Friday, October 28, 2011

I Beat The Wabbits

This year, I managed to finally get my carrots to the harvest stage. These are nothing like the poor imitations that inhabit the produce sections of grocery stores. The aroma that emerged when they were being cut or grated in preparation for soups and carrot cake was rich and appetizing in a way I had never experienced before with this vegetable. I think I know why so many kids hate veggies. They've never had them fresh. Grow some carrots in a nice sized container(mine was 15 gallons) and let your kids taste the difference. You may make converts of them yet.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Neat Treat Without So Much Heat

Pizza peppers resemble jalapeños but have a much less fierce bite. And they can be easily grown in containers, even those that are less than a gallon in size. So if your gardening space is restricted to a deck, balcony or small patio, this pepper is an ideal candidate to add to your container garden.

Monday, September 26, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons....Pickle Them!

Well, you can pickle them when they're lemon cucumbers. They grow to be about the size of a baseball and at first glance they don't look as though they have much in common with their green cousins. But slice into them and take a bite. The aroma and the taste will tell you that they are indeed cukes. And need I mention that they are great when pickled?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Российская Хурма

Although tomatoes are indigenous to the Americas, thanks to Spanish explorers they have spread all over the world, even to our comrades in the former Soviet Union. These are Russian Persimmon tomatoes and they only take about 75 days to grow. They're quite tasty and really nice to look at. You know, there are thousands of tomato varieties and I hope to live long enough to grow every one of them. Ah, hope springs eternal. Well, that's all for now. до свидания Това́рищ!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

太陽 Twins

Last year I waited a day too late to gather the seeds from my sunflower. The blossom fell to the ground during the night and scattered seeds everywhere. I decided to cover them up with soil and see what would develop. Only three seeds sprouted from the dozens that were deposited in the earth and all reached maturity, but something nibbled one of the blossoms off before I could photograph it. Anyway, here are the two that were left. They didn't grow as high as the single sunflower plant did last year, but both are in the seven foot range.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mouthwatering Melons

Despite the late start, it's been a very good year for melons. I lost a few to squirrels and our resident neighborhood rabbit, but there have been more than enough left to eat and plenty to give away. You could say that this season has been melon heaven!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sweet Miracle

I can't say that I wasn't warned. From seed catalogs to articles on the Internet, the consensus was unanimous. Stevia is hard to grow from seed because the germination rate is low and the survival rate of the seedlings is low as well. Any sensible person would have listened to the chorus of voices that advised buying the plant from companies where someone else had already done the hard work, but when has being sensible been any real fun? And since part of the reason I started gardening was to have access to edibles that weren't readily available in the local market; how could I resist the challenge?

So last year I planted about half the stevia seeds I ordered and waited for them to come up. I waited in vain. After considering all the possibilities, I decided that I had planted the seeds at the wrong depth. So I took half of the remaining seeds and put them on a wet paper towel in a plastic yogurt cup to germinate them. Half of the seeds germinated and I transplanted them to seperate cups hoping that at least one would reach maturity. None of them did. So much of the growing season had passed that I decided to wait until 2011 to try again.

This year I repeated the paper towel germination process with the five seeds I had left. Two of the five germinated and I transplanted the sprouts. One sprout died after about ten days. The other grew very, very slowly.

Finally, when I thought it was big enough, I set it out to harden it off for transplanting. After a couple of weeks I set about transplanting it into a large pot. I carefully slid the root ball out of the small container it had been in and started to lower it into the new pot; but I wasn't careful enough. The root ball shifted, slid off the trowel and dropped a few inches into the bottom of the hole that had been prepared for it. As it fell, I heard a sound reminiscent of a piece of cloth being torn in half. And I was sure that I had damaged the stem or tap root to a point beyond recovery. I completed the transplant anyway and decided to see what would happen.

In the first couple of weeks after transplant, the leaves closest to the base of the plant fell off and I was sure it was dying. I checked every day expecting to soon see a bare, whithered stem. However, the upper leaves of the plant stayed green and intact, although there were hardly any signs of growth. Then one day, I noticed what I thought was a new leaf emerging at the top of the plant. It was so small I wasn't sure that it hadn't been there before. So I watched and waited a few more days. And then, something unexpected happened. The plant was long and slender at that point in time and part of the stem was bent over and touched the soil in the pot. New roots formed where the stem made contact with the potting soil and within a couple of weeks the plant's growth took off. The result of that growth can be seen above.

