Posts Tagged summer squash
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.
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.
In case any of you handful of folks who actually read my blog on purpose were wondering why I haven’t posted in a week, this entry is my explanation. With the invaluable aid of the Wonder Spouse, I’ve been working hard to get all the summer vegetables situated in the garden. I’m happy to report that I’m nearly done. A half dozen Queen Sophia marigolds and a couple of nasturtiums still need to be tucked in somewhere, but everything else is planted, watered, and mulched. And, in the case of the tomato plants, they’re also tied to their trellises.
I’ll show you shortly, but first I want to spend a bit of space on the wonderful spring vegetable garden that is still growing strong — for now. The weather seers are predicting temperatures in the 90s and no good chances for rain for the rest of the week, so I’m not sure they’ll be looking this lovely by next weekend. Thus, a brief photo tour is in order.
Here’s the bed of greens — lettuces, spinaches, and the astonishing rainbow chard dwell happily together:
The absolute hit of the salad greens has been the Red Cross lettuce. This buttercrunch type is so tender that chewing is almost optional. And it’s gorgeous, as you can see here:
Not all the spring vegetables have been as cooperative as those shown above. The beets were slow to get going, although they are finally starting to look like they might become productive in a few weeks — if the heat backs off.
Carrot germination was almost nonexistent for me this year. I blame the absurdly warm, dry spring. I think I’m nursing about a half dozen tiny carrot plants mixed in with the beets.
The Sugar Sprint Snap peas took way longer to start blooming than I expected. However, now they are blooming bigtime, and I can see numerous small pea pods dangling from the vines. I watered them thoroughly again this morning in an effort to push them to harvestable size before the heat melts them.
And here’s a view of the quarter of my vegetable area dedicated (mostly) to spring veggies this year:
In addition to harvesting, watering, and encouraging the peas to plump up faster, I’ve been busy in two of the other quadrants. First I sowed Fortex Pole Beans and Jade Bush Beans, both varieties that have worked well for me before. Amongst the Fortex seeds, I sowed seeds of a climbing nasturtium that is supposed to produce flowers in vibrant shades of orange and red. I’m hoping they’ll look spectacular mingled with the vigorous green bean vines. Almost every seed I sowed sprouted in just over a week’s time, as you can see here:
I also transplanted six squash plants — two of each of the three varieties I’m growing. I interplant them among other vegetables in an attempt to make it harder for squash predators to find them. And, as is my practice, after I mulched them, I immediately tucked a lightweight garden fabric over them to prevent insect attacks on the young plants. When they start blooming, I’ll be forced to remove the fabric. I explained my reasoning and methodologies on squash growing in a long post last year, which you can find here.
Here are a couple of the plants hiding under their cloths in this year’s garden:
As you may have read in earlier posts this year, I started my tomato seeds much earlier, because the absurdly warm winter/spring caused me to fear we are in for a sweltering, dry summer. Consequently, my tomato plants were enormous by the time I decided it was finally safe to transplant them in the last week. I waited this long, because we had two recent cold snaps. My hill went down to 28 degrees during the first plunge, and lingered around 30 during the second snap — way too cold for tomatoes, which is why mine remained in their cozy greenhouse during that time.
Finally, the long-range forecast looked worth the gamble, and I knew my horrendously pot-bound tomatoes couldn’t wait any longer. Because they were so huge, the Super Marzanos and the Sweet Treats already had fruits! I ended up planting sixteen tomato plants. This is more than I had planned on, but they were all so lovely that I just couldn’t bring myself to give that many away. I donated all but two of my extras to a local community garden. The last two went to a neighbor down the road.
I also planted four each of three pepper varieties. I’m not a fan of the hot ones, so all three are sweet peppers. Carmen is an Italian Bull’s Horn variety that we always enjoy. I was tempted to try a bell type called Merlot, because it produces dark purple fruits. And I planted a freebie sent with my order called Golden Treasure. All twelve plants appear to be adjusting well to their summer homes.
I’ll end this post with a shot of one of the Bronze Fennel plants that I grew from seed last year. It’s really taking off, and I expect it to be a magnet for Black Swallowtail caterpillars this year. Behind it is a large shallow saucer that I keep filled with water for birds, toads, and other critters that might get thirsty while they’re patrolling my plants for tasty insect pests. Anything that helps draw pollinators, insect-eating birds, reptiles, and amphibians, and other predatory insects is welcome in my vegetable garden. That’s why I mix the veggies with herbs and flowers, and I think my results speak for themselves.
Here’s hoping we all enjoy a productive — and tasty — summer gardening season.
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…
Here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, summer temperatures have been keeping me sweating in the garden for about a month now. Because I had the best spring garden I’ve had in years, I rapidly fell behind on preparing the summer vegetable beds, which is why my squash plants are only just now ready to yield their first fruits. However, we’re still pulling onions, carrots, and even a little spinach from the spring garden, so I’m not too upset about the slower start to the summer vegetables.
As fast as the summer vegetables grow, you can barely tell I got behind at this point. The tomatoes are all now taller than me (I’m 5’4″), and I’m going to need a step stool to stand on to harvest the ‘maters, since they’re clearly heading straight for the moon this year. But tomato talk is for another day. Today, I want to write about squash.
Two Categories of Squash: Summer and Winter
This veggie is divided into two broad categories: summer squash and winter squash. Summer squashes include zucchinis, crooknecks, and pattypans. You pick them when they reach a size you like, and you eat them right away. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for a week or two, but not much longer.
