Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yes, We Can!

For those of you who are dreading an entry of a political nature, relax. This is nothing of the kind. I just liked the idea of a title that was a double entendre.

As I may have mentioned previously in this blog, there is a great deal of fretting, obsessing and sweating that comes with being a gardener. Initially you fret, obsess and sweat over whether your seeds will sprout and develop properly. Then you fret, obsess and sweat over whether your plants will reach maturity and produce delicious produce. And somewhere in the middle of all the fretting, obsessing and sweating; Mother Nature pulls a fast one and creates a harvest so prodigious you can hardly believe your eyes. Neither you, your family, your neighbors nor your friends can eat fast enough to keep up with the output. So what do you do?. You do what mankind has done for years, you preserve the fruits of your labors for future consumption.

Pictured above are the results of some of this season's canning efforts. From left to right we have mock raspberry jam(made from green tomatoes), pickled green tomatoes, pickled crookneck squash, tomato conserve and pickled papaya pear squash. And perched atop the green tomatoes we have tomato preserves. As Jackie Gleason used to say,"How sweet it is!"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To The Victor Goes The Squash

I've grown winter and summer squash for the past several years and never had much trouble cultivating them, until this season. For the first time, squash bugs showed up. I found their tiny, bronze colored, spherical eggs clustered on the underside of the leaves of a number of plants soon after the first squash started forming.

The adult bugs literally suck the life out the plants and then lay eggs to produce offspring that will do more of the same. I knew I had a long, hard struggle ahead. Well, with the help of modern science and more than a little sweat, I managed to keep my plants alive and well long enough to allow the squash to reach maturity. It also helped that I had plants in reserve that allowed me to replace the casualties of this war. The photo shows some of the squash that resulted from my victory.

In the foreground you can see Thelma Sanders' Sweet Potato Squash, an acorn variation that has great flavor and the ability to last all winter without refrigeration if kept in a cool, dry, dark place. Behind them are Carnival Dumpling Squash, a variety which also has excellent flavor and keeps quite well. So mankind- 1, squash bugs - 0, but I'm sure the bugs are thinking, wait until next year.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Food Fit For The Gods

Isis was a goddess in ancient Egyptian beliefs worshiped as the matron of motherhood, magic and fertility. These Isis Candy cherry tomatoes certainly live up to the traits attributed to their Egyptian namesake. The plants have magically survived the first frost of the season and have been quite fertile, bearing plenty of sweet fruit for guilt free snacking. I only wish there was some long lost Egyptian magic that would allow the harvest to last all winter long!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Midgets In My Garden

Before some of you out there get too worked up over the politically incorrect use of the word midget, I have two confessions to make. First of all, I have an addiction and I have had it for as long as I can remember. I love fresh fruit, particularly melons. If I lived in the proper climate or had a greenhouse sophisticated enough in which to grow them, I would have them fresh and close at hand all year round. And if you haven't guessed it by now,the second confession is that the title of this entry refers not to little people, but to melons; specifically, those of the Minnesota Midget variety. I have grown these with mixed success for about three years and I finally figured out why I wasn't getting more than one melon per plant. Despite the fact that they were advertised as a container plant, it turns out that they grow far better in the ground.

The midget part of their nature is that the vines sent out by the plant are generally only three to four feet long. And the fruits are about the size of a softball and provide a good serving for only one person. They taste almost exactly like cantaloupe and when properly planted they produce four to six melons per plant. I suppose it might be possible for them to do well in a planter, but I imagine that it would have to be quite large.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Tenacious Nature Of Nature

Powdery mildew is the bane of just about every species of summer or winter squash. It's not a matter of if it will show up, but when. It's a fungus that infects the plant and sucks nutrients from it, usually starting with the leaves; which initially take on a white, powdery appearance. The affected leaves will not manufacture as much food as they should, and may turn yellowish or brown and drop from the plant. It can also stunt and distort the plant's buds and sometimes, but less often, the squash itself. There is no known cure, although there are some fungicides which can prolong the life of the plant and reduce the ability of the disease to spread.

When the infection occurs early in the growing season, it means several months of trying to keep the plant alive long enough to produce squash. Since the infection of my papaya pear summer squash plants occurred only a couple of weeks ago, I decided to just let things take their course and see what would happen. I was fairly certain that the plants had given me the last fruits I would see this year and were on their way to oblivion.

As you can see by the photos above, I was wrong. It's hard to believe that the fresh green growth seen in the top photo, is part of the same plant as the severely infected leaves seen in the bottom photo. There will be one more harvest of tender, tasty squash this year. And once again I've been reminded to never underestimate the tenacity of life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Late" Tomatoes

It's been a cool September so far and it seems as though fall has come earlier than normal, but tomatoes are still ripening in the garden. The only question is how long it will be before the first hard frost comes and ends the growing season. I'm hoping for a long Indian Summer extending into October.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

They're Not A Crop But.......

I found a packet of Morning Glory seeds that had been hidden away between some books for years and decided to see what would happen if I planted them. Amazingly, several of the seeds sprouted so I transplanted them to a spot next to the fence in the backyard. It took a while, but they have finally started to blossom.

Monday, August 30, 2010

In This Corner, Standing Nine Feet, Three Inches....

Since last year I've reserved a corner of the garden for a solitary sunflower. I just wanted to see if and how one would grow if given the chance. I know the soil isn't very rich in this particular corner and I don't bother to fertilize it with anything except decaying plant material that I occasionally toss onto it over the course of the growing season. For some reason, last year I never got around to photographing the results of my experiment, but I'm correcting that this year. It's tall, it's magestic and I can't help but smile every time I look at it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pooh Would Approve

These slightly larger than baseball sized beauties are Tigger melons. I was warned before I grew them that they weren't as sweet as other melons, but I find their taste to be quite satisfying. And they have a fragrance that is out of this world. I brought two of them into the house and before I knew it, their sweet fruity smell had found its way into just about every room. I guess you could say that the aroma bounced its way into every corner of the house. Well, as Tigger would say, "Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! T-T-F-N: ta-ta for now!"

