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Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday August 14

The word of the week is tomatoes, lots of 'em, and then there's doing something with all those tomatoes.  Early last week I picked some nice Better Boy and Pink Girl slicers.  Since there were more on the windowsill,  I gave these away.

Then it was time to pick the sauce tomatoes.  Actually they weren't as ripe as I like, but an animal of some sort was damaging the fruits in low-hanging clusters, so I picked them and set them in the sunroom for a few days.  It left it's teeth marks in this one.  Maybe an opossum or raccoon?

Most of the sauce tomatoes are Plum Regal, with a few Roma VF on top of the pile.  I grew the Plum Regal because it is supposed to be blight resistant.  It's also very productive.   I read some taste tests on the internet that weren't very positive, but I think it's a decent flavored tomato, with a good bite that tells me it's high in acid, a good thing for a canning tomato.  There's about 12 pounds here:

Sunday I canned marinara sauce for the first time.  I used about 10 pounds of tomatoes, thinking that was plenty for 7 pints of sauce, which is what will fit in the boiling water canner.  Well it only filled 6 pints.  To get the sauce to the right consistency, a lot of water has to be boiled away. 

A few beans were picked, about a pound and a half in small pickings over last week.  The good news is that the beans are on the rebound from the Japanese beetles.  This morning I picked a nice batch of Providers and Musica, which will go on next week's total.

And yes I'm getting zucchini again after a month's absence. This is the second one from this plant.  All this went into a stir fry.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Status report - August

It's getting late into summer, and I'm seeing the usual assortment of things doing well and other things in decline.   I think this is the time when a lot of people, seeing a vegetable garden that looks more ragged than green, throw up their hands and walk away, maybe collecting the remaining tomatoes.  However with some maintenance the garden can continue producing for several months.  Today I walked around the beds and snapped some photos to show what's going on.

The strawberry pallet planter.  For a while the deer were sneaking in from a side where they never had ventured in the past, walking between the deck and the pond to get to the strawberries.  Thank goodness that has stopped and the plants are looking better, although not robust.  Now I have to think about how to protect them over the winter.

The second zucchini plant.  The squash bugs have found it and today I removed spent foliage that was thick with the nasty little critters.  I'm not a huge fan of summer squash, but I like to have some.  The first plant produced a few squash and died.  I planted this one on June 17 and it has given me one squash so far.   Next year I will definitely plant a heirloom squash like Cocozelle.

The Victoria rhubarb, planted this spring.  It got huge, 4 foot across, but after the hailstorm it was never the same, and the leaves are dying soon after they are set.  I'm hoping it shrugs this off.

Parsnip seems to be doing well.  This is either Javelin or Lancer, can't remember.

After the last of the sweet corn was picked, I cut it off at the base to clear the way for the winter squash.  I've had a lot of problems with winter squash this year and it's off to a late start, but finally it seems to be growing and setting squash.  It takes about 2 months for a squash to mature after it is set, so there should be time to make some squash.  It looks like they have shaken off the bacterial wilt.  It's great to walk by the squash in the morning and hear the sound of bumblebees.

Raspberries.  We'll what can I say.  They contracted fungal diseases last year so I cut them down to the ground last autumn.  The Autumn Bliss on the right appears to be recovering but the Caroline plants are not doing so well.  There will be a few berries to snack on while I'm out in the garden, but no desserts.

Pole beans.  They were hit hard by Japanese beetles this year, especially at the top of the trellis.  The worst of the onslaught appears to be over.  The Musica beans on the right appear to be recovering better than the Fortex.   I'm hoping to be 'back in beans' again very soon.

The pickling cucumbers look to be finished, but the lone slicing cucumber I planted late is still trying, bless its little cucumber heart.  Burpee's Burpless, I believe.  It has set one cuke which looks a little misshapen and a bit under the weather.  On end of the bed are 2 rows of bush beans that have just come up.

