Posts Tagged pole bean ‘Fortex’

Our Garden Grows

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.

Sugar Sprint snap peas. The first few picked yesterday topped our homegrown salad last night.

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.

I grew these chives from seed many years ago. They continue with enthusiasm.

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!

Sugar Sprint peas

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

I always plant a few basils around the edges of the tomato trellis to encourage pollinator visits.

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.

A recently emerged Fortex bean seedling

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.

Borage flower buds

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Early June in the Garden


Scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) always looks like it’s wearing a party hat when in bloom.

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.

Chinese Pearl-bloom tree (Poliothyrsis sinensis)

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.

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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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So much to see …

An iris (name forgotten) thriving in a neglected corner of my vegetable garden.

An iris (name forgotten) thriving in a neglected corner of my vegetable garden.

Is is just my yard, or is everyone seeing an explosion of growth from their gardens? There is so much to see that I really need to be outside every day with the camera. I am certain that I’ve missed peak moments of some of my spring beauties.

Everywhere I turn, I am wowed by another gorgeous flower — like that iris in the above photo. Long ago, I chunked some irises into a bed in my vegetable garden, thinking it would be nice to have a place for cut flowers and to bring in pollinators. I’ve forgotten the names of the varieties planted there, and most years, I am very slow to get their area weeded. But despite nearly complete neglect, they reward me with spectacular flowers every year. I love that about the bearded irises.

Speaking of which, check out these:

Iris 'Batik'

Iris ‘Batik’

These jaw-droppingly gorgeous blooms live in my front garden — another currently very neglected part of my yard. But do they complain? Never! They continue to multiply, blooming ever more magnificently every year.

Another plant that stops everyone in their tracks in my front garden this year is the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’). It grows and blooms so wonderfully that I’ve had to prune it severely several times over the years to prevent it from pulling down the trellis it perches on.

Major Wheeler's scarlet wall of beauty

Major Wheeler’s scarlet wall of beauty

Why, you may ask, am I missing daily walks and neglecting beauties like those above? Two things: the vegetable garden and the greenhouse. As you may recall, my greenhouse was jam-packed with plants I grew from seed — veggies and flowers. However, in my part of NC, by early May, our temperatures are usually getting summertime hot. Even though the roof of my little greenhouse is covered by shade cloth and ventilated with a temperature-sensor-controlled fan — and I keep the door wide open during the day — temperatures get into the 100s in there pretty early.

Thus, I’ve been in my annual race to get everything growing in the greenhouse planted and/or moved to their summer spots before they sautéed themselves in the greenhouse. I’ve been working dawn to dusk at least every other day (weather permitting) to achieve that goal. And I just finished yesterday. Yes, I am tired, and yes, my aging, overused joints are not entirely happy with me. But it’s done. Every seed-grown start has been transplanted, watered, and mulched. Now it’s up to them and the whimsies of weather.

Top priority was the vegetable garden. Food plants always trump flowers. If I do say so myself, that part of my yard is looking pretty darn good. See for yourself.

Squashes grow large within their tents, surrounded by peppers, flowers, and herbs.

Squashes grow large within their tents, surrounded by peppers, flowers, and herbs.

The Fortex pole beans are making excellent progress.

It wouldn't be summer without Fortex pole beans for dinner.

It wouldn’t be summer without Fortex pole beans for dinner.

One thing I love about a late spring vegetable garden — everything looks so neat and tidy. After the plants have grown a while, weather, bugs, and diseases create a more “lived-in” look.

Potatoes in the foreground, onions, lettuces, and the summer veggies in back.

Potatoes in the foreground, onions, lettuces, and the summer veggies in back.

Today is the first day my area will go into the 90s since last September. I have not missed those temperatures. Also, all the bugs are back — the good, the bad, and the really annoying — biting flies, gnats, ticks. It’s a jungle out there again, or getting there anyway.

No more working dawn to dusk for this gardener. As summer temperatures settle in, I’ll be up at dawn for a bit of quick pruning, tying, watering, and harvesting, then back indoors by 9:00 a.m.  Unless a rare cool spell stops by.

