Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ooh, she really DID!

Today was demo garden workday at Derwood, and I was anxiously waiting to see what happened as a result of the hurricane.  Well, on the whole we didn't fare too badly - some tree limbs down in the shade garden and a few other plants knocked down or broken.  But then there were the cucuzzis.  Here's the cattle panel arch (plus next door bamboo trellis) covered with huge gourd vines, a couple of weeks ago:

And here's the same arch when we arrived today:

Right over on its side, pulling the bamboo trellis partway over as well!  But, with MG muscle, some big metal stakes, and lots of twine, we got things righted again.  A few of the gourds had broken, but we still have plenty of giant ones: I measured one at 46" last week.

We also spent a lot of time tying up Jerusalem artichokes that had crashed down on top of other plants.  But really we were very lucky.

More demo garden adventures to come, including why we looked like someone was having a birthday today...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oh Yes, she DID!

She came and went wreaking much havoc in her wake. Four of our trees, with the help of a soggy soil, needed to be straightened after Irene visited us Saturday night. The biggest tree of the lot was one of our apples trees. Bad hurricane, bad girl.

On the first picture, this is the tree standing a week before the storm.

After Irene.

After some efforts from my wife, Donna, and me.

Big job need big ropes.

The good side is I didn't have to climb a ladder to pick the ripe apples on the top of the tree.

These are the apples only found on the ground. The red ones are from the other apples tree.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oh No she DIDN'T!!!!!

So...I blog pretty regularly here. If you've ever read one of my posts you may have noticed that I end each blog with either "happy gardening" or "happy garden thoughts" (when the garden season is over or not yet begun).

*Ahem* Well apparently I guess I am just a little too happy and Ms. Thing--otherwise known as Irene--tried to do my happy hind parts in.

Yes, we weathered the storm last night. Just a lot of rain and wind. I didn't know it but my hubby said the power went out for about 30 seconds at around 11:45pm. I didn't even know...I was fast asleep. Well, I woke up this mornin' just happy (see....there's that word again) that things didn't get crazy.

Then my phone rings. It's 6:00AM. I'm thinking it's my parents calling to see if we are OK. Nope. It's my neighbor Steve. Here's how the conversation went down:

Me: "Hey Steve!" (I saw his name on the caller ID)
Steve: "Hey, honey, I'm sorry about the damage to your cage."
Me (inside voice): Oh damn, what the (&$#(&#(& happened now?!
Me(outside voice): "What do you mean?"
Steve: "My tree fell on your garden cage."
Me: (silence as I run to the back window) "Oh. I see it. OK. It just looks like the branches are leaning on the chicken wire. None of the beams are broken."
Steve: "Honey, we are getting that tree removed as soon as possible and will pay for any damage."
Me: "Aww thanks, Steve."

Then I went outside to get a closer look to be sure there was no damage and here is what I saw:

As I took this picture I said in my Diva attitude voice: "Irene, no you didn't just try to take out my cage!"

I don't need to remind y'all of what happened to my cage during Snowmageddon:

Well, I immediately get "happy" again to spite her! The roots from that tree always kept me from planting deep on the left side of the cage and it also blocks out the morning sun.

So I guess I should be thanking Irene. Yeah, whateverrrrrr! She still tried to do my cage in!

Well, I'm going to read more about hydroponics, y'all!

Until next time.....

Don't worry....be HAPPY!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Damrosch: Are veggie gardeners snobbish, elitist, unkind?

Barbara Damrosch, the Washington Post’s “A Cook’s Garden” columnist is at her best when she’s ranting, and her latest column is a glorious rant. Three cheers—two thumbs up—for Barbara Damrosch!

Example: “I don’t care how much you earn, how fine a car you drive or what college your child attends. If you eat flavorless food, low in nutrients, grown in lifeless soil, you are poor….”

To enjoy her seven paragraphs, CLICK HERE.

Note to the Washington Post: Please tell the editor who wrote the headline for Damrosch’s column, “Jejune produce in August,” to throw away those flashcards for “1,000 Words to Dumbfound Your Readers.”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tomato Patch: Getting ready for Hurricane Irene

Ready for Irene
Just how much trauma can the Tomato Patch take in one week—a 5.9 earthquake on Tuesday and a brush with Hurricane Irene on Friday or Saturday?

The earthquake had no visible effect on the Patch. I haven’t found one tomato that I think the quake shook from a vine. But I am concerned about the effect the passing hurricane may have this weekend.

In recent years, August has been a relatively dry month with our lawn of crabgrass reduced to stubble and me dreaming of late-afternoon showers of relief for our gardens. But this August is different. Our lawn is bright green, and the official weather data reported in the Washington Post indicates that BWI, our nearest airport, has recorded 5.30” of rain so far this month, compared to the normal 2.49”.

