Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pest and Pestilence

Year four is apparently when you realize you don't know what the hell you're doing.

The rabbit has returned. I foolishly thought he would not eat the small red bean plants after they reached a certain size. Now what was once a nice patch of beans is a bunch of stubs.

At least he's eating the small reds and not the black eyed peas.

So, next year I can put up a fence, or just use small red beans as a "trap crop."

On top of all my other tomato issues, one of my tomatoes has pinworms. Yuck. No more transplants, ever again. I'm sure the pests can still find my plants, but maybe there is a better chance of not introducing new problems if I don't bring home the plants from a garden center or farmer's greenhouse, where this is a common pest.
Of course it is the tomato (Pruden's Purple) that looked the healthiest. I kept wondering why the leaves were folded together. I should have looked it up and started pulling the leaves a lot earlier to prevent an infestation.

The cucumbers that looked so great mere days ago have what looks to be downy mildew. What's annoying is I was doing everything right--they are on a trellis so they have good air circulation, I mulched heavily with straw, and I water the soil, not the leaves. I can try copper fungicide or an organic product called Serenade (bacteria-based), but this might be it for the cukes before I even got one fruit.


The strawberries have some sort of fungus, or maybe three, but I'll give them one more year as they should still produce fruit. This was my fault, as I did not space the plants enough and my irrigation system sprays the leaves.


At least I have flowers to lift my spirits!

Other bright spots:

Look what the leaf cutter bee (a native pollinator) does--she makes cute little polka dots in my leaves! I heart her.

My sweet pepper is doing pretty well.

There's always delicata. I've picked some too early (they looked ripe) and they became spongy (still edible), so I''ll leave these on much longer.

The tomatillos look to finally be forming!

My new trellises, for the exploding passion flower vine, look mighty fine. I need two more. I found a flower bud when I was training the vine, so I guess it is getting enough sun after all.


Bring on fall!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Design Ideas

I'm currently rethinking my large flower bed, and I'm always on the lookout for inspiration. This post on container gardens from the Terrain Bulletin has some great ideas. I especially like this combo since I want to incorporate some ornamental grasses, and cone flower and hyssop are two mainstays of my garden. The structure the grass provides will help support the cone flower and hyssop, two floppers.
The main thing lacking in my current design is a low growing plant, but I remembered recently that I have always wanted lots of pinks (Silene sp.). Perhaps this one from North Creek Nurseries will do:

Another garden renovation/expansion will have to wait until fall.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Wildly Pleasing Combo

Here are two varietals I planted in my native plant garden, backed by wild native plant "volunteers."
front: "Little Joe" Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium/Eupatorium dubium) Actually, this spot is too sunny/dry, and this will be moved when I yet again re-work my large flower bed.
rear: "Ruby Spice"summersweet (Clethra alniflolia) This is fragrant, and the bees love it! Keep it in back, though, because it is quite late to leaf out in spring.
on the fence: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) I transplanted the Virginia creeper here because I was worried another neighbor would not want it growing on her fence, where it had originally cropped up. I also hope it will out-compete the English ivy that runs rampant here.  Gorgeous fall color, too!
over the fence: poke weed (Phytolacca americana) I can never not think of Elvis's version of "Poke Salad Annie." Though weedy, it is quite beautiful with its dangling racemes, and a bird favorite.


Rascally Rabbit

Hmm, what happened to this black eyed pea vine?

[looks down too see tell-tale angular cuts] Oh!

A rather large (well fed) rabbit has taken residence in my yard. When we approach, he halfheartedly hops away, stopping to munch on the asters!

Mystery Squash

Did I plant Seminole pumpkin and forget about it, or did a stray seed get mixed in with my delicata squash packet (in that case, it could be anything)? Either way, this does not look like a delicata. hmmmm...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Growing Exotic Herbs

I remember the first time I came across curry leaves in an Indian market--those potatoes were a revelation! I could finally have dishes like in my favorite South Indian restaurant. But now I don't have to seek them out in Indian markets, because I am now the proud owner of a rapidly growing curry tree.
These plants are not easy to find. Mine were purchased from Logee's, where they are currently not available.
The second time was the charm, as my first purchase was in winter and the plant did not make it in the tough indoor winter climate (combined with some lack of attention on my part). This one came in spring and it proved to be a much more favorable time for acclimating the plant. I made sure to re-pot it as instructed, and now I am carefully tending it on my patio, where I like to walk by and rub a leaf to release the aroma. I don't dare harvest any yet because I want this one to thrive.
My other "exotic" herbs are for Thai cuisine. I'd grow lemongrass even if it was not edible, simply for the gorgeous leaves and heavenly scent. This plant will outgrow this pot by the end of summer, but I plan on harvesting the stems and maybe seeing if it will survive the winter inside.

