Archive for category Vegetable Gardening

Pollinator Palooza

Feather-legged fly

Feather-legged fly

I have been spending way too much time outside with the camera lately. I’m not sure whether the diversity of pollinators in my garden has expanded this year, or I just wasn’t paying attention until now — mostly because I never had a camera that could come close to capturing these tiny, very active insects.

Well, mostly tiny. That very cool-looking creature above is actually relatively large, maybe the size of one of our common carpenter bees. Those “feathered” back legs are its diagnostic feature. It was bouncing around on my bronze fennel flowers.

It always held out its wings like this.

It always held out its wings like this.

As I mentioned on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page earlier, this fly is a garden ally, not just for its pollination prowess. Its larvae parasitize the larvae of squash bugs and green stink bugs. Bring on the feather-legs!

A scoliid wasp maybe?

A scoliid wasp maybe?

This one was much smaller and also on the fennel flowers. Its red body-black head and wings conjures in my admittedly strange mind a mini-superhero pollinator.

Ready to leap into action?

Ready to leap into action?

All of these little wasps, bees, and flies are covered in tiny hairs that catch pollen.

A scoliid wasp, I think, enjoying the tiny flowers of my Greek oregano.

A scoliid wasp, I think, enjoying the tiny flowers of my Greek oregano.

I’ve learned that scoliid wasps come in a dazzling array of colors and stripes. All have larval forms that parasitize scarab beetle larvae, many of which are also garden pests. Until I had a camera that could capture these tiny beauties, I never realized how diversely wonderful they are.

Another scold maybe?

Another scoliid wasp maybe?

I ponder the shape of this one and wonder how such tiny “waists” are adaptive.

Perhaps another scoliid wasp -- this one with reddish-yellow stripes.

Perhaps another scoliid wasp — this one with reddish-yellow stripes.

The oregano and fennel flowers — both tiny and numerous — seem to attract the most diverse array of pollinators. This fall, I’m going to add some new perennials that will produce similar flower clusters. I want to attract all the squash bug and beetle eaters that I can!

The honeybees like the oregano flowers too.

The honeybees like the oregano flowers too.

Many different bumblebees, carpenter bees, and honeybees were all over the fennel and oregano too, but not dominantly so. The bees seemed to prefer anise hyssop flowers, zinnia blooms, and the abelias currently perfuming the humid air.

A buckeye enjoying oregano flowers.

A Common Buckeye enjoying oregano flowers.

The butterflies are still around too, but still not as numerous as I’d like. I still haven’t seen a Monarch, although sitings not far from me have been reported.

A battered Red Admiral enjoying abelia flowers.

A battered Red Admiral enjoying abelia flowers.

Far more numerous than the butterflies are the dragonflies. I think they are largely responsible for the ragged look of many of the butterflies.

They patrol the skies from dawn to dusk.

They patrol the skies from dawn to dusk.

Writing spider finishing her breakfast

Writing spider finishing her breakfast

Of course, I’m not the only one who has noticed the pollinator palooza going on in my garden. The predators become more numerous daily. In addition to the sky dragons, spiders are setting up shop between tomato plants, on the bean trellis, among the tall zinnias — anywhere that’s likely to intercept the flight path of an unwary pollinator.

An Asian Praying Mantis doing its best to imitate a bronze fennel bloom stalk

An Asian Praying Mantis doing its best to imitate a bronze fennel bloom stalk

This mantis set up shop in the bronze fennel several days ago. It’s still there, so I’m thinking it is enjoying picking off the busy pollinators visiting the flowers just above this predator’s head.

Pollinators beware!

Pollinators beware!

When the mantis is extra hungry, it eschews its disguise, preferring to perch boldly right on top of the flowers.

Wheelbug on a fennel stem

Wheelbug on a fennel stem

This wheel bug moved in on the mantis’s fennel turf yesterday. They are ignoring each other, so I guess there are enough delicious pollinators to go around.

Small skink in the boulder garden

Small skink in the boulder garden

Of course, pollinators also need to be wary of non-insect predators like this young skink, which was chasing Pearl Crescent butterflies in the boulder garden.

Green frog on rim of water feature

Green frog on rim of water feature

As always happens in summer, mature green frogs have moved into my little water feature. Here they are safe from predators, such as water snakes, and can focus on being predators themselves.

