unique parking-lot-garden pests

Every garden has its own unique problems, but I think my latest issue may be uniquier than most. One of the local inhabitants of my garden absolutely demolished one of my zucchini planters and shoved a bunch of the other plants around in their pots.  As I was contemplating whether an army of squirrels had teamed up and gone berserk on the garden (I wouldn’t put it past them!) it dawned on me that this was the work of the rarely seen garden pest known as urbanus automobilus.  2014-07-25 11.12.41

(It was a car. Being in the parking lot, someone just backed right into the pot while pulling out!)

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the fall garden

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Sometimes I think the garden is the coolest in the fall, despite that (or probably because) it becomes desperate and unseemly in its last ditch efforts to survive and reproduce.  The tomato plants have lost most of their leaves, and those that are left are lacy, yellow, and barely hanging on. But there are still a ton of tomatoes, and I think if anything there are more this time of year, although fewer of them end up being edible. Huge clusters of tomatoes at the end of completely dead branches are a tomato mom’s ultimately self-sacrifice for the sake of her children.

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This crazy strawberry plant is still giving me a few strawberries here and there – in November! They weren’t kidding about everbearing.  But looking closer, I noticed it was also starting to produce some great-looking cherry tomatoes. Now that’s a fancy strawberry plant!  (Some seeds from dropped tomatoes must have fallen into the strawberry pot, and it’s grown quite a robust tomato plant of its own.)

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The purple peppers are also still producing more peppers than I can eat…actually, I’ve pretty much given up on eating these, since they’re not very tasty.  The squirrels can have them.

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Speaking of squirrels, I’m just starting to have issues with them. The zucchini harvest was abysmal this year, but I found one last fall zucchini. Unfortunately a squirrel also found it and took a little squirrel bite.  Guess he didn’t like it though… 2013-10-12 01.45.24 2013-10-12 01.44.59a

Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.
~Robert Browning

my zucchini has 99 problems…

…but a female flower ain’t one.

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In order to make a zucchini, the zucchini plant makes male flowers (left) and female flowers with baby zucchinis attached (right). The flowers need to get their stuff mixed up (i.e. they need to be pollinated) in order for the baby zucchini to keep growing.  I’ve only had a couple of zucchinis grow to full size, even though there seem to be plenty of pollinators flying around.  So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands, and every morning this week I’ve gone out with Q-tips to pollinate them myself.  But there just haven’t been any female flowers!  There are lots of buds, like the one above, but none of them are ever blooming.  So this morning I tried prying apart the tightly closed female flower and spreading the male pollen inside. (Ok, I’m just going to say it – it was zucchini rape :s )

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The cucumbers are starting to do well – if you look closely you can see 2 nearly full grown cucumbers in this photo.  These vines & I fight an epic (and somewhat comic) battle every day, since it *really* wants to attach itself to the wood fence behind the trellis (or the nearby tomato plants, or random leaves, tree branches, or whatever else hangs near it).  But we are moving in 10 days, and so I really need it to detach itself from the rest of the world and be happily self-contained on its own little trellis. So far I think I’m winning, but we’ll see when I try to tear it away!

 

Cucumbers, like zucchinis, have male & female flowers, and the females come with tiny fruits that only mature if they get pollinated. (Can you imagine if humans worked this way?) The standard variety I planted has had lots of flowers for a while now.2013-07-20 00.15.35

But I also planted a “lemon” variety, which is supposed to produce tennis-ball-sized yellow cucumbers. It finally started flowering (or I finally noticed it flowering?), and for some reason it flowers in a ginormous clump! I have no idea what to make of this!2013-07-20 00.15.15

The tomato harvest continues, with a few more Purple Cherokees (and thankfully the worst of the blossom end rot seems to be done on that plant), and the first of the Purple Russian Plums. The Jaune Flamée continues to be awesome, and the cherries are all still producing like mad, especially the Sun Gold.2013-07-17 20.54.40a

