Wednesday, August 29, 2007

tomayto tomahto

Went out to pick some tomatoes this morning for yet another batch of sauce. The plants still look great...I'm not sure if my lack of blight has anything to do with the fact that it's a brand new garden or the fact that I mulched heavily with a mix of compost (from AgRecycle) and leaf mold. Whatever the reason, they are looking great.

I picked four enormous 'Pineapple' tomatoes. They are a beautiful yellowish color with pink stripes radiating out from the bottom. They look a lot like 'Striped German' but the taste is much sweeter. I also have quite a few 'Caramello' that I got from Garden Dreams Urban Farm in Wilkinsburg along with 'Snow White' cherries (yes, they are a soft white-yellow color and sweet as all get out), 'Golden Jubilee' and 'Green Zebra'. Doug gave me 'Cosmonaut Volokov' (always a favorite), 'Cherry Tallon' and 'Jeff's Mystery' along with some others. I have been so pleased with the varieties I've grown this season. They have been productive and beautiful and fungus free (so far).

The cukes have pretty much shut down for the year, which is fine by me. Only so many bread and butter pickles a girl can make before her hands turn yellow from all the turmeric. I have a great recipe that came from my Nana and I've already made 20 quart jars this year - I guess I know what everyone is getting for Christmas. The hot peppers are beginning to roll in and the beets and carrots are fabulous. I'm growing 'Purple Dragon' carrot for the first time. They are lovely to see in a salad and the taste is much better than I expected. of course my old standby 'Scarlet Nantes' is performing up to her usual perfection. Other than the occasional carrot maggot they've been great.

Had to water all the pots still sitting on the driveway this morning. I need to find homes for them soon - which means I need to create the new bed behind our mini-waterfall to make room for them. The waterfall and pond were sort of plunked by the former owners in an odd spot. It looks very, very contrived as it is now, but I think if I can soften the edges with a new bed, some small trees and flowering shrubs it will help tremendously. Maybe that's a project for this weekend....

I may not get to post over the next few days. My cousin and her two boys are going to be staying with us for three days and I don't know what kind of time I'll have. I don't think I'll be working in the garden while they are here, but it will be back to business once they depart. I'm looking forward to this visit, we always seem to have so much fun together. It's nice to be related to your best friend!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Today's bugs

Found more bugs today for Doug to photograph. A big tomato hornworm - with no parasitic wasp eggs hanging off it's back, so I felt really, really good taking it off the plant and putting it in a plastic baggie for transport! I also found a lacebug on my neighbors Azalea (yes, I have resorted to visiting the homes of others in hopes of raiding their bug stash - funny, no one has refused...)and a grasshopper, a slug, a snail, and some terrific beneficial insects including a tachinid fly, a robber fly, and a big eyed bug. If you aren't familiar with these particular beneficial insects, Google their image and check them out. You have probably come across them in the garden, but just didn't know what they were. I also had a hover fly trapped (when I was a kid we used to call them sweat bees), but when I was trying to transfer it from trap to container, it flew away. It's the only one I've seen all season and I'm very bummed that I let it escape...at least it was a beneficial and not a bad guy! Now I just have to hope I find another in the next month or so...

On a side note, I made some broccoli from the garden with tonight's dinner. Not sure why, but it was a touch bitter...maybe the heat. Looking forward to roasting some 'Chioggia' beets as part of tomorrow night's dinner.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bugs in bags

My next book project with my radio partner Doug Oster is in the hands of the publisher at long last. A Gardener's Journal is set for national release by St. Lynn's Press (the same folks who published Grow Organic) in late autumn. I'm really looking forward to seeing it. Doug and I have been journaling about our gardens for years but neither one of us have ever found the perfect journal. They either don't have enough room to write, you have to use them in the year they are printed, or they offer you nothing in the way of new gardening information. So we created a journal that fills in all the gaps; one that you can use from year to year, you can write in it as much (or as little) as you like, and it offers new gardening tips and some interesting stories from our own gardening lives. We hope folks like it as much as they've liked Grow Organic!

