Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Update on Vines That Hate Cold Climes

Yeah yeah I know. Poetry is not a strength of mine. Neither is growing vining vegetables (Please refer to multiple past references to "stupid beans") They say it has been a record cold summer here. That sounds horrid, but the reality is that it has been quite pleasant. Record cold here means, not hot. We've had upper seventies, low eighties and no nineties. Really perfect weather for all things but growing stuff that likes it hot, aka watermelon. Nevertheless, I'm going to put my watermelon in the positive column this year because I've done better with it this year. Last year it spent the entire summer the size of my shoe before eventually becoming an ant appetizer. This year I have actually seen a couple of male blossoms on my two little plants. This late there isn't much hope for any edible fruit, but who knows, if the freakish weather continues, anything could happen!

Lemon yellow cucumber is doing a little bit better. It's in the same bed, my hottest bed, and it is loaded with blossoms. I think I may even see the beginnings of some baby cukes, but I'm not sure yet.

Dragon's Egg cucumber is a smaller plant than Lemon Yellow which is possibly related to being in less sun. Regardless, it is a bit farther along. Definite baby dragon's eggs on this one. It had some help in the pollination department. It's looking a little pale here. Looks like it's getting some worm tea for dinner tomorrow.

Chinese Yellow is my other cuke I am growing this year. It is struggling which is not surprising as it is growing in the wilds. The wilds is an area of my garden that is typically neglected, partially because the hose doesn't reach there and partially because of the skunk that lives in the woodpile.

The wilds used to be mostly shade as well. Then last week, Com Ed came in and lopped a massive limb off the apple tree for no apparent reason. It was nowhere near the vicinity of their power lines. Anyway, the end result was less apples and more light, enough now to allow several of varieties of vegetables to either show their stuff or suffer a slow, neglected death. Chinese yellow cuke is losing the battle. I think it's potato bugs chomping on it. They are completely ignoring the lemon cuke next to it which is interesting. Something to note for next year.

White squash is also growing in the wilds. It seems to be doing OK, despite being in shade a lot of the day. It has had a couple of male blossoms this week which were big and healthy looking. I'll try some hand fertilization if a girl blossom shows up.

I've never tried honeydew melons before but my daughter really wanted to try them this year. I forgot which variety this is, but after doing nothing for weeks, it seems to have figured out, the heat isn't coming. It has finally started to grow and blossom. It has fencing around it to keep the dog out of it. The toads like to hang out around it and the dog likes to harass the toads.

I had extra melon seed so I stuck one in the hanging tomato planters. It grew and has also blossomed. There are several problems with this arrangement which I'm sure you don't need me to explain. I'll just let you gaze in awe at the silly mistakes that can occur in the garden when one is bored.

Finally, the thread wouldn't be complete without a picture of a zuke. I am not fond of zucchini. I think I can trace it back to the zucchini pancakes my evil sister used to request of my grandma. It could also be the propensity for this plant to be one day from perfect on Monday and on Tuesday to be bloated past all hope of tastiness.
This is the only zuke in my garden. I planted it in the farthest corner of the wilds directly in front of the skunk's woodpile. It already has zucchini on it. Figures.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday Treats! Salsa!

Short on time and big on tomatoes? The obvious treat is salsa! I've made it the last two days to have with chips and taco's and chicken. I forgot to take a picture of the ingredients before I snarfed them all down today so you get a picture of the remaining tomatoes. I've been using Carbon, Matina, Dr. Carolyn, Cherokee Purple, Cosmonaut Volkov and Amish paste tomatoes. For a variety of flavors.

My first recipe comes from Jen, a forum friend. It's simple! Chop a bowl of tomatoes, sprinkle with a decent amount of kosher salt and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Drain the bowl most of the way and add chopped cilantro, lime juice, a seeded chopped jalapeno, and chopped red onion. It's fantastically fresh tasting and
can be whipped together in minutes.

This afternoon I roasted the tomatoes under the broiler, a jalapeno, a vidalia onion, a sweet red pepper and a couple of gloves of garlic. Then I chopped it all up, drained the excess juice and seasoned it with bit of cumin, kosher salt, pepper, a handful of cilantro and the juice of a whole lime. Also delicious. I may have some again for breakfast!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Beans Moved! And Other Updates!