I also got 2 more peppers, but again there was a little hole in each one, and this weird black stuff inside.  After the terrible bitter taste last time I didn’t even bother trying it, I just threw them out.  There are still a few more peppers, but I’m not holding out high hopes…

A fairly extensive Googling didn’t turn up any likely suspects – anyone have any idea who is eating my peppers?  2013-07-18 07.47.53

Just to not leave you with those gross pictures as your last garden thought today, here are some pics of the ripening tomatoes – some Black Krim, Sun Gold Cherries, and a Yellow Brandywine!2013-07-19 22.47.47 2013-07-19 22.49.25 2013-07-19 22.50.37

The green thumb is equable in the face of nature’s uncertainties; he moves among her mysteries without feeling the need for control or explanations or once-and-for-all solutions. To garden well is to be happy amid the babble of the objective world, untroubled by its refusal to be reduced by our ideas of it, its indomitable rankness.
~Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

zebras, sun gold, chocolate, and italian ice

tomatopalooza!  tomatonucopia!  tomatomania!

I tried to count the tomatoes growing in the garden right now, and lost count after about one jillion four hundred thirty-three bazillion five hundred sixty-two.

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Purple Russians ripening.2013-07-14 07.29.18

Italian Ice!  They were advertised as white, but came out a very light yellow.  They’re super hard to see though – this pic makes them look somewhat contrasty with the leaves, but in real life they are pretty much invisitomatoes.2013-07-14 07.34.15

The Jaune Flamée has been extremely fruitful – literally.  They’re perfect and small and sweet as hell – definitely adding these to the repetwah.2013-07-13 04.43.05

Cherries!  Sun Gold – probably my favorite cherry – it’s so ridiculously prolific and tolerant, and the orange cherries are pretty much candy. The Italian Ice are also really sweet & juicy, and so pretty!  The chocolate cherries (purplish ones) are also fat and juicy, and a little more complex than sweet.  And I’ve yet to try a ripe zebra cherry, but the bright red one with green stripes in the back is the first one!  Also pictured is a Purple Cherokee, which are so far the only full sized tomato that have ripened, but which are also strangely smaller than they were last year.  Fine by me, because I can just eat the whole thing at once!  I’m tormented with conflict between wanting to make everyone I know taste this so they understand my passion, and keeping them a well-guarded secret so I don’t have to share!2013-07-14 07.53.45   2013-07-11 09.11.33

I also finally harvested the first purple bell pepper (which is now red)…2013-07-13 04.34.39

…but sadly something happened to it while I was trying to be patient.  I’m not sure if this was an insect of some sort or maybe it was just starting to go bad – it had strange black stuff on the inside. 2013-07-13 04.34.47

I cut off the bad part and washed it out, and since I was so curious how it would be, tried to eat the good half.  The good news is it was more substantial and thick-fleshed than my attempts at peppers in the past…but the bad news is it tasted TERRIBLE and I had to throw it out.  Not quite sure what happened there…hopefully some of the others on the plant will fare better?2013-07-13 04.37.16

I’ve also managed to harvest one zucchini, but the plants are really not looking very healthy. It seems like they flowers are not getting pollinated, which is pretty strange considering all the bugs that are constantly flying around.  But a lot of the zucchinis start out looking promising, and end up looking like this.2013-07-14 07.27.38 One plant is looking especially sad.2013-07-14 07.28.29 But there are still a bunch of new flowers and zucchinis that look healthy, so hopefully there are still abundant zucchinis in my future.2013-07-14 07.27.58

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.
~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show

 

the growing, the wilting, and the ugly

After a whirlwind HOT, sunny, and dry weekend in Cape Cod, I came home to a crying mess of a garden.  Two days in the full sun with no water was just a bit too much to hope for them to handle with grace.  These days, I don’t even pause on my way into the house from wherever I’ve been – I just get out of the car and head straight for the hose.