So why bother to go through all the trouble for a plant that's so difficult to cultivate? Well, the rewards are sweet, literally. There are about 240 plants that are members of the species Stevia. Most are found in Mexico, South America and Central America. Only Stevia rebaudiana is naturally sweet. It contains a substance that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, yet it has little or no effect on blood glucose. The calorie content is negligible and research performed in India indicates that this same sweetner can also lower blood pressure. This unremarkable looking plant is one of nature's most remarkable creations! Thank goodness it was discovered before we destroyed it and its natural habitat.

It really makes you wonder what treasures we may have plowed under in the wild areas of the world in our mad dash to so called development; the cures to cancer, high colesterol, perhaps even AIDS? Stevia is a reminder that we should tread more lightly on the Earth and look more closely least we miss the bounty that surrounds us.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Welcome To The Jungle

This year, as in years past, I went out to the garden in early spring to see what the retreating snow had left. I surveyed the area and vowed that this time, I would leave more than enough room for everything to grow, with plenty of space to navigate between the rows for an easy harvest. As you can see, once again my well laid plans have come undone. Although there will be a bountiful harvest, the rainiest July on record caused a profusion of growth that has blanketed the area with a carpet of green and caused the tomato plants to intertwine and become like hedges. Quite a transformation from March(photo on the left) to August(right) wouldn't you say?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Have You Eaten Your Chinese Parsley Today?

One of the things I enjoy about trying to grow something new each year is that win, lose or draw; I always learn something. I knew that coriander was also known as cilantro(its Spanish name). I knew it was used in salsa and other dishes common to Mexico. But I had no idea of the health benefits attributed to this plant.

It contains antioxidants that can help slow aging. And it also contains chemicals that have been found to act as antibacterial agents against Salmonella. Clinical trials with mice have shown that it has both insulin-releasing and insulin-like activity; which explains its use as a traditional treatment for diabetes. And Persian culture has used it for centuries for the treatment of anxiety.

No wonder the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates once said, "Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be food."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Yearly Ritual

The first jalapeños of the season have arrived so I have performed the annual ritual of setting afire the entrails of a goat by the light of the full moon while facing in the direction of the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and reciting a poem of praise to the deity Tonacatecuhtli. The actual ritual is not that complex, but it seems that with each passing year it becomes more and more difficult to find the requisite number of Vestal Virgins. Just another sign of the times I suppose.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Bugs Are Back, So What!?

You would think that after the snowpocalypse of a winter that we had here a few months ago, any squash bug eggs that were left over from the fall would have been totally obliterated. Ah, but insects haven't survived for approximately 400 million years because they're easy to exterminate. And while I'm sure there were some bugs which emerged and died from lack of food because the cold, rainy spring delayed planting, some didn't hatch out until after my squash plants were in their containers and well along in their development.

Their arrival hasn't been a welcome event, but the delay in their appearance gave me ample time to prepare for combat against them and has given the plants the chance to reach a healthy, mature state to help fight them off. As you can see from the photo above, lack of summer squash won't be one of my problems this year.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ready For Dine Time

The tomatoes are still forming. The peppers are developing. The melons are only at the blossom stage. And the onions are not yet at their pungent best. But the first papaya pear summer squash is ready for its close-up and the dinner table. And it was really great sliced and sautéed with green onions, celery and home grown garlic!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Savory Standout

It's called lettuce leaf basil(and no, you don't get any points for guessing why). I have found it to be a pleasant addition to vegetable dishes, especially those using summer squash. I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wabbit Food

Last year I tried growing carrots in a container but something nibbled away the tender shoots before they could develop fully. So far things are going well this year, but I had to thin out quite a few sprouts to get the recommended spacing needed for mature, full grown carrots. I hope I'll get it right this time around and that the sprouts aren't eaten by any scwewy wabbits, huh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Snowpocalypse Survivor

Gardening for 2011 actually began last November when I planted garlic for the first time. Now unless, you've been under a rock for the past several months, you know we had a particularly wicked winter here in the Midwest. On February 1st and 2nd there was a blizzard that deposited about two feet of snow in our area. And the fierce winds piled up drifts much higher than that. It took three days for me to clear the snow from the sidewalks and driveway. But we gardeners always know that no matter how bad it may be above ground, there is plenty going on underground that is just waiting for the change of seasons. So the first garlic shoots emerging a couple of days ago were a welcome sight. Although the last official frost date for this area is May 15th, it feels much closer now that new growth is emerging.