taming the jungle

2014-07-06 09.28.32

We’ve had a ton of rain this week, which was great because I didn’t have to water the plants. ¬†But when I when out to rescue them from this weekend’s beautiful sunshine, I found a ridiculous, and very tangled, jungle. So I pulled them all apart and surveyed what exactly was going on where.2014-07-06 10.17.04When I pulled them apart, it turned out that some of them were being held up by the others, so that giants like this Sweet 100 cherry tomato dramatically threw themselves all over the parking lot. But an hour of tying vines with plant tie tape and dragging massive containers around to new positions resulted in a much happier and better-looking parking lot jungle.2014-07-06 10.48.27

As I was pulling them apart I also found quite a few surprise veggies hiding inside. Most are still small and green:2014-07-06 10.30.52

but there was one really pretty Indigo Kumquat cherry tomato:2014-07-06 10.40.32

and THREE huge zucchini!
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and a couple of eat-while-you-garden strawberries ūüôā2014-06-29 20.09.24

The Romaine lettuce is perfect, but probably in danger of bolting any day now, so I moved it to a shadier spot until I can use up some more of it.2014-07-06 09.27.20

I also harvested all of the bok choy last week, which really should have been done quite a while ago. It actually started to bolt immediately after I planted it. I don’t think it was too hot – it was mid-May, and we had a cold-ish start to summer – but it might have been too cold? I’ve read that cold temperatures can stress it into bolting. I just let it keep going though, in the hopes it would get to a reasonable size, but at this point it was getting a bit ridiculous.2014-06-29 16.34.55

It was delicious in a stir fry though, and I might even say the flower stalks were the best part!

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And, cutest for last, the watermelons have started to appear. I’ve grown these in a container once before, and they’re really not meant for such a small space, but I thought I’d try it again this year just for fun.2014-07-06 10.47.59

Almost any garden, if you see it at the right moment, can be confused with paradise.
~Henry Mitchell, The Essential Earthman 

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end-of-summer round-up

as the fall winds down, i’m already dreaming about next summer. ¬†here’s a list of what i want more of, and what i want less of.

more heirloom tomatoes! so many to choose from, and i’m sure this is what heaven tastes like.

heirloom carrots – can stagger sowing them to get harvest throughout the season.

don’t bother with peppers – they don’t grow well and have very thin flesh.

green zucchini, not yellow. one plant per pot!

try watermelon again, and don’t put anything else in the pot, especially not stevia!

sugar snap peas, yum

more basil!! cut it down early to keep it bushy.

romaine, but not any other lettuce.

edamame was awesome, but only one serving on the whole plant.

basil with lemon is delicious, but lemon basil is disgusting.

eggplant…hmmm…not sure. but if i do, one plant per pot!

more spinach and more strawberries.

try green machine musk melon?  sweeter than most melons, compact plant.

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.
~Confucius

Hurricane Irene and the garden

The garden has been in a bit of chaos since Irene passed through New Haven, so I thought I’d post some pictures of the impact it had on the garden. ¬†We weren’t too sure what to expect as it was approaching, but one thing we did know was that there would be a LOT of rain. ¬†Unfortunately, the roof underneath the deck started leaking during the last few heavy rainstorms, so we wanted to try to protect it as best we could. ¬†The landlords brought over the biggest tarp I have ever seen, and thankfully also some men to pick up all the heavy plant containers [the biggest containers hold about 40 gallons and weigh about 150 pounds.] ¬†The large containers came in really handy, since we needed lots of heavy things to make sure the tarp didn’t fly off the roof.

Everything else I moved inside, and had a nice vegetable garden in the living room for a couple of days.  It was odd, but kind of cool, to be able to reach over a pick a ripe tomato while sitting on the couch.

I had to harvest as much as I could, because anything left outside likely wouldn’t survive, and I wasn’t too sure how long they’d be ok inside either. ¬†It’s convenient that hurricane season is at the end of the growing season – the watermelon and eggplant were ready for harvest anyway, and I brought in a few more tomatoes and cucumbers.

After so much excitement about the watermelon, I think I waited a bit too long to pick them.  They were still pretty small, so it seemed like if I waited they might grow bigger, but it turns out you have to pick them at just the right time or they start to go mushy on the inside.  These would have been perfect little personal-sized watermelons, but you could only eat a bite or two from each one before it became mushy.  Next year!

The stevia was also starting to bloom, which is what I had been waiting for, since that’s when the leaves are at their sweetest. So I cut it down and hung it to “dry”…not the easiest thing to do as a hurricane approaches. ¬†But it eventually got there, and it’s now ready for tea, baking, or anything else I want to sweeten. ¬†I’m still amazed that it’s possible to grow non-cancerous no-calorie sugar in a pot on my deck!

(looks a bit like it might be something even more exciting, doesn’t it?)

Everything survived pretty well inside, and even the few things that were left outside seemed to make it through ok. ¬†We were lucky that Irene had downgraded to a tropical storm as she passed through, and it really didn’t do too much damage, other than a ton of downed trees. ¬†Unfortunately one fell over about a block away from our building, and cut our power for two days.

It did rain like a maniac, but happily the roof didn’t leak, and the landlords have promised to replace the whole deck this fall. ¬†So in the meantime, everything is back outside, but on top of the tarp. ¬†The blue light reflecting off it makes it feel like we have a swimming pool out there (which we pretty much do when it rains now!) ¬†Sometimes I feel like moving everything out of the way and making a slip-n-slide ūüôā

Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.
~H. G. Wells

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 Рa 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

good news saturday

Here’s the good news post of the week!

A survey of the garden this morning yielded a bounty of surprises. Some of the veggies are ready for eating, and others are well on their way.  Everything is thriving so well this year, I shake my head in disbelief every time I glance outside!

By far the most exciting so far are the zucchini monsters.  I harvested my first one today! Then I decided to count how many others were growing. There are four pots of zucchini all together, two green and two yellow.

Take a guess how many zucchini are growing in these four pots. ¬†I asked Alia, and she guessed 15. ¬†I knew I should overestimate, so I guessed 20-25. ¬†Then I counted. ¬†At the present moment, these four pots are sprouting 44 yellow zucchini and 33 green zucchini!! ¬†If even half of these make it to harvest, we’ll be eating zucchini every day for a month!

Some beautiful heads of lettuce just waiting for us to make time to make salads. ¬†I’m giddy just thinking about the salads I’m going to make!

These beans are sly! I had no idea any beans had even started growing, but something yellow caught the corner of my eye, and when I moved the leaves aside, there they all were!

One perfect little tomato is growing on the Better Bush tomato (above) and one perfect giant tomato should be starting to ripen soon on the ‘German Johnson’ heirloom tomato (below).

Both have tons of flowers, and so does the cherry tomato. ¬†Adorable mini cucumbers are starting to appear too, so hopefully we’ll have more salad ingredients soon.

My experimental edamame plant is getting huge, and has a ton of perfect little purple and white flowers on it! no sign of beans yet, but I have high hopes!

And speaking of experiments, the most delightful surprise was the appearance of five perfect little teeny watermelons!