Also stopping by this week, a couple of critters I don’t often see. A Red-headed Woodpecker hung around my yard for about 4 days, even sampling my suet feeders. I see them every once in a while, but they never seem to stay. I’ve always wondered if the Red-bellied Woodpeckers drive them away.

A gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker sampling my suet feeder.

A gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker sampling my suet feeder.

This other critter was trying to hide in my garage when I found him. I suspect he escaped from a load of wood chip mulch that I’d been spreading. That’s where these beetles live, so it was likely my fault that he was wandering around my garage. I relocated him to the mulch pile.

Eyed Click Beetle

Eyed Click Beetle

I haven’t begun to enumerate all that’s showing off in my yard right now. The Ash Magnolia blooms will be open very soon. The deciduous azaleas are amazing this year. The swamp wildflowers are ridiculously enthusiastic, likely from all that rain they had last summer.

I confess I spend my too-infrequent walks around the yard exclaiming over the loveliness of a bloom, the rate of growth of a particular shrub, the tiny discarded cones beneath my towering Dawn Redwood. Spring in my garden makes me a child again — surprised and delighted by every gift Mother Nature bestows on me.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’

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Veggie Garden Update

Happy greens

Happy greens

It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks, but Wonder Spouse and I have just about got the vegetable garden where we need it to be. Mostly, anyway. Certainly, the bed of lettuces, spinaches, arugula, and broccoli is doing very well. We’ve enjoyed a number of quite tasty salads. However, as usual, the arugula has already begun to bolt. It’s really too bitter to eat now, and I will force myself to pull it up as soon as the scary weather predicted for the next several days is safely past us.

Coastal Star Romaine Lettuce

Coastal Star Romaine Lettuce

The spring garden was planted later than usual, because our darn temperatures wouldn’t stabilize, and because the ground was too wet to work longer than usual. My greens are doing well, because I started them in the greenhouse and then transplanted them to their bed.

Red Cross Butterhead Lettuce

Red Cross Butterhead Lettuce

But by the time I direct-sowed the beets and carrots, it was already about a month too late. They’ve sprouted beautifully, but the plants are still really seedlings. I am not hopeful that I’ll get much from them unless May high temperatures are much, much lower than normal.

Annapolis Red Romaine Lettuce tastes as wonderful as it looks.

Annapolis Red Romaine Lettuce tastes as wonderful as it looks.

Wonder Spouse’s potatoes are doing well. Here’s what one bagful looked like earlier in the week:

Before the bag was raised to the next level.

Before the bag was raised to the next level.

This past weekend, Wonder Spouse unfolded another third of the bag, filled in around the plants with the rich leaf mold/compost mix he devised, and counseled the plants to produce yet more tubers at this higher level.

Ideally, the stems should sprout new roots and then potatoes along the freshly buried stems. Here's hoping!

Ideally, the stems should sprout new roots and then potatoes along the freshly buried stems. Here’s hoping!

The onion plants I transplanted in mid-March are doing well. I’m trying to be very attentive about watering them. For once, the well we use for the garden is full to the top, so I can be more generous with this precious resource than in recent past springs.

Of course, as soon as the spring garden was in, I began weeding the beds set aside for summer vegetables and flowers. Weather — again — slowed my progress, as did my cranky joints. Alas, this aging gardener has discovered that repetitive gardening tasks are ideally allotted to alternating days, at least if I want to walk upright.

When I saw the weather forecast for this week — basically, an entire week of rain — I knew that the tomato starts in my greenhouse would never last another entire week confined there. So, ignoring my joints and with the help of Wonder Spouse this past weekend, the tomato beds were power-weeded, planted, and mulched.

A weeded tomato bed before planting. It was chock full of earthworms.

A weeded tomato bed before planting. It was chock full of earthworms.

The tomatoes were hitting the roof of the greenhouse.

The tomatoes were hitting the roof of the greenhouse.

It is a very satisfying feeling to step back and admire a well-planted, well-mulched bed. Of course, now I will chew off my fingernails worrying about hail and damaging winds.

