Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday, July 24

I was hoping to post midweek, but my 10 yr old Canon point and shoot camera finally gave up the ghost.  The new camera is the lowest price Kodak that Walmart had, but it does everything I need, actually better than the old camera.   It took a few days to get used to it.  There are a whole lot of features that I will never use (it's a point and shoot camera after all) but I've finally learned how to set it up for basic picture taking without the distracting bells and whistles.

It was a really good harvest this week, as one would expect for late July, but most of it was not captured.  The burlap bag of Yukon Gold potatoes was emptied.  Only 2 1/2 pounds, but the quality was good.  There were pole beans, of course, although they seem to be taking a breather - a little under 3 pounds.  Sweet corn began coming in last week, and I've been picking an ear or two every day.  Okra continues producing at a trickle, one or two pods a day.  The Mountain Magic tomatoes began ripening, and I've been getting a few every day to have with dinner. 

Last week I pulled up the yellow onions and put them on the screen to dry.   A number of them were lost during transplanting.  There won't be the 25 pound harvests of years past, but there's still some nice globes in there.  Next year I will definitely plant the Red Tropea onions again, they are really good for summer use while the storage onions dry.

On Friday I picked two fine eggplants, a Lavendar Touch and a thin Bride, as well as a Jimmy Nardello pepper, a Magyar paprika, a Millionaire okra, Mountain Magic tomatoes.  and some corn (not shown).  The corn was shucked halfway, leaving the inner leaves, and put in the center of the charcoal grill and turned for a few minutes until slightly charred, then moved out to the edges.  I put pork chops in the center of the grill and sliced eggplant marinated in a vinagrette, as well as the sweet peppers, on the edges along with the corn.   Everything finished at the same time, and it was delish.

Sunday I picked a dozen ears of sweet corn and froze it.  This is Bodacious, an early sugar enhanced corn.  The ears are a bit small, but it has deep full kernels and it's very tasty.

And Sunday night I picked the first Black Plum tomatoes, along with more Mountain Magic.

It was time to do a taste comparison.  The Mountain Magic is reputed to have excellent flavor, although I don't find it any better than many of the popular hybrids.   Still, it's not mediocre, like some of the newer varieties I've tried like Grandma's Pick.  It's good but not great.  The Black Plum is a Russian tomato, with a flavor like Black Krim.  The flavor is hard to describe.  It's a mellow, low-acid taste that I like very much.  It's not bright or fruity.  When I'm inundated with them, it should be good for making salsa.

The Fish pepper has gotten so large that I broke off a branch walking down the paths.  I don't know if these peppers are fully ripe.  They are supposed to be about 5 times hotter than Jalapenos, but I tried one this morning and don't think it's any hotter than the Jalapenos that I'm growing this year, which are hotter than average Jalapenos.  I think it will find some use in making salsa.  It's a striking plant with the white stripes on the leaves and pods.

Here's a summary of the week's harvest:
  • Snap beans  1.6 pounds
  • Carrot  0.5 pounds
  • Sweet corn  6.6 pounds
  • Pickling cucumber 1.9 pounds
  • Eggplant 1.6 pounds
  • Okra  0.5 pounds
  • Peppers  0.6 pounds
  • Potatoes  2.8 pounds
  • Tomatoes 1.5 pounds
  • 17.5 pounds total
All in all, a little bit of everything.   I'm already making plans to handle the glut of tomatoes that will soon arrive.   To see what other gardeners are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monday July 17

Welcome to Harvest Monday.  Here in SW Indiana the garden production is ramping up.  Tomatoes and sweet corn are just a few days away, but in the meantime I'm getting lots of other goodies, mostly beans and cucumbers.  Early last week, a picking of beans, mostly Musica.

The rains arrived midweek and there were no pickings for a several days.  After a day of sunshine on Friday there was a lot to harvest.   A nice batch of beans - from the left, Provider, Fortex, and Musica.  I'm really liking the Musica beans.  Finally, a pole bean worthy of growing alongside Fortex.

Although the cucumber plants look like they are on their last legs, I got a good picking of cukes the same day, almost 4 pounds.  There's also a Bride eggplant and some Millionaire okra.  The Bride eggplant looks to have Asian heritage, and is quite good.

A few more Jalapenos.

I noticed that there was still a cabbage remaining in what was the brassica bed.  Nearly forgot about this one.

Last night, 2 more cucumbers.  Combined with the picking on Friday, there's enough to can a batch of pickles today.  Also a Lavedar Touch eggplant and Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper.

