Things I should have known by now

At my advanced age, the number of things that I haven’t yet learned (or have forgotten) is still surprising.  Here’s a few of yesterday’s revelations:

  1. Cleaning the Front Island, which is located around and under black walnut trees, without a hard hat on a windy day can be dangerous!  Here are some photos of the  4 loads of walnuts that I took out of this one garden…many of them were launched and landed within a hair’s breadth of my body!Walnut 1 Walnut 2 OK, you get the picture…there are 3 more, but I’ll spare you the download time.
  2. Since black walnut trees and all their parts are toxic to most plants, putting the leaves I took out of the garden into the compost pile is a bad, bad idea.  I caught myself on that mistake just in the knick of time!
  3. A job is not over, until it’s over….observe the Front Island today Walnut 5 I’m going to wait for a still day.  It’s windy and hazardous today.
  4. Hostas need water.  Yes, I knew that, but when we added guttering to the screened porch, I didn’t think, and didn’t compensate for the new, much drier conditions.  Thus I have ugly hostas that look like this! Hostas ugly  Embarassing!
  5. Lost tools never show up until you buy their replacement.
  6. The “days to maturity” on seed packets is determined for late spring/early summer conditions.  In fall, as days grow shorter and light is weaker, additional days must be added….I probably have not added enough, so unless we have a late, late frost or put on polytunnels, some things probably won’t produce. (sigh…)
  7. If one seeds in every space as it becomes available to extend the season, suddenly it is time to plant garlic, and there is NO SPACE for it!!!Potager 10-1-17  Hmmm.  What’s going to be sacrificed?  Probably will harvest the basil and most of the pepper plants?
  8. If one has not seeded beans at the correct time, there are no beans to eat, except the ones just canned.  Make a note in the planting journal for next year!
  9. If one goes on vacation, the squash bugs win.  Trust me, you don’t want to see the photos of dead, dead vines…..
  10. If one actually cuts bouquets from a Cutting Garden, it shouldn’t need deadheading.  Obviously, I’m terrible at remembering to make bouquets. CG ugly This gomphrena and blue salvia is long past pretty.
  11. The garden season never lives up to the long, excited anticipation that grows into fantasy during the long winter.  I always feel let down, that I didn’t do it quite right, that there were too many should-have-dones, that the season was WAY TOO SHORT!
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Six on Saturday, Sept 23

I’m back!  You may not have missed me, but my gardens certainly did!  While I was having a marvelous time in Normandy this month, apparently it did not rain at all until the day before I returned.  I’d put away all my summer clothes before I left because it was cooler than normal in  late August, but returned to 90 degrees as soon as I departed.  So, the shorts and T-shirts had to be recovered.  Here’s a sample of what I found on my initial walk-about.  First the good.  The lovely flowers of garlic chives not only add a bit of much-needed brightness to the gardens, but are beloved of many beneficial bees and wasps.  Garlic chives compressed  They do self-seed rampantly, so I’ll keep a close eye now that I’m back, for the beige pod clusters and remove them quickly.  Both the leaves and flowers are useful in the kitchen, and it is a hardy perennial.  I’m grateful for the color of the soft-purple verbena-on-a-stick, Verbena bonariensis, also called Brazilian vervain in some catalogs.  This also self-seeds sumptiously, but I never have too many.     Verbena bona compressed 17  The ones in shade look blue, so judge their true color by those shown in the sunlight in this photo.  They are also loved by butterflies and other pollinators, and grow to 3′.  In warmer zones, they are perennial, but here in Zone 5, they sometimes don’t survive if we have an especially harsh winter.  Yesterday afternoon, the workers came to lay the sod in our new swale, which will help route water from the neighbor’s field away from our house.  Swale sod compressed   Expensive, but necessary, as seeding would have just washed away in the deluges.  In the potager, one of the prettiest sights this morning were the flowers of the Red Candlestick okra.  Okra flowers compressed  I was surprised that they were still blooming, since the plants were covered with 10″ pods…that no one picked while I was away.  I guess none of the neighbors like okra!  I was happy to see that the lettuce seeds I sprinkled before I left are germinating here and there in small patches where summer squashes came out.  Lettuce seedlings compressed  Observant folk will also notice a dandelion center top.  Yes, while I was devouring luscious French food and guzzling the famous Normandie ciders, weeds were merrily thrusting through my soil.  And, the cabbage worms were feasting upon my previously lovely brussel sprouts.  Brussel holes compressed  My first task, even before unpacking or checking mail and e-mail, was spraying Bt to stop the destruction.  So, holiday is over and it’s going to take quite a bit of time and effort to catch up the deadheading and weed removal, but it was definitely worth it.  Thanks to The Propagator for suggesting this meme.

