Abundant Bounty

3 07 2009

Lots of goodies coming from the garden and the Universe over the past couple of weeks.

The tomatoes are still on full bore. I’ve been picking an average of ten to fifteen per day.

Cherry-Tomatoes

Here are a couple of harvests. This is not nearly everything I gathered over the past two weeks, just two of the bigger days. I collected the muskmelons because the vine was mostly dead. They could have ripened a few more days, but they were OK. The middle melon is the one I did not protect with the pantyhose. In retrospect I don’t see the value of doing this. The skin was thin and split on the protected melons, and the netting did not develop normally.

Sunday's-Harvest

Friday's-Harvest

I made salsa for the first time. I didn’t realize how large the green onions were getting until I cut this one! These were store onions that I just stuck in the ground. They grow back each time I cut them. I also picked a puny red pepper and a smallish Poblano. The salsa is still a work in progress.

Onion Peppers

The past week has been very active for the eggplant. It grew…

Eggplant

and grew…

Eggplant2

and grew! Since I’m not familiar with what these are supposed to look like, I am not sure when to pick it. I’m thinking I’ll pick it this weekend, since the consequences of waiting too long seem to outweigh the risk of picking too soon.

Eggplant-big

Here is Super Eggplant’s sidekick. I don’t know why it looks so different, but I think a bug got ahold of it.

Eggplantnew

The second batch of bananas is looking good. First batch is also coming along nicely, too. They sure are taking a long time, though.

Bananas2

This is the string lily AJ brought back from the river. We keep it in a container under the AC condensation drip. It is going great, and bloomed this week.

String-Lily

The blooms were short-lived, but very delicate and pretty. I can’t say my husband doesn’t bring me flowers! The kind he brings are much more interesting and thoughtful than those bought in a store.

String-Lily-Bloomed

Not only that, but he can smoke a mean pork tenderloin! Yum!

AJ-Cuts-Pork-Tenderloin

Yesterday was a special treat. We stopped in at John Roger’s to pick up some bamboo. John is a local horticultural guru and, as I’ve said before, one of the most knowledgeable and unassuming guys you could ever hope to meet.

Bamboo-John

Even though he was on his way to run errands he took the time to give us another tour of his property to show us some of the things he has growing, as well as some nice mounds of mulch and compost. Had you told me, a year ago, that I’d get a thrill from compost I would have looked at you askance!

Nor did I even know of heirloom and heritage varieties, about which I am now quite excited. John Rogers is a true steward of the land and cultivator of native and unique plant varieties.

As we headed to the compost heap we stopped to admire his massive watermelon and squash vines. He promptly plucked this little jewel and bequeathed it upon me. What’s the big deal? This is a renowned, historic gem of the squash persuasion: A Seminole Pumpkin Squash (Cucurbita moschata), to be exact.

At the recent Funky Chicken Farm seed swap, John Rogers encouraged me to get some Seminole Pumpkin Squash seeds. I had never heard of this variety, but have since learned that it is a true heirloom, indeed developed by the Seminole Indians. They planted these hardy, natives at the base of palm trees, and allowed the vines to grow up the trunk and fronds. Considering how robust the plants seem to be, I imagine that this was quite a sight! Wish I had brought my camera to John’s place!

Seminole-Pumpkin-Squash

I cooked the squash in the smoker, using my father’s recipe for acorn squash: A chunk of butter, a sprinkling of brown (raw) sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. It looked beautiful, and tasted much like sweet potatoes. AJ, didn’t take to it, since he is not much for sweet food. Strange for the guy who can devour ice cream and candy bars like they are going out of style, and who is currently drinking a Pina Colada! Oh well.

I’ve got some seeds and will be planting Seminole Pumpkin Squash this weekend.

Here they are in the smoker, which was still hot from the pork tenderloin.

Pump-Squash-Smoked

The original reason for going to John Roger’s (AKA Bamboo John) was to pick up a cutting of the lovely striped bamboo (Bambusa Vulgaris), which I managed to kill last time. I think we will get it right this go round , and hope to have a stand going soon. Thanks again, John!

Bambusa-Vulgaris

So far, a good two weeks. I will try to get the wrap-up posted on Sunday evening.

Have a Happy 4th of July!

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Week in Review – Ready, Set, Grow!

22 06 2009

I’ll warn you in advance, this post is long. But if you hang in there you will find a veggie creature that gave me a chuckle. I think it’s worth the read.