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Not Born In Beautiful Downtown Burbank

Most Americans familiar with the name Burbank know it because of the endless stream of jokes Johnny Carson made about the suburb of Los Angeles bearing the same name. But Luther Burbank's career as a botanist was nothing to joke about considering that during his lifetime he developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants used around the world today. And he did so despite the fact that his formal schooling ended in high school.

The orbs pictured above are Burbank Wonderberries. I was warned before I grew them that their taste is usually mild and understated. The bad news is that this appears to be the case. But the good news is that they can be used in various recipes that apply to other types of berries and still produce a delicious outcome. I guess baking and sugar can add zip to any type of berry.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Banana Peppers Anyone?

Despite their name, banana peppers aren't usually yellow. Although I'm sure there is a botanist out there somewhere who is trying desperately to breed yellow ones.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Crooknecks In A Box

This is the first year I've tried growing Crookneck summer squash in a container. I used a 15 gallon plastic storage bin with a couple of drainage holes drilled in the bottom. Looks like things are working out just fine.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Early Arrival

This is the first ripe tomato of the season and it has ripened a full week earlier than the first tomato did last year. This wasn't expected since the cool weather in Spring lingered longer than usual forcing me to delay putting any plants outside. Its arrival is most welcome. I'm glad to have fresh tomatoes to go with my lettuce, peppers and onions so I can make some flavorful salads.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beautiful Basil Blossoms

One of the sweet basil plants has started to flower. Maybe I'll have some seeds for next season soon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sweet Summer Fruit

The melon vines are full of blossoms and will be full of sweet melons soon. At least I hope so. We just had two days of rain so that should help things along.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fresh Summer Squash

The papaya pear squash are the first summer squash to appear this year. But as you can see, Mother Nature isn't always so neat regarding where she places her bounty. Cutting this golden prize from the plant without causing damage is going to be quite a challenge. And did I mention the squash stems are studded with little spikes that really irritate the skin when you brush against them? Ah, the things one must endure for fresh produce.

Friday, July 23, 2010

From The New World To The Global Table

Whether sweet and mild or fiery hot, no matter where they exist in the world today, peppers can trace their origin to the New World and you can thank Columbus' voyages for making them a global phenomena. They require a warm climate and grow at a leisurely pace. In this part of the country that means that if you don't want to wait all summer for them to mature, you start them indoors when there is still snow on the ground outside. I started these in March, but maybe next year I'll get them going in February.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Individually Wrapped For Your Convenience

Just a few weeks after being transplanted into a much larger container, the pineapple tomatillo(ground cherry) plant is starting to bear ripe fruit. And they are quite tasty!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tomatoes By The Bucket

This year I'm trying to grow tomatoes in five gallon pails for the first time. I chose a determinate variety know as Siletz Organic, developed in the Siletz Valley of Oregon. As you can see from the photo, they are coming along quite well so far. Of course, those of you who are familiar with the Southern delicacy of fried green tomatoes may think that they are ready to eat right now!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Tasty Valentine

Every year I try to grow something new. This year I planted lettuce seeds for the first time. This is a rare type of lettuce know as Sweet Valentine. So don't expect to see it in your local grocery store any time soon. Although, if you're lucky, you may see it in a local farmer's market. If you do, give it a try. It's a loose-leaf type with romaine tenderness. And the leaves are a dark red on both sides(hence the name) with the lower part of the leaf a bright green.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ground Cherries

This is the second time I've grown pineapple tomatillos(aka: ground cherries, cape gooseberries). The seeds take a while to germinate but the tasty berries make it well worth the effort. They grow covered by a lantern shaped husk. When ripe, they drop to the ground. And when the husk becomes translucent, they're at their peak flavor, a flavor that's a cross between sweet tomatoes and pineapples. Once extracted from their husks, they may be eaten raw, used in desserts, salads, as a flavoring or in jams and jellies. They can also be dried and eaten like raisins or other dried fruit. So you can keep the taste of summer with you long past harvest season.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Going Herbal

My friend Rosemary gave me some sage advice and told me to try growing herbs, but I replied, "I don't have the thyme". O.K., enough with the attempts at botanical humor. This is my first year trying to grow herbs and so far so good. The sweet basil plant pictured above is doing quite well in a discarded Xtreme Gulp mug that has been re-purposed as a planter. The aroma of the plant is outstanding. I hope the flavor it adds to food will be too. But if I don't like this particular variety of basil, there are over 60 more to choose from. So I could be exploring the joys of basil for quite a few summers.

Monday, June 28, 2010

¡Que Sabor!

The first jalapeƱos of the season are almost ready. They've had plenty of rain and ample sunshine so far this summer, so their taste should be outstanding.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Lazy Gardener's Vegetable

I really enjoy growing onions from seed. It never ceases to amaze me how something that looks like a small, black grain of sand, can become something that is so savory. Usually, less than half the onion seeds I plant actually sprout, but once they get started, they're one of the easiest vegetables to cultivate. Attacks from insects are rare and even squirrels leave them alone. Give them water and a nutrient filled environment using compost or fertilizer rich in phosphorous(10-20-10) and they'll be just fine in the ground or in containers. And as far as the flavor of fresh onions is concerned, well, try growing your own and see what your tastebuds think.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's True, It's True, They're Really Blue!

For all of you out there who imagined that the color named robin's egg blue was dreamed up by some chichi designer who was drunk out of their minds and had nothing better to do, perish the thought!