It has been a good week. Loads of luscious tomatoes, a bit of warmth and sun, Japanese beetles that visited only briefly and alleluia the beans moved!

My pole beans which have been in the ground three+ months now have done something. Now there is nothing robust or rambunctious about the tiny little tendril they sent up to wind around the poles. It is quite pathetic actually. Perhaps I should be calling them petite haricot vertsto be more accurate with the way they are behaving. Nevertheless a bit of wimpy growth is better than stagnation, so I at this point I will take it and rejoice!

Progress in the circle garden has been more substantial. I had Spazzy McDrool do a bit of posing here for scale. This mass of green stuff is as follows: Basil , chives, and annuals in the foreground, peppers behind that, zinnia and perennials behind that, tomatoes next and then behind that eggplant, more basil and annuals again. At this point any symmetry has been lost by the not so attractive staking and clotheslines between the trees hold up the tomato plants. Not caring at this point, just eating. A lot!
The back corner is still looking pretty good. A Bambi flattened all the onions and beheaded a few chard but so far no depressing damage from varmints or pests. This bed has required next to zero attention the last couple of weeks other than tomato picking and yanking a rare weed. I'm kicking myself that I never used cocoa bean mulch back here before. What a huge difference in weeding. It's great!
Here's a closer look at the same bed. The geraniums are looking kind of tired and I should have squished the dead allium stems down a bit better in the back before taking a picture, but all in all things aren't looking too bad for this time of year!

Finally an update on this years problem child. On June 13, I granted the refusing to grow Persimmon tomato a stay of execution and gave it one more chance in a container on that patio. Here's a pic. Persimmon responds well to threats. It's growing all over the place and is now loaded with tomatoes that are sizing up very quickly. The peppers in this container are doing well too. Their peppers are twice the size of those in the circle garden on half the size plants. This container averages temperatures of about 90 degrees on most days and it seems that was just what the doctor ordered for Ms. Persimmon.
Have a good weekend everyone. Wishing you good gardening, pleasant hammock swinging or at least no hail!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't Let Them See Red

It's used to get the attention of bulls, We use it to draw in hummingbirds. It's designed into the most important signs so we notice them.
RED. Whether two legged, four legged or six legged, red gets attention. That's why this time of year, I take measures to minimize how much of it is visible. My tomatoes are ripening by the droves now. However, I don't allow them to become fully red on the vine.

It's been my experience that the fruits on my vines tend to remain untouched while they are green, peachy, or orange. The day they turn red though, you can expect chunks out of them from squirrels, holes in them from bugs and total disappearance of them from the neighbor's landscapers who spot them and respond to the call of their juicy goodness.

It is said that the best tasting tomato is one that is allowed to become fully ripe on the vine. Thankfully, my palate is not refined enough to notice any difference in the slicers from one that is allowed to ripen on the vine and one that ripens on the safety of the kitchen counter. Cherries are different for me. I do let them get fully ripe on the vine because I notice a difference in those that don't . I am also less sad if I loose one of them to a bug or a chipmunk.

When I pick the slicers is dependent on a few variables. Typically, I like to pick them when they are starting to orange up. If it is a treasured variety that is not that productive and I only have a few of, I might pick it a bit sooner to assure at least a one makes it in my belly. Something like Matina that is loaded and being picked at the rate of six or seven a day is allowed to go longer. I pick a bit earlier if I will be out of town for a week and not able to keep on top of it. I pick a bit later if they seem to be ripening up slower on the counter. It varies.