I don’t know how I’d ever keep up with this if anything really happened. Every time I step outside I want to take more pictures, then I have another post on my hands. Now that I have some readers (thanks to all of you), I feel the push to keep it going. Special thanks this week goes to my dear old friend, Dori. Your comments tell me that you are just the same thoughtful, encouraging, beautiful person who took me under her wing that first day of school in a new and frightening place. Thanks for still being there!

I’m ready for a change from the garden doom and gloom and happy to say that I have some verdant hope to offer. Most of the past two weeks has been spent problem solving. AJ is working like a full-time mechanic to keep us on the road with our “pre-owned” vehicles. Personally, we prefer to think of them as “future classics”. We like the older cars because…no car payment; also because they are more durable and easier for him to work on. When he takes a break from fixing and maintaining, he isn’t happy unless they are also clean. I know it sounds obsessive, but it’s essential to keep us rolling.

Yesterday, as I did more garden triage, he washed the car. Lookin’ good! (and the car ain’t half bad, either)

Car-Wash

Yesterday was Atomic Grow™ Sunday”. This is the first season that I’ve had a substantial garden. I could have taken a class or read some books and done it right from the start; but that is too easy and I would certainly have lost interest. I’m more of the “test the water by jumping in” type person, so I just planted anything and everything I could squeeze into the small space, with little regard to planting or growing season guidelines. As I am learning, summer in Central Florida is a challenging time for gardeners. Most of what I am trying to grow is supposed to be done or winding down. Heat, and insects become overwhelming for most gardeners this time of year.

Well, as long as a green leaf survives, I’m not giving up on these plants. It sounds kind of crazy to say it, but I feel as though I know them personally. Yes, I even talk to them! I know the feel and texture of each plant. I think that if you blindfolded me and handed me a cutting, I could identify most of them by touch. I know where to look for the most troublesome pests, and spend a good deal of time exposing and eradicating them. I imagine that I can hear a soft whisper of “Thank you” from my green friends.

The pickleworms, cabbage loopers, squash bugs and aphids are causing me the most grief. Atomic Grow™ is not a pesticide. Although it is said that insects can’t handle the sugars created by the plants, the aforementioned critters seem to have no problem munching on mine. I have resigned myself to my twice daily “critter patrol”, but the aphids are the most troublesome. Fortunately, Atomic Grow™ works wonders when directly applied to aphids.

You’ve got to respect ants. They are brilliantly designed and organized. I’m in awe of the “Rancher Ants” in my garden. I don’t know what kind they are, really; but they are bonafide ranchers; and they are raising herds of sweet, juicy aphids on my vegetable plants! The ants drink the aphid excretions or “honeydew”, sometimes actually milking them. They carry their livestock from plant to plant and protect them from predators; even going so far as to destroy ladybird eggs. In the winter, the ants carry aphid eggs into their nests where they are nurtured in optimal temperatures.

These ranchers have been doing a fine job on my cucumber plant. I know that when a plant is swarming with ants there will be plenty of aphids sucking the life out of it. Yesterday I shut down the Cucumber Ranch.

Here is a shot of the underside of a typical cucumber leaf, yesterday (minus the ants, which scurried away):

Aphids

Here is a closeup, showing the adults and babies. They look so cute and fresh. I almost wish I were an ant so I could enjoy some aphid honeydew; but since I’m not, they must die.

Aphids-Closeup

I mixed up a batch of Atomic Grow™ and went to work. Atomic Grow™ affects their chitin layer (skin), and causes them to dry up. In order for it to work, you must apply it to all areas of the plant; with special attention to the leaf bottoms and new tips, where aphids congregate. The ants went crazy and took off. The spray has an effect on ants, too; but there are so many that it doesn’t take long for them to return. Jim Shellenback from Atomic Grow™ recommends spraying every five days when pests are so active. I can see why, because it is a constant battle.

The good news is that it works! Here are some shots of the same plant this morning:

Aphids After AG2

Aphids-after-AG

Most of the aphids are gone. Of the ones remaining, most are dead and drop off with the brush of a finger. I did find a couple still alive, and I suspect that the ants have begun bringing them back. Still, a huge difference! I think that a couple of applications is all it will take to deplete the ants’ backup stock. I have used Atomic Grow™ to eliminate aphids on my peas and beans with great success.