Finally, the tomatoes and peppers.  This morning I removed about a wheelbarrow load of foliage from the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and zucchini.  Mostly from the tomatoes, just to remove spent foliage and suckers and allow more air to circulate.  I can't tell that I've done anything - it's still a jungle in there. It's getting so thick on the pepper side of the bed that I have to crawl on my hands and knees to find peppers.  I really shouldn't complain.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday August 17

It's been a very good week in the bean patch.  With the exception of the pole beans, which have experienced a slow down, most everything is doing very well.  After a number of very bad years for tomatoes, this year is proving exceptional.  I harvested these Pink Girl slicers before they were fully ripe.  An animal, most likely a rabbit, had gnawed at the lowest tomato on the vine, so I picked the 'low hanging fruit' and put them in the windowsill.  The tomato on the right is a small Better Boy.

The burlap bag with Kennebec potatoes was emptied.  Not a great yield but the quality is good.  Best of all, no vole damage!

After drying in the sun for nearly 2 weeks, the Pontiac onions were ready to take inside.  Next year I'll have to seed more since the seedlings did not transplant well into the beds.  And I'll definitely have to grow the Red Tropea onions again.

It's also a great year for eggplant and I've been looking for ways to use the bonanza.  I've been making eggplant omelettes (eggplant with eggs) and found they are very tasty in the morning.  The Bride eggplants, being long and thin, work perfectly.  I peel the skin, slice them in half lengthwise and cook them in a covered pan until soft.  The sliced eggplant is placed on the omelette after the eggs set up, then the whole thing is folded and flipped.  A garnish of chive, okra or sweet pepper and the day starts off nicely.  

The Silver Queen sweet corn ripened last week, and Friday I picked a batch for freezing.  The ears are not as nice as Bodacious, and it's not a sugar enhanced corn but it's still very good.  This is my first year growing sweet corn, and it seems to me that the Silver Queen has a bizarre growth habit of sending up secondary stalks from the base of the plant.  These stalks try to form an ear but don't succeed in making a fully formed ear of corn.  The small ears on the right were deemed not suitable for freezing and targeted for immediate consumption.

The 'backup' summer squash that was seeded in mid-June produced it's first squash.  The first plant was lost after a few squash were picked, and it's nice to be 'back in the squash' again.  Next to the squash are a Bride eggplant, Millionaire okra and a sprig of Genovese basil.  The squash is a mystery squash, supposed to be an Italian squash like Cocozelle but looks more like a modern F1 hybrid.

All of the above went into an Italian vegetable stir-fry in the Breville wok.  The cubed squash and Andouille sausage get about a 5 minute head start, then the eggplant, sliced onion, okra, basil, oregano and thyme are added and sauteed at medium-high heat until softened.  A sliced paste tomato is added and stirred for another minute or 2, the heat is turned off and the whole affair is sprinkled with grated Parmesan.

Sunday was salsa-making day.  First I rounded up the peppers from the garden.  On the left are the mystery peppers, which were supposed to be hot Bulgarian Carrot peppers but are actually sweet peppers.  At the top of the picture are 2 Carmen peppers, and just below them are 3 Magyar paprika peppers.  At the bottom are Jalapeno and ripe Fish peppers.  (I really need to refinish the grill stand this winter).

Since it was looking like a shortage of hot peppers I went to the Bloomington farmers market on Saturday and picked up some jalapeno peppers and a few habanero peppers, in case they were needed.  The jalapenos that I bought are jumbo-sized, something I'm a bit leary of in the vegetable world.   I found their heat a bit lacking, so I grilled them along with the sweet peppers, in the hopes that the steam generated inside the peppers would extract the heat from the seeds into the surrounding meat.  The hot peppers from the garden were cut up fresh and put in the salsa. 

I usually grill the sweet peppers and, after deskinning and deseeding, add the pepper flesh to the tomatoes and blend.  I've found it makes a richer tasting salsa.

The tomatoes were gathered up.  These are the Mountain Magic and Black Plum tomatoes, almost 6 pounds.

Also some Roma VF tomatoes, just over 2 pounds. 

After several hours of grilling, boiling, deskinning, deseeding, chopping, slicing and dicing I was rewarded with 7 pints of canned salsa plus 1 pint of refrigerator salsa (the canner can fit only 7 pints).  That seems like a lot of work.  And yes, I added a habanero to the sauce.  The heat seems about right but it's too early to know for sure.

