Monday, September 28, 2009

Summer's last harvests ... Sept. 29, 2009

An Indian summer day... in the 80s, sunny, bluest of skies. Only downside was the wind - gusts up to 25 mph which actually toppled the last four tomato plants (6 ft. plus) in their cages. I staked the cages back up and worked to finish up some of the tasks and clean up for the summer garden and finish off the start of the fall plantings. Having more than one season of growing makes the end of summer much easier - just different harvests to look forward to! Pulled the last black beauty eggplant out - it only had one very small eggplant left after the large one picked yesterday and with night temps predicted to dip in the high 40s this week I don't think it was going to have a chance to grow up. I picked all the banana peppers and mystery Salsa peppers from three pots, picked 4 Round of Hungary from a wind broken plant and took those plants to the compost pile, refreshing the pots with organic potting mix, mushroom compost and organic Planttone. One was for another pot of mesclun lettuce, one for a mystery Thai Mixed Greens mix received free with an order from Baker Seeds, one for Tokyo Bunching Evergreen onions and one for another free packet of seeds, this time Red of Florence onion seeds - hoping for some fresh green onions late into fall. These will all stay on the deck along with the bin of spinach and the larger pot of mesclun lettuce for easy picking. Two more freebies, small cabbage starts from HD, were planted - one where the eggplant had been, now a collards bed, and one in the midst of the last pepper plants, which I have interplanted with a few collards. Those peppers will be coming out this week and the rest of that part of the bed will be filled with more radishes (French Breakfast and Chinese White Winter) and more greens.

Growing Tips Zone 7

Lessons learned from garden mistakes & triumphs past
... an ongoing post

1. Don't ignore your instincts... if you think something is going wrong, act on it, don't wait.
2. Plant a few new varieties each year - you may find a new favorite.
3. Fight early blight before it begins - work cornmeal into the top of your soil, mulch well so water and spores will not splash on the foliage, bottom water and strip any lower leaves starting to show signs of EB. Try 1 baby aspirin in a gallon of water as a foliar spray to promote the plant's own resistance. I don't think anything will prevent EB but you can help prolong the health of the plant and minimize its effects.
4. Pumpkins don't do well in containers :-(
5. As soon as your peppers have green full sized fruit, pick them - no matter how badly your mouth is watering for fully ripe, red peppers. They will set a second, much larger flush of blooms and produce twice as well.
6. No matter how well you have worked compost, etc. into the soil, a good balanced organic fertilizer will make a world of difference.
7. Sugar snap peas need to be started much earlier here than most charts show - Feb., even if there is snow on the ground, gives them a chance to produce much heavier yields than planting in March.
8. A few whiteflies become a zillion whiteflies. If you see evidence of whiteflies on a greenhouse plant, do NOT bring it home. Ask me how I know.
9. There is no such thing as too many tomato plants.
10. If your soil is the quintessential southern red clay, don't fight it. Amendments disappear as fast as you can work them in. Build raised beds, fill with a mix of soil, compost, peat and start a compost pile of your own. You will spend less money and way less frustration in the long run.

The Impossible Dream - a perfect garden...Sept. 28, 2009

I had the amusingly naive impression that if I grew my veggies in organic raised beds, fed them the perfect organic foods, watered exactly as needed, kept them weeded, etc. that I would have the perfect garden - beautiful, healthy, disease and pest free plants producing beautiful, blemish free fruits and veggies for our enjoyment and health, like the mustard greens and pak choi at the end of the raised bed to the left.


Like everything else in nature, there is no such thing as our concept of *perfection*. Living things, by definition, are volatile and nature always has a new curveball to throw. As a gardener you have to learn to accept the good and the bad. This season has certainly given me, as well as it seems most gardeners across the nation, plenty of good and bad. I have sympathized with the northeastern gardeners who watched their tomatoes fall victim to late blight and the Texan gardeners watching their plants blister in the heat and drought. By those standards my year has been pretty normal, despite the excess rain this spring and the lack of rain this summer.

Like most trials in life, we survive the garden disasters and hopefully learn a little wisdom from them. The tomato yellow leaf curl virus which struck most of my tomatoes early in the summer taught me to check any plant I buy and bring home for pests and signs of disease. The early blight which slowly ascended my later tomatoes has taught me the value of bottom watering, composting and mulching. Today I learned a lesson about cabbage worms.... that assumptions can still lead us in the wrong direction!
My collards, cole crops and other fall veggies have been growing well - though I had begun in the past few days to see some leaf damage. Since we have bunnies galore in our National Wildlife Certified Refuge back natural area, and I have seen the rabbits near the beds, I assumed the rabbits were the guilty ones munching on my baby veggies. However, after a close inspection and some reading I found smaller, less cute vandals - cabbage worms! The little devils were the exact color of the leaves - only an inch or so long, it was amazing the damage they had already done. Five of them met their maker while I was examining the plants, and I sprayed late afternoon with Bt mixed according to directions and with a teaspoon of liquid soap added to try to make it adhere better to the waxy leaves of the collards, brussels sprouts and broccoli. Though I would prefer not to have to use anything, when I have to, I use organically approved (OMRI) substances that hopefully will target only the destructive pests and leave the beneficial insects alone.