Now the weather news is about Hurricane Irene and what her effect may be on the mid-Atlantic states. The latest computer models indicate Irene most likely will parallel the coast as it moves north and possibly give eastern portions of our area “damaging winds” and “flooding rain.”

The Tomato Patch already has good moisture from recent summer downpours. Several more inches of “flooding rain” combined with “damaging winds” could topple some of my less-protected tomato cages, especially those with tall, indeterminate vines now top-heavy with late-season fruit. Softened soil plus top-heavy tomato plants plus wind gusts easily can topple tomato cages.

Wednesday morning I picked two buckets of break-stage tomatoes—Brandwine, Virginia Sweets, Super Marzano, and Big Mama. Moving their weight from the top of their vines to a counter in our garage should help keep my tomato cages upright if Irene’s rains and winds come our way.

And today I plan to reinforce three cages that recent summer storms have tilted a bit and, if the soil is dry enough, I’ll do a little extra hilling around my young fall vegetables—rutabagas, turnips, beets, and lettuce—to help them resist the downpours that probably will come this weekend.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gingered Butternut Soup

Recently, I picked a small butternut squash from my garden; one of many we have growing freely. The question was, what to do with this guy? We can say the same thing with an apple from one of our apple trees found on the ground. Both fruits have damage from sucking bugs. If the apple was damaged recently, the butternut squash was damaged way back in the early stage of its development.

Short story, I found some inspiration and adapted some recipes into this one.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled & diced
  • 1 large boiling potato, peeled & diced
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded, diced
  • 1 medium tart apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 0.5 inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3 cups veggie stock, chicken stock or water
  • Few leaves of basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste. *
    *It's time to use your special salt. I used Apple Smoked Salt from the Maine Sea salt Co.
  1. Heat the olive oil in a 2.5 quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash, apples, carrots, cover and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

  2. Add the stock or water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Stir occasionally, until all the vegetables are very tender, 10 minutes or more depending on the size of your dice.

  3. Remove from heat, add salt, pepper and basil and carefully purée with an immersion blender until smooth. If the soup is too thin for your taste return to a boil until the desired consistency.
  4. Serve hot.

Tomato Patch: Coping with stink bugs

They're back on the windows
“Where are the stink bugs this year?” friends asked in May and June.

“Outside breeding so we’ll have a generous supply trying to figure out how to get into our homes in September and October,” I usually replied. It’s late August now, and the brown marmorated stink bugs have started to show up on our windows and sunning themselves on the western sides of our homes in late afternoon.

I’ve seen them all summer, of course, in our gardens. Their favorite foods at Meadow Glenn include tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, green beans, cucumbers, and squash.

Stink bugs dining on Virginia Sweets tomato
In the Tomato Patch, the stink bugs seemed especially attracted to two large-fruited varieties, Virginia Sweets and Brandywine Red. Virginia Sweets is a large yellow tomato with reddish blush. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the stink bugs like the big yellow because researchers have found the bugs have some preference for that color. I haven’t figured out why the bugs preferred the Brandywine Red to the nearby Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain) fruit.

The small Sungolds seem untouched, though I haven’t used a magnifying glass to verify that fact. The larger red Juliets showed minimal damage, though I think my picking at “breaker stage” this year helped minimize the bug attacks.

Brandywine with stink bug "pinpricks"
In mid-June, when I saw the carnage the stink bugs were starting on our berries and tomatoes and realized my daily attempts to control the bugs by drowning them into soapy water was not going to be effective, I balanced the risks and began periodic spraying with a commonly available garden spray, Ortho Max Lawn & Garden Insect Killer (bifenthrin), which lists stink bugs among the insects it kills. I strictly following directions and the more stringent California “days to harvest” after each spray. My decision to use a pesticide was difficult because I have had an essentially organic garden for at least 10 years.

Within 10 days the number of stink bugs went from “impossibly high” to “seldom seen.” Last year we harvested few raspberries, and those we did were usually stink-bug damaged. This year we harvested many quarts of beautiful berries. Last year we threw away many of our large tomatoes because of stink-bug damage. This year we have eaten most.

I've turned off the night light
Before dawn Sunday morning I found evidence of the stink bug hordes that soon will be seeking ways into our homes for protection from cold weather. As I stepped out of the garage to walk to our mailbox to get the Sunday Post, something caused me to glance up at the overhead night light. Scores of stink bugs swarmed around the light. Sunday night for the first time in 15 years I turned off the light.

Scientists from multiple disciplines are studying brown marmorated stink bugs and how they may be managed. I posted earlier about the EPA’s approval of pesticides for stone and pome fruits and for organic growers and about USDA experiments with tiny, parasitic wasps. An excellent overview of what’s happening is the University of Maryland Extension’s Entomology Bulletin, which details symptoms of the insect’s damage on crops and ornamentals and includes outstanding photographs. To link to the bulletin, CLICK HERE.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Defeat of the downpour demons

Six future salads?
Our fall lettuce—at least some of it—finally is growing in our garden.

