Archive for category Vegetable Gardening
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have a great Fourth of July, ya’ll.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
I could smell the sweet perfume of this magnolia before I got within 20 feet of it.
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.
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.
A few more currently blooming floral highlights before I close this post:
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
I am delighted to report that last weekend’s 18-degree drop-of-death (to many blooming trees, shrubs, and bulbs) did not adversely impact our spring vegetable garden. Wonder Spouse and I spent a half hour or so tucking them beneath heavy-weight spun garden fabric designed to help veggies survive cold spells. We tacked it down with the metal staples sold for that purpose, and crossed our fingers.
I didn’t lift the covers until yesterday, wanting to be sure the chilly nights would stay gone for a while. They looked fine, but thirsty, so I thoroughly watered all of them. This morning as the sun was topping the trees, I was thrilled to see how well the greens had responded to the previous day’s watering.
I decided on the spot, “This calls for a Fool’s Day salad!”
The red leaf lettuce (Merlot — from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) positively glowed with tasty antioxidants. But all the greens were vibrant in the rising sunlight. The mix of Asian greens will add subtle bitter notes to the sweetness of the lettuces. Fresh chives and dill will elevate flavors yet another notch. The recently planted parsley was not yet large enough to pick. By the next harvest, I should be able to add its tender leaves to the mix.
I’m thinking I’ll add a few Kalamata olives, some organic carrots from the store, and perhaps a sprinkling of whatever cheese loiters in the fridge to create tonight’s dinner masterpiece. Of course, I can’t take the credit. Those glorious greens do all the work.
I am not ashamed to admit I am a fool for fresh-picked salad. It’s a spring tonic in a bowl, uplifting spirits as it replenishes winter-weary bodies. I recommend it to all — no foolin’.
Happy Fool’s Day!
This post is for me. It will serve to remind me of the fleeting moment when my early bloomers all exploded simultaneously with colorful enthusiasm. Today ahead of a cold front charging at us from the west, our air is sultry, and we’ll be downright hot this afternoon. Ah, but Early Spring will show her cruel side by this Sunday morning. A hard freeze is forecast. In town, lows will bottom out at about 28 degrees Fahrenheit. At my house, that will probably translate to 24 degrees, maybe even lower. The daffodils above will likely survive, but the early-blooming trees will not be so fortunate. And so today, in this post, I salute the beauty about to be blackened by Arctic air.
Its flowers must be viewed more closely to be fully appreciated:
My weeping cherry is just starting to open. Its flowers always open at the tips of its branches first, and then progress up the arching arms of this beauty. Here are a few close-ups of these fragile blooms.
I would never buy pink hyacinths on my own (not my favorite color), but these were a gift. They multiply every year, and I think the cold winter has made them bloom more enthusiastically than usual. When the breeze blows their perfume my way, I cough — too potent for my tastes.
Yesterday, the enormous stand of native Bloodroots — one of my favorite spring ephemeral wildflowers began blooming. Alas, the petals of these delicate beauties shatter easily. Predicted heavy rains will likely pound their petals into the ground. So indulge me as I share a few shots of this ever-increasing stand of ephemeral flowers.
Most heart-breaking of all will be the loss of my Magnolia “Butterflies” blooms. I have repeatedly counseled it to wait just a few more days, but the current round of warm air has deceived it into cracking open its enormous fuzzy buds to release its bright yellow blooms. My only consolation is that its cousin, Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ is still holding her buds tightly closed. She usually blooms a week after Butterflies, and this year appears to be no exception.
On a slightly happier note, the cold air will only prolong the productivity of my spring veggies. We enjoyed the first salad from our garden last week. Admittedly, it was a small salad, but that did not detract from the tender sweetness of the lettuces, the zing of the arugulas, and the mellow hint of onion from newly emerged chive leaves. I’ll tuck them beneath their fabric cover when the freezing temperatures approach. They should be fine.