Gardeners don't need to go to Vegas to gamble; we gamble on the weather.

Gardeners don’t need to go to Vegas to gamble; we gamble on the weather.

The first summer bed I prepared was for the Fortex pole beans. I think I planted them about two weeks ago, and I may have gotten 100% germination from them. I am excited.

Fortex pole beans in foreground; much of the rest of the vegetable garden behind and beside them.

Fortex pole beans in foreground; much of the rest of the vegetable garden behind and beside them.

I also got my squashes planted yesterday. I start them in the greenhouse, to ensure top-quality plants. Direct-sowing isn’t a terrible option, but when you have a greenhouse, you might as well use it. I transplanted three plants each of two kinds of zucchini — Spineless Perfection, and a new variety for me — Dinja. As soon as they’re tucked in, watered, and mulched, they are covered in their garden fabric tents to prevent insect pests from devouring the baby plants. As I explained here, the fabric comes off when the first flowers open.

Safely tucked beneath their insect-proof tents, the squash plants can focus on unimpeded growth.

Safely tucked beneath their insect-proof tents, the squash plants can focus on unimpeded growth.

I interplanted a few basils and marigolds with the tomatoes, but I have many, many flower and herb plants impatiently waiting their summer homes in my greenhouse. I can’t even think about their relocation until this terrifying weather pattern is past and the ground dries out. My area is predicted to receive 3-5 inches of rain. I’m praying my yard receives the lower end of that range.

Several of the tomato plants were displaying their first open flowers when we transplanted them, so I’m praying that the weather will be kind, and I’ll be devouring fresh-picked tomato fruits soon.

That’s about it for the veggie update. But I can’t close without mentioning the arrival of two species of birds that I associate with late spring — Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Summer Tanagers. The grosbeaks visit for about two weeks every spring and fall on their migrations to their summer and winter homes. My well-stocked feeders are a favored stopover for them.

The Summer Tanagers nest in my region every summer. I rarely see them, but I hear them often. They exchange a chipping call high in the treetops as they hunt for and devour the zillions of caterpillars that feed on the leaves of my canopy trees.

I know summer is nearly here when the tomatoes are in the ground and the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are visiting my feeders.

I know summer is nearly here when the tomatoes are in the ground and the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are visiting my feeders.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the folks in the middle of the country being hammered by tornadoes. It is indeed a cruel twist of Fate that Spring is often as destructive as it is beautiful.

Stay safe out there, ya’ll.


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Fortex for the win!

August 6 harvest basket

August 6 harvest basket

As gardening seasons go, this one has been more full of surprises than usual. My eyes have been opened to just how much water vegetables really need to be happy — and how much more than that they can handle.

Thanks to a string of growing seasons filled with long streaks of 100+-degree days and prolonged droughts, I’ve become pretty good at gauging a vegetable’s minimum water requirements. A shallow well for the garden that routinely dried up by August necessitated strict water rationing.

Not this year. I don’t think we’ve gone more than 10 days without at least an inch of rain. Fungus flourishes, it’s true, but so does everything else. Canopy-sized trees are still putting on bright new green growth — in early August! Plants are re-blooming at unprecedented rates. As I wander around my yard, I sometimes feel as if I’ve stepped into an alternate universe, so different is this year’s August landscape from previous years.

More about that another time. Today I want to offer an overdue update on the vegetable garden. The pole beans in the harvest basket photo above are Fortex. I’ve always had good success with them, but I never realized before this year that they were dying out by July in past years because I just wasn’t giving them enough water. This year, they topped their trellis by the beginning of May, reached the bottom of the other side by the end of June, and now they are heading back up again — at least, mostly. Some seem to be heading horizontally for the next county, despite my attempts to encourage the vines to remain on the trellis.

I’m picking a good mess of beans every other day now. It was every day until about three weeks ago, so I guess they are slowing productivity a bit. As I did last year, I interplanted the beans with a climbing nasturtium. Last year, the two species played well together, but this year’s abundant water has produced quite the tangled mess of vegetation.