The Downpour Demons this year frustrated me twice. In mid-July I planted a row of Simpsons Curled and Red Sails lettuce seeds for fall harvest. Several days later a series of downpours either drowned the seeds or floated them from our terraced, hillside gardens toward the general direction of the Patuxent River and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. I planted a second short row a few days later, and within 48 hours the Downpour Demons struck again.

However, the Downpour Demons didn’t win the fall lettuce battle. On July 31 I abandoned hope in starting lettuce in the garden and planted seeds in sterile starting soil in cups, kept them well watered but not floating, and protected them from downpours by rushing them onto our front porch whenever I saw a particularly ugly gray cloud approaching.

Finally—on Thursday—eighteen days after I planted the seeds in the cups, I set the six transplants out in a sunny spot in the corner of a garden near our row of Brandywine Red tomatoes. I watered them deeply, tucked some of the straw mulch around them, and will keep an eye on them and my favorite bottle of balsamic as I fantasize about the great salads they will make.

Have the Downpour Demons taught me anything? Yes, I think it’s much more efficient to start fall lettuce seeds in cups for later transplanting. I think next year I’ll start the process with cups, hopefully frustrating the Downpour Demons and saving me time, work, and disappointment.

And maybe I should start a few more cups of lettuce plants to extend our salad harvest well into October.

Grow It. Eat It.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

So how's that geographic-themed garden going, hm?

I haven't written much this year about my Vegetables Around the World theme for the Derwood Demo Garden vegetable beds.  The concept is that one side of the path represents the Americas, with plants originating in those continents, and the other side has plants from Europe, Africa, and Asia.  The object is to teach visitors (and gardeners) something about food origins, and make them think about history and trade and agriculture and how the concept of "native plants" plays out in the food gardening world, and perhaps tweak their ingrained notions of what "regular vegetable gardens" are.

So, how's it going?  Well, I can't speak for what's happening in visitors' heads.  Most of them I talk to want to chat about stink bugs (which brings up other issues surrounding international trade and its accidental disasters).  I've had some good discussions with fellow MGs, and I hope some people are reading my signs and learning something.

Aside from that... well, it's been a tough summer in the garden.  A lot of our standard, backbone plants, like tomatoes and peppers and beans, are not growing well, and that's not counting the ones I always have some trouble with, like squash and melons and cucumbers, none of which have done well at all.  Setting up the garden in this way means I can be much less flexible about substituting one plant for another that's died.  For example, I can usually just ignore melons if I don't have confidence in growing them, but this summer I really wanted to include them because they were part of the "Africa" list.  I have one, itty-bitty Minnesota Midget cantaloupe forming, and all the other plants but one have croaked.

If the melons die, I can't put squash in their place, because squash is native to the Americas and belongs on the other side of the garden.  I've had to be a little flexible with the rules, since we already had asparagus and rhubarb growing on the Americas side where they don't belong.  Also, a patch of New Zealand spinach kept coming up in the middle of "Africa," and I finally got tired of trying to move it to an island somewhere and just let it be (it's doing great).  We also had a mouse melon (from Mexico) growing close by - it came up by itself on the opposite side of the path from where it grew last year, apparently from a seed that stuck to an arbor stake and was carried over there when we moved it.  I think it's been overwhelmed by the cucuzzi gourds, though.  And - don't tell anyone - after the winter squash died in the ever-increasing shade of the Jerusalem artichokes (a North American native, nothing to do with Jerusalem), I decided to plant a fall crop of turnips and kale there (native to Europe).

Speaking of Europe, a lot of the plants native there grow best here in the spring and fall, so that area has looked a trifle bare (or buggy and bolting, if I didn't rip the plants out) all summer.  I hope to have some decent fall crops coming along soon.  And most of the rest of the world got a late start because those plants needed warm temperatures.

It's been an interesting experiment.  So I thought I'd give you some cautions in case, for some absurd reason, any of you ever want to try it.  Plan carefully, is all I can say, and have alternatives in mind.

Now, if the usual stalwarts aren't producing, what is doing well (because, from a distance, the garden looks lush and happy)?  Well, I can't complain about the vigor of the cucuzzi gourds:

They are taking over that entire section of the garden and producing some startling edible (up to a couple of feet, at least) fruits.  The luffa vines are vigorous, although not as prolific as last year's, and the bitter gourds are beautiful, with their long vines and sculptural fruit.

(That's six bitter gourds and a cucumber, unfortunately our last cucumber.)  I have tried cooking and eating bitter gourd, according to the best advice (thank you Rani and Wendy), and well, in small quantities I find it kind of good, but not in large quantities, which is what we have.  I'm sure we'll locate some eager takers, though, and I'm inclined to grow it again next year just because the plants are so gorgeous (and successful).