Total for week 37.5 pounds:
Potatoes 2.7 pounds
Onions 10 pounds
Eggplant 1.3 pounds
Okra  0.3 pounds
Beans 0.7 pounds
Corn  7.1 pounds
Summer squash 1.1 pounds
Sweet peppers 1.5 pounds
Hot peppers 0.4 pounds
Slicer and salad tomatoes 9.9 pounds
Paste tomatoes 2.6 pounds

To see what other gardeners are getting, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The year of the tiger

Tiger swallowtail that is.  OK, I used a gimmick to get your attention, guilty am I.  It's been nearly 10 years since these butterflies have been seen in such numbers.  I don't know why animal populations ebb and flow, sometimes dramatically, but that is what they do.  And this is one of the most spectacular butterflies in this region.  They are drawn to Joe Pye Weed and some other weeds that I haven't identified, all of them tall with purple flowers.  This one was hanging around the sage plant, possibly attracted to the fragrant oils in the leaves.

Plant diseases also ebb and flow, and the why's and how's are mostly a mystery.  For the last several years the tomatoes have succumbed to a host of diseases, mostly (I believe) early blight and leaf spot.  This year they are virtually disease free and astoundingly healthy.  The Mountain Magic and Black Plum tomatoes are well out of the top of their cages, about 8 feet tall.

On the south side of the same bed, peppers and eggplant are growing.  It's a good thing the tomatoes are tall because the ancho peppers and sweet peppers are about 5 feet in height.

The eggplant, as usual, is under attack by flea beetles.  I've found that the mixture of insecticidal soap and Neem oil that has been effective against aphids and scale on the apple trees also works on the flea beetles.  I like it because there are eggplants constantly growing  and this spray is nontoxic.

I plan to can a batch of salsa this weekend.  I'll use whatever tomatoes I can pick.  To make 7 pints, which is what my canning pot will hold, I'll need about 8 pounds of tomatoes, plus sweet and hot peppers.  The refrigerator salsa that I recently made was just hot enough, so I picked up a few habaneros at the farmer's market for this batch.  The sauce tomatoes will be ripe soon and they will go into a batch of marinara sauce.  I'm really impressed with these Plum Regal plants - that is quite a cluster of tomatoes approaching ripeness.

A disease that I haven't seen for nearly 10 years is bacterial wilt on the cucurbits.  The last infestation started on the cucumber plants then spread to the squash.  Ultimately all the squash were lost.  The plant will recover in the morning but wilts at the end of the day.  It gets progressively worse until the plant is lost.  This butternut squash is a goner and was pulled up yesterday.

 I was asked if this might be the borer.  It's not likely.  With its thin, hard stem the butternut squash is mostly impervious to the borer and that is the squash that the wilt has been killing.  Another plant, a buttercup squash, was looking wilty for a while and I was sure it was a goner, but it now looks like it is recovering.   If you look closely at the squash in the background you can see a few wilted leaves.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that the wilt does not destroy the squash crop. 

What can you do about bacterial wilt?  There is no treatment for it, although suppressing the squash bugs and cucumber beetles reduces the chances of the plants being infected.  You just have to hope that the plant has the resources to fight it off.  The best way to help the plants fight off disease is to provide them the conditions for optimal health - the full array of nutrients, soil with lots of organic matter, and sufficient water if nature doesn't provide enough.  Beyond that, the gardener is mostly at the mercy of the unknown.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Monday, July 31

It's the end of July and the tomatoes are finally starting to produce, including the slicers.   I picked the first PInk Girl and Better Boy tomatoes.  The Pink Girl has a very nice balance of flavors, excellent really.  I've been harvesting Mountain Magic and Black Plum nearly every day and putting them in salads, sliced in half.  Sunday there were finally enough tomatoes - 3 pounds - to make the first batch of salsa.
That's a mix of Black Plum, Mountain Magic, and Roma VF.  The Romas have been dropping to the ground when they turn a little bit red, not an endearing habit for sure.  I've been setting them on the picnic table to ripen, so I haven't actually picked any sauce tomatoes yet.

Along with the tomatoes, enough peppers to make a batch of refrigerator salsa.  The large pepper is Carmen, the next largest is supposedly Bulgarian Carrot, and the small peppers are Jalapeno and Fish, both hot.  I say supposedly because Bulgarian Carrot is orange and hot, and this pepper is red and sweet, with zero heat.   I expect to suffer hot pepper shortages when making the next batch of salsa, and will find myself at the farmers market buying some chilis. 

