Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Resuscitative Gardening (%^&$*! Squash Vine Borer - Part II)

Hello again!

You may recall my educational, if strongly-worded, post about the dreaded squash vine borer in July.  In it I discussed how to identify the eggs for removal, excise any worms from hatched eggs, and how to encourage healing of the plants once the damage was done. It's this last part that I wanted to provide an update on.  Here's a reprint of a 'sad' zucchini plant after some worm damage:

Here's the same plant, photo taken this week:
Not bad, eh?  Even though this is the stem:

There's clearly some damage there, yet the plant is hanging on.  I believe this is because I followed the recommendation of the nifty book I mentioned (Dead Snails Leave No Trails: Natural Pest Control for Home and Garden) in that I piled up a lot of soil/compost around the stem in the hopes of it growing some extra roots.  I gave it a shot of water-soluble fertilizer as a boost. Additionally, I remained diligent in digging out worms (ewwwwww) and picking off additional eggs.  My best hope is that perhaps I at least culled the population for a better next year. (A girl can dream, can't she?)

Here's another of my resuscitated plants - note the new growth with potential fruiting:
Now, I really don't know whether the all the nurturing I've been giving my poor zucchini will bear fruit, but I will say that normally by this time each year all my zukes have gone the way of the, well, rotting, torn-stem, fungus-riddled wayside.  I'm just thrilled that I still have 4 plants left, and they're all flowering!

Wish me luck.  Now if I can just figure out what happened to my winter squash this year...

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Grow100 final submission time!

Alright, folks.  It's time for the final check-in period of the 2015 Grow100 Challenge.  Remember, all previous check-ins were optional - if you've got photos and gardening stories from this season to share and haven't sent anything in yet, that's ok!  We just want to see what you've been doing in your garden so that we can share some highlights with everyone!

CHECK INS WILL END OCTOBER 15.  You've got two full months to send us your stories and photos!  Let us know how you designed your square foot gardens, what worked well and what difficulties you had.  Tell us how much produce you harvested and how you ate it!  

See you in a couple months!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Beans, beetles, and community gardens

Even though this is the Year of the Bean, not all our bean experiences can be positive. In fact, I can tell you in all honesty that I am done with growing pole beans in my community garden plot. I've tried it for three years now, and failed to get much of a crop each time due to pests: first (doing only moderate damage) Japanese beetles, and then later in the season (devastatingly) Mexican bean beetles.

But surely I know how to deal with these pests, you say. Well, yes. I don't want to spray organic insecticides, not because I'm opposed to them under these circumstances, but because getting sufficient coverage on the long vines of pole beans is such a pain. But I've had good luck with hand-picking pests and drowning them in soapy water, both in home gardens and in the demonstration garden. The problem is that no matter how vigilant I am drowning adult beetles and squishing the bright yellow MBB larvae and eggs, if the gardeners with nearby plots aren't, I'll return to find my plants re-infested.

In previous years I have indeed been vigilant, though last year I did let the very-late-arriving MBBs get a bit of a head start before discovering them. But then I was out there with the bucket and the yellow-tinged gloves. And when I gave up and decided to take my plants out, I dipped each branch I cut off into soapy water to destroy as many beetles as possible. This year, I'd just had enough - the plants went out to the compost pile as is.

Yes, there are still live beetles on there, and I don't care.

I still have some bush beans in the ground, and I'm keeping a covered water bucket nearby to pop beetles into as I find them. Perhaps I will be able to harvest a few beans before those plants go. And next year, if I decide to grow bush beans, I'll cover them with floating row cover. Beans are self-pollinating, so they can stay covered till harvest time. Covering pole beans is impractical, though. I may be able to fit in some vining plants in my too-shady garden at home, where I can deal with pests in the knowledge that more won't fly in from someone else's infested plants a few dozen feet away.

Not that I don't love community gardening - it's great to have interesting neighbors who grow all sorts of fascinating plants, and personally I feel the peer pressure enough to keep my garden plot neater than I ever did at home, particularly in the heat and humidity when my love of gardening struggles to win out over air conditioning. Unfortunately not everyone feels that way, and some gardens get neglected; pests are challenging to deal when you're busy, and not always recognized before it's too late. Grow It Eat It can help with information gaps, though! Here's the GIEI page on Mexican bean beetles - where I discovered that it is possible, especially in community gardens, to buy and release a parasitic wasp that will help control MBB populations. Perhaps that's an option for our garden.