Bad news first:

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The romaine lettuce has bolted.  Technically, it started to bolt a long time ago, but I’d been keeping it in the shade and trying to use it as fast as I could.  Now I think it’s chop-it-down-and-cut-your-losses time.


 

 

 

 

I have two very small, seemingly identical bowls of basil.  All summer long they’ve refused to be identical though, with the left one always taking huge offense to any negligence, while the right one is amazingly chill. After some water, lefty bounced back in a few hours though.2013-07-08 07.15.42

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The other bunch of basil survived just fine too – probably because it was in a shadier spot. I’ve been using it all summer, and it just gets bushier and bushier each time I cut it. Time to make some pesto!

 

 

 

 

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The tomato plants were all looking a little worse for wear – they were wilting, fighting off aphids, and trying to support their huge mass (some of them are over 8 feet tall!) in pots that are getting way too small.

 

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The experimental cherry-tomatoes-in-a-window-box have not died yet, but they were definitely gasping for air after 2 days.  That tiny amount of soil barely holds any water, and it’s totally exposed to the sun.  I think it dries out about an hour after watering.  The leaves seem to bounce back every time they wilt though, and I ate my first zebra cherry today (though admittedly it was not quite ripe and pretty tough.  It’s hard to tell when to pick when the ripe version is still green and red!)

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Some of the other cherries have started to ripen too – these are the chocolate cherries which are sweet and very fat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also came back to my first tiny tomato harvests – just a handful of chocolate cherries, sun gold cherries, and one jaune flammée. All were super sweet and flavorful, but so far the sun gold takes the sweetness cake.2013-07-08 07.12.48

A plum-sized Purple Cherokee was also ready for harvest…2013-07-08 07.18.52

…but very sadly, had blossom end rot. I’ve noticed a lot of this going on this year – possibly because there are just so many more tomatoes, but I wonder if it’s drought stress.  I’ve tried to be vigilant about keeping a constant water supply, and other than this past weekend I don’t think there’s been too much stress, but I think the pots make it difficult to really keep an even moisture level.2013-07-08 07.19.01

The zucchini plants are also struggling and showing signs of blossom end rot, as well as (I think) powdery mildew.  2013-07-08 07.21.36

But I harvested my first zucchini today too!2013-07-08 07.21.24

I think some of the cucumbers finally got fertilized, since this guy has grown pretty big, but he doesn’t look overly happy, so we’ll see what happens.2013-07-08 07.16.08

And one of the cheater purple bell peppers has started to turn a gorgeous shade of red! I had no idea they were going to do that, so I’m going to leave this one for another day or two and let it sweeten up.  2013-07-08 07.22.34

Meanwhile, the monstrous Pinot Noir Hibiscus is getting close to blooming – I can’t wait! 2013-07-08 07.15.59

this is the garden:colours come and go,
frail azures fluttering from night’s outer wing
strong silent greens silently lingering,
absolute lights like baths of golden snow.
This is the garden:pursed lips do blow
upon cool flutes within wide glooms,and sing
(of harps celestial to the quivering string)
invisible faces hauntingly and slow.

This is the garden.   Time shall surely reap 
and on Death’s blade lie many a flower curled,
in other lands where other songs be sung;
yet stand They here enraptured,as among
the slow deep trees perpetual of sleep
some silver-fingered fountain steals the world.
~e.e. cummings

Updates from the concrete jungle

pano from above

Looking down at the parking spot jungle from the deck.

Every Saturday morning in the summer I find myself waking up at something like 6:30am, hopping out of bed, and making a beeline for the garden.  Weekdays I get to spend a bleary half hour in the morning or late evening making sure everything gets watered, but on Saturdays I’m dying to get my hands dirty and see what’s happened over the past week.

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I’ve been negligent on the blogging, so since the last post, the sugar snap peas have grown, been harvested, eaten, and as of this morning, cut down to make room for cucumbers!  I didn’t get a huge yield – 32 pods in total – but they were grown in a tiny tiny container and I only planted a few seeds. Next year I’ll do more – they were delicious!

