Posts Tagged bush bean ‘Jade’
Cool weather in my part of central North Carolina has been uncharacteristically prolonged this spring. Blooms on our native deciduous azaleas and magnolias have lasted weeks instead of days, as did the spring ephemeral wildflowers like bloodroot. The spring vegetable garden has also benefitted from the cool weather. I do mean cool. Just last week, our morning low dipped down to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and low-to-mid 40s have frequently occurred.
Consequently, the summer vegetables I started from seeds at the usual time — mid-March — have been impatiently growing taller within my greenhouse for quite some time. I tried to wait until nighttime lows looked like they would remain in the 50-degree range, but this past week I finally had to plant my summer vegetable/herb/flower charges before I could promise them fully settled weather. They are in no danger of being killed by a freeze — I’m 99% certain of that — but I’ve read of studies that show fruit production of tomatoes is reduced for the lifetime of the plant if they are exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees. However, I’m fortunate; fewer tomatoes won’t impact my household one way or the other; keeping towering tomatoes in the greenhouse, on the other hand, could have risked our entire crop.
As I planted out the summer vegetables, herbs, and flowers this past week, I pondered why it is I feel compelled to do this every year. I have decided the drive lurks within my DNA. Almost all my ancestors on both sides arrived in North America before the United States was born; most clear-cut forest and planted crops for food and profit. Their lives revolved around seasonal cycles, plant productivity, and insect and warm-blooded varmints trying to eat their livelihoods.
As I dig planting holes in beds I’ve been enriching with compost for three decades, I feel the hands of my grandmothers and grandfathers guiding mine. Food-growing is my connection to my lineage and to the land that shares its bounty with me. The sweat and sore muscles I accrue in the process seem a fair trade for what I am given in return.
I took all these photos yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, I finally transplanted the last few flowers I’d started in the greenhouse. Except for sweet potato slips, which don’t arrive or get planted until the end of May, the vegetable garden is planted.
Our Spring Vegetable Garden
I don’t grow carrots anymore. I never thin them adequately, and most years temperatures get too hot for them before they make much progress. Fortunately, many local organic farmers sell theirs at local markets, so we are always well-supplied. I hadn’t tried peas for years for the same reason, but something told me this year would be different. I started the peas in the greenhouse, because seed germination in cold, wet soil can be unpredictable. As soon as the pea sprouts had two sets of leaves, I transplanted them beside their trellis in the garden. Thanks to the cool spring, I see an excellent pea crop in our future — maybe even enough to freeze some for winter soups!
Wonder Spouse and I love beets. I grow two varieties — Red Ace and Detroit Red. Both make delicious greens that I’ve been popping into our salads for some time. Meanwhile, their delicious bulbs grow fatter in the cool spring weather. I only grew one lettuce variety, because it is so easy to buy organic lettuce from local farmers in my area. The variety I tried this year is New Red Fire; it is wonderfully tasty. Our unfinished basement makes a great root cellar, so we grow onions and potatoes that we store after harvest. Wonder Spouse likes mild, sweet Red Candy onions; I grow them from small bundled plant starts. Mr. Potato Head (aka Wonder Spouse) grows his potatoes in five large grow bags to thwart destructive voles. I know he’s growing two varieties this year, but I don’t remember the names at the moment.
Our Summer Vegetable Garden
This season I exhibited great self-control and only grew/planted three tomato varieties. Sweet Treats will always be our cherry tomato of choice. Picus has become our favorite plum/paste tomato. This year’s experiment with a medium slicing tomato is Rugged Boy. Only Sweet Treats is indeterminate, meaning it keeps growing longer all season. In theory, the other two determinate tomatoes should stop growing taller about mid-season and focus entirely on fruit production. I’ve noticed, however, that in my garden sometimes the determinate tomatoes forget themselves and grow nearly as much as the indeterminate forms. I tie them to either side of a 7-foot-tall trellis. By the end of the season, Wonder Spouse uses a stool to reach the fruits growing beyond my reach (even with the stool).