Avoiding big balls of red in the garden this time of year allows me to have tomatoes without worm holes and I avoid the feeling of dismay that comes from arriving home and seeing a six inch cherokee purple laying on the ground half eaten with flies on it. The slight flavor trade-off isn't for some, but it sure works great for me!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday Treats! Shrimp with Garden Vegetables

This week's treat is shrimp and garden veggies over linguine. The ingredients coming from the garden are a couple kinds of basil, cilantro, onion, celery, tomatoes, green sweet and poblano peppers. I purchased the red and orange peppers as well as a can of organic diced tomatoes to make sure I had enough to double the recipe. This one has a lot of chopping so I wanted to make enough for two days. You can make most of it on the grill if you like or all of it on the stove top.
The first thing I did was oil the poblano and throw it on the grill which had some hickory chips smoking to develop it's flavor. Then I started rough chopping the veggies and started the water for the noodles.
The shrimp came next. I got them started on the grill to develop some smokiness to them. I didn't cook them all the way though, because I didn't want them tough. Once the shrimp were about 3/4 done, I took them off to cool and peel and started sauting the celery, pepper, and onion until soft. The last minute a good amount of garlic got added as well. Once they were soft, they got moved to the stovetop into a deep pan with the shrimp, and tomatoes. Seasoning next, salt, pepper and worchester sauce to taste. I let all this cook for just a couple of minutes, I wanted to retain the bright colors and tastes. The last minute of cooking I added some cilantro, basil and parsley. I used linguine from the refrigerator section and even though its whole wheat it only takes 2-3 minutes to cook so you have to be ready for it.
I served the whole thing with fresh pineapple, honey sunflower bread and s'mores for dessert. This concoction takes a bit of time to chop and clean and shell the shrimp but it tastes even better on day two so it works for weekday meals well.
Family Rating: 8.5 on average. Range 7-9.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Don't Bait Beetles

Visiting gardening forums and blogs can be so helpful, particularly this time of year when my most dreaded garden pest is due to hatch. I was alerted on Friday to start watching for Japanese beetles when my forum friends in Missouri and Indiana started posting about them. Sure enough, two days later, they hatched.

There are as many suggestions for dealing with this pest as there are weeds in the garden. One that is particularly popular is baiting. Homemade or store bought baits are placed in the garden to catch and kill the beetles. Photos show some pretty impressive (and disgusting) numbers of beetles in these traps. I have no doubt, they are an effective means to catch beetles. Still, I don't bait.

My theory is that beetle traps can actually make the situation much worse by luring even more beetles onto your property. Instead, my method is simple. Catch em. The kiddos can be enlisted for this task. Current going price on a beetle head is a dime. They were a nickle on the first day they hatched due to large quantity. When we catch them, we stick them in a bug hotel with stuff to munch on, because we are dorks and feel bad squishing them. OK sometimes we also feed them to the toads. Most of them go in the bug hotel though.

Japanese beetles don't bite, but they feel creepy when you catch them. They have claws on their feet that don't hurt at all, but you definitely know you have a beetle in your hand. There are a couple of tricks to catching them. Early morning or late evening are the easiest, because when they are cold, they are less likely to fly. These beetles have a trick where they roll on their side and off whatever they are hanging onto. If they are on a huge tomato, good luck finding them once they roll off. That's why when I go to nab on, I place one hand under the leaf and then go to grab it. Most of the time they roll right into my hands. It's handy to have your container right there because once they unfurl their legs from the rolling, it feels ICK!

This seems like a lot of work, but am/pm beetle scanning after the first day only takes a few minutes. They seem to pick a few favorite plants and you'll find 90% of them hanging out there. There year for me, they have been on the peppers, the fugly bush and one tomato plant on the patio (Persimmon-of course). They only seem to be eating the peppers and whoo boy a few missed beetles can do a LOT of damage!
Catching them early is the key. We made a huge dent in the numbers the first day they appeared. Tonight I only plucked three. There have been less and less everyday. Beetle feet are creepy but I'll take them over a stinky beetle trap any day, especially if I only have to deal with the feet for a few days.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Time to Order Garlic! Yes you can grow it in the North

When you read about what is needed to grow garlic, it doesn't sound like something that would do well in Illinois. Winters here are wild variations of freezes, thaws and dumps of large quantities of snow. Garlic they say likes sandy loam and warm conditions. Pfffft. Garlic does just fine in compost amended Illinois clay. It's just more work to harvest!