Ailanthus Web Worm moth on Joe Pye Weed flowers

Ailanthus Web Worm moth on Joe Pye Weed flowers

I’m picking beans and tomatoes every day, thanks in large part, I’m sure, to all these busy pollinators. But that productivity won’t last much longer, unless summer rains decide to visit my yard. In the last few weeks, all the storms have missed me. My creek has stopped flowing; it’s just a series of puddles between sand bars at the moment. Here’s hoping some juicy clouds have pity on my yard soon.

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Garden Arrivals and Departures

spider

The Writing Spiders have grown large enough to make their presence known throughout the landscape. The yellow-and-black beauties that scrawl squiggles in their webs are probably about half grown now — big enough to spot, sited strategically among bean vines and trellised tomatoes. They know where the tasty bugs are to be found. I don’t argue with them, as long as they don’t cast their webs across the rows where I must walk. There’s nothing like a face full of spider silk to wake a sleepy gardener from her early morning harvesting tasks.

buckeye open

Butterflies continue to increase in numbers and species diversity — finally! The online butterfly group I follow seems to think they are the result of a second reproductive wave that has been vastly more successful than the first one. Whatever the reason, I am happy to see them animate my landscape as they float from zinnia to anise hyssop to abelia to coneflower.

sick coneflowers

Recently, flowers of one Purple Coneflower and one Black-eyed Susan morphed into blooms that looked as if they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book. A quick search of the Web revealed they were afflicted with a disease called Aster Yellows. This disease is spread by leafhoppers; they inject the responsible organism when they feed on the plants. No cures are available. To avoid spreading the disease, the experts advise removal of the plants — and disposal in the trash, not the compost pile.

sick coneflower

The disease can affect over 300 plant species, and grasses and weeds can act as reservoirs for the disease. Two of the most likely weed reservoirs are plantains and dandelions, both of which abound in my “lawn.” Symptoms of the disease vary with the infected species, but the Dr. Seuss-like flower tops are apparently key clues. The infected coneflower also had green, sickly petals — another sign.

sick Susan

The leaves of the coneflower looked green and healthy, and even the flowers didn’t look too bad, just strange. However, the infected Black-eyed Susan was clearly sick. Like the coneflower, it had the strange growths in the centers of its flowers, but the leaves were also yellowing and dying.

sick Susan2

I photographed the infected flowers and then disposed of them. The link above also notes that the infection can be spread between plants via dead-heading, if you don’t wipe off your clippers with alcohol between plants. The disease was probably isolated to only these two plants in my garden because I don’t dead-head coneflowers or rudbeckias. I prefer to let them set seed, so the goldfinches and other seed eaters can enjoy them.

poke milkweed flowers2

The Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) that I planted last fall is blooming. Compared to the showier butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), it is a demure plant. But I find I like the pendulous pale pink flowers. Alas, so far its flowers have attracted more ants than bees or butterflies. Still, it’s there if the Monarchs manage to find my garden.

Amelia tomatoes

I’m picking tomatoes and beans daily again, now that the temperatures backed down to the low 90s and we’ve had some rain. And the basil is having an excellent year. I cut whole stems of it for a vase in the kitchen, so that Wonder Spouse has leaves handy as inspiration moves him to add them to his culinary masterpieces.

The rains have also inspired the weeds to new heights and numbers. Truly, a gardener’s work is never done. I do the best I can, as I observe and enjoy the comings and goings of flora and fauna through their seasonal dance.

spider close

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Insects own High Summer

green dragon

 

The heat and humidity have begun to wear on plants as well as humans in my patch of Piedmont. I saw a notice from a local extension agent that dreaded basil mildew disease has been spotted. I think it held off longer than usual — as did most of the fungal diseases — because our June was unusually dry and hot.

A Milkweed bug

A Milkweed bug

July has brought heavy, but scattered rains, and lingering humidity and heat. Fungal diseases are certain to soon plague my tomatoes, and perhaps the beans. The vegetables, while still producing well, are looking a bit tired. Many flowers are still blooming well, which the abundant insects are clearly appreciating.

damselfly mystery

The nearly butterfly-free summer continues at my house. Iridescent members of the dragonfly clan dominate the thick air, causing me to worry about the fate of the few butterflies I am seeing. The rains have finally brought around a few butterflies, I’m happy to say.