So now (since I'm crazy) I've been busy collecting bugs in bags for yet another book project in the works. I need to gather live specimens of common garden pests as well as beneficial insects to be photographed (by Doug) for an organic pest guide that will hopefully come to fruition sometime in 2008. What this means is that I've actually been hoping to find pests in my garden (another clear indication of my craziness!); and, so far, it has not been a problem. Plenty of squash bugs, four lined plant bugs, Japanese beetles, slugs, aphids and the like have showed up and graciously allowed me to trap them and put them in sealed plastic baggies. Every week I show up to the radio studio with a shopping bag full of bugs to had off to Doug!

The good news: I somehow managed to capture a tiny little parasitic wasp yesterday morning hanging about on my aphid infested rose plant (probably an Aphidius wasp that lays it's eggs on aphids), and, even more exciting, is the fact that last night I was looking at all the bugs hanging out on the screen outside the kitchen window and there was a beautiful green lacewing! - one of the most voracious pest eaters out there. Of course I carefully captured it in a tupperware container and hauled it off to the studio this morning. Now I'd just like to find some of their eggs to photograph. They are usually laid along a blade of grass and they are tiny bitty things on the end of thin filaments - they look like little lollipops in a row.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hiding the shed

Today I constructed and planted the new bed that will disguise our ugly shed foundation. We've been meaning to do it for months now, but I never got to it this spring as I intended; so, although August isn't really a great time to plant new shrubs (ideally I should have waited another month or so), I knew it might be now or never. Make hay when the sun shines, right?

I made a trip to Trax Farms two weeks ago (what a great place!)to pick up some other plants and ended up buying some plain old yews to put in the shed bed. I've never been a fan of yews, especially when they are pruned into meatball shapes, but these were in their lovely natural habit....unpruned, with wispy evergreen, slightly arching branches. These two were balled and burlapped and about two and a half feet tall. I also got a few variegated ornamental grasses for the bed too. As far as the plants that came in last week's shipment, I chose a dark leaved Wiegelia and a mock orange to add to my Trax finds.

I started by 'grubbing' out the existing sod and weeds - and discovered lovely soil rich in earthworms and organic matter (phew!) - so I just planted the plants, watered them in then mulched with some shredded hardwood bark. It looks great and is already doing a fine job disguising the shed. Once the plants are a bit taller it will really do the trick quite nicely.

On another note, I made an official decision to rip out all the plants in the bed by my front walk (what AM I thinking?). The hostas were deer-eaten to the nub, the black-eyed-susan vine was taking over the world (and with only a few blooms, it was too reminiscent of field bindweed to me - though normally it's a plant I like a lot), and the German bearded iris were brown and floppy and in need of a good division. So I decided to dig out the whole lot of them and start over with plants that are a bit more deer resistant. So I gave most of the Hosta to my greatful neighbor and replanted a few of them in the back garden. Some of the iris also went to the neighbor, and the black-eyed-susan vine was sent to be reincarnated as compost. I haven't a clue what I'm going to plant there this fall, but I still have plenty of time. I'm sure it will include the painted ferns and coral bells that are sitting on my driveway in pots and I did leave a bit of pink lamium there too. For now, it's just a clean slate of dark earth - it looks quite pretty to me. I don't mind some emptiness in the garden now and then...it helps me envision all the potential in the dirt.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Not much today

I didn't get to spend any time in the garden today, which was good since I'm so darned sore from planting yesterday. I can hardly lift my left arm. I can't believe I used to do this for 10 hours a day, six days a week, from March through November. Of course, I was younger and in way better shape then...funny how that works!

I should tell you, though, that I did spend some time watching the hummingbirds this afternoon. We have three of them 'fighting' over our feeder everyday. They are such amazing little birds and one will guard the feeder by perching on a sunflower leaf. She'll dive bomb anyone who comes even close to the feeder. I watched her sitting there through the storm the other day - she didn't even flinch. I guess I make exceptional hummingbird food! I take 1/2 cup of organic, unrefined cane sugar and 2 cups water, bring it to a boil for 2 min. Then I let it cool and fill up the feeder. I change the food and wash the feeder every few days to be sure it doesn't ferment and make them sick. Seems to work way better than the dyed red stuff you buy at the store.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Plant Crazy

My nearly two year old son discovered earthworms today - actually I made the mistake of showing them to him as I was planting a bunch of new plants (more about those in a bit). He spent about a half hour digging through the piles of backfill and picking out all the worms. He'd then carry the squirming little critters over to the nearest plant and sprinkle them on it. I didn't have the heart to stop him because it was really cute, plus, he wasn't hurting the worms - just relocating them. I'm thrilled at how much he enjoys being outside with me and how much he likes 'helping' me in the garden by doing various things like pulling the petals off my zinnias, filling in recently dug planting holes, sprinkling mulch and playing with the hose and/or sprinkler. We were outside for about 4 hours today and he still cried when I made him come inside to get ready for dinner.