There was also another picking of beans, not shown because the camera decided to stop working at that moment. The summer squash plant was sickly and was pulled up.  I don't miss it though, not that big a fan of summer squash although it's good once in a while.  Anyway, there's a replacement which should start producing in a few weeks.  For the week, nearly 5 pounds of pickling cucumber, and nearly 7 pounds of beans, as well as other good stuff.  I froze most of the beans.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Summer maintenance and pest management

The last round of rains that went through southwest Indiana was too much of a good thing - 2 inches a week ago Friday with hail and winds, then another two inches early last week, it finally turned sunny yesterday and today.   The long bouts of overcast weather are rough on the vegetable plants.   Fungal diseases take hold in the damp and the plants don't get the sun they need to stay vigorous and fight off the pathogens.  I have been waiting for the rains to stop before spraying the plants.

All in all this is not a bad year for pest problems, and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant (Solanacae) are doing the best I've ever seen.   When the eggplant seedlings were first set out, they were set on with flea beetles the next day.  I sprayed them twice with pyrethrins, and since then the beetles have not been a problem.  Very strange.  Are the plants so healthy that they are able to manufacture the necessary chemicals to fight off the beetles?  Usually it's an ongoing battle to keep the flea beetles from destroying eggplant.

The cucumber plants are already going downhill, with yellow dying leaves.  Yesterday I sprayed them with a solution of potassium bicarbonate, which I purchased at a winemaking shop.  Bicarb is supposed to be most effective against powdery mildew, but I thought I might as well give it a go on this unknown pest.  I don't know if it has had any effect.  The sunshine probably helps more. 

Another new thing for me is the use of insecticidal soap, the potassium salts of fatty acids.   Household soap is mostly the sodium salt of fatty acids, so this is not much different, except the potassium ions can actually be used as a nutrient by the plants.  I mixed the insecticidal soap with Neem oil to make a spray for the apple trees.  The soap can also be mixed with horticultural oil. 

Both chemicals are nontoxic.  The soap works by mechanical action, while the Neem works at a biochemical level and by mechanical action.   A nice thing about this mixture is that the insecticidal soap helps the oil disperse better in the water.

The apple trees have been beset by what looks like a scale insect on the underside of the leaves.   After spraying yesterday, today I saw no evidence of any scale on the leaves.  It looks like it worked really well.  The cedar apple rust is another matter.  It has hit the Golden Delicious tree very hard.  In the spring I did 2 preventative sprayings of Mancozeb but that was not enough to stop it this year.  At least the tree has one less pathogen to deal with.

Japanese beetles like pole beans.  They collect at the top of the vines where they shred the leaves.  There's not much I can do about these beetles.  Pyrethrins are the only organic chemical that will kill them, and I don't want to spray them with that since I pick them every other day, also they are constantly flowering and bees are pollinating them.  I've thought about setting out the traps but that may just bring in more beetles.  So I'm resigned to the beetles getting their cut.

This bed was this year's brassica bed.  The brassicas are all gone now and the bed was sown with a cover crop of inoculated cow peas.  There's a replacment summer squash growing in the foreground, which will be needed since the first squash plant is dying.  At the other end of the bed are 2 rows of bush beans.  The pole beans usually have a slowdown for a few weeks in August, so I'm planting these bush beans as insurance. 

I've mentioned earlier that tomatoes are doing much better than they have in years, and they are still looking good.  These are the determinate paste tomatoes.  I put them in the old 2 foot diameter cages with 2 per cage.  This was the first time growing determinate tomatoes and I had no idea how bushy they can be.  Next year I'll plant just 1 per cage.   I've been trying to remove excess foliage and suckers so the light can reach the tomatoes, but it's still a jungle in there.

After last weeks hail storm, some of the winter squash are still on life support, but this butternut squash has recovered and is growing rapidly.  Maybe I'll get some squash after all.

*For those of you interested in mixing your own sprays:  For the insecticidal soap/Neem spray I used 1 oz of Neem and 2.5 oz of insectical soap in a gallon of water.  For the potassium bicarbonate spray I used 1 TB of bicarb in a gallon of water.  Many articles recommend mixing the bicarb with an equal amount of insecticidal soap as a 'sticker/spreader.'

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday July 10

Greetings everyone and welcome to Harvest Monday, a day when home growers tally up their harvests of the previous week and post it to their blogs.  Head on over to Our Happy Acres to check it out. 

Last Wednesday I had cataract surgery on my left eye and now see better than I have in years, like when I was ten years old.  The next day the sight in my left eye was crystal clear and I could read the bottom line on the eye chart without glasses.  Amazing!  And I'd like to give a shout out to the staff at the Southern Indiana Eye Center in Bloomington, a completely professional operation at every level. 

Friday afternoon a violent thunderstorm moved through this area.   In a short time, it dumped 2 inches of rain with strong gusts and hail.  The hail pummeled the winter squash, breaking stems and tearing up the leaves.  So far the winter squash have had real problems, with a number of them rotting at the base of the stem.  Last week the largest butternut wilted and died.  Friday's storm took out the largest remaining squash and killed another one. with the rest of them on life support.  This is the largest squash that was not killed, and it looks worse for the wear 2 days after the storm.

