Friday, August 19, 2011


One thing that is lucky about the slow start the garden got this year, is that by the time I was doing my later plantings (watermelon, squash) I had learned from some failures/disappointments from the first plantings. One of those was the importance of fertilizing.

Although we intended to fertilize the whole garden with manure and leaves, most of this went to just two beds. I thought since the land hadn't been used for a garden for at least several years (perhaps never), the soil was probably chock full of nutrients and fertilziing wouldn't be a problem. It probably wasn't, but fertilization would have helped.

The thing about fertilization is that it helps plants grow stronger, making them more resistant to bugs and disease. Used in a targeted way, it also helps the plants grow faster than weeds, increasing the likelihood of the vegetables' triumph over the weeds.

I didn't research fertilization options too much, and I didn't get my soil tested (I will next year though). I just found a recipe and scoured the gardening store looking for the ingredients. The primary ingredient is a seed meal of some sort - the only one I found was cottonseed meal. The secondary ingredient is lime. You use about eight times as much cottonseed meal as lime, and mix them together. I just put a small scoop of this (1/4 cup) where I was planting seeds and mixed it in with the hand trowel. The watermelon and the celery seem to love it, but the summer squash that I planted has been lackluster. Actually, come to think of it, I may or may not have given fertilizer to the summer squash.

I also bought a container of seaweed extract. It seemed expensive, but you dilute a tablespoon in a gallon of water, which has been enough for a whole bed of vegetables. I think it will last at least a season or two. The celery has always responded noticeably to fertilization. I hope to do some experimentation next year so that I can compare growth, insect and disease resistance, size of harvest, and ultimately taste for plants depending on the fertilization.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

tomatoes - good news and bad news

soon-to-be-ripe cherokee purple tomato

The tomatoes have been ripening quickly. The first cherry tomatoes only took about two days to go from pale green to red!

BUT - I had trouble with blossom end rot and sun scald. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on - I did see a few insects on the plants, and I blamed them at first. But after cutting into every bad tomato that I picked, doing lots of googling, and talking to some farmers, I think it was just that the blossom end rot and sun scald created opportunities for insects. I also put yellow sticky paper up around the tomato bed. I would recommend this because it showed me which flying insects were hanging around my tomatoes. Turns out there wasn't anything damaging in large numbers, just some flies.

small spot of blossom end rot (seriously, in bad cases it basically covered the whole tomato)

what the blossom end rot looks like on the inside. In every case, it went much deeper than it
looked like it would on the outside.

First - blossom end rot. It is caused by calcium deficiency in the soil but also by watering at night. This is the third year I've grown tomatoes and I have always watered them at night and never had this problem. But now I know. I tried eating the parts that didn't look damaged by blossom end rot, but they are not tasty.

two tomatoes with blossom end rot - the one on the left was picked early, before the rot spread
and before insects took advantage. The one on the right was picked late,
after the rot spread and insects binged on it.

Second - sun scald. I think this was caused by the long stretch of very hot weather we got. These were just small spots and if I brought the tomatoes right when they began to ripen, bugs didn't get to them. So I was able to just cut off the sun scald and eat the tomato anyway.

tomato with two spots of sunscald

Two things for next year: I am going to plant repelling flowers like marigolds and borage around the tomatoes. I may not have insect trouble with tomatoes this year, but as I've said before, I'm going to be much more proactive next year. Second, I thought with 20 tomato plants designated for canning, I would have an easier time getting large amounts of fruit ripened at once. So far I am getting a handful of tomatoes every day. In addition, I began examining the canning books to see how many tomatoes you need for a pint of tomato sauce. It is a lot! I think it was 10 pounds per pint. So, I will actually at least double my tomato plants next year, or plan my garden for summer eating and buy a ton of tomatoes direct from a farmer.

I must say I was very relieved when I determined that the tomato problems were not caused by insects. I am upset about losing the squash, but I would be DEVASTATED if I didn't get the tomato crop I wanted. For the last couple of weeks I have been able to bring in lots of perfect tomatoes so I'm feeling hopeful!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

unsuccessful vegetable update

Three crops have been disappointing - carrots, onions, and broccoli.

The carrots seemed to have a high germination rate, but very few grew to be seedlings - maybe 10 instead of the 200 or so I was expecting. The ones that made it past seedling stage seemed to do well, but I harvested a couple of them and they tasted really bad. I think the problem was the soil - I did an unsupported raised bed and through some combination of wind and rain, the bed spread out until it was only a few inches off the ground. This exposed the top of the root.

The onions also seemed to have a high germination rate, but even fewer grew to be seedlings and none of them grew past that stage.

I planted two types of broccoli, with mixed results. The arcadia didn't germinate well (40%) but those that germinated grew well. The Thompson germinated well (100%) but only two survived past the seedling stage. The problem here seems to be more about timing - we had such a long spring that by the time the soil was warm enough for broccoli germination, it quickly got too hot for broccoli to flower. My plants are still growing strong, just not producing anything edible. See, they are huge!