You may notice a gourd-related theme here, and also that these plants are all tropical in origin.  We're also doing fine with potatoes and sweet potatoes, mouse melons (though they're not as fruitful as last year's), and the Vigna unguiculata duo of Asian long beans and African cowpeas - the latter aren't producing yet, but they had a late start due to rabbit issues, and the lovely flowers have now made an appearance.

And they are not covered with aphids, which is what usually happens.  Herbs and flowers are in general doing very well, and I'm sure there are other successes that I'm not remembering in my relentless alas and alack, rue the summer attitude.  Celeriac, beets and Swiss chard, yes!  And onions.

No more geography, though.  Next year's plan, as I'm formulating it, is to plant with two ideas in mind:  one, to highlight plants that have grown consistently well for us, that gardeners might want to try; and two, to pick several "conventional" garden plants that have presented difficulties, and try several methods for dealing with those problems.  In this category will be, at least: tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, melons (oh, please, let me grow melons), and beans - what is up with beans, I ask you?  I am having no luck at all.  And - though I am really tired of drowning harlequin bugs - the brassicas, such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, Asian greens, etc.

So, that's next year, but for this year you still have time to visit us at the Agricultural History Farm Park and explore the vegetable world.  We'd love to see you!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Local Field Trip for Food Preservation

Montgomery County has a growing number and demand for community gardens. As a Master Gardener and someone who wants to grow at least some of my own food I was thrilled to be able to attain a spot at the newer Emory Grove community garden this year. I am growing a variety of veggies, fruit and herbs in my 200 sq ft garden. I’ve been harvesting a bumper crop of tomatoes even though some of the heirlooms are sustaining damage due to stink bugs (growing all organic with no control methods for these pests). So far the roma’s and cherry tomatoes seem to be holding out the best with the Cherokee purple doing fairly well and the Pineapple tomato doing the worst. In addition to 7 tomatoes I'm also growing 4 tomatillos, 5 green beans, 1 watermelon, 2 eggplants, about 6 varieties of basil, nasturtium, turnips (this has turned out to be a great trap crop), 1 cucumber (which I pulled out in early August), 2 squash (which I pulled out this week due to squash vine borer), sunflowers, 2 Malabar spinach and a couple of lingering swiss chard. Not a bad yield for 200 sq ft and it seemed under planted at first but now it’s quite a well planted garden!

I was away for a couple weeks in late July and when I came back I was really excited to find this solar dehydrator in the garden. I later found out that if these do well there’s a possibility of them being installed in more Mo. Co. Community gardens. For now though the Emory Grove garden is the test plot and the experiments are being led by one of the gardens, Moe and his wife. He found the designs and built the dehydrator after years of wanting to experiment with this idea. The information on construction design came from a sustainable food preservation project being conducted by Appalachian State University in North Carolina in conjunction with a group in Honduras. Most of the materials to build one can be found at a local lumber yard, save the solar collecting panels and stainless steel mesh screen, which were both ordered online. The overall cost was about $400 so it won’t pay for itself immediately and might be worth going in on with others if you're thinking of building one yourself. This model holds 12 20” trays for drying fruits, veggies and herbs. Currently Moe and his wife are experimenting with the amount of ventilation needed, the thickness of slices, temperatures etc. to dry peaches, tomatoes and hot peppers.

If you don't have access to a solar or more traditional food dehydrator, there are other ways to dry fruits, veggies and herbs in season. I often use the method of low oven heat (170 F or lower) cycled on and off a couple times over about 24-48hrs. This has been quite successful for me in drying pears, apples, blueberries and basil. How do you preserve the harvest?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

This Saturday: Tomato Tasting in Silver Spring, MD

Join Washington Gardener Magazine editor Kathy Jentz and lots of hungry tomato lovers to sample as many different varieties as local farmers can supply, at the 4th Annual Tomato Tasting, this Saturday, August 20, 10 to noon, at the Silver Spring FreshFarm Market.  Vote for your favorite and be entered to win prizes including a subscription to Washington Gardener  - or just buy one, because it's a great magazine!  (Disclaimer: I write book reviews for it.)  This summer's issue includes articles on growing corn, dining on weeds, fighting cucumber beetles, eating local, and planting ornamental edibles.

Will your favorite tomato win?  Support it by stopping by to vote!

Tomato Patch: Thumbs up, thumbs down

Yellow Plum tomatoes plus ...
This is a progress report on two of my trial tomato varieties for 2011, Yellow Plum and Super Marzano, seeds of which I bought from Tomato Growers Supply Co.

For a generation I’ve been growing small yellow tomatoes—usually Yellow Pear or Yellow Plum—for the primary purpose of making a family heirloom recipe, Yellow Tomato Preserves. I’ve learned over the years to choose Yellow Plum if I have a choice, because the Yellow Plums a slightly larger and meatier than the Yellow Pears, which means less preparation and cooking time.