 

In the meantime, 2 varieties of cucumbers have started growing out of this slightly less tiny, but still tiny, bucket container.

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2013-06-28 22.26.46So I cut down the dying snap pea vines and will train the cucumber vines up the same space. Since (breaking news) the garden and I will be moving *again* in a month, I stuck a portable trellis in the container instead of using the string trellis tied to the deck.  One of the vines must have grown 6 feet in the past week – it already reaches to the top of the trellis!

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Baby cucumber

In front of the cucumber plants are some Gazania flowers. I’d never seen these before this year, and I’m not sure what I think.  They’re finicky – they don’t like being planted with other plants, and the flowers won’t open unless there is really bright sun. When they do open it’s very briefly, and as soon as a cloud covers the sun they shut right back up again.  I think they are the indifferent, haughty, housecats of the plant world.  That said, when they do open up, they’re really pretty.

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The broccoli has also come and gone.  I got to eat some of it, but was too slow for a couple of heads and instead created giant broccoli flowers which were very interesting, but not overly edible. I also got a few tiny side shoots on those plants that I harvested the main shoots from, so I picked the last of those today and cut down all the plants.

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I also harvested the last of the spinach, which was a bit ragged, but when you blend it in a smoothie you can’t tell at all. 🙂

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The herbs are still doing well, and I’ve been harvesting enough basil this summer that the plants have become very strong and full.  They were starting to develop flowers, so this morning I cut the tops off them all, and I’ll have to do another good harvest later this weekend.  I also gave the chives a haircut, since they were getting pretty unruly (though honestly, unruly is kind of appealing, especially when it comes to hair.)

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The zucchini plants all appear to be doing well, although it seems to me they are somewhat behind last year’s development.  But it looks like at least some of the flowers are getting pollinated, and small zucchinis are starting to appear.

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The cheater purple peppers are also doing well – that biggest one hasn’t been getting any bigger, so I might harvest it soon.  Whenever I’ve grown peppers in the past I always find the flesh is very thin compared to those you buy at the grocery store.  I’m curious to see how these supposedly magical peppers compare.

 

 

 


And last but not least, the many, many tomatoes. 🙂  All of the plants have fruited now, some quite heavily. They seem to be very happy in their little parking lot garden, despite that they don’t get as much direct sun as they should.  Most of them are taller than me, and some of them I can’t even reach the tops!  Moving them to the new apartment a few blocks away is going to be a very interesting challenge…

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Sungold cherries starting to ripen

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Purple Russian Plums

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Jaune Flamée

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Yellow Brandywine

Of course it wouldn’t be tomato season without the return of my second-favorite nemeses, the aphids. I’ve been keeping an eye on them, and so far it looks like they’re not getting too out of control, though I haven’t seen any ladybugs (aka aphid killers) yet, so I’m considering going and buying some.2013-06-20 20.21.05

It’s amazing how fast the garden has grown – 3 weeks ago it looked like this: 2013-06-08 10.32.14

And today, I basically need a machete to do the weeding. 2013-06-28 22.30.56

Basically, I believe the world is a jungle, and if it’s not a bit of a jungle in the home, a child cannot possibly be fit to enter the outside world.
~Bette Davis

victory!

My little squirrel friend managed to go through 3 more tomatoes and a zucchini, while completely ignoring all the peanut butter and crackers lovingly laid out in his metal palace.  Even after I dragged the tomato to the middle of the deck and sprinkled horrible smelling squirrel repellent (contents: dried blood, rotten egg solids, and garlic oil) all around it, the obsessive bugger just walked right through it and climbed up into the plant!  Folk wisdom online suggests tomatoes are like crack for squirrels, and once they’ve got a taste, *nothing* can stop them.  So then I had a sudden insight, which really should have been obvious all along – bait the trap with a tomato!

And sure enough, within a day i had caught him!