In addition to aphid control on the cucumbers, I applied Atomic Grow™ to the entire garden. I also watered everything with a vinegar solution to work towards balancing the soil pH. Looking back at the abuse I have given this garden, I am more and more convinced that Atomic Grow™ is a main factor in keeping most of it alive. As always, I awoke to find things looking better after the spray. Take a look.

This celery was croaking two weeks ago. The pale leaves you see were much worse, and many were actually white from chlorosis. The foliar applications of Manganese Sulfate, Iron Sulfate and Atomic Grow™ have made a marked improvement. The color is starting to seep back into the leaves.

Celery2

Here is a closeup of a celery plant. The mottled leaves were white before the treatments.

Celery

Ditto for this red pepper plant. Still showing chlorosis, but many times better than before.

Red-Pepper-New-Growth

The Italian parsley never got very pale, but it has sent out a swath of new growth this week.

Attention: Veggie Creature coming up!

Italian-Parsley

The Poblano plants are responding especially well. See that dark green? That’s all new.

Poblano-New-Growth

Boo!

Scream-Pepper

Does it remind you of this?

The_Scream or this?  Scary Movie

OK, enough of that silliness. Check out the watermelon vine!

Watermelon-New

Two weeks ago this thing was completely yellow and brittle without a hint of a surviving female flower, let alone a fruit. I was seriously planning to scrap this plant and wait for next season. If you recall, it was the watermelon symptoms which ultimately led me to the Manganese deficiency diagnosis; and it is the same vine that is now responding the best of all. The new growth is lush and green, and even the old (once hopeless) sections are showing improvement. What is pale green in the upper section of this image was once whitish yellow and so brittle as to crack in your hands. And the best part…

Watermelon

Baby watermelons! After the spray treatments, the watermelon sent out spurts of new growth, covered in male and female flowers. I have learned that it takes an average of eight visits by a bee to pollinate a female watermelon flower. Because they are nondescript and only open for a single day, the chances of pollination are very limited. I have recently begun experimenting with hand pollination by picking a male flower, removing the petals and rubbing the pollen onto the female flower. It really works. In addition to this little beauty, I have two more which I believe may come to fruition.

Baby-Watermelon

The carrots are much greener and putting out new growth.

Carrots

At the seed swap I heard it told that tomato season is coming to an end. Apparently it is too hot. Please don’t say this out loud in my garden. I just counted 55 tomatoes on these plants in The Oasis, and upwards of 100 cherry tomatoes on the plant in O2. Stepping outside to count them was like walking into a pizza oven, but I’m keeping them watered and crossing my fingers.

Oh, and by the way…the leaf spot fungus is all but gone; thanks to Atomic Grow™.

Tomatoes

Here is my latest project: “Tomato Alley”. Eight heirloom plants (two each of Cherokee Purple, Indian Stripe, Black Krim and Brandywine ) from seeds given to me by Suzanne Malone. The end bucket has two Okra seeds (again, fingers crossed). This is an experiment in growing delicate tomatoes under the worst of conditions. I have chosen the smallest of each type to treat with Atomic Grow™. It will be interesting to see the difference between the treated and control plants, and if any of them survive at all.

Smokey now accompanies me on my morning and afternoon rounds.

Tomato-Alley

Here is the papaya that Mike Whitlow gave us. It is also responding well to the treatments.

Papaya

I was happy to discover a new predator on the Cherry Tomato plant. I moved in for a closeup and didn’t see this Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans (Hentz) until I was very close. Trusting her camouflage, she didn’t budge, as I grabbed the camera for a couple quick shots. The wind was blowing, so I’ll have to find her on a calm day and get some better photos. These spiders are a mixed blessing, as they eat destructive moths and beneficial bees and wasps, alike.

Green-Spider

Here is how The Oasis looks today (overgrown and somewhat messy).

Oasis

And here is O2.

O2

The muskmelon vines are barely hanging on. It’s a race to ripeness for these three melons. And then I wonder if they will taste OK. Time will tell.

Muskmelon

Remember the baby bananas? They are slowly growing.

Old-Bananas

And here are their counterparts from the other stand. This flower is much larger, and appeared immediately after the spray treatments. This first hand has eight bananas and we hope there are more to come.

New-Bananas

Well, there it is! I’m finally caught up on my regular posts. The next thing you see from me will be all about Atomic Grow™ and how you can get some for your own garden, lawn or even house plants.