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was enjoying the Chinese Abelia flowers that finally opened after we got some rain.

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was enjoying the Chinese Abelia flowers that finally opened after we got some rain.

No clouds of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails this year, but a few are passing through from time to time. Pearl Crescents (I think that’s what they are) are easily the most numerous butterflies on my flowers.

A Pearl Crescent enjoying a Rudbeckia flower.

A Pearl Crescent enjoying a Rudbeckia flower.

I spotted a couple of dark swallowtails over the last few days.

Also on the Chinese Abelia flowers

Also on the Chinese Abelia flowers

And this one high up on a dogwood yesterday was drying out after a bit of rain from the previous evening.

A Spicebush Swallowtail maybe?

A Spicebush Swallowtail maybe?

My happiest butterfly moment of the summer so far was this Red Admiral sunning itself on my driveway yesterday. This is the first one of this species I’ve seen all year.

Welcome back, Red Admiral!

Welcome back, Red Admiral!

More numerous — by a bit — than the butterflies are the sphinx moths, also called hummingbird moths, because their mostly clear wings vibrate as quickly as those of hummingbirds as they hover beside flowers to drink nectar. As an amateur photographer, I find them very frustrating to capture. But I’ve gotten a few almost decent shots over the last few days, if you’ll indulge me.

This is typically how I see them, wings nearly invisible as they hover for a drink.

This is typically how I see them, wings nearly invisible as they hover for a drink.

In this hover shot, you can at least see the outline of their wings.

In this hover shot, you can at least see the outline of their wings.

Yesterday, I saw one spread out on a tomato leaf sunning itself in the early dawn light. We had very heavy dew on the ground, and I think it was drying itself.

Finally, you can actually see its beautiful wings in this shot.

Finally, you can actually see its beautiful wings in this shot.

And a final profile shot as it rested on the tomato leaf:

These creatures are so ethereal as they almost perpetually dance among my flowers that I think of them as tiny angels blessing my efforts.

These creatures are so ethereal as they almost perpetually dance among my flowers that I think of them as tiny angels blessing my efforts.

I’ll close this photo post with a few flower shots to show you what the insects are enjoying.

Seed-grown Rudbeckia 'Cappuccino' has turned into a stunning plant seemingly oblivious to the heat and humidity. Score!

Seed-grown Rudbeckia ‘Cappuccino’ has turned into a stunning plant seemingly oblivious to the heat and humidity. Score!

Echinaceas in the boulder garden are covered in pollinators from dawn to dark. That's a rosemary plant in the middle. It loves the heat from the sun-warmed rocks.

Echinaceas in the boulder garden are covered in pollinators from dawn to dark. That’s a rosemary plant in the middle. It loves the heat from the sun-warmed rocks.

The milkweeds I added to the boulder garden last fall continue to bloom -- repeatedly! This butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is on its second round of bright blossoms.

The milkweeds I added to the boulder garden last fall continue to bloom — repeatedly! This butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is on its second round of bright blossoms.

The rain made the weeds explode into productivity, of course. My gardening to-do list grows ever longer, while my enthusiasm for working in the summer weather continues to wane. Still, for fresh-picked blueberries, juicy tomato sandwiches, and a dazzling array of pollinators, I’ll endeavor to keep up as best I can.

Amelia tomatoes -- so good!

Amelia tomatoes — so good!

Stay cool and hydrated, ya’ll. Fall planting season will be here before we can turn around twice.

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Summer Veggie Update

Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes

Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes

This summer growing season has been a tough one for me. It started out slowly, because colder-than-normal temperatures lingered into early May. Then it stopped raining at my house for six weeks. During that time, my garden never saw more than two-tenths of an inch of rain, and that only every few weeks. We’re talking dust bowl. Add June temperatures that — for 16 days in a row — hit 90 degrees or better, with several well into the low 100s, and you’ve got seriously stressed vegetables.

My zucchinis quickly expired. One day they were lush and productive; the next day they were wilted and dying. When I pulled them, they had almost no roots. I’m fairly certain the voles did them in. They also got one of my Carmen Italian pepper plants in the same bed. I’ve still got three pepper plants surviving, I’m happy to report.

Rain-happy veggies

Rain-happy veggies

Finally, a few days ago in 48 hours, we got 3.5 inches of blessed precipitation. A tiny bit of dime-sized hail also hit us, but not enough to hurt anything severely. Strong thunderstorm winds also knocked things around a bit, but again, nothing that a bit of re-staking couldn’t repair.