Anyone can grow garlic and if you want to try it now is the time to order it. You plant it around October for a harvest next year. If you live in the north like me, I recommend ordering your bulbettes from a northern company. Your yield next year will be bigger than if you get your starter bulbs from the south. I don't really know why. I guess those that have been raised in our conditions are less likely to freak out when they see them again. I recommend this small, family company: They have 100+ varieties of garlic ranging from the sweet and mild to the hot and spicey. Their prices are reasonable and they grow without chemicals. Their website is a fun read. They firmly declare themselves to not be farmers or green thumbs and their misadventures related to learning how to grow garlic are documented on their site. Their step by step instructions are all you need to have great garlic success. I just placed my order and was bummed to see that a few varieties are already sold out. Give garlic a shot, and Good luck!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Heirlom Tomato Progress: Fruit Size

Today I am documenting the size of the different heirlom tomatoes so far this year.

First Persimmon: Got a late start, loaded with fat healthy buds in the container, just beginning to fruit.

Matina: Beginning to ripen. Has an open habit. Has some blossom end rot off and on, likely related to high temperatures on the patio. Loaded with fruit, non-buggy and very symetrical.

Chocolate Stripes: Big healthy plants but not a ton of buds or fruit so far. What's there is without blemish.
Cosmonaut Volkov: Plant is on the shorter side, about four feet, but it is really loaded down with fruit, several appear to be close to pinking up.

Dr. Carolyn: Not as much fruit or height as Sungold, but still has lots of clusters. Individual tomatoes are larger than Sungold, no ripening yet. Loaded with blossoms now. Had some BER when it dried out during vacation.

Cherokee Purple : Big healthy fruit both in the container and in the ground. Had BER the worst of all the plants. Recovering now but there will likely be a couple of weeks when there is no harvest from this plant.
Carbon: Not a ton of fruit or blossoms. Has a bit of bacterial leafspot in the leaves. This is my only fruit so far that appears to have something nipping at it.
Amish Paste: Multiple plants at various stages of growth. These are the largest fruit so far. Lots of buds, growth has been massive the last week of foliage.
San Marzano: Each plant is loaded with these clusters of fruit. Still lots of blossoms. I should be harvesting this for weeks to come. Plants are huge.
Sungold: Ripening and still making buds. Stint of BER was only a couple of days. These tomatoes taste way better if allowed to get very ripe on the vine. The plant is loaded with clusters of fruit. I counted one cluster with 15 tomatoes on it! None of these tomatoes have made it into the house yet. They are getting eaten like candy by us in the garden.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tuesday Treats! Chard with Apricot and Almonds

I've decided to try something new with the blog. Treats from the garden recipes every Tuesday and maybe sometimes on Thursday. These will not be gourmet major productions. I am neither a chef nor a food photographer. I'm a mom of two kids that have adventurous spirits that can only be stretched so far. I also work most weekdays, so this has to be fast. I'm just going to show how I've been using what I've been getting out of the garden.

Today from the garden I'll be using rainbow swiss chard and a bit of parsley. The recipe is Chard with Fresh Apricots and Toasted Almonds. Hard core measuring is not required. Use more or less as you desire.

For this recipe, do your prep ahead of time, but don't do the final saute of the chard until you are ready to serve. It's better right off the stove.

The ingredients: 1 large bunch chard, 1TBS olive oil, 1 purple onion chopped, chopped garlic (about 4 cloves), five ripe apricots, 1/3 cup almonds.

1. Throw the almonds in a frying pan without oil and toast them lightly. Remove and set aside.

2. Chop the onion, stems of the chard and thicker veins of the chard. Saute it in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes until tender. Turn off heat.

3. Chop your apricots (skin on is fine) and your garlic.
4. When you are ready to serve, reheat the onion mixture. Add the chard greens and saute for three minutes. Add the apricots, and garlic and saute for a 2-3 minutes more until hot and greens are bright. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with toasted almonds.
We had it with hickory grilled wild caught, sockeye salmon and grilled corn.
Family rating of chard with apricots 1-10 scale
Me: 8.5 (its not a brownie, but it's good!)
Lara age 11 (will try anything once) 7
"moooooom it's a vegetable!
Richie (want's to try nothing unless it's a corndog) 4-he said it tasted good but the texture of the greens was too much for him.
Hubby (if it's weird, I'm scared) "Good" I like it! 7.5
Of note all cleared their plates of it completely, even before they knew about the cherry pie in the oven. I'll make this again. I have a ton of chard in the garden, and this took less then ten minutes to throw together.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Persimmon and the Peppers, One month later