Hopefully now the rest of the fall garden will prosper, but I will remain alert.... Homeland Security at its most basic :-)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Vagaries of Weather.. and some Dang Cute Tomatoes...Sept. 27, 2009

Rain... finally. Mist and light rain all day and night. Seems as if it is always feast or famine with rain, especially if you are a gardener. The spring here in zone 7 near the NC/SC border was extremely wet, finally ending a two year drought. Summer was extremely dry - our water bill went from 25 to 60 dollars a month and we were only watering our beds and container plants - we let the *lawn* do its own thing. This fall much of the southeast is drowning while the rain has gone all around us. Glad to see the rain and feel that fall is finally coming - although it will be 80+ degrees today, the nighttime temps this week are predicted to be in the 50s....meaning the cute Micro Tom tomato plants will come in today and be put under lights. They are blooming and I am looking forward to the "crouton sized tomatoes"they are supposed to produce!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall Gardening...Sept. 25, 2009

Though the peppers and late tomatoes are still producing, summer is officially over. I picked the last Black Beauty eggplant today.

So now the fall plantings are in - this is the bed at the end of the driveway with the last eggplant and squash left for one more eggplant parmesan but three varieties of collards interplanted - Georgia Southern, an old reliable variety for southern NC, Morris Heading for a change and our first Yellow Cabbage Collards, a specialty in eastern NC. After two weeks they are already tripled in size and beginning to fill in all that space!

To refresh the beds after the summer plantings we added cow manure based compost, mushroom compost, peat to continue the battle to keep the soil light and an organic complete vegetable fertilizer. The mushroom compost, though three times more expensive than the cow manure based compost, was a joy to work in - dark, crumbling, beautiful! From the way the collards, mustard green, pak choi, brussels sprouts and broccoli transplants are growing they are enjoying the refreshed soil!

End of Summer...Sept. 25, 2009

A few pics of the last of the summer... A toma verde tomatillo, corno di toro pepper and a fish pepper - love the variegated leaves. Supposedly fall is here... but it is still in the high 80s and despite the rest of the southeast drowning in rain, we are still not getting any here near the NC/SC border. My peppers have slowed their ripening, so it looks like I will be freezing and canning a lot of different green peppers this weekend. The collards are growing well and the carrots, beets, turnips are coming up. Ready for cooler weather and some fall veggies!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Preserving the harvest...Sept. 19, 2009

My newest toy is a dehydrator - an inexpensive one since I don't know how often I will use it. So far I have dried tomatoes, which came out well. Tonight I am trying banana chips for my son and a friend. I didn't realize until I started looking for recipes that most of the commercially available banana chips are deep fried and coated in honey - so much for a healthy snack! I found a great tip on spraying lemon juice on the slices instead of dipping them, so we will see how the truly healthy banana chips turn out in the dehydrator. Tomorrow I have to pick some peppers :-) ... a branch on one of the bell peppers broke under the weight of four bells - still green unfortunately. I may dehydrate them for use this winter in salads, soups, etc.

I have canned tomatoes for years, but last year started expanding my repetoire. Relishes, pickles, pepper vinegars, freezing tomatoes instead of canning. It is amazing the sense of accomplishment one feels when opening a freezer or pantry full of homegrown food you have put up yourself. You can spend a fortune on all the latest gadgets or do it more frugally as I have - I bought a water bath canner years ago, purchased a simple food saver pump and bags when they were on sale at the grocery and have gone to town. I am going to try dehydrating some of the last San Marzano paste tomatoes along with some green peppers to bag together for winter sauces.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fall Garden in...Sept. 15, 2009

The fall veggies are in, the garden is cleaned of the summer SWCs and I am feeling oh so virtuous :-).... The list is full of old standbys as well as a few new trial veggies:
Collards - Morris heading, Yellow Cabbage, and the always good Georgia Southern (72 plants!)
Mustard Greens
Pak Choi
Brussels Sprouts - one of my trial veggies - probably planted too late, but will see...
French Breakfast Radishes
Daikon Radishes - new for me
Turnip Greens
Purple Top Turnips
Carrots - Little Finger, Red Core Chanteney, Deavers Half Long
Beets - Golden and Detroit Red

Still have one eggplant (the old standby Black Beauty), four of the midsummer tomatoes I trialed for next year and all but one of the pepper plants. Am hoping for a few more summer goodies before true fall starts here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Peppers and Starting Fall Veggies...Sept. 11 2009

The start of school has kept me so busy I haven't had a chance to catch up. The peppers are coming in daily - bells, anchos, the fabulous corno di toros and the Rounds of Hungary. Have been freezing and roasting them for winter. Am playing with my new dehydrator - tomatoes and eggplants mainly - hoping for some eggplant parmesan this winter!
Starts for the fall: three types of collards, mustard greens, pak choi, and for fun some Micro Tom tomatoes - supposed to be only 4-6 inches high with tomatoes the "size of croutons". Should be fun on winter salads! Planting time this weekend for outside veggies!