Sunday, June 27, 2010

Update in Pictures

It's been awhile since I walked around the yard with the camera, so that's what I did today. I missed some areas of the garden, but this is part of what's going on:

The key-lime tree that spends the winter indoors snagging us all on its insanely long thorns is doing a good job of making limes this year. If all goes well, a couple of these will go into a celebratory Gin & Tonic in August, when they begin to ripen.

In a few days, this could be the first cucumber of the season to make it into the kitchen. This variety is Straight Nine (not eight!).

These flower buds should be okra in the frying pan in just a couple of weeks. Joe has been asking when the okra will be ready, so I am glad to see that these are making good progress. This is the dwarf variety Cajun Jewel that I usually grow, rather than an experimental "short" variety that could shoot up eight or more feet like Louisiana Short did last year.

This pepper, Feherezon, is a new variety for my garden. We have eaten quite a few of these already. I can state with confidence that they are good on the grill when stuffed with that Mexican crumbling cheese.

The popcorn has passed the "yummy to bunnies and crows" stage and is looking healthy. Last year, a patch just about the same size made more than a quart of dried popcorn, and we had a lot of fun popping and eating it over the winter. I hope this year's patch is as productive! It is the same variety, from the same seed packet -- Dakota Black.

This tomato, Wuhib, was productive and good last year. It looks as though it will be at least as productive this year. This is a big cluster of tomatoes!

The earliest clusters of Wuhib are turning red. We will be able to use these in cooking in the next few days. This means no more canned tomatoes for the summer!

The zucchini plants have been "done in" by the squash vine borers, but we will have more zucchini-like squash in a few weeks. This is a baby trombocino/zucchetta squash. When it and all its siblings are bigger, they will taste and look a lot like zucchini, but will hold up to long cooking better.

These are yellow marble cherry tomatoes and some ground cherries. I've never grown ground cherries before, so they represent one of my "adventures in gardening" for this summer. I've eaten wild ground cherries; they grow in Oklahoma (where I tried them first) and here in Georgia, as weeds, but these taste better.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beating Up the Tomatoes

A couple of people have asked me recently why their beautifully big, green, and healthy tomato plants have no flowers and fruits. It is perfectly understandable that they would be confused, because anyone would expect that a healthy plant would be a productive plant. Weirdly enough, it is possible for a plant to be too "green."

Usually, a plant (the kind from which we expect fruit) that is all lush green leaves and stems with no flowers and fruits is getting too much nitrogen.

I heard the N-P-K combination in commercial fertilizers explained once as Up-Down-All Around. The nitrogen (N) is for top growth (Up), the phosphorus (P) is for root growth (Down), and the potassium (K) is for "all around" growth. That is an over-simplification of what the nutrients do, but it gets the basic point across and is easy to remember. And what it helps us know is that, somehow, those lush tomato plants have had access to too much nitrogen.

There is no easy way to get those plants to make tomatoes that I am aware of. Eventually, given enough time, the nitrogen will become less abundant in the soil and the plants will flower. However, it could take many weeks of waiting, depending on how much fertilizer was accidentally used on the plants.

My step-dad Grandpa Bill, though, has said that such plants can be stressed to get them to flower. Grandpa Bill is in his 80s and has been gardening in Oklahoma for his entire life, so he knows quite a bit about gardening. He says that one way to stress those plants is to just "whump 'em." A hail storm can do this for you, and if you are in Oklahoma, hail storms are common enough that a gardener with too-lush tomato plants can just wait for one.

When no hail has been forecast, he has known farmers and gardeners to actually whack the plants with sticks, to get them bruised enough that they have to use up a bunch of nitrogen in tissue repair. In a week or two, the plants start to flower.

I have never had the problem of too-lush tomato plants, so I have not yet had the experience of beating up my tomato plants, but I would really like to see this personally.

Another, less weird way to stress the plants might be to do some pruning. The plants would then use up nitrogen in the new growth that they would put out to replace what was lost.

