairly limited (thank goodness!). However, anyone working with older books will likely see the older family names and lists, and could become confused when faced with an unfamiliar, new (!), plant family name.

These are the ones I try to be aware of:

Brassicaceae (used to be Cruciferae): broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, turnips, radish

Apiaceae (used to be Umbelliferae): carrots, parsley, parsnips, cilantro, fennel, dill

Amaranthaceae (now includes the Chenopodiaceae): amaranth, beets, spinach, chard

Fabaceae (used to be Leguminaceae): green beans, English peas, sugar snap peas, southern peas, runner beans

Solanaceae: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes

Cucurbitaceae: cucumbers, melons, squashes, pumpkins

Asteraceae (used to be Compositae): dandelion, sunflower, chicory, radicchio, lettuce (surprise!)

Liliaceae: onions, garlic, shallots

These families are less likely to pose a problem for me in planning rotations, because I don’t use them as abundantly in the veggie garden:

Lamiaceae (the mint family): basil, mints of all kinds, anise hyssop, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme

Poaceae: corn, wheat, rice

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fall's Progress

It seems awfully hot to be talking about fall, but gardeners have to work in advance of the seasons. If the fall crops don’t go in soon (or yesterday!), the risk of not having them mature before the really cold weather comes, especially in a yard like mine that doesn’t quite get full sun, increases.

Luckily, the green bean production slowed way down recently, so I don’t feel too bad about pulling up the plants. To date, two thirds of my green beans have been pulled up, and the great greens planting has begun.

So far spinach, chicory, and two kinds of lettuces have gone into the bean bed. Those are all coming up now, so more lettuces, spinach, cilantro, and chard will likely go in tomorrow. In other parts of the yard, cabbages and broccoli are coming up, and so are the beets.

The yard looks a bit odd because all of the new seedlings are under protection, either netting, or fencing, or both.

The cabbages/broccoli are under tulle, to keep those white butterflies from laying their little cabbageworm eggs on the plants. The newest chard is both sort-of fenced and under some old Remay (fabric row-covering) that I got a few years ago. When the chard first came up, it wasn’t protected at all; then, a rabbit chomped a couple of the plants down to little nubs. I am hoping that the fabric cover is enough to keep the rabbits at bay.

The beets are also at risk of being eaten by bunnies, and their odds of survival are lower than the chard’s. Rabbits REALLY LIKE beets. Right now, my little beet patch is surrounded by a pretty tall chicken-wire fence. If I am lucky, the rabbits won’t realize how easy it would be to just squeeze under the bottom edge of that wire.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Checking around online, I found that one clue to the approaching harvest-time for popcorn is dry husks. Most of the husks covering the ears of Dakota Black popcorn out in my garden have gone papery and brown (good!), and a couple of ears have started to get a little moldy out at the silk end (bad!). This combination of factors led me to harvest the popcorn.

A few ears were later to develop than the others. I’ve left those on their stalks in the garden to dry a bit longer because their husks are still greenish.

However, the harvested corn is beautiful! I will start checking its pop-ability in a month or so. Until then, it will stay in a basket, covered with a cloth to keep dust off, to finish drying.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Two Big Tomatoes

The Cherokee Purple, on the right, weighs 1.5 pounds. The Amish tomato, on the left, weighs 1.25 pounds. I picked them both a little sooner than I prefer, because this morning I worked as a volunteer at the nearby Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden where critter-troubles have made me a bit paranoid about my own garden's large tomatoes.

The critters seem to target the largest nearly ripe tomatoes in the garden, chomping out a big hole on one side then scooping much of the middle portion right out of the fruit. It has been pretty frustrating. The trap that has been set out has caught a couple of raccoons and a possum, but the trap will be set repeatedly until it doesn't catch any more critters (they also have scooped out the middles of most of the watermelons).

The Amish tomato is a plant that I got through a Home Depot store. I didn't really need any seeds that day, but I was looking at the racks of seeds anyway (can't resist!), and it turns out that I am not the only person who does this. An older guy who also didn't need any seeds was also looking at the racks; he wanted to see if the store was selling his favorite variety that he saves seeds from every year (so he wouldn't actually buy any even if they were available).

We visited for a while about gardening, then he said that closer to planting time (about six weeks away from that time) I should stop by his house and he would give me some plants! He explained how to find his house, so in early April I stopped by. His wife answered the door, looking a bit wary, but I asked for "the Tomato Man" and heard a big laugh from behind her.

The guy was there, and I was given some plants. The pictured tomato is from a plant that I have growing in a pot. Another one, that was put in the ground in early spring, didn't survive, but a third plant that went in where and when the onions came out is doing fine.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Now and Later

Once again, Blogger has turned a picture ninety degrees, so it is weird to look at, but the idea still gets across. The garden is producing plenty of vegetables! A couple of cucumbers and a big squash didn't fit in the basket, so they aren't in the picture, but they will make it into our meals before too long.

One skinny, red okra, from the one red plant, is in with all the rest. That one red plant still makes me laugh. The tomatoes are Wuhib, a paste tomato that, according to Joe, is surprisingly tasty for its kind (most paste tomatoes really are better cooked).

The pale cucumbers on top are North Carolina Picklers. They develop a yellow hue as they mature, like the lemon cukes that people seem to love, but they stay cylindrical, instead of getting round like the lemon cukes.

The cucumbers that you can't see, the ones on the bottom of the veggie pile and the ones that aren't in the basket, are slicers. The peppers (just two in the basket) are a banana pepper and a red mini-bell.

This is basically the same assortment of veggies that I've been bringing in for a few weeks now, but soon, I hope, melons will be added to the harvest.

This is the furthest along of the Schoon's Hardshell melons.
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