Fortex bean-covered trellis

Fortex bean-covered trellis

The deep orange-red flowers near the bottom are the nasturtiums. Some have climbed higher, just not in this shot. The lighter orange flowers on the far right are Queen Sophia marigolds.

As you can see by the harvest basket, I’m also still picking tomatoes, but not nearly as many as in previous years by this time. This wet year has taught me that my organically grown tomatoes stay healthier and more productive during drought years, because the fungal diseases that are plaguing them this year just can’t flourish without abundant rainfall. Limiting their water supply also intensifies the flavor of the tomato fruits. This year’s ‘maters, while tasty, are just not as vibrantly flavorful as in past years. And, yes, I’m mostly growing the same varieties as I had in previous years.

You’ll also see in the basket a couple of sweet Italian peppers — Carmen is the variety name. These beauties are the best-looking veggies in the garden right now. We’re about to be buried in an avalanche of sweet, juicy peppers with just a hint of zing. They are so vibrantly flavorful that I think perhaps I can taste their Vitamin C. So good!

A few more Carmen sweet Italian peppers ripen daily. Luckily, the fruits freeze very well.

A few more Carmen sweet Italian peppers ripen daily. Luckily, the fruits freeze very well.

I’m also growing a few plants from a seed packet of mixed Italian heirloom peppers. So far, one plant has produced a lovely ripe yellow fruit. Another one appears to be turning its fruit orange. Stay tuned for further developments.

Additionally, I got a free seed packet for a purple cayenne pepper. Of course, I had to try it, but I did limit myself to growing just one plant. Cayennes are notoriously prolific pepper producers, and my purple-fruited specimen is living up to my past experiences.

The purple cayenne's fruits start out a deep magenta purple, but seem to lighten as they mature. Will they go red when ripe? Stay tuned.

The purple cayenne’s fruits start out a deep magenta purple, but seem to lighten as they mature. Will they go red when ripe? Stay tuned.

The basils are having a great year. Because my vegetable garden is a fair hike from the kitchen, I cut stems of fresh basil and put them in a water-filled vase on the kitchen counter. That way, Wonder Spouse remembers to add leaves to his many wonderful culinary creations. Plus the sweet-spicy scent wafting from the leaves freshens the air.

I was worried that the rampant fungal fiesta ongoing in my vegetable garden might hurt the heirloom zinnias or sunflowers that I got from Renee’s Garden Seeds this year. But they are thriving, and have bloomed nonstop since May.

I'll tell you more about this sunflower mix soon.

I’ll tell you more about this sunflower mix soon.

I am in love with these old-fashioned zinnias that have grown taller than me by at least a foot.

I am in love with these old-fashioned zinnias that have grown taller than me by at least a foot.

Other parts of the yard are still blooming too, and I’ll share more in another post. For now, I’ll close with a favorite perennial that I associate with summer’s waning — Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). I don’t think one can ever have enough of these in one’s garden — and I’m fairly certain that the hummingbirds and butterflies agree with me.

The true red of Cardinal Flower brightens any late-summer landscape.

The true red of Cardinal Flower brightens any late-summer landscape.



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Wishing Debby would change her mind

Sunflower “Sun Samba” Mix

Oh sure, the garden is thriving right this second. But I see Big Trouble heading this way like a runaway freight train. I’m talking about the 100+ degree heat wave promised for my area in two short days. Right now, the weather seers are calling for at least four days in a row with highs over the 100-degree mark, and five days in a row could easily happen.

I wouldn’t be so worried, if I had gotten the rainfall that so many folks in my region have been blessed with lately. But I didn’t; not even close. Take last night, for instance. A cold front uncharacteristically strong for this time of year blasted through, bringing a line of thunderstorms to just about every yard but mine. I’m really trying not to take the rain snubs personally, but it’s getting harder and harder.

My remaining Y-Star patty pan squash continues to produce well…for now.

Absolutely no rain is in the forecast during the heat wave. Only the slightest of chances are hinted at for a WEEK FROM NOW! That means my already-too-dry soil is going to be baked by a merciless summer sun without any respite except what I can provide with my hose.