Unfortunately, all the days of *not* catching the squirrel had caught me off guard, and I had failed to plan ahead.  The animal control people advised us to take him to a park 5-6 miles away, across a body of water, otherwise they can find their way back (!).  But Alia is in Canada with the car, and not due to be back for 4 days.  After racking my brain for a couple of hours, I finally thought of a friend who just might help me with the weirdest favor ever asked (thanks Vera!)  In the end, he ran off free and happy into the bushes at Lighthouse Point Park.

To celebrate, I came home and picked the entire crop of edamame and had an awesome and salty afternoon snack.

Nature does not hesitate to interfere with me, so I do not hesitate to tamper with it.
~Henry Mitchell, garden writer

return of the nemesis

I used to think squirrels were cute.

But last year we had a ridiculous number of run-ins with wildlife on the deck, most notably squirrels and raccoons.  The raccoons were scary, but the squirrels were the real menace. Our first squirrel ate a football-sized hole in the screen door and chewed the fabric off several of our chairs.  A family with at least three babies moved in under our deck boards, and later into the chimney, and began to eat all of our minuscule crop of tomatoes.  Trying to fight back in our feeble human way, we called animal control and were told that we should trap and relocate them to a park 6 miles away and across a body of water.  After much trial and error, we became reasonably adept at said trapping, and relocated about 5 or 6 squirrels over time.

Early this spring we had another family of squirrels living somewhere in the vicinity.  Three acrobatic baby squirrels grew up on our slippery railing, and watching them falling off every other minute could really make it difficult to get any work done.  But happily, just around the time that we were ready to set the plants out, all the squirrels disappeared, and we hadn’t seen another one since.  We were a bit confused about how we got so lucky, but we decided not to look a gift squirrel in the mouth.

Sadly, our luck has run out.  A new squirrel has arrived, and he’s a Wily one.  He appears to be responsible for the tomato bite, and has since eaten all 3 heirloom tomatoes before they were even close to being ripe.  This is really sad, since the tomato plants haven’t fared very well, and I’m not sure if I’ll get another one.  There is one little guy still surviving – think he has a chance of making it?

The squirrel has also eaten at least 2 or 3 cucumbers, and there are only a couple left on the vine.  I’m optimistically hoping I’ll get to them first – it’s so aggravating to feel so outgamed by a little rodent!  Perhaps his superpowers come from his extremely healthy diet.  He also ate some of the last green zucchini, and another giant hole in the screen, which seems to be purely vindictive, since he has never come inside (that we know of!).

We set the trap again, but he seems wise to our ways.  Either that or he prefers vegetables to the peanut butter on a cracker that we’ve been using as bait.

We did, however, manage to catch a purely innocent bystander.

He seemed fine though, and flew away happily when I opened the door.

Elsewhere, things are starting to die back in the heat, but I picked one more crop of zucchini, mainly yellow ones now:

My brilliant and thoughtful sister just gave me a well-timed present of The Classic Zucchini Cookbook, which will come in extremely handy since after the last batch of zucchini bread, chocolate chip pecan zucchini bread, lemon-zucchini muffins, and oatmeal-zucchini brownies, I was running out of ideas!

Although the zucchini plants are really struggling now, it seems like I may still get one last harvest – I was amazed to see this little bunch growing amidst all the dead leaves.

The eggplants are looking fat and shiny, and a bunch of better bush tomatoes are still green enough to have escaped squirrelly attention.

And of course, the requisite watermelon update: 

And since I was feeling sad about the summer winding down, here’s a hardy hibiscus that followed me home from the nursery.  It’s called pinot noir, and its blooms are about 8″ across!

Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.  
~Henry David Thoreau

the war is won!

The aphids are gone, the ladybugs are gone, and the eggplants have appeared!

Unfortunately I lost a different war – a stealth attack that came in the night and mugged my tomato plant.  The first tomato was looking almost perfect yesterday, but I decided to wait a day or two to see if it would ripen a little more on the vine.