It's an interesting problem.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Crazy Heat, Early Insects

These are zucchinis three and four; the second one we ate without pausing to take a picture. However, there will be only a couple more of these squash before all the plants are dead. Last year, we had zucchini into early July, but the squash vine borers are early this year.

And at the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden, the State half-runner beans already are being eaten by Mexican bean beetles.

Both of these pests cause problems more typically at the end of June or in early July. I am wondering whether the intense heat of the past couple of weeks has brought on the early infestations. We have been having afternoon temperatures in the mid-90s, and that trend looks likely to continue for another week or two. We usually don't have this much hot weather until late in July, and even then we get some little breaks of slightly cooler weather.

This may be a good time to count my blessing in terms of our usual Georgia weather, tall trees, and the existence of air conditioning. When I was a child in Oklahoma, we had a lot more very hot days (high 90s and up past 100 degrees), less shade, and no air conditioning.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An "Alliums" Harvest

I harvested most of the regular onions, multiplying onions, and garlic -- plants that are all in the Allium genus -- over the weekend. The job was an aromatic one! I am lucky that the house has a shaded front porch; I can leave them all outside on trays to dry for a while.

There aren't as many onions as usual this year, because I had given more room to the garlic. They came out pretty well, though, and we will be eating these for a couple of months.

I had also planted some little bulbs from the multiplying onions (sometimes called "potato onions" though I don't know why), and these made more little onions. Every year I debate whether to replant these -- using the little onions in the kitchen is a bit of a hassle -- but every year I plant a few that I have saved from the summer's harvest. Even though they are a hassle, they are free!

The tray in the center of the photo below holds the harvest from some grocery store garlic that I had planted. Originally, this is all I had planned to plant, and it would be enough to last until about Thanksgiving. The bulbs need to dry for several weeks before use, to let the skins dry enough to easily peel away from the cloves, so it really represents about four month's worth for my family.

Then, a friend wanted to try some different garlics, but her garden space is even more limited than mine, so we agreed to split a "starter pack" of different garlics.

The tray on the left holds the variety Inchelium Red; the tray on the right holds the Polish White. I didn't have as many little cloves of the Polish White as the other kinds, so I didn't expect to have as much of a harvest from that variety, but it is interesting that the bulbs are so much smaller than for the other varieties. This is something to remember for my yard!

The bulbs that I harvested are all soft-neck varieties of garlic. There are also some hard-neck garlics out in the garden, the variety Chesnock Red and the one heirloom bulb from Rabun County, Ga. The leaves on these are still green, rather than the shades of tan and brown that the other garlics had all been turning, so I left them to mature a while longer.

The hard-neck varieties form scapes, which are the parts that usually flower and set seed. In the picture above, they are the curved bits at the top. I have read that these are edible, and I decided to find out for myself just how edible they were. I trimmed off the scapes to saute in olive oil to serve on pasta with peas and grated parmesan cheese. The scapes made the olive oil nicely garlicky, and the bulbous ends of the scapes, the part where the flowers were forming inside, were good to eat, but the long pointy ends were tough.

When you have a garden, every day is an adventure!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tomato Update

We ate the first tomatoes of the season last night, with the first zucchini and peppers, but I think we might have cheated. One of the tomato plants that set a lot of early fruit had leaves that turned yellow and then wilted. A lot of leaves. Most of the leaves on the plant, in fact. So, I pulled up the plant and put it in the garbage and brought the green tomatoes into the house.

The two tomatoes in the picture above are from that plant, which was a Red Chinese. Apparently, this particular variety is NOT resistant to verticillium wilt. I have replaced that plant with a gift from a friend, a tomato of the variety Eva Purple Ball (thanks Susan!). However, there is another Red Chinese out in the garden, and it isn't looking as robustly healthy as its neighbors in the tomato bed. It will probably need to be replaced soon, too.

The good news is that it isn't too late to replace a tomato plant!