Fortex pole beans mingle happily with Spitfire nasturtiums…but for how much longer?

I water my vegetable garden from a shallow well that draws from a perched water table overlaying my floodplain. It is not doing well; neither is the adjacent creek. Neither are the oak trees nearby; they are dropping young acorns by the hundreds in an attempt to reduce their water consumption. I am not sure how much longer I’ll be able to water my vegetables.

Trees that produce fruit early in the season have been more successful than the oaks. For example, my Florida Anise-trees bloomed prolifically this year, and their fruit set has never been so significant. When the seeds inside the fruits ripen, I’m going to carry them down to the floodplain and spread them around to see if new trees will appear next year.

Florida Anise-tree Fruits

I spent an hour in the uncharacteristically cool morning air thoroughly watering all the veggies. I’m hoping the good dose of water while it’s cool will allow the roots to maximize their use of the water, rather than lose it all to evaporation.  I’m hoping this will fortify the plants against the imminent heat wave. I’ll water again in two days, next time at dawn so I don’t melt — if the well holds out.

Every summer now I go through this agony, wondering how long the well will hold out. Will there be enough so that the tomatoes — just beginning to ripen in numbers — can be harvested? Will the peppers have time to ripen? How long will the beans keep producing? When will the bugs overpower heat-weakened squash plants?

My yard has been in a drought for so many years now that I do not remember the last time my creek ran all summer long, when muddy spots on the floodplain would sink tractor tires during mowing, when summer nights were often accompanied by lightning flashes and pounding rain on the roof.

I know the poor folks in Florida are drowning in Tropical Storm Debby’s rains right now. How wonderful it would be if I could wish those clouds here. Five inches? No problem; that’s what floodplains are for. Piedmont topography and soils are better able to handle such amounts.

By this time next week, I expect to be hunkered down in a darkened house as I hide from searing sun and dream, dream, dream of rain.

This bunny was outside my garden fence today wiggling its nose at the scent of well-watered veggies and flowers.

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Answers to your gardening searches: past seven days

Today’s harvest

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:

Bases of Indigo Rose tomatoes finally begin to change color

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:

Note the hint of redness along the bases of the fruits.

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.

Squash flowers need visits from pollinators like these if you want squash for your table.

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.

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Turtle Weather

It arrives when Southern Magnolia blossoms perfume heavy, increasingly hot air.

Daylily ‘Siloam Dan Tau’

And after the succession of daylily flowers has progressed from early birds like ‘Happy Returns’ to show-offs like ‘Siloam Dan Tau.’

Zucchini ‘Raven’

We’ve usually been eating summer squash for several weeks, along with the first few celebrated tomatoes.

Tomato ‘Sweet Treats’

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.

Fortex Pole Beans with Spitfire Nasturtiums intermingled

These Fortex Pole Beans will be big enough for harvest in a day or two.

Nasturtium ‘Spitfire’ lures hummingbirds and adds visual interest to the pole bean trellis. They smell wonderful too!

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.

Turtle Weather means the onset of Black-eyed Susan Season.

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Cloudy Morning Skies Mean Foliar Feeding Time

Tools for foliar feeding

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.

Today’s harvest: 2 Spineless Perfection zucchinis, 1 Raven zucchini, 1 Y-star patty pan squash, 3 Red Ace beets, and 2 Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes

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.

Y-Star Patty Pan squash plant is producing tasty results.


The Fortex pole beans clearly plan on world domination this year. I took this shot of their trellis this morning:

Fortex pole beans

Fortex flowers have been blooming for about a week now, and the vines sport many tiny new beans.

Fortex is just starting to produce baby 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:

I’ve found the Jade bush beans produce better with a little support from bamboo stakes.

The new fruits on the Jade bush beans are about three times longer than the Fortex babies:

Jade beans are growing very quickly.

More Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes will be ready for harvest in a day or so:

Sweet Treats tomatoes are ripening quickly.

And the two paste (roma) tomato varieties are sporting reddening fruits:

Super Marzano tomatoes will be ready for sauce soon.

Viva Italia paste tomatoes will be ready soon after the Super Marzanos.

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.

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