Sadly, some night critter was very pleased with this decision, and had himself a big juicy bite of heirloom tomato for dinner.

I picked it today though, and I’ll try to salvage the rest.  In other, non-war news, the zucchini production is definitely slowing down, but I still have way more than I know what to do with.  The yellow zucchinis seem to produce quite a bit more than the green zucchini, and I don’t know if it’s just supply and demand but I find myself cheering on the greens and looking depressedly at all the yellows.  Next year I’m going to up the green-to-yellow ratio.  But here’s a big fat greenie that got a little big waiting for Alia to come home to help me eat it!

The romaine lettuce was starting to bolt in this hot weather, so I had to harvest it all at once, which made for a LOT of salads this week.

But I also got to eat my first cucumber, and there are quite a few more where that came from.  Besides tomatoes, I think cucumber is the vegetable that I really appreciate the most fresh out of the garden.  You wouldn’t think it would make that much difference – I know people who think cucumbers have no flavor at all – but people, eat one immediately after picking it from the plant and then we can talk!

The edamame is looking like it will be a nice big crop, though I’m not too sure how to tell when it’s ready.  I guess when the beans look good and fat.  Time to start researching how to make them like the japanese restaurants!

And behind the scenes, the less showy ‘Better Bush’ tomatoes are starting to blush (paws off, critters!)

The pepper plants, as usual, haven’t been doing too well, but I even have some little peppers popping up

And the mixed lettuce and herbs are still going strong.

I planted some mint in the pot the romaine lettuce used to be in, so soon I should be able to make some of Greta’s mint lemonade iced tea!

And of course, I couldn’t finish a post without an update on the massively cool watermelon vines.

I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation.  It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.
~Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from an Old Manse, 1846.

reinforcements have arrived!

Remember the insane infestation of aphids on my eggplant that I was waging an (admittedly mild) war against? I never did get around to really doing anything about them except for spraying them off with a strong blast of water every few days, and I was sort of resigned to letting them win.  But recently I’ve been noticing a whole bunch of new and much bigger bugs all over the plant.  Just as I was moaning “what now?”, a Google search revealed that these guys are a gardener’s best friend – ladybug larva! They can eat 400 aphids a day as larva, and an adult can eat over 5000 in its lifetime! There’s a huge business in commercial ladybug sales for exactly this reason (what a concept – go and BUY bugs, and release them into your garden!) – but lucky me, I get them for free.  The aphids are much harder to find these days…maybe the dozens of flowers that keep dropping off the plant will finally start to produce some fruit.

large picture is my eggplant, and inset is a google image of a ladybug larva.

The rest of the garden is doing well.  Still harvesting giant zucchinis daily (I have a loaf of whole-wheat-blueberry-blackberry-pecan-zucchini bread in the oven as I type), and sandwiches and salads are benefitting from the greens – though I’m already making a list of what I wish I would have included for next year!  Love the romaine lettuce though – and Alia gets credit for these pretty heads since she planted them herself while I was away. (though I did scoop the awesome chair from someone’s curb on garbage day!)

There are 9 amazing watermelons growing now, and the biggest one is about the size of an orange.  It’s my favorite thing to go out and look at everyday – I don’t know if it’s a result of growing up in the northland where such exotic fruits were imported, rather than grown, but I just think it’s the coolest thing ever that I can grow watermelon in a pot on my deck.  I’ve turned the pot around now and I’m training the long vines to grow on the wires that run along the fence – hopefully they won’t get to heavy and break themselves – or the fence!

We also have what Alia has pronounced “a REAL cucumber” – especially exciting since we didn’t get a single cucumber last year.  And there are several more approaching real status – I can’t wait to harvest the first one!

I’ve also been color-coordinating the sky above the garden lately, just for that finishing touch.  I try to do this in the evening, just before dark so it doesn’t bother the neighbors too much…

Take thy plastic spade,
It is thy pencil; take thy seeds, thy plants,
They are thy colours.
~William Mason, The English Garden, 1782