This year I spotted Yellow Plum seeds in the Tomato Growers Supply catalog, and I have been delighted with the fruit. They are, on average, an inch and a quarter in diameter, meaty, about one ounce each, with little green in their cores (which tends to discolor the preserves over time), and somewhat more resistant to splitting after rain than the Yellow Pears I’ve grown in recent years.

8 ounces of heirloom gold
Monday afternoon and evening I made my annual batch of Yellow Tomato Preserves using a recipe very similar to the one my great-grandmother used. (For that story, see the link below to a posting I made last year. It includes a link to an online recipe.) That recipe calls for five pounds of tomatoes and five pounds of sugar, plus lemon (and I add pectin), and this week yielded eight eight-ounce jars and six four-ounce jars of preserves, plus a little left over for the preserve maker, of course, to enjoy on toast or English muffins the next few mornings.

The Yellow Plum tomatoes I prepared and cooked this week were the best batch that I can remember processing. For that, Yellow Plum tomato seeds from Tomato Growers Supply Co. get my “Thumbs Up.”

I intended to order San Marzano paste-tomato seeds but spotted Super Marzano VFNT hybrid seeds in the Tomato Growers catalog. Hey, why not? They have good resistance (VFNT) and the description sounded great: “average 5-inch long fruit … high in pectin, giving sauce and paste natural thickness.”

Half bucket of stunted Super Marzano tomatoes
But Super Marzano has been a disappointment. I’ve picked scores of fruit off three plants, and only three or four have been 5-inches long. Almost every fruit has been stunted because of blossom-end rot, as the photo indicates. Yes, I added some pulverized lime and water, as I do when I plant all my tomato varieties. A Big Mama plant between two Super Marzano plants has no blossom-end rot, and neither do two rows of Brandywines in front of the Super Marzanos.

I will try to salvage some of the fruit that seems least affected, but Super Marzano has been a super disappointment. I think it’s prone to blossom-end rot. For that, Super Marzano seeds from Tomato Growers Supply Co. get my “Thumbs Down.”

Comments posted earlier this growing season indicate that many tomato-growers are having major blossom-end rot problems with their paste-type tomatoes. If you’re growing a variety that has been relatively rot free, please post a Comment and tell us what it is—and add any special tip you have to prevent the problem.

To read my posting of August 2010 about why and how I make Yellow Tomato Preserves, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Announcing - Carroll County Grow It Eat It - Sweetpotato Festival - September 24, 2011 from 2 to 4PM

Pictured is Master Gardener Intern Henry Lysy inspecting this years amazing sweetpotato patch.
Where: Public Demonstration Garden directly behind the Carroll County Agriculture Center and Shipley Arena.
Event Details: Our Carroll County "Grow It Eat It Team" is planning their First Annual Sweetpotato Festival.
Please come out to visit and learn while enjoying this very special and delicious event. Be sure to meet our very own Mr. Sweetpotato while your there!
Did You Know?
  • Sweetpotatoes are part of the morning glory family.
  • Sweetpotatoes are nutritious! Since sweet potatoes are such a good source of fiber, they're a good food for people with diabetes. The fiber helps lower blood sugar by slowing the rate at which food is converted into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. Also, because they are such complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes can help control weight
  • The orange-flesh sweetpotato contains a two day supply of Vitamin A, 40%+ of Vitamin C, nearly 10% of iron needs.
  • Sweetpotatoes are one of the only low-fat sources of Vitamin E, and they have more dietary fiber than oatmeal.
  • Sweetpotatoes rank as the 5th most important crop for developing countries.
  • World annual production: 133 million tons.
  • China grows 85% of the world production.
  • USA produces about 1% of the world crop
  • North Carolina is the leading US producer.
  • Sweetpotatoes may fight cancer. The “A.C.E.” vitamins are known as the anti-oxidant set and play a role in cancer prevention.
  • Dietary fiber is another important sweetpotato - anti-cancer link.
  • Additional phytochemicals found in sweetpotatoes (in purple sweetpotato varieties) may also be an anti-cancer advantage.
  • Immediately following harvest, sweetpotatoes need to be “cured.”
  • Curing protects the root during storage.
  • Sweetpotatoes need to be cured at 85 degrees, 85% humidity for 5 to 7 days.
  • Once cured, store sweetpotato roots at about 60 degrees. Do not store below 55 degrees. This will produce a “chill injury factor,” resulting in a hard core &/or rapid spoilage.
Sweetpotato Infomation taken from:
Jack and Bev Osman website: josman@zoominternet.net

Tomato Patch: A dozen recipes

And the winner is: Tomato Kimchi-Chi!