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Six on Saturday, Sept 2

We’ve definitely turned a page on the calendar.  August was the driest in 120 years, and the gardens are showing it.  However, there are still some bright spots to celebrate on this Saturday.  First of all, one of my favorite beans, Dragon Tongue, a long (often 8″) flat, cream-colored pod with purple streaks and great flavor.  A 6′ row has already yielded over 7 lbs. Bean Dragon Tongue compressed  Also in the potager is the “Red Candlesticks” okra that I mentioned formerly, but now it’s producing and I am happy to report it is productive, tender, and pretty.  I’ll definitely grow it again next year.  Okra Red Candlesticks 9-1-17 compressed I should have taken the photo before I picked and ate it!  My friend, Margaret told me to try it grilled.  Shake it in a bag with a bit of olive oil to cover the pods, and then sprinkle with a bit of Cajun seasoning.  Grill 3 min. or so, until it gets grill marks.  Delicious!  I’m also really happy with the scheduling of the melon crop this season.  Remember last year, when all the varieties were ready at the same time and we ended up giving most away because we couldn’t eat them all?  This year, there has been a steady trickle of melons, just enough for breakfasts or fruit salads, or to serve as an appetizer.  Melons 9-1-17 compressed Above is the final group, which should be about right to ripen before our first frost arrives.  Note the one at the right, hanging in a panty hose sling.  That’s “Tasty Bites” which is a delicious melon, but it falls off the vine when it’s ripe, and a drop that far would damage it so I put them in slings.  I also often use the mesh bags that the tulip bulbs are shipped in, but I’ve used most of them for onions without tops and couldn’t be braided.  The melons on the left are “Green Nutmeg.”

I love feverfew, as a medicinal herb and as a bright spot in the potager’s interior border.  Its sweet, dainty, white daisy flowers are lovely in cut flower bouquets, and differ from chamomile in that they are longer-lasting and the gold center is flat rather than domed.  The earliest blooms have now formed seed, which I am sprinkling here and there in the border for next season.  Feverfew compressed  Number 5 is the Shasta daisies that I cut back after their first flowering, who are now beginning to bloom again.  Shasta 9-1-17 compressed The number of flowers is not as high as the early bloom, but it’s still satisfying.  I’m adding more shastas to my borders next year, despite a disparaging, mocking remark overheard at the GWA conference, “Some people have so many shasta daisies in their gardens it reflects back on Google Earth.”  Personally, I like them and I’m going to keep growing them even if others deem it tacky.  And finally, looking for the silver lining of our dry August, it allowed us to put in a much-needed swale to help carry rainwater away from the patio. Swale compressed2 Right now it seems like a waste of assets, but I’m sure when the rains come again, especially if they are as heavy as this past spring’s deluge, we’ll be happy it’s there.  So, that’s my Six on Saturday.  THanks to The Propagator for suggesting this meme.


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Entertaining Is So Easy!

Although I am happy to be a hermit in the potager and gardens, D is a very social creature who loves being surrounded by people.  We compromise happily by doing a lot of entertaining in the summer, when the potager is bountiful.  It is SO EASY to invite friends over for tea or cocktails on the deck or in the gazebo, and fairly inexpensive when the appetizer trays can be assembled quickly from the garden.  For instance, here’s a quick harvest from the potager that includes One day's harvest 7-29-17 midget melons, cherry tomatoes, red sweet cherry peppers, cucumbers, peppers, a few blackberries and strawberries, and a small Ronde d’Nice summer squash.  In less than 10 minutes, it became this pretty tray for guests. Appetizer tray compressed 8-17  This time of year, when eggs are (amazingly!!!) 38 CENTS a dozen, I keep hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator constantly.  There is always a container of pickled beets and eggs, and I can make deviled eggs using fresh herbs from the potager, or egg-salad easily.  I also keep an ever-changing bit of herbal butter (chives, savory, basil, lemon thyme, dill, etc.) in the refrigerator, and pick up whatever crackers and cheeses are on sale when I shop.  Brie, fresh mozarella, and cream cheese are especially useful.  On this tray the canapes are simply squares of whole wheat bread buttered with dill butter, topped with a slice of cucumber, and half of a cherry tomato (Variety: Indigo Cherry Drops.)  There are endless variations.  I could use a thin slice of summer squash with basil butter and a tomato half, or chive butter with a slice of Bread & Butter pickle instead.