The sweet peppers were roasted on the grill, and after removing the seeds and skin, they were blended into the tomatoes.

This small batch of salsa gives me the chance to fine tune the recipe.  I don't mind a salsa that's a little too hot, but a salsa that's not hot enough is a waste, in my opinion.  This year's Jalapenos, Burpee seedlings, are much hotter than in year's past.  These were the first red ripe Fish peppers, and they are definitely hot, probably 2 or 3 times hotter than the Jalapenos, so I'm hoping that the salsa will be up to snuff.  The Bulgarian carrot is a disappointment however.  Here's the final product:

The Fish pepper is a strikingly handsome pepper.  With it's striped foliage and bush-like habit it could easily be an ornamental plant.  Although not shown in this photo, the contrast with the ripe red peppers just adds to the esthetic.  It was grown on the East Coast for use in fish dishes.

What is probably the last batch of Vertina cucumbers was picked.  They are now fermenting in a crock on the kitchen counter.

More beans.  Production from the pole beans has slowed down quite a bit.  They have been under attack from Japanese beetles and a small green 'bug' that feeds on the bean.
The Jimmy Nardello peppers and Millionaire okra continue trickling in, enough to add to stir-fries.  Eggplant has taken a break this week but I expect another wave to begin any day.

Lastly, some carrots.  I'm not a huge carrot fan but do like them for soups and stews.  I'm not sure what variety these are.

For the week:  Beans 2.7 lb, carrot 1.6 lb, cucumber 3 lb, okra 0.3 lb, sweet pepper 0.9 lb, hot pepper 0.3 lb, tomatoes 6.2 lb.  To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Notes to self and routine maintenance

Even when there's nothing to pick, every day I check the garden to see if there's anything that requires some attention, immediate or not.  And I also make mental notes of things I want to do different next season, or want to try.  Sometimes I put the notes in writing, but usually I count on remembering them when the time comes next year.

Case in point:  the determinate paste tomatoes.  This is the first year I've grown determinate tomatoes.  After reading some info on them, I decided that they should be grown in the old 2 foot diameter, 4 foot tall cages, and 2 plants would go in a cage.  I knew they were shorter and bushier than an indeterminate tomato plant, but I had no idea how thick the foliage would get.  I've been trying to thin out the foliage to open the plants up, and remove unwanted suckers (yes they do sucker).  But it's a challenge.  Next year I will put in one tomato plant per cage.
This is the cage with Roma VF tomatoes.  The bottom is fairly open, but the upper part of the cage is a mass of foliage.  This tomato has a tendency to drop its tomatoes before they are ripe, and any time I go in there with shears I knock down a tomato or two.

This cage has Plum Regal tomatoes, and they are equally lush.  Early on I slid bamboo stakes crossways through the cage to help support the plants, and noticed that the lowermost stake was bowed under the weight of tomatoes and foliage.  Well yesterday the stake snapped under the weight and the plant dropped several inches.  I managed to carefully get a new stake under the stem, but there's a lot of weight there.  Too much of a good thing I guess.   I'm keeping my fingers crossed until some of these tomatoes can be picked.  Next year I need to find a stronger support.

The strategy for cover cropping continues to evolve.  This year I'm seeding cowpeas as a summer cover crop.  In years past I used buckwheat but it self-seeds rapidly and becomes a weed.  My preference is toward legume cover crops since they can fix nitrogen in the soil.  I was also hoping that the cowpeas like the field peas would be a good forage for the rabbits, but the bunnies won't touch the cowpeas.

I seeded inoculated cowpeas in the brassica bed once the cole crops were out, along with a zucchini which is a little overwhelmed by the cowpeas.

The cowpeas are growing like crazy and have some white nodules on their roots, where the bacteria are doing their work of fixing atmospheric nitrogen.  Cowpeas are closely related to black-eyed peas, but much smaller.  So I began thinking, why not plant a shell bean as a cover crop?  It will do the same nitrogen enrichment as the cowpeas, but at the end of the summer, actually give me something usable.  This bears looking into.

