Sunday, June 26, 2011

Death of a Tomato Plant

The plant on the right is a Cherokee Purple. It's hard to tell in this picture, but the leaves are all droopy. We've had a lot of rain recently, and that's allowed Verticillium Wilt to really take off inside this plant.

I've pulled out the wilty plant, and so far, the other Cherokee Purple (I planted two) is still fine, but one of the Olivette Jaune may be toast. Interestingly, this is only the second year that this garden bed has been in existence, and last year it held melons and other non-tomato-family crops. The wilt is just pervasive in the soil here, and in the right conditions it can do some serious damage.

The good news is that Rutgers and Wuhib have both always made it through "wilt season" just fine, so I will still have tomatoes, even if some plants have to be pulled from the garden.

And, while the rain "taketh away," the rain also gives. The local blackberries have really picked up the pace!

We are still harvesting green beans, cucumbers, and zucchini from the yard, and the blueberries are adding to the blackberries.

The little pepper plants are loaded with little peppers, so pretty soon we will have a lot of those to also add to our meals.

Hope all the other gardens out there are doing well!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Crops Are Saved!

Along with "Trouble in the neighborhood!" (when he sees a police car), "The crops are saved!" is one of Joe's favorite catch-phrases. I hear that phrase most when it's finally raining after a long dry spell, so I've heard it some recently. In the last week, we've had almost four inches of rain.

We had a little hail with the first storm, but the damage in my yard was limited to holes in leaves and some leaves knocked off their plants. The storm wasn't too bad in my yard, but the hail that did fall ranged in size from the diameter of nickels to the diameter of quarters:

Plants in other yards had more damage. None of us like to go out and find our plant babies broken in two, but one friend walked out after the storm and found exactly that. It was pretty sad.

The same crops as last week (zucchini, green beans, and cucumbers) are being harvested in my yard. I did, though, dig up the potatoes. I got nearly 18 pounds out of the 4-by-4 foot patch. For Georgia, that's not too terrible. Some of these were roasted tonight to go with supper after being rolled in olive oil and sprinkled with fresh, chopped rosemary and some salt. We had zucchini (sauteed) and blackberry cobbler, too. Have I said yet how much I enjoy eating food that we grew and/or harvested ourselves?

The Provider bush beans have been interesting to harvest. They seem to have a very different production strategy than the Burpee Tenderpod bush beans that I usually grow. Provide puts out a huge burst of beans and then seems to taper off, while the Tenderpod have a slower, steadier pace of production over a long time. I've had Tenderpod plants produce most of the summer, but I don't think the Providers are going to keep going after this big flush of beans is gone.

The good news here is that the pole beans will be sending food to the table soon, so if the Provider plants really do quit, we will still have beans in the yard.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Varied Diet

On Monday, I brought in a cucumber and some green beans.

On Tuesday, there were a couple of zucchini to go with the green beans and cucumbers. The little white cuke is the first of the North Carolina picklers. There weren't any more of those to bring in today, but the plants have a lot of little baby cukes that will be ready in a few days.

This morning, there were more green beans, cucumbers, and another zucchini.

Tomorrow, there will be more of the same. (Amazingly, all the green beans so far are from a patch that is just two feet deep and four and a half feet long.)

Usually, when people engage me in conversation about what our garden does for us, I don't talk about it in terms of providing all our food, or even all our vegetables. There are quite a few garden beds out in my front yard, but the actual growing space for veggies that these provide is less than 500 square feet. It would take a lot more than that to feed my family for the year!

Instead, I think of the garden as a source of vitamins, minerals, and variety in our diets. These last several days don't look especially varied, but the garden also provides herbs that can make two meals composed of nearly the same basic ingredients taste different.

The odd times when only one or two veggies are coming into the kitchen don't tend to last very long, and I don't think I've ever had too much zucchini; too many pests here in the South love it too, and the plants usually die before I get too much squash. If there ever is too much of one crop, it can be frozen/dehydrated/canned for later, to become an out-of-season treat.

Also, there is the chard. The small planting means it doesn't come to the kitchen every day, just every now and then. The plant on the right is yet-to-be-harvested; the one in the middle, that is just nubs, went mostly into a pot of lentil soup on Sunday while part of it went into a stir-fry last night. The last few leaves will go into a fried potatoes-and-veggies meal with cheese melted on top tonight. The one on the far left was harvested a week or so ago, and it is regrowing.

If all goes as planned, we can harvest a bundle of chard nearly every week all summer long from the four plants. I had planted five, but something (I suspect a dog) smashed one plant early on, and I never replaced it. Since we are down to just four plants, I might have a week without chard after that fourth plant is harvested, waiting for the first one to complete its regrowth.

We'll have peppers soon, too. Most of the 15 plants on "pepper alley" are sporting little peppers.

We've also had raspberries, but those get eaten before I can even think about bringing out the camera, and a few blueberries have begun to turn blue each day. In less than a week, if the birds are willing to share, we should have enough blueberries to not buy any fruit at the store for awhile. Joe and I have been out picking wild blackberries to put on ice cream and our morning granola (even though, when I made it, I added almost the last of last year's dehydrated blueberries).

The tomato plants finally all have green tomatoes on them, but I don't expect to eat the first ripe tomato until the second week in July. My plants got a late start this year.