My beans and tomatoes had quit growing when the heat wave/drought hit. I was keeping them alive by doling out my limited supply of water every other day, but they were not happy plants. Then the rains finally came, and you could hear the beans shouting, “Yippee!”

Fortex beans are blooming and setting fruit again, now that the heat has backed off.

Fortex beans are blooming and setting fruit again, now that the heat has backed off.

 

In the foreground of the photo above, you see the bean trellis. My Fortex pole beans on the right side have scaled the top of the trellis and are heading back down the other side. I grow Jade bush beans on the left side of the trellis. I long ago learned that so-called bush beans are not really bushy, by which I mean they don’t stand sturdily upright on their own. You must provide some kind of support. The simplest solution for me is to grow them on either side of a trellis and gently tie them to it as they grow tall and floppy.

Jade bush beans

Jade bush beans

I have grown the same two varieties of beans for a number of years. I’ve tried plenty of others, but I haven’t found any that match the consistent quality of Jade and Fortex. The Jades produce a typical-looking green bean — a deep Jade green color. The flavor is rich, but lighter than the meatier flavor of Fortex pole beans. We eat them both lightly steamed, and the Jades are excellent cold in salads. This time of year, we eat beans almost every night — not just because we have so many, but also because they taste so darn good.

La Roma II before ripening started

La Roma II before ripening started

We’re also eating tomatoes every day. This year, I limited myself to only four varieties (in my youthful years, I’d grow 8-10 varieties):

  • Sweet Treats — the only cherry  type I’ve grown for a while now. It is just too perfect to replace.
  • La Roma II — this paste type is the latest version of a Roma. It is more disease-resistant, astonishingly productive, and this determinate tomato stays short, but bushes out in all directions to produce a fabulous abundance of fruits. The foliage grows so dense as the fruits ripen that I can’t take a decent photo of ripe fruits on the vine. The one above was taken before the leaves covered the developing fruits.
  • Early Blue Ribbon — this was a new one for me this year. I always try one early slicer type, always eager for summer tomato sandwiches as soon as possible. This one has been OK, but I won’t grow it again. My quest for an irresistibly tasty early tomato continues.
  • Amelia — this is the larger slicer type I’m trying this year. The fruits are only now beginning to redden. I think the heat wave stopped them in their tracks for a while. They look promising, but our taste buds will be the final arbiters of this tomato variety’s future in our garden.
Amelia tomatoes are just beginning to redden.

Amelia tomatoes are just beginning to redden.

I still have a few sad-looking carrot and beet plants in the ground, but the heat wave really pounded them. I’ll be amazed if they produce anything edible.

Purple Viking potatoes still look vigorous.

Purple Viking potatoes still look vigorous.

Wonder Spouse has not pulled his potatoes yet. The Purple Vikings still look vigorous, despite the heat. The Kipfel fingerlings and the Dazocs are looking kind of ragged. Wonder Spouse is planning to dig into them this weekend to get a sense of their tuber size and condition. Stay tuned for further developments.

The flowers I grew from seed have hung in remarkably well with very little water from me. Some of the perennials are actually going to bloom this year, which doesn’t always happen.

This year's bed of zinnias

This year’s bed of zinnias

Early cold combined with prolonged heat and drought have very negatively impacted my large butterfly population. Finally, in the last two days, I’ve begun to see just a few, very ragged-looking larger butterflies. Here’s hoping their number — and appearance — improve soon.

A ragged American Lady visits a coneflower.

A ragged American Lady visits a coneflower.

Have a great Fourth of July, ya’ll.

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Vegetable Transitions

Fortex pole beans have topped the trellis.

Fortex pole beans have topped the trellis.

Spring vegetable season screeched to a halt about three weeks ago when the rains disappeared. Drought plus heat plus voles equalled the rapid surrender of the spring greens. Lettuces and spinaches turned bitter and bolted. Yellow Granex onion greens fell over, refusing to push more food into the sweetly pungent bulbs. We yanked out everything but some pitiful (but still growing) carrots and a few smaller beets.

For the first time in our 25 years growing veggies here, the voles actually ate the onion bulbs! Never in my life have I seen this. Carrots? Sure. Potatoes? That’s why we use the potato bags now. But onions? See for yourself:

See how they ate the ENTIRE bulbs?