Then there's the squash.  This year they get some size and then die.  Now it's even worse.  The largest plant is showing the signs of bacterial wilt.  About 6 or 7 years ago, bacterial wilt started in the cucumbers and eventually killed all of the squash.  It hasn't come back until now.  The plants will wilt at the end of the day, then perk up again in the morning.  This can go on for a week before they finally succumb.  Today another plant is showing wilt.  I'm not holding out much hope for squash this year.

The Bodacious sweet corn is finished, so the stalks were cut down, chopped up and put in the compost bin.  That gives the Silver Queen a little more light.  It seems to me like corn produces a lot of biomass for what you get out of it, although it does so very quickly.

A still-healthy Butternut squash vine was trained into the newly open area left by the corn.

The Vertina pickling cucumbers appear to be nearly finished.  It's amazing that I was able to pick nearly 3 pounds of cucumbers after this shot was taken.  I don't expect many more though.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday, July 24

I was hoping to post midweek, but my 10 yr old Canon point and shoot camera finally gave up the ghost.  The new camera is the lowest price Kodak that Walmart had, but it does everything I need, actually better than the old camera.   It took a few days to get used to it.  There are a whole lot of features that I will never use (it's a point and shoot camera after all) but I've finally learned how to set it up for basic picture taking without the distracting bells and whistles.

It was a really good harvest this week, as one would expect for late July, but most of it was not captured.  The burlap bag of Yukon Gold potatoes was emptied.  Only 2 1/2 pounds, but the quality was good.  There were pole beans, of course, although they seem to be taking a breather - a little under 3 pounds.  Sweet corn began coming in last week, and I've been picking an ear or two every day.  Okra continues producing at a trickle, one or two pods a day.  The Mountain Magic tomatoes began ripening, and I've been getting a few every day to have with dinner. 

Last week I pulled up the yellow onions and put them on the screen to dry.   A number of them were lost during transplanting.  There won't be the 25 pound harvests of years past, but there's still some nice globes in there.  Next year I will definitely plant the Red Tropea onions again, they are really good for summer use while the storage onions dry.

On Friday I picked two fine eggplants, a Lavendar Touch and a thin Bride, as well as a Jimmy Nardello pepper, a Magyar paprika, a Millionaire okra, Mountain Magic tomatoes.  and some corn (not shown).  The corn was shucked halfway, leaving the inner leaves, and put in the center of the charcoal grill and turned for a few minutes until slightly charred, then moved out to the edges.  I put pork chops in the center of the grill and sliced eggplant marinated in a vinagrette, as well as the sweet peppers, on the edges along with the corn.   Everything finished at the same time, and it was delish.

Sunday I picked a dozen ears of sweet corn and froze it.  This is Bodacious, an early sugar enhanced corn.  The ears are a bit small, but it has deep full kernels and it's very tasty.

And Sunday night I picked the first Black Plum tomatoes, along with more Mountain Magic.

It was time to do a taste comparison.  The Mountain Magic is reputed to have excellent flavor, although I don't find it any better than many of the popular hybrids.   Still, it's not mediocre, like some of the newer varieties I've tried like Grandma's Pick.  It's good but not great.  The Black Plum is a Russian tomato, with a flavor like Black Krim.  The flavor is hard to describe.  It's a mellow, low-acid taste that I like very much.  It's not bright or fruity.  When I'm inundated with them, it should be good for making salsa.

The Fish pepper has gotten so large that I broke off a branch walking down the paths.  I don't know if these peppers are fully ripe.  They are supposed to be about 5 times hotter than Jalapenos, but I tried one this morning and don't think it's any hotter than the Jalapenos that I'm growing this year, which are hotter than average Jalapenos.  I think it will find some use in making salsa.  It's a striking plant with the white stripes on the leaves and pods.

Here's a summary of the week's harvest:
  • Snap beans  1.6 pounds
  • Carrot  0.5 pounds
  • Sweet corn  6.6 pounds
  • Pickling cucumber 1.9 pounds
  • Eggplant 1.6 pounds
  • Okra  0.5 pounds
  • Peppers  0.6 pounds
  • Potatoes  2.8 pounds
  • Tomatoes 1.5 pounds
  • 17.5 pounds total
All in all, a little bit of everything.   I'm already making plans to handle the glut of tomatoes that will soon arrive.   To see what other gardeners are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.