I’ve been testing the soil temperature every few days. It must be a minimum of 55 degrees for carrots to germinate well. As of three days ago, it was still 48 degrees! After the weekend cold spell, I believe the temperatures may normalize. If the sun will stay out, perhaps the soil will finally warm enough for me to sow carrots and some more spinach and beets. It will be a gamble sowing this late. If summer heat arrives early, I probably won’t get much from these late-sown seeds.
About now most late summers I am moaning about the dog days. Anyone who has lived in my region for long knows exactly what I’m talking about. High temperatures, higher humidities, stagnant air so thick you need scuba gear to get from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car. But not this year. At least not in my part of North Carolina.
We’ve had a few hot spells — afternoons when only the jewel-colored dragonflies move with alacrity. But as soon as we are well hunkered down to endure the swelters, a Canadian air mass comes swooshing down, bringing us unusually low high temperatures and several days in a row of steady, off-and-on rain. As I squish around my yard during non-rainy moments, I wonder if this is what it’s like to live in the Pacific Northwest.
Of course, this interlude from our typical late summer weather has a price — fungus. I don’t begrudge the toadstools sprouting everywhere. They usually wait until late September/October to appear, but this is their kind of weather.
The fungus I’m not so fond of afflicts my vegetable garden. The zucchinis have all surrendered to a combination of fungus and squash vine borer attacks. The tomatoes are losing their lower branches to fungus. Fruits are growing ugly black spots. Unless we get a dry heat wave, they won’t hang on much longer. The biggest surprise are the beans. Both Fortex (pole) and Jade (bush) are still astonishingly productive. The cosmos flowers are on the verge of surrender. But the Berry Basket zinnias party on.
Plants and animals proceed with their life cycles as best they can, obeying the calendar more than the weather. Seed production is in full evidence.
Our two months of unusually dry weather reduced seed cone production among my deciduous magnolias, but they still sport some reddening cones.
Late-summer wildflowers are starting to show off in earnest. Early goldenrods brighten the edges of woodlands, and Monkey Flowers adorn the floodplain.
Some flowers are fruiting and flowering together, like my native coral honeysuckle variety, ‘Major Wheeler.’ The berries are actually brighter red than the flowers.
The tadpoles metamorphosing in our little front water feature decided last weekend’s prolonged damp, cool weather was ideal for emergence to full-time air-breathing status. Monday morning, we spotted about a dozen froglets nestled on plants adjacent to the water, most sporting bits of tadpole tail not yet fully resorbed.
The Copes Gray Tree Frogs laid their eggs in late spring. But the ensuing dry spell deprived us of their nightly serenades — a lullaby I enjoy most summers. But with the return of rain, they are back, at least on warmer nights. Perhaps the crop of newly hatched tadpoles helped to encourage the large ones to leave their birth pond.
Plants and animals seem to be using these interludes to gather themselves toward the push to autumn. The froglets meditated on their leafy perches for about two days before disappearing deeper into the vegetation when the sun returned.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds used the rainy interludes to chug down as much sugar water from my feeder as they could.
The flowers they prefer to dine on were mostly closed for business during the cool rains. All the newly fledged birds from this year and their parents crowd the feeder from dawn to full darkness. I count six to eight birds jockeying for feeding slots all day long.
Male birds are especially intent on fattening up. They’ll be the first to head south to their tropical winter nesting sites, so they can claim the best territories before the females return. I usually notice they are gone by mid-September. The last stragglers generally stop visiting my feeder in early October.
All the natives — hummingbirds, froglets, praying mantises, writing spiders, magnolias, milkweeds, dogwoods — feel the summer slipping ever more quickly past. Whether we see more rainy interludes or swelter through late summer, they know time grows short.
Now is the time to hunker down and finish summer projects, plan fall gardens, and anticipate winter seed catalog dreaming sessions nestled by a crackling fire with a hot cup of cocoa.
Like the natural world surrounding me, I am using these unusual rainy, cool interludes to rest and recharge, knowing that every time the sun returns, weed explosions will add to my nearly infinite gardening to-do list.