See how they ate the ENTIRE bulbs?

We hadn’t planned to pull up the onions and beets, but after Wonder Spouse pulled up a gnawed onion, we dug up anything of any size at all. Here’s about half of the pitiful onion harvest:

Vole tunnels undercut the onions so thoroughly that they never got enough water or nutrients to grow to a decent size.

Vole tunnels undercut the onions so thoroughly that they never got enough water or nutrients to grow to a decent size.

We found thoroughly chewed beets too, which is why we pulled them up. Fortunately, the voles left more of the beets alone, apparently favoring the onions — go figure. Here’s the beet harvest:

The beets were mostly able to attain a decent size.

The beets were mostly able to attain a decent size.

We ate some of these beets for dinner last night, and they were wonderful. Organic beets at the grocery stores have been unimpressive at best. Our freshly harvested purple-red globes were sweet, with an earthy undertone that added richness to the palate. We wish we had grown more.

I do still have a few later-sown beets growing, along with the slow-to-germinate-and-grow carrots, but unless the rains return and the heat backs off, I’m not hopeful about their outcomes.

Sweet Treats cherry tomato nears the top of its trellis.

Sweet Treats cherry tomato nears the top of its trellis.

The evil <expletives deleted> voles even undercut one of my Carmen pepper plants. I am seriously hating those rodents this year. But the tomatoes are tall and full of expanding green globes of future goodness. The beans are tall and full of flower buds. The first zucchinis are nearly large enough to pick.

I haven't yet had the heart to to pull out the vole-damaged pepper.

I haven’t yet had the heart to pull out the vole-damaged pepper.

If only the rains would come. Oh, they’re all over the radar — green globs of precipitation raining on everyone’s house but mine — so it seems, anyway. Theoretically, we still have chances the next few days. I’m trying to hold on to hopeful thoughts.

But even the Cope’s Gray Tree Frogs that had been singing lustily whenever a cloud crossed over have gone silent. Have they given up? Maybe they’re just saving their energy for a night of rainy love calls beside our front water feature, which is already nearly overflowing with tadpoles of varying sizes.

Tadpoles fill our front water feature -- the products of last month's rains.

Tadpoles fill our front water feature — the products of last month’s rains.

Wonder Spouse is muttering about buying more grow bags. Given the success he’s had with potato bags, he’s wondering if the way to beat the voles is to grow onions and beets in these containers too. We think perhaps our deer fence has discouraged black snakes from visiting our garden. Frankly, I may just grab the next one I see and carry it inside the garden fence. Surely it would forgive my interference for the chance to grow fat and happy feasting on our vegetable-fed voles.

On a happier note, the flowers are still mostly doing well, suffering only a few vole-related insults. And although most of the butterflies remain no-shows, the dragonflies are appearing in increasing abundance daily. And last night was the first time we saw hundreds of fireflies flashing luminescent messages to each other — first at ground level, then gradually dancing through the treetops as the night sky deepened to black. Always, Mother Nature provides compensations for the frustrations. I just have to remember to look for them.

If only I could persuade the sky dragons to eat voles...

If only I could persuade the sky dragons to eat voles…

 

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Hello, Summer — Almost

White Ibis flying over mouth of Cape Fear River in Southport, NC

White Ibis flying over mouth of Cape Fear River in Southport, NC

I know that most folks measure the beginning of summer from Memorial Day, which is still a bit more than two weeks away, but I’m thinking summer has gotten a head start this year. My evidence? Well, there’s Tropical Storm Ana, which hammered the NC coast just as Wonder Spouse and I were departing. We had a lovely, mild week of weather, and Wonder Spouse took hundreds of great photos, like the one above (Click on the photo to see a larger version). Let’s all meditate on that tranquil shot and say a collective “Aaaah,” before I return to the garden tasks now facing me.

Dazoc potatoes on May 11

Dazoc potatoes on May 11

The vegetables were very busy while we were gone. Wonder Spouse took one look at the growth of his beloved potatoes and immediately unfolded another level of his potato bags, so that he could tuck in more of his magic growing mix around his prodigies.