Wild limes (Citrus hystrix) have previously been known as "kaffir" limes, but because that is an ethnic slur is some parts of the world, I'm going to refer to these as wild lime leaves.
Earlier this season, I grew fenugreek, and though I harvested some seed, I was not able to enjoy the leaves (methi) as I intended. I think it prefers spring and fall temps, so I'll be trying again.
My cumin experiment was also a bust--it did not thrive in a clay pot that baked it on the patio. It will get a dedicated spot next summer.
It's not exactly exotic, but I'm also growing caraway. It's a biennial, so it will flower and produce seed next year. This corner also holds an inherited rose, sorrel, chives, and flat-leaf parsley and cilantro reside to the left of the caraway. A potted rhubarb sits in the corner waiting for me to prepare it a bed.
It's essential to have a supply of the common herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, etc., because who wants to pay the exorbitant prices for tiny bunches of those when you need them? But it's also fun to make room for some less common herbs like these, along with lemon balm, lemon verbena, pineapple sage--you can't have too many! I ordered seeds recently, so by next year I'll also have Thai basil, Vietnamese mint, culantro--a summer heat-tolerant herb that tastes like cilantro.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Managing Disease in a Dinky Garden

After enjoying bountiful summer crops the last three years, I did not expect the troubles I'm having this year. A lot can be chalked up to the intense heat we've had so early in the season, along with inconsistent watering, an absence of fertilizer (it's just been too hot), and a late start on sowing some things, but unfortunately I think a big problem is disease.
My crop rotation has been less than disciplined. Though I'm now up to eight beds (seven in full sun), the rotation options are pretty limited in summer, when most of the desirable crops are related (cukes and squash; tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant). Those crops are also some of the most disease-prone, whether from soil-based fungal diseases (e.g., tomato blight), or insect-carried diseases like the bacteria spread by cucumber beetles.
Other than really fastidious efforts in the garden--i.e., care in watering and mulching, my only real option as an organic gardener is to solarize the soil. This process, covering the garden with black plastic to kill disease, is not really appealing, as it will probably kill beneficial organisms as well (though they do return quickly). It also takes up valuable real estate for at least four weeks. We'll see if things bounce back enough the rest of the summer for me to avoid that. Cooler temps, rain, better watering practices, and an addition of organic fertilizer might turn things around.
Inspired by a post on Chiot's Run on the use of mustard as a cover crop (it might suppress pathogens!), I've also been investigating cover crops to improve my soil structure. Even though my raised beds were filled with purchased topsoil and compost and soil test results have shown good nutrient levels, I was still dealing with a natural product with variation, and some beds have ended up with better soil than others. Healthy soil=healthier plants more resistant to disease. I always thought that cover crops would be problematic in raised beds, as they cannot be tilled under. It seems that is not the case, and I can just cut down the cover crops or let winter do the job. So, if the summer squash does not take a turn for the better soon, then I may sow a patch of buckwheat.

Here's a progress report on the summer crops:

Delicata squash (amazing!--they laugh off the squash vine borers, which I extract with a knife, though I did lose one younger vine)

Black Eyed Peas (late for some reason, but coming on strong on my new string trellis)
Eggplant (Listada de giandia) (looking good, one of the prettiest eggplant varieties)

Okra (doing fine, though late thanks to rabbit grazing requiring re-sowing)
... and many more to come--love those blooms!

Tomatoes (had to remove three that were diseased/not thriving; blossom drop from the heat a factor)
happy tomato
sad tomato

Summer squash (lemon squash) (these are wack--how is it that so many home gardeners have tons of summer squash to give away? These have performed poorly for me.)
Winter squash (buttercup) (ditto--blooms on inch-high plants?)
Cucumber (looking okay, but I dare not jinx myself with cukes)

Small Red Beans (too early to tell, but looking good--though some may have rust, Burned by "semi-bush" again though--these are starting to clamber over the peppers and eggplants.)

Hot Peppers (ditto--these may end up loaded with peppers late in season but have been inexplicably slow to set fruit)
Sweet Peppers (cautiously optimistic--pinching early blooms seems to have resulted in stronger plants better able to hold fruit. Maybe this will be my first year of success with sweet peppers!)

I forgot the tomatillos! Doing okay so far, these are strange in that they are growing out instead of up like in my previous experience with tomatillos.
Finally, I am experimenting with sweet potatoes in a cloth pot:

It can be defeating when the farmers' market is full of local produce, as are many home gardens in my area, but I've got to be patient and enjoy what I have.

Weeding the Asparagus Patch...

...was a good idea! I'm already seeing a huge difference, with many new stalks arising this summer since I thinned out the strawberries I had let infiltrate the bed. Asparagus from my garden next year for sure (if I can keep the weeds from the neighbor's side out that is)!

Blackberry Bust

My crazy blackberry wrap (bird netting, row cover, clothespins, and shiny tape) was a massive FAIL. Something was still able to devour them all. (Not fair, since I left plenty uncovered.) See my paltry serving below. Somehow last year I was able to harvest 2-3 pounds and make blackberry butter. I guess the birds were just more greedy this year.
Now that the vine has spread like crazy, and I'm working with three main floricanes, I think I can do better next year with targeted pruning and netting on a more confined scale. No more ten foot laterals trained to he fence, just foot-and-a-half tidy shoots with big luscious berries. I hope, anyway.
I had nine, and they were delicious.
As a bonus, the plant has migrated away from the vegetable bed that I planted it behind. Though it is now moving toward my flower garden and into a lilac bush, for now it is in a much more manageable place.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Christmas in July

Seed shopping!

Smells like beet spirit


Finally some success with beets. These were roasted for a salad of dandelion greens, sugar snap peas, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds. I love the golden ones, but the "early wonder" variety have performed the best for me.