What, you may ask, were we doing outside for 4 hours? Planting about 35 new trial plants from Novalis. The 18 wheeler pulled up this morning and Doug and I unloaded the plants and set to work divvying them up. I wanted to get some of them planted before the weekend as we have visitors coming for a few days...so now my back is killing me and I'm pretty darned tired. I haven't worked that hard since spring (how sad is that?). I feel accomplished, though, so that's always a nice feeling.

The plants look great and I can't wait to report on their progress over the coming weeks. I was most excited to try a new Hydrangea called 'Lemon Daddy'. It's got chartreuse foliage and pink flowers. Another potential favorite is a really stunning cut leaf maple called 'Shirazz' - it's got pink and white leaf margins and supposedly has a really beautiful growth habit. I promise to be honest with everyone about what works in my garden and what doesn't - that goes for these new plants as well as any new technique or organic pest control I try. Let's hope all the results are positive!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Getting Started

I never thought I would ever spend as much time on my computer as I do in the garden...but, I guess it's now official. At least I'm getting paid for most of the time I spend with my laptop...with the exception of this new blog, of course. Many of the radio show's listeners have asked to know what's going on in my garden, so I just thought it best to periodically fill everyone in. Maybe I can offer some advice along the way and let you know my successes and failures in the garden. I'm hoping to post something new every day or two so be sure to check back often.

To catch you up:
Most of you may already know that my current garden is only a few months old. We just sold our organic farm :( and moved here a few months ago (maybe I'll get into the reasons why in a later post). It's been nice to scale down - we went from 25 acres to 2 acres - but at the same time, it's been difficult to pick and choose the plants that are special enough to keep growing - not to mention being much closer to all our neighbors. I moved about 150 potted perennials with me that I divided from the farm's garden. Unfortunately, I didn't afford the pots enough winter protection, so many of them bit the dust before spring even arrived. That left me with very little to start my new garden. However, the great thing about this profession is that companies often send you new plants to trial, so I've been getting some new varieties and, of course, I've spent plenty of bucks at several local nurseries too. Doug (my radio partner) has also been quite generous in sharing many of the plants from his garden.

When we put in the two huge gardens at the farm, we had some tilling help, but stripped most of the sod ourselves - what a terrible, back-breaking job! So since we had already suffered through that, we decided to hire a landscaper to strip the sod at the new house to create my veggie garden. It's way smaller than at the farm (after all, I'm only growing for 3 people instead of 100's of customers!) but I'm still managing to harvest plenty of veggies to eat fresh, freeze, process and pickle. It's really done well this year and I'm still looking forward to some autumn lettuce and turnips.

The perennial beds aren't much to look at quite yet. You know, the plants start out so small, but in a few short years they'll be ready to be divided. I was sure to plant many of my favorite annuals (from seed and transplant) to fill in the many holes between the perennials. I'm very fond of cosmos, snow on the mountain, zinnias, gomphrena, sunflowers, old-fashioned tall ageratum and a few others - I NEED to have them in the garden every year. They remind me of my Nana...and they juice up the garden for the entire summer and well into the fall.

The future:
Those empty perennial beds are going to get a big boost tomorrow afternoon. I'm expecting a shipment of trial plants from a company called Novalis, many of which are perennials. I'm looking forward to finding homes for each and every one of them over the coming weeks. I'll let you know which ones are really stellar so you can find 'em for yourselves next year!

Other plans include a new shrub bed to help hide the ugly shed, a clean-up/perk-up of the small shade garden, and planting some fruit trees and raspberry plants. Plenty of work remains to be done this season....as is always the case in the garden.