Or perhaps we can hire some minions. Thanks to MG Darlene Nicholson for this photo-manipulated view of MBB larvae and pupae:


Sunday, August 9, 2015

The garden: it's what's for dinner

At this time of year nearly all our produce comes from either the garden or farmer's markets. I don't usually make a source distinction while I'm putting dinner together, but today I realized after preparations were complete that nearly everything in the meal of tuna-and-veggie stew plus fried okra was grown by me. It's a good feeling! I didn't grow the tuna, or the onion (I could have, but decided against using space for onions this year), but I did grow the potatoes, pumpkin, zucchini, pepper, garlic and tomato that went into the stew, along with the okra.

Here are the Purple Viking potatoes (the most beautiful potato ever):

They grew in a large pot, mostly (due to complex circumstances) in shade and complete neglect, so I didn't get a lot of them, but some is better than none.

The pumpkin I put no effort into at all - it grew out of the compost and all over my backyard garden, was chewed on by groundhogs and dried out by drought, and I was completely surprised when I went back there to fetch a pepper and discovered two mature gray-skinned fruit that look just like the Jarrahdale that we got for Halloween.

Sometimes compost pumpkins have unpredictable genetics and are not the most lovely or delicious around, but this one was perfect. And half of it I baked and scooped out for puree, so some baked goods are on the menu later this week.

I'm actually a bit short of zucchini and peppers this year, but I've got more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Well, actually I do know what to do with them - eat as many fresh as possible, and roast and freeze the rest. Roasted tomatoes are awesome, with their rich and concentrated flavor, and it'll be great to pull them out of the freezer in the winter. Here's some of what I've been harvesting:

If you've achieved an all-from-the-garden meal lately, tell us about it in the comments!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A downy mildew resistant basil?

This is a guest post by Montgomery County MG Mary Anne Normile.

I've had basil crops devastated by downy mildew for the last few years, so I was excited when I saw seed catalogs offering the basil variety ‘Eleonora,’ which is purported to be partially resistant to basil downy mildew (BDM). I started a packet of Eleonora seeds in the spring and distributed the seedlings to several gardeners in the Derwood demonstration garden to get a sense of how this variety performs.

Until last week ‘Eleonora’ had appeared to live up to its billing. I had seen no evidence to date of basil downy mildew in the plants in the 100 Square Foot Garden, where they are closely planted, or in other garden locations, where they are more widely spaced.

Eleonora is a Genovese-type basil, described as “spicier” than other Genovese basils. I made one good-sized cutting of my own plants and made pesto, which I can report as tasty as any made with Genovese basil. Any spiciness, if it exists, doesn’t seem to be a bad thing in pesto. After the cutting, the plants had been growing back nicely, and were just about ready for a second (small) cutting.

However, last week I saw the beginnings of BDM on a few of the Eleonora plants on my deck at home. They are in planter box containers, and, while they were not very widely spaced, I tried to give them good air circulation, as the planting directions advised. Basil downy mildew begins as a slight yellowing of the leaves with fuzzy gray patches on the underside, which are the spores.

As the disease progresses, the undersides becomes covered with the gray spores and the leaves eventually turn brown and drop off. The BDM on my ‘Eleonora’ plants seems spotty, and does not appear to be devastating the plants, or at least not yet. I'll keep an eye on them to see if the disease progresses, or whether they can tolerate a little BDM.

Other gardeners at the Derwood demonstration garden report that the ‘Eleonora’ plants they have grown in the demonstration garden, their community garden plot, and at home show no BDM to date. One gardener reported that the plants seemed to bolt early, but attributed that to the extra heat on her full-sun front steps.

Meanwhile, we have already lost the Thai basil ‘Siam Queen’ in the 100 Square Foot Garden to BDM, while the purple basils ‘Purple Petra’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’ remain BDM-free.

Erica adds: Sweet Dani Lemon basil also succumbed to BDM this week. Read more about BDM on the GIEI website here.

