Monday, June 27, 2016

At Least It's Been a Lettuce Year

This was a hard spring for many of us – we had frost over here on the upper Eastern Shore of Maryland in May with plenty of rain and cool, overcast days – all of which put most of us into something of a funk and at least two or three weeks behind in planting. In fact, while the rule of thumb around here is: Put tomatoes in on Mother’s Day, we were lucky to get them in by Memorial Day, which is the rule of thumb way up in the Adirondacks!

Red Ruffles and Butterhead Bibb Lettuces on June 20
But the LETTUCE!  It’s the best lettuce year I can remember having. I had started red leaf and butter Bibb in my little greenhouse late (due to a greenhouse disaster, which also set me back), then brought ‘em out to harden off, hauled ‘em back in several times to prevent getting trashed by the cold and critters (it's been a blowout bunny year -- while writing this, I heard a ruckus in the flower bed outside my office window and had to chase -- yes chase! -- a rabbit out).  In about the middle of May, I finally put the little lettuce plants in the ground under row cover, as both protection and camouflage. It woiked! as Curly (of Larry Moe and…) would have said.
Light green is the second planting of lettuce 

I only began cutting heads of lettuce a maybe three weeks ago, a time when it’s usually starting to bolt around here – and have almost finished as of this morning. Maybe one or two more days and this first flush will be gone.

I’m going to shove some seeds into a partially shaded patch in the veg garden in another day or two and cover them with row cover in hopes of getting some salad greens despite the young rabbit that let me accidentally step on him (scared us both to pieces and we both screeched) while putting a couple of wizened cuke plants along with some cuke seeds into a patch on the north end of the peas, some of which I had for lunch with shallots and prosciutto for lunch – hooray! We’re actually having a garden this year. Food glorious food!

ID this plant! My mystery Asian celery/parsley

I usually know the names of the plants in my garden (at least the ones I put in on purpose), but this year I have an unknown in my vegetable bed and I am turning to the GIEI readership to identify it. I was given the seedling last year by someone who'd received it from someone else (yes, the vagueness is unfortunately real) who said it was a Japanese (or perhaps otherwise Asian) type of celery. So I planted it, and it crept along pretty much ignored, and then this year it kind of exploded and looks like this (about 18 inches high and wide):

It is not the Japanese parsley known as mitsuba or Cryptotaenia japonica (which I actually have seeds for but didn't get around to planting this year). I think it may be Oenanthe javanica, known as water celery or Java water dropwort. This is the closest guess I have, but if anyone recognizes the plant, please let me know!

Yes, I have been eating it (since it's from a presumably reliable if forgotten source), and it tastes similar to both celery and parsley and is quite good. So far I've just thrown bits into stir-fries and the like; I was thinking about making a kind of pesto with it, since I have so much of it, but would appreciate other recipes. Thanks for any help you can give, GIEI readers!

Monday, June 13, 2016


This is GIEI's Year of the Tomato, popularity winner of the nightshade family. More about tomatoes soon! but today I'm going to talk about a few other members of Solanaceae that I'm growing.

Here's the nightshade corner of my deck, where I keep some of my vegetables going in not-quite-enough sun. This picture is actually a week and a half old; the plants have grown since then.

To the left, and then in the middle of the back row, I have two Long Purple eggplants. Growing eggplants in containers up on the deck allows me to keep them uncovered, since flea beetles seldom find them up there. (If planted in garden soil, or even in raised beds or containers sitting on the ground, they are best served by providing row cover until they get big and sturdy. Flea beetles hang out down low.) Eggplants self-pollinate with a bit of wind, but I'll keep an eye on their fruit production, and also will limit the nitrogen fertilizer as they grow - last time I tried this I ended up with huge healthy plants with no flowers or fruit, since too much nitrogen means lots of leaves but less of the part you want to eat.

Between the eggplants is a poha berry, which is apparently a GIANT GROUND CHERRY - well, at least bigger than the usual kind. I will report back.