For those who are keeping track, the large heads of Slobolt lettuce have turned bitter. We wanted some lettuce for sandwiches over the weekend, and I went out to check the leaves. I brought one back to Joe who popped it into his mouth and nearly immediately made what looked a lot like the "Mr. Yuck" face that goes on bottles of dangerous chemicals! He was raised Catholic, but his family has always celebrated Passover, and he said that the lettuce reminded him of whatever it was that his Mom found to use as the bitter herb at the Seder meal.

The smallest Slobolt, which has only about five leaves, all smaller than six inches high, is still not bitter, but I don't know how long that situation will last. I might just put it on a sandwich later this week, and call it the end of the lettuce season.

I hope all the other gardens out there are growing well!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Beans and Zucchini

I know I am not alone in having pretty much these exact veggies ready for harvest:

Even though they are what everyone else has, too, I am SOOOO happy to have them coming into my kitchen.

One of the zucchini went into what we call "smashed sandwiches." We saute veggies in olive oil (sliced onion, squash, and sugar snap peas in this particular version), pile them into French bread that's been sliced open longways, add some cheese (Provolone is a family favorite for this) and slivers of marinated artichoke from a jar, then cook the finished (closed) sandwiches in one of those George Foreman grills.

This version included sugar snap peas because I brought the last of those in before cutting down the plants.

The sugar snap peas shared a trellis with the cucumbers, and I wanted to make some more space for the cukes. Good air circulation can be helpful in slowing down the assorted mildews that attack the leaves of those vines. The vines are getting long and bushy, so they definitely will benefit from the extra "breathing room."

Also, it has been very hot every day for a while now, and the production of those sugar snap peas has slowed way down. Obviously, though, it hadn't come to a complete standstill before I removed the plants.

Something else that seems to have cropped up in the garden, something unwanted, is the adult of the squash vine borer. I am hoping that the Bt that I have been spraying will slow the damage from the babies of those day-flying moths.

At the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden where I volunteer, we started our yellow straightneck squash early enough that the garden is pretty much pelting us with squash.

One of the gardeners took the 90 pounds of produce we harvested on Wednesday (65 pounds of which was summer squash) to the pantry in Marietta. We were very happy to have been able to provide some good veggies to the pantry!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer Harvest Begins

I'll start with the crops that are kind of on the shoulder of the season. The first is the "perpetual spinach" chard. The one on the left, that's been chopped down to about an inch and a half high, featured in last night's supper.

Most chard varieties produce good food right through the summer. In the very worst of the heat, the plants look pretty sad and aren't quite as tasty, but they perk up again in the fall.

The harvested chard went inside a batch of stuffed shells (greens sauteed in olive oil with onions, garlic, and Italian herbs; mixed with ricotta cheese and a little grated Parmesan; stuffed into mostly-cooked shells; covered with pasta-sauce; cooked until bubbly; grated mozzarella strewn on top). The onions that were in the skillet with the wilting greens and garlic were also from the yard.

It wasn't my greatest onion year. I didn't plant a very big patch (concentrating more on garlic), and the bulbs didn't get as big as usual, but they are still onions!

The "potato onions," or multipliers, are still out in the garden, so there will be a few more to add to the onion pile in another week or so.

This morning, while walking around the yard with my cup of tea, I stopped to check the little patch of bush beans and saw some that were finally big enough for harvest. These came inside with me when I got home from work.

A zucchini also looked just about "eatin' size."

Joe watered the garden while I was gone (when the afternoon temperature gets over 90 degrees F, watering is important!), and he said he thought it had grown since I left.

When I went to look at it, I had to agree, so the zucchini came in, and it will join the handful of green beans, an onion, and some sugar snap peas (nearly the last...) in a stir-fry.

When the green beans and zucchini start producing for the kitchen, that's when I know it's really summer!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Odd Squash Problem: Split Stems

A the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden, we noticed, a few weeks back, something odd about our summer squash plants. The stems had split. In the lower right part of this first picture, the split shows as a wide place:

Here, in this close-up, the split is easier to see:

If this were caused by squash vine borers, the split areas would look a lot more "chewed" and frass (caterpillar poop) would be all over the place. The Squash Vine Borer Damage page from the University of Nebraska's entomology department shows the damage from squash vine borer activity very clearly (sorry I don't have a photo of my own to post. Maybe later this summer...).

Also, when we first noticed the damage, it was VERY early in the season for squash vine borers. In another week or two, I won't be surprised to hear that evidence of the borers has been seen (except that we are spraying the plants with Bt this year, to head that off some), but early May is just too soon.

When I went online to sort out the problem, I didn't find any university or research related sites that discussed the split stems in any context other than as damage from squash vine borers, but I found some discussion sites, populated by gardeners and farmers, that did.

Several mentioned that split stems can be a result of mechanical damage, and is common when young plants with long stems twist and turn in the wind. Others mentioned that such damage is often seen when the plants experience temperature extremes.

The squash at the PAR garden were set out as transplants with fairly elongated stems, so the first category of damage is a possibility. However, this spring and early summer, the daily high temperatures have been all up and down the thermometer, so the second category is another possibility.

Since my zucchini plants at home all experienced the same temperature extremes without also having split stems, I am thinking that the wind-action on spindly stems was a larger factor.

The good news is that the plants seem to be producing well in spite of the weirdness. The plants are blooming abundantly and don't seem to be at all stressed by the heat. Yesterday when we met for our usual workday, the first harvest from those plants totaled 38 pounds!
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