Posts Tagged tomato ‘Sweet Treats’

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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Vegetable garden charges toward summer

Foxgloves and yarrows invite pollinators to visit.

Last week, my garden sweltered beneath high temperatures in the nineties. This week, the temperatures plunged 25 degrees. This morning, our hill thermometer registered a low of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it’s a typical late spring in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

Experience has taught me that the trick to helping veggies survive spring’s wild weather swings is to plant vigorous plants during a settled spell of weather, mulch them heavily immediately, and water as often as necessary to keep the soil evenly moist.

This year, my timing seems to have been pretty good. The spring veggies are still producing, although last week’s nineties caused some of the mesclun mix (Yankee greens, as I think of them) to bolt.

And the Sugar Sprint Snap Peas have been disappointing. It took them much longer to begin to bloom than the Sugar Anns I’ve grown in the past, and the pods started filling very unevenly when the heat hit them last week. The Sugar Anns never faded this fast. That’s not to say the Sugar Sprints aren’t still producing, just not producing up to my expectations. Here’s what they looked like yesterday morning after a piddly rain the day before:

Sugar Anns will replace these Sugar Sprints next year.

As for that rain I mentioned, as usual, my little corner of the Piedmont is being overlooked. The city 30 miles to our east has had two major, multi-inch rain events in the last two weeks. Our two-week total isn’t even 1.5 inches. Of course, the folks in Raleigh also got hail, some flooding, and a few houses were set on fire by lightning. I’ll take gentle, light rain over dangerous storms every time, of course, but I get grumbly when I hear the TV weather folk talking about the “break in the drought.” Not at my house.

Wonder Spouse and I are still enjoying the bed of spring greens, and we do have enough peas to at least add a few to our salads. Here’s what that bed looked like yesterday morning:

Still sweet, tender, and delicious

And the beets are finally looking like they might make some actual beets. If the sub-80-degree weather sticks around and we can get some decent rain, I think I still have a good chance at a decent beet crop. Here they are with the bolting mesclun mix in the background:

The pink flower is a cosmos.

The 90-degree heat was a huge boost to the summer garden. A number of the tomato plants are already as tall as I am, and fruit production is enthusiastic. The peppers are not far behind, and the beans — especially the pole beans — are reaching for the sky. Here’s what the pole beans looked like yesterday morning:

These Fortex pole beans seem even more vigorous than last year’s crop — yikes!

And check out these tomato fruits:

Sweet Treats Cherry Tomato

Viva Italia paste tomato

Early Goliath Slicer Tomato

Indigo Rose Tomato

Check out the way the Indigo Rose tomatoes are already turning purple. I did a bit of research on these and learned that they only make anthocyanins (the purple-colored antioxidant) where the sun touches the skin, and the purple stays only in the top layers of the tomato. So this is one you’ll want to eat skin and all if you’re trying to take advantage of this nutrient. I also learned that the tomato is fully ripe when the bottom of the tomato is deep red.  I’ll keep you apprised of their progress.

Last but not least, two of my six squash plants had open flowers yesterday, so I was forced to remove their coverings so that pollinators could access the flowers. The plants look strong, and I’m hoping they’ll be able to resist the squash varmints long enough for us to grow weary of squash-filled dinners.

Y-Star Patty Pan Squash — a new variety for me this year

As you might guess, our yard is still producing many blooming plants. I’ll show you some highlights soon, along with some wildlife updates.

Now it’s time to pull more weeds, mulch, and continuously pray for gentle, abundant rain.

 

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Sweat Equity in the Vegetable Garden

Rainbow Chard lives up to its name

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:

They taste even better than they look.

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:

Red Cross lettuce -- a salad star is born!

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.

Red Ace beets in foreground; mesclun mix in back

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.

Lots of flowers on my row of Sugar Sprint Snap Peas

Will the pods reach harvestable size before the heat destroys them?

And here’s a view of the quarter of my vegetable area dedicated (mostly) to spring veggies this year:

Peas in the foreground; greens behind

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:

The beginning of a green bean avalanche.

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:

The garden cloth produces more vigorous plants better able to withstand insect assaults.

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.

Three Super Marzano tomatoes promise almost frightening productivity.

I only planted two Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes. I remember their productivity from last season.

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.

Peppers and squashes

More peppers at the end of the chive bed

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.

Bronze Fennel and friends

Here’s hoping we all enjoy a productive — and tasty — summer gardening season.

 

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Dream Time

Decisions, decisions …

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…

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