Addendum: Mary Anne reports now that BDM is advancing on the plants on her deck. Photo:

She says:

Again, this is anecdotal, and the fact that others have not seen BDM yet may mean that it does a better job at resisting than what my experience shows. It could just be that the growing conditions on my deck are conducive to BDM flourishing.

Maybe the moral of the story is that, where basil downy mildew is concerned, there is no magic bullet--so far. (Sigh)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Grow100 2015 Update

Checking in with a couple Grow100 participants!

The Montgomery County Derwood Demo Garden has been experimenting with fava beans. The variety they are using is "Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto" from Baker Creek Seeds.

Joslyn Read's report on the Fava Bean:

I accepted a challenge to research and prepare a few of the fava beans that are starting to produce in the 100-square foot garden. So many of us had heard they were a hassle to prepare, and we thought it useful to check out the facts.
First I shelled the beans out of the velvety pods (I brought home only about 15 pods for this trial, but the articles I’ve read recommend picking/buying about 1 pound of pods to make enough beans for one person). It is really worth leaving the pods on the plant as long as possible, because the smaller pods had beans in them that were the size of my pinky fingernail.
I parboiled the beans for about 5 to 8 minutes, then I cooled them. I easily popped the largest beans out of their waxy outer covering, and they were very tender and tasty. The smallest beans I ate without taking off the outer covering and they were fantastic. I am also attaching a photo of the resulting beans and one bean covering. The resulting beans have a lovely sweet pea taste and consistency. They are also reported to be highly nutritious. I've also learned that the bean is not just a "Mediterranean" favorite, but is also a cherished Asian and Latin American vegetable used in stir fries and stews.

Derwood's fava beans

 David Marcovitz checked in and described some difficulties his garden has seen this season.
The deer ate the leaves off 4 of my 6 zucchini plants, just as they were starting to get some good zucchini. Something has been eating my cucumbers, and something has gotten into my tomatoes even with deer protection. I even found some huge caterpillars eating the parsley on my deck. My biggest success was broccoli, but even with that I had a hard time with cabbage worms.

On good notes, I tried some carrots from seed this year, and they seem to be growing nicely. I also tried pole beans from seed, and what hasn't been eaten by pests has started climbing the poles. I did get several broccoli, cukes, and zucchini, and hope to get some beans and carrots. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

"To Bean, or Not To Bean..."

What follows is a tale of marital (mis) communication...

Last week I went out of town, the type of trip in which I had no access whatsoever to phone or internet.  After 6 days of being 'off the grid', I returned to civilization and called my husband to see how things were going (my flight home being the next morning).  I always enjoy getting the garden update, but was concerned when he mentioned the green beans he had picked:

As it turns out, these particular beans are 'shelling beans', that is, you're not supposed to pick them until they dry on the vine. Once dry, you 'shell' the pods to get the beans within. These ones have a 90 day maturity cycle, much longer than regular green beans.

Naturally, some argument and confusion ensued.  Nicolas claimed I didn't tell him not to pick the green ones - I don't have any markings in the garden as to what's what, and I suggested that I did, indeed mention to only pick the yellow ones.  For those of you out there with spouses, you understand that the 'truth' is most likely somewhere in the middle.  But let's get back to the beans...

Because we hate to waste anything in our house, I was hoping that we could still use these beans.  I tried to steam some, but could only eat the youngest of them because the pods are just too stringy and fibrous.  Nicolas successfully put them in a lentil soup, cutting them in small pieces and then sautee-ing them before adding them to the soup.  This seemed to soften the pods enough to eat, though some tough strings remained and had to be spit out.

This is the first year we've tried shelling beans (clearly!), and Nicolas and I both had a good laugh over the whole thing.  Our garden is always one big experiment in which we learn something new every year.  We do still have plenty more green beans on the vine, anyway.

For the record, here's what the shelling beans are supposed to look like just before harvest:

Dried bean on the vine

Harvested beans - it's actually quite fun to shell them!
Shelled beans
One other thing I'm learning in my first experience with shelling beans - you need a LOT of pods just to get even a cup of dried beans (see above).  I'm not sure I'll try this again next year, but if I do, I'll make sure to properly communicate the harvesting guidelines.