Tucked right of the melon are stuffed red sweet cherry peppers.  I wouldn’t be without them for quick entertaining because most people love them.  I’ve already canned several jars to use for winter entertaining.  They are especially appreciated during the holiday season, when their red color makes a platter pop!  Simply slice off the top and hollow out the seeds and ribs.  Today, I pushed in a basil leaf followed by a bit of cream cheese to fill to the top, and a sprinkle of black pepper.  Often, they are filled with a pesto-cream cheese mixture, or egg salad, or a cube of fresh mozarella, or a cube of melon.  Or, a bit of very thin ham instead of the basil leaf, with egg salad, or a cube of cheddar, or a large olive make good fillings.  Chicken salad, ham salad, hummus, or a shredded carrot salad also work.  Use whatever you have on hand.Appetizer tray 2 compressed  This tray has the same canape on the lower right, except the half tomato is a “Sungold.”  The sweet red cherry peppers are stuffed with a bit of mixture made by combining shredded cheese, mayo, chopped red pepper (from the sliced off stems, etc.) and black pepper in the bottom, a small cube of ham, and more mixture on top.  The top row is simply a slice of baguette, topped with a basil leaf, a slice of brie, and a sprinkle of black pepper (surprisingly simple, but oh, so delicious!)

I use some of the same mixtures to stuff nasturtium blossoms, and canapes can be sprinkled with chive blossoms, small snapdragon flowers, or snipped daylily petals.  Cherry tomatoes can be marinated; carrots and zucchini sticks can be served with an endless variety of dips and spreads.

It’s lovely to be able to use bits of this and that from the potager, and know that it’s fresh, delicious, and inexpensive….and always so pretty!

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A Melon Comparison

Melon comparison 8-14-17

Last year, I grew “Golden Crown” watermelon (78 days) which was a 1991 AAS winner.  Because I grow in raised beds, and I don’t want vines spilling across the paths, so a compact melon works best.  And, there are only 2 of us, so I don’t want a large melon that fills up the refrigerator and is too much for us to eat.  As you can see, on the right, this melon is a lovely golden yellow on the outside, and a “personal-sized” melon at only about 4-5 lbs.  The flavor was sweet, and although it only produced 1-2 melons per vine for me, I was happy with the flavor, and the fairly small space it required.  However, my 91 yr. old mother said, “Can’t you find a small melon with fewer seeds next time?”  So, the search was on…..

I’d heard about a new AAS winner for 2017 called “Mini Love,” (80 days) which is also a “personal-sized” melon.  Described as 7-9 lbs. with a deep red flesh that is super-sweet, “Mini Love” is touted as being semi-seedless and much easier to germinate than the seedless varieties on the market.  In addition, it is said to be somewhat resistant to powdery mildew, with 3-4′ vines, and produces 6 fruits per plant.  Although 5 seeds were $2.00, I thought is was worth a try.  Once again, I duplicated the planting, location, and growing conditions of both varieties in order to get a good comparison (as in the tomato comparison post.) Melon comparison cut compressed I picked both melons on the same day (Aug. 12) because they both sounded “hollow” when thumped.  The “Golden Crown” weighed 4 1/2 lbs, the “Mini Love” (on the left) weighed 4 lbs.  As you can see, they both have nice thin rinds, so there is not a lot of waste.  The “Mini Love” has a slightly finer texture, and was just a bit sweeter.  However, I may have picked the “Golden Crown” a bit early.  Although it was lusciously sweet as well, as you can see, the seeds were a light brown, not black as they should be when fully ripe.  Flavor-wise, we were happy with both.  Now the down-side…..Seeds 8-14-17  I cut a 1″ center slice of each melon and removed the seeds from each slice.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that basically, the “Mini Love” has 41 seeds.  Its rival had only 28, even including the  very immature ones which were still white.  Also, the “Mini Love” was the only melon on that vine, while the “Golden Crown” vine is producing two.  We’ve had a lot of rain, which may have impeded pollination, but I’m pretty sure there will be no more “Mini Love” melons on that vine because it is wilting.  We’ll see if production improves on other vines planted slightly later, with less weather interference.

My space is valuable, as is my time and energy, so I want the most productive, best quality produce I can grow.  I’ll grow “Mini Love” again next year, because I received 60 free seeds from a recent GWA event, but I must say that at this point, I am a bit disappointed that the expectations set have not been met.