Today’s Food Section of the Washington Post is its annual “tomato special” and contains a dozen recipes selected as “winningly diverse” entries in its recipe contest, “Top Tomato 2011.”

I may smile and skip most of the recipes—such as Vermillion Red Beer and GreenTomato Mint Sorbet—but I just may try the Summer Spaghetti and the Cardamon-Stewed Tomatoes with Bread Bits and Cheese.

Name your poison—oops, sorry, choose a recipe. To go to the listing, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fort Knox invaded!

Groundhog by neighbors' front porch
I had an intriguing wildlife experience yesterday, which naturally I have to share with my Grow It Eat It friends.  You'll remember my triple-layer garden fence, which we hoped would keep out the neighborhood critters.  Well, turns out there were still improvements to be made.  Last week I started noticing leaves missing from my sweet potato plants, and then the bean plants that never really got going were gone.

I checked the perimeter of the fence and couldn't find any holes.  But a hole was chewed through the deer fence covering the lower gate, and the chicken wire had been worked loose.  Fixed that - but still more leaves missing.  Then I realized that the upper gate was wiggly enough in its setting that pressure on the bottom corner could allow a small creature to slip inside.  My husband drilled holes and inserted a bolt that connects the gate to the frame - we have to unscrew it when we enter, but it keeps the gate steady.

Yesterday morning I went down to inspect the garden, and had just squatted down to unscrew the bolt, when all of a sudden two - two! - young groundhogs ran in from opposite directions and appeared just in front of me, for all the world like two puppies hearing the door open and hoping to be taken for a walk.  I yelled - okay, I screeched - and they both ran away, again in opposite directions.  Then - after explanations to family and neighbors, who'd heard me making unusually high-pitched sounds, and much laughter - I entered the garden and found still more leaves chewed.

I spent the morning finally getting to a lot of weeding I'd put off during Horrible July, including pulling down massive amounts of bindweed on the deer fence.  If anything is managing to climb that fence, perhaps stripping the vines will help.  I also found one place where all three layers of fence were broken through, but it wasn't big enough for a groundhog - nor did I think the gate gap was big enough, though it's always surprising how small these animals can make themselves when necessary.  (I don't quite see how they would get back OUT, though.  Especially after all those sweet potato leaves.)  Rabbits are a distinct possibility, though.  I think we're going to have to recover the gates with hardware cloth instead of chicken wire, and keep a lookout for fence breaches and put hardware cloth on those as well.  I just planted some fall crops so I am determined to keep them safe!

If it isn't one thing it's another, right?  Hope you are keeping your crops protected from our furry friends.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tomato ups and downs

Well, this is depressing.

This is the full, ugly picture of stink bug damage:  a doomed tomato (in my despair I forgot to note which variety) in the Derwood Demo Garden.  (That's a cucumber beetle hanging out on the side.  The stink bugs have moved on, I expect.)  And that's one of the healthier plants there; we've had a lot of disease too.

But the news is not all bad.

These are tomatoes from my own garden, where I've had the chance to pick early at breaker stage and ripen indoors.  I've had a great crop, especially from these three varieties.  From top: Jubilee, not quite fully ripe; Speckled Roman, one of the larger ones (they've had a small incidence of blossom end rot, but mostly are fine); and a small Early Big Red, since I sauced or gave away all the larger ones I had around before remembering to take the photo.  The last comes from seeds I got from Shumway's in 2005; I believe the packet was free for ordering over a certain amount.  Since they were labeled "experimental variety" I didn't think they'd be currently marketed under the same name, but Reimer's seems to sell Early Big Red seeds and the description sounds reasonable.  Other companies may as well.  They've been very reliable.  But they are not as cool-looking as Speckled Roman. :)

I wish we made frequent enough visits to the demo garden to keep up with picking, and weren't losing as many of the wonderful varieties there to the nasty villainous stink bugs.  Boo!  They are sucking on our jalapenos and other peppers big-time too, and I have no confidence in the popcorn crop.

Basil bouquet for a friend

Vivian and her basil bouquet
I posted a link on my Facebook page to my recent posting about pruning basil, and a friend added a Comment that her basil had died in the drought, the neighborhood farm stand was fresh out of the herb, and would I consider selling her a few sprigs. I also learned on Facebook that our friend had taken a spill while weeding her garden on Friday.

I gave Vivian a call Saturday night. Yes, she’s doing fine, she insisted--no bones broken. “I was lucky to tumble into some weeds and not onto the edge of the sidewalk,” she explained. “I was tugging on a clump of ‘wire grass’ when it decided to give up.” She said she was grateful that she didn’t land on the concrete on her hip that hasn’t done well since joint replacement several years ago.