Peppers are a sweet Italian form, a variant of the traditional Bull’s Horn type that produces fruit half the size of their ancestor — a good thing for us — Bull’s Horn peppers are quite large. We grow a red one (Cornito Rosso) and a yellow one (Cornito Giallo). Because of their high vitamin C content, peppers freeze very well. Their colorful zing adds zip to Wonder Spouse’s culinary masterpieces all winter long.
I’ve had multiple years of success with a Japanese eggplant variety called Millionaire. It has shrugged off flea beetle damage and heat waves to remain productive until hard frost. We have become addicted to having a steady-but-not-overwhelming supply of these fruits all summer long.
I always grow a couple of zucchini plants I start from seed in the greenhouse. When I transplant them out, I cover them in a Reemay tent until they begin to bloom, so they can grow vigorous before I must expose them to the bug varmints of summer. I wrote about my method in detail long ago here. We like a variety called Raven. Its rich, dark fruits contain much antioxidant goodness and excellent flavor.
Because soil temperatures remained cold for so long, I only sowed my summer beans a week ago. After a recent copious rain, seedlings are emerging. Our pole bean of choice is Fortex; no other comes close for flavor and productivity. We love Jade bush beans for the same reason. I’ve taken to growing both on a trellis, allotting half to each variety. I find it is much easier to keep the bush beans upright and productive when I can lean or attach them to a trellis.
I’ve grown borage (Borago officinalis), an annual herb, off and on for years. I love the vivid blue of its flowers, and it is a pollinator magnet. I’ve never used it for its purported medicinal properties, but in researching it today, I learned that “the flowers, candied and made into a conserve, were deemed useful for persons weakened by long sickness.” Perhaps more of us should be growing borage this year to aid those recovering from world-wide sickness.
I always carry my camera with me when I step outside this time of year, even if I’m just walking the 100 yards to the mailbox. If I don’t bring it, some butterfly, bee, bunny, or bird does something photo-worthy that I don’t catch if I’m unprepared. These shots are what I caught today.
I spent the morning working in the vegetable garden. I needed to work longer, but the sun is ferocious, the humidity unforgiving. Yesterday, I finally harvested our first squash and first two eggplants. We ate them last night and I can report that they were delicious. Today, I picked another eggplant, decided to give a couple of squash one more day to fill out, exhorted the tomato plants bent low with the weight of green orbs to hurry up and ripen, and rejoiced in sighting the first bean flowers on all three varieties I’m growing. A little photographic documentation follows. To enlarge a photo and see its caption more easily, click on it.
To get to the vegetable garden, I travel through the front yard and pollinator gardens. Here’s a sample of what I saw today.
In the center of my front yard, the Chinese Pearl-bloom tree commands full attention as it nears peak bloom.
We especially enjoy this time of year because of the near-daily emergence of tiny new amphibians from the front water feature. A few days ago in the early morning after a night-time shower, Wonder Spouse and I counted 25 hiding on various plants growing nearby. I suspect that most are Cope’s Gray Treefrogs, but I’ve heard other amphibians singing lustily beside the pond at night too, especially Narrow-mouthed Toads. When they are this tiny, though, I have no idea how to tell them apart.
Every day brings new discoveries, fresh food, and hard work. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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.
You’re looking at 120 Fortex pole beans, 35 Jade bush beans, 2 Spineless Perfection zucchinis, 1 Raven zucchini, 2 Viva Italia tomatoes, 1 Sweet Treats cherry tomato, and 1 Early Goliath tomato. Yes, the summer vegetable garden is hitting its stride just in time for this Wednesday’s Summer Solstice. If the shallow well I use for watering the veggies doesn’t go dry, I’m predicting an avalanche of ripe tomatoes in about a week. But this is just an update for those keeping tabs on my garden.
Today’s post is mostly about your questions — the ones I get via the search phrases you use to find my blog. WordPress’ statistics software conveniently tracks the terms you use to find my site, and over the last 7 days, I’ve noticed enough repetitive searches that I thought I’d try to address some of your issues.