For now I leave you with Silly Cat:

Smokey-Sleeps

See ya’ very soon!





Topsoil and Wind

14 04 2009

Today was topsoil day. Wonderful guy that he is, AJ hopped into the truck and went to pick up the soil. I set about getting Oasis2 ready to fill. I’m not crazy about the name “Oasis2”. Once it gets some personality I will have to come up with a better title. For now I will shorten it to “O2”. Hey, I kind of like that…

Oasis2-Beginning

The soil has arrived. Hmm, that doesn’t look like very much. I hope it’s enough.

Truckload-Soil

With the truck backed up and ready to unload, AJ sprung a change on me. He offered up two tires we had sitting around. I guess these are $250.oo tires with a little life on them, but nothing we can use anymore. So, at the last minute I tried to incorporate them. Now that it’s finished I know how I wish I would have configured it; but you know what they say about wishing…

Ready-to-fill

We got the truck close enough that we were able to walk the soil over by the shovel-full.

Oasis2Filling

Within 45 minutes the bed was full of this gorgeous, rich soil. There was exactly enough and not a scoop more. Sorry compost heap, I’ll have to go with plan B on that.

Oasis2-Filled

The shoveling went so fast because we were racing this weather system approaching from the West.

Ominous-Weather

The first band chased us inside right after we filled the bed. We waited for the big gap in the middle and then went back to work.

Radar

From back to front, left to right: cucumbers, lima beans, pole beans. watermelon,

broccoli, super giant productive cherry tomato plant, musk melons,

lettuce, carrots and more eggplant. Actually, I thinned out the lettuce from The Oasis and transplanted many of them throughout O2.

Oasis2-Planted

The weather co-operated and I was able to add the gravel mulch.

Finished-Oasis2

This super tomato is supposed to get up to 6′ tall and produce over 600 cherry tomatoes in its lifetime. It’s so small and cute now, but I know it will become a monster. I’m sure I’ll be sorry I planted it in the middle of the bed, but gardening is so much more exciting if you mix it up a bit!

I faced the dilemma of how to support the plant once it begins to take off. I looked around for something with which to fashion a tomato cage. I just hate those utilitarian metal ones. Bamboo…plenty of bamboo everywhere, but how to hold it together? Then I remembered something I learned from my best friend Kris’s mom, Karen. Karen owned a flower shop and was a talented florist and designer (still is, although she is now retired).

One day we were enlisted to collect grape vines. I had no idea why, but Kris and I had to cut and yank down a huge mass of the tangled tendrils from her grandmother’s fence. This was a grueling and painful task, and we were covered with cuts and scratches before it was done. Afterward, Karen showed us the fruits of our labor. She grabbed a handful of the feisty vines and skillfully wound them into a beautiful wreath. I was always impressed with the fact that both of Kris’s parents were entrepreneurs and so creative. The wreath idea popped into my head when I thought about the tomato cage, so I went out on the back lot and cut some grape vines.

Tomato-Cage

AJ helped me secure them. The whole thing looks a little crooked, and I will probably straighten a bit and eventually add another ring towards the top, once the plant grows up a bit. I really like it, though. It works perfectly.

Tomato-Cage-CU

I hope the big tomato plant in The Oasis inspires the cherry tomato. The big tomatoes are bulging out everywhere. If you look closely you will notice that one is starting to turn orange. I’m hoping that we will have vine ripe tomatoes within a week. I still feel guilty about dogging the flea market tomato plant when I first got it. I think these are “spite tomatoes”.

Big-Tomatoes

After we finished up the wind began to blow. It has been blowing steadily around 25mph all afternoon with gusts up to 45mph. The new plantings are really taking a hit. Now I wish I would have waited for this front to pass before subjecting these babies to the elements. Tomorrow I will survey the damage and see how everything fared.

Even as the wind howled, nature gave us a gift; the most brilliant, apocalyptic looking red sky in many moons.

Red-Sky

Glad that portion of the project is finished. There is still a lot to do. I must cut and install the bamboo fascia; and will likely run out before I’m done. But the plants are in, and if this wind ever lets up they should start growing fast.

Tomorrow is going to be an exciting day. I think I’ll make you wait to find out what is in the works, but I will give you a hint: There are chickens, worms, mushrooms, heirloom plants and tie-dyed shirts involved. Check back tomorrow evening for the lowdown.