“Well, Vivian,” I said. “I don’t sell my veggies. Will you be home Sunday morning so I can bring you some basil?” She said she and her husband, Curt, would be there and that she would love some to make some pesto. Sunday morning Curt welcomed me to their “down-sized bungalow,” as Vivian calls it, when I drove up in my pickup. Vivian came down the steps from the kitchen to join us in the shade of a backyard tree.

“Here, a bouquet just for you,” I said as I handed Vivian the basil I had cut that morning. She seemed so appreciative, so happy, as she admired her bouquet.

“And here’s something for Curt,” I added, handing him a bowl of red raspberries I had picked that morning. “And some Sungold and Juliet tomatoes for snacking—and several large Brandywines and a Virginia Sweets that most farm stands don’t have for sale.”

We chatted for a bit and I took my leave with many thanks—their thanks for the basil, raspberries, and tomatoes and my thanks for friends like Vivian and Curt, who are four score plus in years and continue to tend their garden of flowers and herbs and care for their lawn.

If you have extra produce, give some to a friend, a neighbor, an organization that accepts produce on behalf of those in need. If you live in Maryland or the District of Columbia, CLICK HERE for some ideas of where you might donate to an organization. If you live in another state, perhaps the link will give you an idea for sharing in your town or city.

Grow It, Eat It, Give It.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Stink Bug Update: EPA approves insecticides on emergency basis

The brown marmorated stink bug invasion made page one of today’s Washington Post, where the headline proclaims: “With a stink bug boom, harvests could go bust: Entomologists weight ways to squash pest’s propagation, migration.”

The story by Darryl Fears tells of the devastation the stink bugs are doing to crops, the threat they pose as they expand across the nation, and research the USDA is conducting in Delaware on a natural predator, a minute Asian wasp that the Post describes as “not much bigger than the period at the end of a sentence.”

Those things aren’t news to those who’ve been reading Stink Bug Updates here, but buried deep in the Post series is some genuine news: “The EPA has approved two insecticides, including dinotefuran, sold under the names Venom and Scorpion, for emergency use. The poison is effective, farmers said, but has a major downside.” The downside, of course, is that the insecticide kills beneficial insects too, leaving growers dependent on expensive chemicals.

The Post article, however, did not mention several points of the EPA announcement: (1) The approval of dinotefuran covers only the states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. (2) The approval is for use on stone and pome fruits, such as peaches, plums, cherries, apples, and pears. (3) The EPA earlier had approved dinotefuran for use on a variety of crops, such as leafy vegetables, grapes, and potatoes.

The biggest unreported news, I think, is that when the EPA approved dinotefuran, it also approved an insecticide that organic farmers may use, a product that “contains azadirachtin and pyrethrins, which are derived from botanical ingredients.” The EPA announcement says the organic insecticide may be used in “organic production systems” and is “now approved for use on many crops where stink bug management is needed.”

The bottom line is that fruit growers in the mid-Atlantic states now have approved insecticides to combat stink bugs this growing season. If you’re buying “regular” tree fruits, they probably were sprayed with a chemical insecticide, and if you’re buying “organic” fruits or vegetables, they may have been sprayed with a “botanical” insecticide.

To read the EPA announcement, CLICK HERE.

To read the Washington Post article, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

August 8: 'National Sneak Zucchini on Your Neighbor's Porch Day'

The other day I was talking to my neighbor, telling him about this interesting holiday, conceived by Pennsylvanian Tom Roy. At first he got a puzzled look on his face, and then he had one of those 'A-HA!' moments. He proceeded to share with me a story in which some zucchini mysteriously appeared on his doorstep about this time last year. He had checked the video footage from his home security system, but he never could explain what he saw. Now it all made sense, he said. He offered to dig up the old tape for me, which I present some stills for you here:
Here is a still of the 'scene of the crime'

And here's what happened next:

Unfortunately, the perpetrator has not been identified, and to date no arrests made. What would be the charge? Littering the neighborhood with overzealous produce? Anyway, is there a statute of limitations on such a crime?

But let this be a warning to you all - over the next day keep on the lookout for sneaky gardeners looking to offload some of their extra summer squash. Or, if you're of a mind, put on your own disguise and deliver your own 'gifts'. Just be wary of home security cameras!

August 8 is National Sneak Zucchini on Your Neighbor's Porch day!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Watermelon vine going rogue

You know, gardening is experimenting. Sometimes, you have an idea of the result, sometimes Mother Nature surprises you. We know a watermelon plant needs space to grow and to vine on the ground. We transplanted the watermelon plants (3) in mid-June after the spring broccoli season was over.

In the picture below is a watermelon plant. Yep, one plant with 9 watermelons growing on it! Currently, the plants are covering more than 100 sq feet of space. With the other 2 watermelon plants - each growing only with a single vine - the total is: I don't know for sure but 11 as on August 6th and counting. It looks like the food kitchen down the road will have watermelon for dinner at the end of August...