First up: Indigo Rose tomatoes. You folks find my site often by searching for information on this new variety of tomato. Many simply search on the name, but two other searches this past week caught my eye. You asked: Do Indigo Rose tomatoes taste good? And you searched on: My Indigo Rose tomato is slow to ripen.
So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. Like many of you, the picture and description of this new tomato variety in this year’s seed catalogs piqued my curiosity enough to make me try growing them. If you search on this variety within my blog, you’ll find several entries that apply, but I’ll summarize what I’ve learned so far here. First, the seeds didn’t germinate quite as enthusiastically as the other varieties I grow; I got a 50% germination rate, which is low for me.
Second, the vines continue to grow well, but not nearly as fast as other varieties I grow. The other indeterminate varieties I grow send out many more growing shoots than my Indigo Rose plants. My theory — and I am totally guessing here — is that the purple pigment that colors the tomatoes and darkens the stems of the plants may reduce the amount of green pigment available for photosynthesis, thereby slowing the growth rate of the plant compared to more familiar tomato varieties.
Third, the Indigo Rose plants set abundant fruit; the clusters contain quite a number of relatively small fruits. When the fruits fully ripen, I’m thinking their small size and unique color will make them ideal for salads.
This brings me to your questions. Without a doubt, my Indigo Rose plants are ripening more slowly than my other varieties. Only in the last few days have the lower fruits on one of the plants begun to show the expected color change from green to reddish on the bottoms of the fruits. Here’s a shot of the bases of the ripening fruits:
And here’s the same cluster of tomatoes from the other side, so that you can see the blue/purple pigment on the tops of the fruits, along with a hint of the color change below:
Thus, I advise patience to those searchers who are wondering why their Indigo Rose fruits aren’t ripe yet. You now have photographic evidence of what to look for. When they are fully ripe, I’ll be sure to post another photo in this blog. Obviously, I can’t speak to the taste of these tomatoes yet, since, like you, I’m still waiting for them to achieve full ripeness. Again, you’ll know when I know.
I’m also seeing a big uptick in questions about squash growing. This doesn’t surprise me. My squash are beginning to be plagued by squash bugs, and I actually have already lost one of the Y-Star patty pan plants I was growing. The roots of that plant were destroyed by voles. These plant-eating rodents are the worst I’ve ever seen them in my garden this year. I blame this past nonexistent winter for their abundance.
I’m also seeing a few bronze eggs on squash leaves, and when I watered yesterday, two squash bugs lurking at the base of a plant scurried up the stems to escape the water. I nabbed them quickly and deposited them in my bug extermination jar (filled with soapy water) that I keep in the garden this time of year. I wrote a long entry last year on everything I know about growing squash, which you can read here.
But I do want to address a search question that arose this week. Someone searched on: sevin directly on squash vine borer and larvae. By the way this question is worded, I’m guessing that someone is confusing our two main squash insect varmints: squash bugs and squash vine borers. You can read all about the differences in that entry linked above. But know that borers are the larval form of a moth; squash bugs hatch from eggs as smaller larval forms of the adults.
Because borers live inside squash stems, I can’t think of a way to get Sevin onto them. And although non-organic gardeners will tell you to put Sevin on squash to kill squash bugs, I think it’s a very bad idea. Sevin kills pollinators. If you want squash fruits, you need those pollinators. If you pile on the Sevin, you may have pretty plants, but you won’t get any squash.
One person searched on: brownish bronze eggs that have been laid on my tomato plants. These could be squash bug eggs. I’ve known the bugs to lay eggs on other vegetables, even my basils, although I don’t think they eat them.
I’ll address additional search questions from my readers in future entries. If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer, send it to the e-mail address I list on my About page. I’ll try to help you if I can.
It arrives when Southern Magnolia blossoms perfume heavy, increasingly hot air.
And after the succession of daylily flowers has progressed from early birds like ‘Happy Returns’ to show-offs like ‘Siloam Dan Tau.’