Other tomato news: the first two little tomatoes on the Yellow Marble tomato plant were ripe today, and we ate them. Last year, I grew this variety in a pot that was filled with MiracleGro potting soil, and the tomatoes were very tart. I wondered about the effect of the soil on flavor, so this year I planted one of these in the ground. This year the Yellow Marble tomatoes taste like cherry tomatoes, and they aren't too tart! This, to me, is an interesting finding.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Gardener's Insurance

I got a phone call earlier this week from a gardener friend who was experiencing a gardening disaster. He is the family custodian of his wife's family's Puerto Rican sweet potatoes, a line that has been grown by her family in this county for more than one hundred years, and for some reason this year his saved seed potatoes had not put out any sprouts, even though he did everything the same way he has for decades. He was totally distressed that this particular line might be lost, and even more that it was "on his watch"!

However, just last year he had shared a dozen or so slips with me. My friend wanted to know whether I had kept any to grow this year. The answer, of course, was yes. I had already planted mine (around the first of the month), but I still had quite a lot of slips in the flat I had started my slips in; they hadn't yet been dumped into the compost. I was able to take the flat over to his place so he and his wife could plant them. To say that he was very happy to see that flat of slips would be a massive understatement.

This is a good lesson for me as I begin to really work at saving seeds. Sharing is like a gardener's insurance. When I save or develop a variety that really works in my yard, sharing it with other gardeners will improve the odds that it won't be lost if my little patch or supply is somehow destroyed. So, this is just to let my local gardening friends know: when I finally get my favorite hybrid melon dehybridized (which could take a few years), you will ALL be getting little packets of seeds!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just an Update

There's a lot going on in the yard, but it isn't all edible. These flowers are wonderfully huge, and if you get close enough to try to smell them, the red pollen from the anthers gets all over your face. The flowers come in orange,

and yellow,

and in a purpley-pink that we didn't get a picture of. Some of the floral action, though, is edible, like the flowers on this dill:

It would be really great if the cucumbers were ready now, but they aren't even close. I am going to have to hope that some of the dill that is further behind in its development will hang back long enough for me to use it in pickles with the cucumbers.

Also making good progress right now are the peppers. The next picture down shows the Czech Black, the peppers that I am growing as a jalepeno substitute. According to the information I read, these are supposed to have good, jalepeno-like flavor but also have a bit less heat.

It isn't that I'm a total pepper wimp, and Joe grew up in South Texas so he can eat some pretty hot peppers, but last year's jalepenos were too spicy to even think about eating. That wasn't the first year that our jalepenos have been blazingly hot, so I am trying these in the hope that we can actually eat all the peppers we grow.

Another crop coming along nicely is thezucchini. We never get the huge crops that people complain about up north, but it looks as though we will get enough for several meals before the squash vine borers kill the plants.

While we were out in the yard, one of the neighborhood kids from the group of friends we refer to as the "little rascals" saw the camera and wanted to try it out. Joe showed him how to use it, and he did such a great job taking a picture of us that I am posting the result:

Sunday, June 6, 2010


This little bunny -- and his friends the chipmunks, crows, and other bunnies -- have been snacking in my garden. The good news is that they are all picky eaters, leaving a lot of my young crop-plants completely alone. I've covered the popcorn, though, until it gets bigger.

Young corn is a favorite food of all the animal pests in my yard. Bunnies and chipmunks eat the leaves, and crows pull the whole plant out of the ground to get at the yummy kernel, leaving leaves and roots scattered around the hole. I guess I don't have to say that some of the popcorn under that tulle (cheap version of "fabric row-cover") is a couple of weeks younger than the rest, because I had to replant what was eaten.

Amazingly, all the animals have, so far, left the young pole beans alone. Since these are the Alabama blacks that I had only a couple of tablespoons of originally, I feel extra-fortunate that these plants are still here. I'm not sure I have enough left to replant even this short row.
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