Proud Pepper Mama

'nuff said. (: (: (:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Watermelon Widow

This blog is going to be short and sweet. Went to check on my watermelons yesterday. Grabbed one to turn it over and check the underside for that nice yellow color and yes...there she was...a black widow spider.

I'm thankful for three things:

1) That I have watched enough documentaries with my husband to know what one looks like
2) That I had gloves on
3) That she didn't bite me because my gloves were not thick ones

That ended my day in the garden about five minutes after I got there. I don't even remember if the watermelon was ripe yet. In fact, my husband may have to go harvest that watermelon...and all others for that matter!

Until next time....if there is one.....

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tomato Patch: An ugly problem

Early signs of blossom-end rot on Super Marzano fruit
“What’s this?” asked my friend Karnik, holding out a small red tomato and pointing to its black tip. “Is it some kind of disease?”

“No, it’s blossom-end rot,” I said. “But it’s rare on small, cherry tomatoes like that.”

“This isn’t a cherry. This is a Roma,” he replied.

“It’s not a disease,” I said. “It’s caused by calcium deficiency.”

Photo 1 shows you what blossom-end rot might look like when you first spot it in your Tomato Patch. The young fruit in the photo are Super Marzano, a Roma-type tomato I’m trying for the first time this year. I haven’t counted the number of defective fruit that I’ve thrown away, but I estimate I’ve lost 15%.

More advanced "rot" on Super Marzano tomatoes
Here’s what the Plant Diagnostics tab at the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center says about the problem: “Blossom-end rot is a common nutritional disorder of tomato, pepper, eggplant, pumpkin, squash and watermelon that is caused by a shortage of calcium in enlarging fruits. Calcium is taken up constantly by plant roots as a dissolved nutrient and travels first to the growing points—new leaves and shoots. Fruits may experience a shortage of calcium if water becomes less available to plant roots (drought).

“This nutritional disorder typically occurs when plants are growing rapidly and the first fruits are developing,” the University of Maryland Extension resource continues. “As fruit cells breakdown due to a lack of calcium, dark blemishes appear on the blossom-end of affected fruits. These may enlarge until the entire bottom of the fruit becomes dark, shrunken and leathery. Factors that encourage blossom-end rot include low soil pH and low levels of calcium, inconsistent watering, shallow watering or droughty conditions, and excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers. Symptoms are rarely seen in cherry tomatoes and are most often seen in large plum or paste-type tomato cultivars and long pepper fruits.”

Fruit of all sizes may be affected
I will add a symptom that often helps me spot young fruit with blossom-end rot: premature coloring of a fruit while other fruit on the same truss (fruiting stem) remain green and continue to grow.

How can gardeners prevent blossom-end rot?

The Extension suggests the following steps: “(1) Maintain soil pH in the 6.3-6.8 range. (2) Mix in a handful of ground limestone with the soil from each planting hole prior to transplanting. (3) Keep plants well mulched and watered through the growing season. Water deeply at least once per week if rainfall is lacking. A mature tomato plant may require 2-3 gallons of water per week. (4) Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers like ammonium nitrate.”

And if your tomatoes show symptoms? “Remove fruits immediately. Spraying affected plants with a calcium chloride solution may offer some temporary relief. Regular, deep watering will alleviate the problem if calcium levels in the soil are adequate,” the Extension advises.

Sometimes: Grow Them, Throw Them Away
Karnik’s problem tomato was a Roma. Mine are Super Marzano. Both are paste-type varieties, which the Extension’s posting indicates are especially receptive. If you remember my earlier posting about setting out the transplants, you’ll remember that I put a little pulverized limestone in each planting hole to try to prevent blossom-end rot, as recommended by the Extension.

I’ll still harvest lots of Super Marzano tomatoes because as the weeks pass and calcium/moisture balances adjust and later settings of fruit get the calcium they need, the problem, I think, will disappear from the Tomato Patch.

Do all paste-type tomatoes develop blossom-end rot? I have one Big Mama, another paste-type tomato, set between two Super Marzano plants, and the Big Mama—planted the same day and with the same small amounts of both lime and fertilizer—shows no sign of the problem. Several years ago I tried a European heirloom variety, Nyagous, with “black” plum-type fruit, and it had nearly 100% loss to blossom-end rot early in the season.

If your tomatoes show signs of blossom-end rot, pick and discard all affected fruit. Chances are good that fruit settings later in the season will not be affected. Next year try adding a little lime when you set out your plants. Avoid varieties that seem especially susceptible. And you might try a calcium spray, as the Extension suggested, which may be available at a good local nursery near you or by catalog or on the Internet, though I don’t know of a tomato grower who has tried it.

If you’re a gardener in a mid-Atlantic state or in a state with climate similar to that of Maryland’s and haven’t browsed the great resource postings at the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center, you need to take a detour to check out this valuable online site. Let me show you the way: CLICK HERE.