We’ve usually been eating summer squash for several weeks, along with the first few celebrated tomatoes.
Turtle Weather arrived last week — unusually late for the Piedmont region of North Carolina. It’s Turtle Weather when humid air begins to generate random afternoon thunderstorms, fireflies dance nightly in treetops, and the distant “Bob White” calls of quail from nearby fields punctuate sweltering high-noon sunshine.
That’s when I see them: Eastern Box Turtles in the middle of roads — little country roads and even four-laned roads. Hormonal urges to mate make them recklessly trudge into traffic.
Turtle Weather is really reptile weather. When I see the intrepid Eastern Box Turtles lumbering in search of love, I also begin to see Black Rat Snakes everywhere. I often see them flattened on roads; too many ignorant drivers go out of their way to kill snakes.
But I saw a healthy live one yesterday. It wiggled out onto the road just as I approached in my car. I slowed, and it wisely chose to reverse course, returning to the safety of vegetation growing along the shoulder.
Most startling this week, I came face-to-face with a smaller Black Rat Snake (maybe 2 feet long) at my front door. It was hunting mice that lurk around the built-in bench by the entry just as I opened that door. After two or three seconds of eyeball-to-eyeball frozen staring, we both fled in opposite directions.
Turtle Weather usually lasts a few weeks past the Summer Solstice, which this year arrives next Wednesday. After that, summer heat usually bakes the ground so hot that reptiles only emerge at dusk and dawn, when I usually remain indoors due to the voracious hordes of mosquitoes that own the air during those times.
When Turtle Weather arrives, I know I’ll be spending daily hours in the vegetable garden harvesting the fruits of my labor. Today, I harvested the first beans — enough for a celebratory feast tonight.
The Jade Bush Beans will also be contributing to this evening’s first-harvest bean feast. Here’s the modest row of Jades:
Only the large plant in the foreground had produced harvestable-sized beans, but the others are full of smaller fruits.
Turtle Weather means the wild blackberry thickets will soon be filled with raucous birds feeding on ripened fruits. Cicada thrumming should start up any minute. Weekends are filled with the scents of freshly mown lawns and meat grilling in backyards.
Turtle Weather takes me back to childhood treks through Piedmont woods, neighborhood kickball games on the dead-end street in front of my house, blackberry-picking expeditions from which I returned so covered in red juice and bloody thorn scratches that one could not be distinguished from the other until after a good washing.
Turtle Weather is finite and therefore precious. Reptiles know they must brave busy roads before the time is past. Children know they must play until full dark descends, so as not to waste a single night of no-school-tomorrow freedom. Gardeners know harvests don’t last forever. Fresh fruits must be celebrated, savored, and the excess stored for dark winter feasts.
Turtle Weather is the best Summer brings us. I encourage you to grab it while you can.
The vegetable garden is enthusiastically growing; visible increases are evident daily. Even so, I’ve been trying to find a good day for foliar feeding for about a week now. For those who may not know, foliar feeding is the application (via a sprayer) of a dilute solution of fertilizer directly onto the leaves of plants. Leaves directly absorb nutrients from the droplets, thereby giving the plants an almost instantaneous boost — much faster than plants receive via soil applications of fertilizer.
I’m an organic gardener, so I use a dilute solution of a mixture of fish emulsion and sea weed. That gallon bottle in the photo above has lasted me several growing seasons, and will last me several more. The empty gallon water bottle on the left is where I mix my solution. I use that old metal tablespoon in the foreground to measure out three tablespoons of fertilizer into the water bottle, then I fill the bottle with water and shake. Measurements are not exact, nor do they need to be. Fish emulsion is stinky and messy — wear gloves.
I pour the dilute solution into that little yellow hand sprayer in the photo. I used to use larger back-pack sprayers, but they are heavy and cumbersome. And now that I’ve downsized my veggie garden, this little sprayer works just fine for me.