Followers of this blog (hi you two! ) probably recall that I have had one or two or six rants about one of my heirlom tomato varieties, called Persimmon. Persimmon was started from seed at the same time as all my other heirloms but has lagged behind to such a ridiculous degree that a month ago I declared it hopelessly stunted and gave it one last chance. I planted it in a self watering container and gave it a couple of weeks. I planted some peppers in there too, fully assuming that the peppers would take over and persnickety persimmon would remain stubby. Here is Persimmon on month ago, the day I planted it in this container.

As I said, I didn't expect it to grow. Therefore it didn't get staked. This was unfortunate because it did grow. It grew while I was on vacation and is now sprawling sideways across the container. The peppers are also growing sideways. There must have been on heck of a wind storm while we were gone.

One month later Persimmon has not only grown, it's budded and starting to have tiny tomatoes on it. Prima donna Persimmon apparently either likes heat or likes a constant water source. Either way, I'm glad it's finally taken off. This one was grown by Thomas Jefferson and I really wanted to share it with the kids.

Now I need to figure out what Matina in the brown pot's issue is. Either it doesn't like sharing it's root space with a bay tree and a blob of oregano or it has too many tomatoes on it to have the energy put out higher growth. This Matina is one quarter of the size of the other Matina's. Meh, I guess I'll let it be. As per my previous thread, I've run out of big stakes. I'm don't think I'm even going to try and stake up Persimmon either. I'll let it sprawl on the ground and harbor toads for awhile. It seems to thrive when it's left alone anyway.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Balcony Tomatoes

My balcony tomatoes were an experiment. I was interested in a topsey turvy upside down set-up to grow off the balcony. Being too cheap for a topsey turvey, I instead planted in fabric strawberry bags. There was no resulting turvey. My tomatoes wanted to grow up, not down.

They've grown up at an astonishing rate. They get a lot of heat in this location and they have done well with it, well at least until vacation. They dried out a bit while I was gone and it weakened them. Sungold in the middle now has bacterial leaf spot. It's had a few haircuts and it still producing like crazy so I think it will hold me until the slicers start ripening. If it doesn't I havea few other plants in the ground that should carry me thru.

Dr. Carolyn on the left and right is a later season white cherry. It has fruits on it, but so far not as many as Sungold. It's foliage is lovely though. If it has tasty fruit, I'll be growing it

again. The plant on the left has the beginnings of leaf spot, but nothing horrid at this point.

Size is so hard to capture in pictures. Here is a picture of the same tomatoes from the balcony. If you click on it, you can see all the tomatoes.

I have mixed feelings about this experiment. I'm thrilled with the rapid growth and early productivity with this method, but the amount of water these need is a definite downside. I don't like being a slave to my plants and these need water every day it doesn't rain. This year has had rain almost every day, so it hasn't been a big deal. In a more typical July, however, I could see this being a major PIA. Something to consider for next year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Warning: Outbreak Late Blight

There is an emerging outbreak of late blight affecting tomatoes, potatoes and possibly eggplants that has started in the Northeast, no doubt related to all the cool, wet weather we have been having. This form of blight will kill your plants within about two weeks and cannot be cured. It is highly contagious and unfortunately, has already been found in plants in multiple box stores from Ohio to Maine. This means there is a clear opportunity for this to rapidly spread further.

To help keep your plants safe:
  1. Avoid further purchases of these plants from box stores etc for the rest of this season.
  2. Avoid watering in the evening or at night.
  3. Avoid watering with a method that gets plant leaves wet.
  4. Watch closely for the first sign of late blight and if detected remove the plant to prevent it from infecting other plants. The spores that cause this illness are very easily spread to other plants.
  5. If you remove a suspect blight plant, do not compost it or put it in an area where it might infect other plants. Bag it in plastic and dispose of it.

Here's more information and the opportunity to hear more in a webinar.