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Six on Saturday-Aug. 12

Can it be Saturday already?  Apparently it is, so here are my six selections for this week.  Having been away at the Garden Writers’ conference for a week, the garden was unsupervised, but behaved surprisingly well!  I was delighted to see that the “fall” planting of Wando peas have germinated well, forming a broad band on either side of the bed.  Brussel 8-12-17 compressed  And, the brussel sprouts down the center have made considerable growth during my absence.  Even better, no weeds sprouted.  They wouldn’t dare!!!  Also spurting in growth were the Mad Hatter peppers which were recently transplanted as tiny babies but are beginning to get some size.  Mad Hatter pepper 8-12-17 compressed  Having seen them full-sized and filled with fruit at the conference in the New Introductions Showcase however, I now know they have a long way to go to reach their 2-3′ height.  Will they make it before frost?  Crossing my fingers, toes, and eyes!  And the kohlrabi on the right is beginning to grow nicely.  Not so thrilling is the lack of whatever crop was seeded on the left.  I’ll need to check my direct seeded journal to see what failed to germinate.  I also need to investigate these peppers Paprika pepper compressed which were supposed to be “Paprika” peppers but look nothing like the photograph in the Pinetree catalog from whence they came.  I’m not complaining, as they are quite large, extremely prolific, nicely flavored (sweet, not hot) and there are hundreds of them.  But, they don’t turn red before they spoil, and I’ve never seen yellow paprika.  I think I’d like to order them again next year, if I can figure out what variety they really are!  Blight peppers compressed And speaking of peppers, this is just part of the harvest from 2 “Blight Buster” pepper plants!  I only picked about 1/3 of the peppers from each plant, becausing the weight was causing the plants to lean over. (Definitely not tidy, so we can’t have that!) The largest one weighed a hefty 8.3 oz!!  These were free seeds from Seeds ‘n Such for placing an early order, and they are outstanding. Thick, thick walls and blocky bottoms that will stand up to stuffing.  Will definitely order them again next year, as they are making my former favorite, “New Ace” look pitiful by comparison.  I was relieved to see that D did a fabulous job watering while I was away.  I really should have moved this “Aussie Sweetie” basil into a larger pot before I left.  Aussie Sweetie compressed  It’s knee-high, and won’t be happy much longer in so small a pot.  If you haven’t grown “Aussie Sweetie,” give it a try.  It rarely, rarely flowers, so does not produce seed, which means no deadheading.  I’ve kept one in a pot for three years and it never did bolt.  Smaller leaves than Genovese, but a nice flavor and very productive.  Another potted plant, although Brent & Becky (from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs) assure me they should be hardy even here in Zone 5, if I can find a slightly protected site with good drainage, are these Eucomis, or Pineapple Lily bulbs. Pineapple lily compressed  It is easy to see how they got their name.  All the attendees at a recent Regional GWA meeting in Indianapolis received several free eucomis bulbs.  I wasn’t even sure I was interested, but I brought them home and planted them in pots in full sun.  Almost immediately the leaves pushed through and began to unfurl, showing interesting black freckles on the undersides.  I saw several eucomis in bloom in gardens we visited during the conference last week, some with deep purple flowers, and was hoping some of my new plants might be the same, but so far they’ve all been green.  Still pretty interesting though, and there are still some to bloom so hope remains.  So, that’s my Six for this Saturday.  Thanks to The Propagator for suggesting and hosting this meme.

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Early Tomato Comparison

After an exciting Garden Writers of America conference, I’m back at the helm.  Needless to say, there has been lots of picking and preserving after a week’s absence, and now the deadheading needs completing but I wanted to get this posted before my feeble brain forgets.  This season, I planted two early varieties of tomatoes:  “Polbig” and “Park’s Season Starter.”  I’ve grown and loved “Park’s Whopper” for years and years, but I’d never noticed “Season Starter” before.  So, I planted 6 plants of each.

Conditions were as identical as possible.  Seeds were started in the same medium, place, temperature, date, etc.  Transplanting was also identical, and the beds they went into on the same date in the potager are aligned, and contain the same soil.  All were watered equally, etc. as well.  Both sets of plants seem equally healthy and are similar in size, and both began blooming within two days of one another, although “Season Starter” bloomed first.

Despite the bloom time, the first “Polbigs” were picked on July 19 (l lb.) and an additional pound on July 23, two pounds on July 24, two pounds on July 25, 1 1/2 lb. on Aug. 2, which is the date I picked the first “Season Starter.”  Finally we could conduct a taste comparison!  Tomato comparison 8-17  As you can see, the tomatoes are relatively the same in size and color.  D is the tomato lover in our family, so I called upon him to do the tasting.  While he thought both were “fine” when pressed for details, he declared that the “Season Starter” had tougher skin and lacked the full flavor of “Polbig,”  which was also slightly sweeter.

The clincher for me, however, is that at this point I’ve harvested 7.5 pounds of fruit from “Polbig” and only 1 pound from “Season Starter.”  There are an additional 28 tomatoes on the “Polbig” plants, and 20 on the “Season Starter” to be harvested as they ripen.  Next year, only the “Polbig” will have a place in my potager for early crop tomatoes.  FYI, “Polbig” seeds came from Pinetree Seeds, and “Park’s Season Starter” were from “Seeds N Such.”

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