The only trick to foliar feeding is finding an ideal moment for spraying. You absolutely can NOT spray the plants when the sun is shining on them. Water droplets magnify the power of the sunlight, and you will end up with damaged, even burned-looking leaves. Your garden must be in full shade, or you must wait for a cloudy day.
Unfortunately for me, my garden doesn’t go into full shade until quite late in the day. Foliar feeding just before nightfall is less than ideal, because you run the risk of the leaves not drying, which can lead to mildew issues. And the mosquitoes are ferocious that time of day, which makes application quite an ordeal. This morning I got lucky. Clouds ruled the sky until about 10:30, so I hustled outside, picked ripe fruits, tied a few tomatoes, then foliar fed my garden.
Even though my veggies were growing well, I knew it was time for a foliar feeding application because of the bugs. I have removed seven young tomato hornworms from my tomatoes, and today I discovered and removed a mass of bronze eggs laid by a squash bug. Foliar feeding makes leaves less appealing to insects who chew on them, and more disease resistant. The dilute sea weed extract in the mix contains a number of trace elements that work to fortify the leaves against intruders.
Sometimes when I have foliar feeding solution left over, I spray plants outside my fences. When I do that to daylily buds, I’ve noticed the deer pass them by. I guess sea food isn’t their favorite.
The entire garden smells faintly of the ocean after I apply this fishy goodness, but only until the droplets dry on the leaves. Today that happened very quickly; our humidity is uncharacteristically low. On a more typical humid summer day, drying might take an hour or so.
No matter how careful I try to be, I always end up smelling like the solution, so if you try this technique, plan on time for a shower when you’re done.
As I mentioned, the veggies are cranking bigtime, as evidenced by the first tomato harvest of the season today — 2 Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes. Last year, these were just turning red on June 21, so I’m about three weeks ahead on tomato season. Squashes are producing regularly. The Y-Star Patty Pans have really great flavor. We’ll definitely grow those again.
The Fortex pole beans clearly plan on world domination this year. I took this shot of their trellis this morning:
Fortex flowers have been blooming for about a week now, and the vines sport many tiny new beans.
The Jade bush beans got off to a slower start, but they are making up for it in productivity. Here’s what their small row looked like this morning:
The new fruits on the Jade bush beans are about three times longer than the Fortex babies:
More Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes will be ready for harvest in a day or so:
And the two paste (roma) tomato varieties are sporting reddening fruits:
As you might imagine, there’s much more going on in the garden and yard these days. I took a lot of pictures today. Soon I’ll show you some new current bloomers and some coming attractions.
Now I go to bake the season’s first batch of zucchini bread. Soon the house will be filled with spicy cinnamon goodness. And thanks to the return of the clouds that are holding down our temperatures well below seasonal levels, the warmth from the oven won’t be unpleasant.
I love any excuse to play in the dirt with plants, but I find it’s equally satisfying to cook and devour the fruits of my labor. I hope the gardens of my readers are as productive as mine, and that they provide you with delicious meals all season long.
Yes, it’s that time, folks, when squash shows up nightly on the dinner menu, and the aroma of baking zucchini bread fills the house with cinnamon-squash goodness. With today’s harvest, summer produce is officially in the house.
Wonder Spouse and I have been working hard to get the vegetable garden weeded and mulched for the season, and we’re nearly done, I’m happy to report. That’s good, because as you can see above, the summer vegetables are cranking bigtime.
And well they should be. Our high temperatures are mostly hovering in the mid to upper 80s, with nighttime lows in the middle to upper 60s. Combined with heavy, humid air and occasional thunderstorm rain, these are close to ideal growing conditions for the summer garden. We did get a bit of pea-sized hail the other afternoon, but it wasn’t heavy enough to do any harm that I could see. Compared to areas near me, I’m still low on rainfall, so I am providing extra water to the squashes (big moisture consumers) and the last of the spring veggies still struggling to hang on.
Here’s a shot of the Rainbow Chard, which is all that’s left of my lovely bed of greens. The lettuces and spinaches all bolted for the sky when the 80-degree temperatures settled in.