Winter squash include acorn, butternut, delicata, and hubbard types, among others. These squash take longer to mature, and when stored in a cool, dark place (not the refrigerator) after proper curing, will keep for months.
In my Piedmont NC garden, I have great success with the summer squashes — at least for a while — long enough for us to grow tired of eating squash every day. However, I’ve never had much success with winter squashes, mostly because I don’t seem to be able to keep them alive long enough to mature. It’s the bugs. Squash varmints are tough.
Squash Insect Troublemakers: Borers and Bugs
The two insects that eventually kill my squash every year are Squash Vine Borers and Squash Bugs. All the gory details you need to know are here, but I’ll give you a few highlights.
I usually see the Squash Bugs first. In fact, this year, I caught one loitering on a basil plant waiting for me to uncover my young squashes, which were sealed away safely under a spun lightweight garden fabric designed to thwart the bugs. This fabric lets in light and water, but the bugs can’t get through it. When I transplant my squash seedlings into the vegetable beds, I immediately cover them with this garden cloth. They stay under it until they begin blooming.
Protecting with barriers
I an forced to uncover the plants when they begin to bloom so that pollinators can do their work. But until then, the plants are able to grow strong and unmolested, which I think makes them better able to withstand the bugs and borers after I remove the covers. Here’s what my little plants looked like right after I transplanted them out and covered them on May 16:
Note that I didn’t plant them all together. In between them are peppers, basils, marigolds, and even some bush beans. By increasing diversity, I make it harder for the squash bugs and borers to find their targets, and I think the strong smell of the basils and marigolds may help disguise the squash scent a bit too — that’s my hope anyway.
Transplants work better than direct-sowing
I stopped direct-sowing squash in favor of greenhouse sowing some years ago. I have better control. Seed packets tell you to sow squash in hills containing several seeds. I’ve found this just creates a big mess as the plants grow and become entangled, and it’s much easier for the bad bugs to hide from you. Now I plant individual plants, mulch them, and keep them covered until they begin blooming. We are all happier with this arrangement — not counting the squash predators, of course.
Here’s what the plants looked like just before I removed their covers:
This year’s squash varieties
This year, I’m growing three summer squash varieties and one winter squash. I am weak when I peruse the seed catalogs in January, and the description of Honey Bear — an acorn type — sounded too good to pass up. That’s it with its first bloom in the photo at the top of this entry. I grow two plants of each type — that’s eight squash plants, for those doing the math. I know — that’s a lot of squash.
But when we’ve got more than we can handle, I generally give my excess away to friends and the local food bank. All the fruits find appreciative stomachs somewhere.
Summer varieties this year are Raven zucchini — a deep green fruit producer we really liked last year, Plato zucchini — a new variety that produces over a longer period than Raven, which tends to produce all its fruits at once, and Summer Sunburst — a pattypan type with lovely flavor and color that we’ve enjoyed for years.
My insect-management strategies
As for the bugs, I don’t use poisons. You’ll just kill the pollinators trying to get to your squash blossoms if you use them anyway. Instead, I patrol my plants almost every morning before the sun gets too hot. If you water the base of the plants, any hiding Squash Bugs will hightail it out of the mulch and onto the stems and leaves, where you can grab them and dispose of them. I keep a jar full of soapy water handy for the disposal part. I also inspect the leaves for the metallic bronze eggs of the Squash Bug; they’re quite distinctive. If I am diligent, I can usually keep my squash plants free of serious Squash Bug damage for at least six weeks after they begin producing.
Squash Vine Borers are tougher. Borers are the larval form of a clear-winged, inconspicuous moth that lays its eggs on the stems. The eggs hatch, and the larvae burrow inside and start eating. Goopy sawdust-looking yucky stuff along the stems is usually the first sign that the borers have moved in. Your options from there are all difficult, and after trying every one of them, I’ve settled on burying the affected part of the stem in hopes that the stem will grow new roots and keep going. Sometimes this works, sometimes not. But I’m usually pretty tired of eating squash by the time the borers kill the plants anyway.
At the same time borers begin to impact the squash plants, I’m usually dealing with unrelenting drought. Often my garden well has gone dry by then, and when squash plants don’t get enough water, the bugs cannot be stopped. It’s all downhill from there.
Some folks have issues with powdery mildew on their squash. I suspect I rarely see this because of the way I space out my squash plants and interplant them with other veggies, herbs, and flowers, but that’s just a theory.
Don’t forget to feed and water them
One more thing — feeding. I add a good organic vegetable fertilizer to the soil when I transplant my squashes. Then about every two weeks, I foliar feed all the vegetables, including the squash, with a dilute mix of fish emulsion and sea weed extract. I use a sprayer to spray the mixture onto the leaves of the plants, coating both sides as best as I can. You must do this early in the morning before the sun is strong, or you will boil your plants. And you don’t want to do it in the evening, because the moisture will linger and encourage mold growth. Foliar feeding has been shown in many studies to strengthen plants against predators and diseases, and the nutrients are absorbed directly into the leaves. And until the solution dries, your garden has a nice ocean smell — just don’t let your cats lick the leaves before they’re dry. 🙂
All vegetables need an inch of water a week. If it doesn’t rain, you must add the water. This is especially important for members of the squash family (includes pumpkins and cucumbers), because so much of their fruits consists of water. Without adequate water, fruits will develop slowly, strangely, or not at all. When I slip my finger beneath the mulch around my squashes and I feel only dry soil, I know they are overdue for water. I try to keep the dirt beneath the mulch around my squash plants moist at all times.
Now you know everything I know about growing squash in the Southeast Piedmont of the United States. So get out there and get growing!