The Kipfel fingerling potatoes really multiplied:

Kipfel fingerling potatoes on May 11

Kipfel fingerling potatoes on May 11

I’m thinking their reputation for productivity is likely justified. If you’ve never eaten a fingerling potato, try some from your local farmer’s market when they show up freshly harvested in a month or so. Pure potato heaven awaits you.

Purple Viking potatoes on May 11

Purple Viking potatoes on May 11

The Purple Vikings are not as numerous, but the plants have really bulked up. I suspect their tubers are doing the same thing.

My beans germinated while I was gone. The Fortex pole beans came up enthusiastically, but the Jade bush beans did not. I wasn’t home to water the soil to keep it softer for germinating seedlings, and the Jades, which are not as robust as the Fortexes, may have suffered accordingly. Or the voles ate the seeds. I seem to have a bumper crop of voracious voles this year. I try not to hate any of Mother Nature’s creatures, but I’m still searching for a reason to appreciate voles.

Enthusiastic Fortex pole bean seedlings. I resowed the Jade bush beans yesterday.

Enthusiastic Fortex pole bean seedlings. I resowed the Jade bush beans yesterday.

The peppers and tomatoes are filled with flowers and tiny fruits. I spent a good half hour or so tying up tomatoes that shot up a foot while I wasn’t home to watch them. The squash seedlings now have multiple leaves; they’re still safely tucked beneath their Reemay tents until they begin flowering.

The bed of greens needs a good harvesting before the heat turns them bitter. The dill, chives, and parsley really filled out, and enhance just about every meal we eat (I don’t put them on my morning oatmeal, but they make scrambled eggs sing).

Red Ace beets look to be especially productive this year.

Red Ace beets look to be especially productive this year.

And, of course, I can’t close without showing you some of the fabulous flowers currently adorning our five acres. The Fraser Magnolia finished blooming while we were gone. I can just see small seed cones beginning to develop. Currently, the Ashe Magnolia is showing off, and I do mean showing off. This shrubby small tree decided to bloom from top to bottom this year. And when I say bottom, I mean touching the ground.

My Ashe Magnolia is just beginning its bloom cycle.

My Ashe Magnolia is just beginning its bloom cycle.

I could smell the sweet perfume of this magnolia before I got within 20 feet of it.

This Ashe Magnolia flower nearly rests on the ground.

This Ashe Magnolia flower nearly rests on the ground.

The Ashe Magnolia’s bigger cousin, Bigleaf Magnolia is full of buds. It will complete the native deciduous magnolia show in another week or two.

A Bigleaf Magnolia flower bud high above my head. This tree is about 20 feet tall now.

A Bigleaf Magnolia flower bud high above my head. This tree is about 20 feet tall now.

The deciduous azalea show is winding down, but the cultivar of Rhododendron flammeum — Scarlet Ibis — is peaking this week. The blooms don’t look scarlet to me, but they are indisputably spectacular, with a subtle perfume that adds to their wow factor.

R. flammeum 'Scarlet Ibis' grabs your attention even from a distance.

R. flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’ grabs your attention even from a distance.

A closer view of its flowers is even more eye-popping.

A closer view of its flowers is even more eye-popping.

A few more currently blooming floral highlights before I close this post:

Baptisa 'Purple Smoke' provides consistent spring color every year, and the plants continue to expand.

Baptisa ‘Purple Smoke’ provides consistent spring color every year, and the plants continue to expand.

 

The white-blooming form of Florida Anisetree contrasts beautifully with the more common red-flowered ones.

The white-blooming form of Florida Anise-tree contrasts beautifully with the more common red-flowered ones.

 

Seed-grown yellow foxgloves bloom for over a month every year, and they self-sow too.

Seed-grown yellow foxgloves bloom for over a month every year, and they self-sow too.

The two Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ plants I added some years ago have become a Sweet Kate horde, and that’s just fine with me. They will bloom off and on until frost, barring severe heat waves/droughts.

Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' is blooming enthusiastically beside my front water feature.

Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ is blooming enthusiastically beside my front water feature.

To close this update, let’s meditate once more on the peace and tranquility that only a spring trip to the NC coast can provide. Wonder Spouse took this shot from the deck of our rental cottage. After several hours of rain, the sun returned on the final day of our visit and painted the sky with a rainbow framed against departing clouds (Click on it to fully appreciate the shot).

Aaaah...