After I took this picture, I harvested almost all of the big leaves you see here. I’ve never grown this veggie before, and I’m not sure how much longer it can withstand summer weather, so I figured I’d pick as much as I could while it still tastes good.
I haven’t pulled up the Sugar Sprint Snap Peas yet, but their productivity has slowed to a crawl. If I stop seeing any flowers, I’ll compost them. The beets still seem to be growing well. I’m trying to keep them moist, in the hopes that the beet roots will expand a bit more before I must harvest them.
The tomatoes are all taller than me now; their fruits grow larger — and more numerous — daily. I find I must tie new growth to the trellises every other day. My tomato experiment this year is a new variety called Indigo Rose. The amount of purple pigment produced in the fruit depends entirely on how much sun reaches the fruit. Here’s one plant that gets a lot of sun:
Compare that picture with a shot of another plant of the same variety that is sited where it gets more shade:
Whatever degree of purple these fruits attain, I think they’ll look amazing in salads. I sure hope they taste good.
Meanwhile the Fortex Pole Beans have already shot over the top of their 6-foot trellis. Last year, these beans grew up and over the trellis, and then some of the vines started back up again. Given how early we are in the season, I’m thinking this year’s beans may overwrap the trellis multiple times. This makes for very challenging bean-harvesting conditions, because it’s hard to spot the beans hiding deep within the mass of foliage. A taller trellis wouldn’t solve my problem; I can barely reach the top of this one.
The Jade Bush Beans were slow to get going, but are now starting to look fairly respectable. We love the flavor of these beans, which is why I still grow them, despite the complaints my knees make when I’m harvesting them.
And, as you can see from the first shot of this entry, all three squash varieties are producing with almost frightening enthusiasm.
That concludes this vegetable garden update, but I want to close with two more photos I took this morning.
First up is this young cottontail rabbit that was dining on clover growing in my driveway. Apologies for the blurriness, but the bunny was wiggly. Note the dark spots on its ears. Those are ticks, which is not only gross, but also explains why my front flower garden is so full of ticks that I can’t walk through it without picking up several. Yikes!
And I’ll close on a more aesthetic note. I grew this yarrow from seed years ago, and because, like most yarrows, it tends to spread itself around, its pretty pink flowers still adorn the edge of my vegetable garden every year. The nice thing about yarrow is that you can hack it back as much as you need without ever killing it.
As Memorial Day weekend begins, I hope all my readers will be enjoying their yards and gardens as much as I am enjoying mine. Happy Summer, everyone.
They’ve been piling up for the last two months: seed catalogs – and plant nursery catalogs too. Their arrival usually signals the onset of my garden dream time – the frozen month or so during which I peruse the colorful pictures and descriptions contained in these myriad purveyors of temptation. However, this winter I’ve mostly been piling the catalogs in a corner for later reading while I take advantage of the continuing abnormal seasonal warmth to complete more yard and garden clean-up chores.
This past weekend, Wonder Spouse and I tackled our deer-fence-enclosed north slope. Mountains of evil Microstegium vimineum were raked up and hauled away, along with vast piles of tree limbs and tangles of Japanese Honeysuckle pulled from soft ground and off trees it was trying to strangle. Poison Ivy was gingerly dislodged from the base of a large Tulip Poplar. Leaves were raked and relocated around trees and shrubs – instant mulch. We were tired and sore but proud of our accomplishments after two days of hard work.
The catalogs continued to accumulate in their designated corner unread. I’d tell myself I’d get to them in the evenings, but found myself too tired to keep my eyes open after a long day of debris wrestling. Finally, during yesterday’s rain, I sat with the catalogs long enough to settle on my seed needs for the upcoming vegetable garden season. As is my usual practice, my choices combine old reliable favorites with a few new temptations that I feel obliged to try out in this year’s garden.
I always start with the tomatoes for two reasons. First, whole catalogs are devoted to them, so there’s more to study. Second, my greatest struggle every year is to limit myself to a sane number of varieties. My willpower is strongest when I begin my selections, so I settle on my tomato choices first.