Arcadia broccoli plant

I thought I would be able to do a second planting of all three crops for fall harvest, but after doing a bit more research about the soil needs of carrots, onions, and broccoli it turns out that is not the case for onions. Theoretically you could, because they take about four months to mature, but they don't germinate well in hot temperatures and they don't dry well in cold temperatures. Oh well, I will try again next year. Carrots and broccoli take a little more than two months to mature, so I will plant them soon. I'm planting carrots in the potato bed and broccoli in the old carrot bed, since the broccoli did reasonably well in that shady spot. My spouse tilled the potato bed so that it would be nice and soft for carrots - now I just need to fertilize the soil and stick the seeds in the ground!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

birds as insect management

I know that experts on integrated pest managment will probably think this is way too obvious - but I had an epiphany the other day when touring a neighbor's garden. I pointed out hundreds of squash bug eggs and babies on her squash plants, and she wasn't concerned. She said that they always have them but they don't cause any problems. I wondered how this could be, and she said "the birds eat them!" At that moment I paused to listen to my environment and I heard the chattering of several birds, dozens probably, in her gorgeous tree-shaded yard. I noticed the bird bath and the bird houses scattered around. Returning to my garden, I heard.......nothing. For some reasons I don't have any birds in my yard!

Now I want to get birds into my garden, pronto! We do have one tree nearby but we will have to add a few nice homes (different types to attract different birds), places for the birds to rest in the actual garden, and a place or two that will provide them water. We are going to work on that this weekend, and I want to pick up a few bat houses while we're at it.

Of course, then I might have a problem with birds eating my garden, but I guess like everything else I will worry about that later.

Monday, August 15, 2011


We're getting ready to go out of town for several days, so we've been focusing on getting the garden in tip top shape. We have caretakers lined up, but we don't want to ask too much of them. I've spent hours ruthlessly going after weeds this week, which has given me some time to reflect on this gardening season.

I know I've said it before, but I cannot emphasize enough how much time I have spent working on protecting my plants from bugs. Not bugs in general, but specific pests that are especially damaging and with high populations. These include japanese beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borers, and now cucumber beetles (though I've really only seen a few of the latter). I don't completely mind this work, but I would really like to avoid it in the future.

I have spent far more time working on the squash bug eggs and japanese beetles than I have on weeding. I don't mean this to discourage people from gardening - the opposite, actually. I believe a proactive stance towards certain insects is best. Usually that means spraying harmful chemicals, but when you're not willing to do that, prevention is much better than treatment. Especially as these problems are rampant in the area I live - one family told us that they lose their squash every year and they never knew why. After hearing us talk about vine borers, they realize that is what's going on. They were blaming themselves. Since you are almost guaranteed to have these unwelcome visitors try to take up residence, stopping them before they do damage makes the most sense.

I will say I have given up on the squash bug eggs. It just took too much time and after the vine borers, it seems highly unlikely that we will ever get anything to eat from these plants. I do still go out and capture the squash bugs - they still come out of hiding when the plant is sprayed, and they have started to live under the boards we laid out. They are pretty easy to get rid of once you see them. There have been dozens under one of the board every time I pick it up. I don't think the bugs grow fast enough to be ones that hatched from eggs on the plant, they must be coming from somewhere else. According to my research, it takes about a week for eggs to hatch, and then about a month for bugs to grow to be adults. Unless a bunch hatched before I ever noticed the eggs.

We have made the decision to pull up the last galeux d'eyesines plant. It was continuing to grow new vines and form new blossoms, but the plant overall looked really ill. If we were going to be here it might have been a more difficult decision, but we also have to worry about our watermelon plants. I pulled it and have left it on the squash bed as a trap for a couple of days - I'm hoping it continues to attract all of the bugs so I can kill them.

The zucchini is looking okay, but not great. I don't know if we will get any more zucchinis from it before it dies.

We're going to dust the watermelons with diatamaceous earth and wrap the stems in aluminum foil before we leave. I also gave the squash trellis to the watermelon - hopefully being off the ground will help, somehow.


Friday, August 12, 2011

squash update and new trellis

Although I said I was giving up on the squash, you knew I wouldn't be able to totally do it. I'm not inspecting the leaves the way I was, but I did decide that if the plants were trellised, it would be easier to find and remove bug eggs. My spouse and I together designed this tent-style trellis that will be easy to store and easy to put up next year. The squash plant seems to love it - though I did have to uproot some of the areas where it attached, it has grown quite a bit since we put the trellis up.

This is the trellis, modeled by two watermelon plants.

I'm considering trying to grow squash again - just once more. If I do, I will be extremely proactive about insects and I won't add any new vegetables, so I can focus my attention and energy on successfully growing squash. I know now the importance of checking your garden every day - I would train the squash (so it didn't grow through the neighbor's fence), inspect it, put out insect traps, etc.

However, the squash plant that had the large fruit set on it is officially dead. It was looking pretty bad near the root, but one of the vines still looked strong, so I put extra dirt around its root and gave it some water in hopes that it would become the new root. Each day it looked worse and today, the large fruit had fallen off. It's been 10 days since we performed squash surgery, so I don't know if the plant died because of the surgery or because we didn't find all of the borers. The other plant that we found about a dozen small borers in looks really good - for now - though it doesn't have any fruit set.

The zucchini is still growing strong and we've harvested several. A summer squash that I planted later is growing slowly - maybe it is working on its roots or maybe it doesn't like the heat wave we've had.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

canning green beans

We used the canner two nights in a row! We're on fire!

We harvested the beans this morning - some were overdue to be picked, which will affect the flavor, but not much we can do about that now. We mostly harvested kentucky wonders and a few cannellini lingots. The blue lake are not ready to be picked yet.

We got one jar of cannellini lingots, and we used a special jar for them because we want to be able to compare the taste after canning - seed catalogs do not consisently talk about the preserving profile of different varieties, so we have to do our own experiments.

The only other choices we made were: whether to cut the beans into one inch sections or leave them whole (after clipping off the ends), and whether to cook the beans before canning them. We got a late start so I chose the lazy option both times - we left them whole and we cold packed them.

Looking forward to eating them! This run with the canner went a little bit more smoothly. We're getting this stuff under our feet.