Aaaah…

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One Potato, Two Potato…

Newly emerged Dazo potato sprouts

Newly emerged Dazoc potato sprouts on April 19

A quarter-century ago when Wonder Spouse and I were younger and over-enthusiastic about the growing potential of our recently acquired five acres of Piedmont goodness, he picked up a handful of soil and declared, “This land will grow potatoes!” My potato-loving man of Irish heritage had long dreamed of such an endeavor, and if you’ve ever eaten a freshly harvested potato, you know why.

Dazoc potatos on April 22

Dazoc potatos on April 22

The French word for potato is pomme de terre, which translates to apple of the earth. This made no sense to me until I cut into a freshly harvested potato the first time. Just like a ripe, fresh-picked apple, the potato was crisp, snapping open as I cut it, with the same sound an apple makes when I slice into one. And in a white-fleshed potato, the flesh glistens just like the flesh of a fresh-cut ripe apple. The French knew what they were talking about!

Dazoc potatoes on April 27

Dazoc potatoes on April 27

The first year we grew potatoes, Wonder Spouse planted seven different kinds. We devoted several beds to nothing but potatoes — whites, yellows, blues, purples. Some were fingerlings, others best for mashing, some for roasting. Wonder Spouse was in Potato Nirvana.

Just-emerging Kipfel fingerling potatoes on April 19

Just-emerging Kipfel fingerling potatoes on April 19

Our unfinished, cement-floored basement turned out to be ideal for potato storage. We ate our own harvest well into the late fall that year. Wonder Spouse’s most memorable potato culinary triumph was a 4th of July potato salad using red, white, and blue potatoes. It was patriotically delicious!

Kipfel fingerlings on April 22

Kipfel fingerlings on April 22

By the third year of potato production, the voles had found our garden. That year, we barely harvested any whole potatoes. The voles liked to gnaw about half of one, then move on to the next. Wonder Spouse gave up on growing his own for about a decade, consoled by the fact that now our local farmers’ markets were brimming with locally grown organic potatoes, even many of the same kinds he had grown himself.

Kipfel fingerlings on April 27

Kipfel fingerlings on April 27

Then he spotted potato bags in a gardening catalog, and hopes for his own potato harvest brought back his potato-loving enthusiasm. I told you about his first trial with three potato bags here, and his results are here. The voles cannot penetrate the bags, and the potatoes grow unmolested.

Purple Viking potato emergence on April 19

Purple Viking potato emergence on April 19

He grows a different variety in each bag, and his harvest last year was better than his first harvest the year before. Each year, he tweaks what he uses in the growing medium, how he settles the bags in the garden, and so on. This year, he is growing a continuing favorite, Purple Viking, a new fingerling variety (for him) called Kipfel, and an early potato that intrigued him called Dazoc. All are looking good so far.

Purple Vikings on April 22

Purple Vikings on April 22

Purple Vikings store well, are drought-resistant, and yield consistently large tubers. They make the best-tasting mashed potatoes you will ever eat in your life. It has snow-white flesh, and its skin is purple splotched with pink-red. In our area, freshly harvested Purple Vikings are usually available in our local farmers’ markets in June.

Purple Vikings on April 27

Purple Vikings on April 27

Kipfel fingerlings intrigued Wonder Spouse, because they are purported to be one of the most productive fingerling varieties, and for Wonder Spouse, abundant fresh potatoes are always a good thing. It is also supposed to be more heat-tolerant — a bonus, since our Piedmont summers tend to heat up by May.

I think Wonder Spouse settled on Dazoc as his third variety this year, because these dark-red-skinned potatoes are purported to make great hash browns — one of his favorites (and mine, when he makes them). This variety was developed in the early 1950s in Nebraska and maintained by local growers even after commercial growers moved on to other varieties.

This year, Wonder Spouse plunked his potato bags in an area of the garden full of blooming crimson clover. The clover has grown tall, but I’m trying to nudge it from around the bags without removing it entirely. My neighbor’s honeybees work the clover from dawn to dusk, and I really don’t want to deprive them of this resource, especially since soon the potato plants will be taller than the clover. And the more bees visiting my garden, the more tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, etc. I will have to harvest and share. It’s a win-win for the garden — and Potato Nirvana for Wonder Spouse.

In another month or two, we'll have Purple Vikings to enjoy. This was last year's harvest in early July.

In another month or two, we’ll have Purple Vikings to enjoy. This was last year’s harvest in early July.

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