Last season, I grew seven different varieties of tomatoes, as I described here. This year, I’ve managed to limit myself to six varieties. It was almost five, but a variety in my main seed source’s catalog was too interesting to resist. Here are this year’s selections:
- Early Goliath – We grew this one last year and were so pleased with its early and continuing productivity that we are growing it again.
- Big Beef – This variety continues to please with its enormous, flavorful slicers that begin to ripen about mid-season and continue through hard frost.
- Viva Italia – We find this roma-type paste tomato to be indispensible for sauces, and they’re meaty enough to hold up when thinly sliced onto pizzas.
- Sweet Treats – This cherry tomato is so perfect that we’ve decided we can’t survive a summer without it. Everyone who tastes one of these little treasures exclaims aloud with delight.
My experiments for this year are:
- Super Marzano – We loved the flavor of this roma-type variety’s ancestor, San Marzano, but it didn’t hold up against our southern Piedmont heat and diseases. This newer hybrid comes with much more disease resistance, and it’s supposed to be high in pectin, which means it will thicken pastes and sauces quickly and flavorfully. I’ll let you know.
- Indigo Rose – The picture in the catalog was so surprising that I read its description, which completely hooked me. It looks gorgeous – almost purple – and it supposedly is very high in anthocyanins, which are powerful anti-oxidants. Their good flavor is supposed to have “plummy overtones.” Color me intrigued.
I ordered all my tomato seeds except Indigo Rose from Totally Tomatoes. I’ve been ordering from these tomato/pepper specialists for many years, and I’ve never been disappointed. The rest of my vegetable and herb seeds come from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
After discussing the pros and cons of potential bean candidates, Wonder Spouse and I decided to stick with the bean varieties we grew last year: Jade bush beans and Fortex pole beans. Both were fantastically productive and delicious. We’re sticking with Red Ace beets; we know they grow well in our garden, and they always taste wonderfully sweet.
In addition to Nelson carrots, we’re going to try Laguna carrots, which are supposedly very heat-resistant. The idea of keeping carrots productive even midway through our summer swelters was too tempting to resist.
I went a little nuts on the lettuces. I always do. Suffice it to say that I focused on heat-resistant varieties, made sure to get some colorful red ones, and also threw in a mesclun mix for pizzazz.
I’m trying Sugar Sprint snap peas. They are theoretically stringless, unlike the Sugar Anns I’ve been growing. And I went with heat-resistant spinach varieties.
On the summer squash front, I’m growing Raven zucchini again; we’ve been pleased with their vigor. And we’re going to try Spineless Perfection. If this variety really lacks spines, I will indeed be delighted – assuming they produce well and taste good too. We’re trying a patty pan type called YStar that intrigued Wonder Spouse.
But we’re not doing winter squash again. We’ve decided we just don’t eat enough of them to justify the garden space needed to grow them. And we’re lucky enough to live in an area blessed with many small farmers and markets that offer tasty, locally grown winter squashes in abundance when we do have a craving.
We’re going to try Bright Lights swiss chard, and in addition to my culinary basil standards (Nufar and Aroma2), I’m going to grow Amethyst Improved, which is supposed to be deeply and reliably purple while tasting fabulous.
I don’t usually order annual flower seeds beyond Queen Sophia marigolds, which I consider essential to the vegetable garden. But this year, as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers Association, Renee’s Garden sent me a media kit that offers me free seeds if I’ll write about my results. Free seeds – say no more! I’ve ordered ten flower varieties, many of them heirlooms, which I’ve found are usually better at attracting pollinators than the fancy newer hybrids. I’ll let you know how they do as the season progresses.
As usual, I’ve ordered quite an ambitious number of seeds. As always, if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, I’m going to have a sad excuse for a garden. My county is in moderate drought right now. Every rain event promised seems to peter out just before it gets to my house. But my seed orders are in. I am placing my garden in the hands of the weather gods.
P.S. If you know any good rain dances, drop me a line…