In front of that is an Antioch pepper, a family heirloom of one of our Master Gardeners. I try to grow this one every year isolated from other peppers so the seed won't cross and can be saved. One plant will only provide enough seed to share with local growers, but I have some from last year if you want to try it. The peppers are long and mildly hot, and can be eaten in pale green or red stages.

To the right of the pepper is a crazily-branching thing called a Tzimbalo, which is supposed to be a quicker-producing relative of the pepino melon, making small sweetish fruit. I have no idea if I'll get anything from it, but it's worth a try. Another plant has already died in the ground at the demo garden, and the one in my community garden plot is struggling at about a quarter the size of this one. Apparently container growing is the way to go. Maybe.

Tucked away in the back you can see the rising stems and big floppy leaves of nicotiana, which is also in the nightshade family (though not to be eaten). Pansies and marigolds are not relatives, just there to be pretty.

At the community garden, along with several other nightshades I have planted some King Harry potatoes, which are supposed to be resistant to Colorado potato beetles due to their hairy leaves. Well, guess what.

I will note that this is the plant doing the least well (which might be due to soil or some other factor) and the others are not nearly as infested, and that potato plants in other plots have a lot more adults on them (and probably larvae too). We have some King Harrys at the demo garden too, and I will check on their status tomorrow.

Anyone else growing unusual or interesting nightshades?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Three lined potato beetle adults are active

I've noticed an increase in three lined potato beetle (Lema trileneata) numbers in my garden in recent years- due in part, I think, to the volunteer potato plants that sprout from tubers left in the soil.

The adults overwinter and begin feeding in May on nightshade family members. They prefer tomatillo and potato.
Adult three lined potato beetles mating on tomatillo leaves.

The larvae are gray in color and pack their excrement on their backs for protection from predators. Adults, eggs, and larvae are all easy to handpick. Scout for and control this pest early in the season to prevent significant injury to seedlings and transplants. Floating row covers can also help prevent feeding.

Check out this nice Bug of the Week entry on this insect (with a video clip) from Dr. Mike Raupp.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Tough transitions for the summer veggies

Well, we've put the tomatoes in!

Part of the tomato plot at the Derwood demo garden, with underplanted lettuce
Our chilly and rainy almost-spring period finally ended, and was followed immediately by summer: blazing hot and dry. This made for a tricky transplant period for some summer crops. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to put in my tomatoes and peppers while it was still kind of cold, and though they got watered well by rain I couldn't get back to water them again for several days into the hot spell. Add this to the fact that they never really got hardened off properly - kept in a screened porch and hardly exposed to sun, even for the brief times we actually saw sun in May - and some of the transplants, especially the peppers, have shown stress and a bit of sunburn. (Which is true of a lot of us gardeners as well.)

Pepper looking sad with the quick transition to sunshine

Tomato with similar symptoms at the demo garden
From talking to other gardeners I'm finding this is a pretty common problem this spring. Plants that are treated well and given plenty of water should outgrow the issue - we've got very good growing weather for summer crops right now. (I am writing this during a thunderstorm - plenty of water!) Another possible cause for this appearance on plants is fertilizer burn, but I held off on fertilizing my peppers anticipating the hot dry weather, so that's definitely not the issue there. Now that it's a bit less Sahara-like outside, it's a good time to fertilize plants.

You may also see some uncharacteristic purple coloration on older leaves on some of the plants that were transplanted while it was cold:

This is usually due to phosphorus deficiency. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to add phosphorus to your soil, because plants have a harder time taking up that nutrient in cool soil. If the newer leaves don't show the odd coloration, all is probably well, though of course you should get your soil tested every few years just to be sure. (Some plants are naturally purple, too, even some peppers, so make sure you know the variety.)

Speaking of purple and green and for no other reason, here is a photo of Spring Blush Tendril peas from the demo garden:

Gorgeous flower color (really more pink than purple) and great tendrils that are harvested for cooking in stir-fries and so forth. They will have pods soon - glad they made it through the hot spell without fading, since they were slow to get going in the early spring.