It a little late in the season, but I went ahead and seeded some replacements for the squash that were killed.  There's still over 3 months before the first frost is remotely possible, and that's enough time to make something. 

The tomatoes and peppers sustained some damage, with broken stems, but the cages held up to the winds.  Some of the onions were already laying over, and the storm finished the job.   I don't think they are ready to harvest just yet. 

The sweet corn, which had recently tasseled out and was forming ears, was mostly leveled.  I spent the evening after the storm staking them up as best I could.  I'm not about to lose that corn! 

Yes there were some harvests.   Early last week a batch of Provider beans and the last broccoli head.  Sorry about the focus, I need a new camera.

Sunday night, more Provider bush beans and the first Musica pole beans.  The Fortex beans are not quite ready yet.  The Musica beans make the bush beans look kind of wimpy by comparison.  Since this is the first year I've grown Musica, I don't have a good sense of when to pick them.  I like snap beans with seeds that are plumped out a little bit.  That's when they are best in bean stews, which is how I like to make beans.

Not shown are 3 pounds of Vertina pickling cucumbers, some Jalapeno peppers and okra.  Okra is still coming in at a trickle.  The summer squash are having a problem with ripening at the blossom end, so nothing there. 

And no tomatoes yet, but the plants still look fantastic.  The Black Plum is now close to 8 feet in height, above the top of the cage with nowhere to go. I'm amazed at the vigor of this variety, and can't wait to try a ripe tomato from this plant.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Monday July 3

Now this looks like summer.   There's a number of firsts this week - first okra, first eggplant, first peppers, and first beans.  That's definitely summer fare.  Earlier in the week I harvested another Golden Acre cabbage, weighing 2 pounds (not shown).  There's actually one more cabbage and one more broccoli still growing, but both of them are diminutive.

Saturday I picked a large, actually oversize at 1 1/2 pounds, zucchini, and the first pepper, a Jimmy Nardello.  The first sweet peppers are usually not all that flavorful, but this one was fantastic, sweet and tangy.  I had to force myself to stop eating it while I cut it up for frying with some of the zucchini. 

Yesterday:  A Lavendar Touch eggplant, Provider snap beans, another Jimmy Nardello, 2 Jalapenos, and Millionaire okra.

Also, 4 pounds of Vertina pickling cucumbers.

There's several more on the vine that should size up by the end of the day, and give me at least 5 pounds total.  That will be enough to can a batch of 7 pints.  Once a few batches are canned I'll turn to fermenting.

To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cautiously optimistic

That's my state of mind regarding tomatoes.  I say that because for years, tomatoes have been a bust.  It was shocking to look back at previous year's harvest totals.  I haven't harvested more than 40 pounds of tomatoes since 2011!  I remember that year - I grew exactly 2 tomato plants in 2 cages, a Brandywine and some sort of striped tomato.  Those were heirlooms and they still gave me decent yields.  Since that year I have grown more tomatoes, in more cages, and gotten less.  Every year the plants were overtaken by disease, and eventually the entire plant died.  Last year I harvested 12 pounds of tomatoes from 8 plants in 4 cages.

I did not keep records in 2010 and 2009, but remember a bountiful tomato harvest of Supersonic tomatoes.  Back when I lived in a small house in Indianapolis, I grew a few tomato plants and nothing else.  I rarely used pesticide, never any fungicide, and still got so many tomatoes I had to give them away.  What went wrong the past few years?  I've grown the tomatoes in different beds every year, removed excess foliage, grown them in cages, and still they have succumbed to diseases - blight, septoria leaf spot, bacterial wilt - not really sure the culprit except the plants die and don't produce much.

This year I made some changes to the methods, and I'm growing some blight-resistant varieties.  Unlike past years, there is no sign of any disease problems at this point.  The tomatoes (and peppers) are looking fantastic.  Even if they start showing signs of disease now, I think they would still produce a decent amount of tomatoes.   Some of the indeterminate tomatoes are nearing the tops of the cages, nearly 6 feet high.

This picture shows the 5 cages of indeterminate tomatoes. There are 2 cages of Mountain Magic on the left, a blight resistant variety.  The center plant, which is nearly to the top of the cage, is Black Plum, a Russian heirloom.  To its right is Better Boy, and on its right is Pink Lady, both modern F1 hybrids.  The cages are made from 5 foot remesh,  suspended on posts to give the plants almost 6 feet of support.  They are 19 inches in diameter, with one plant per cage.

I think the taller narrower cages are an improvement, but can that account for the overall health and vigor of the plants?  Probably not.  Some of the plants are blight resistant, but some are not.  Before planting the tomatoes I amended the soil with compost made partly with rabbit poop.  It sure looks like they are getting a good diet of the necessary nutrients, and a healthy plant is better able to fend off disease.  All of these factors may help, but I think it's mainly something else.

Here's a picture from the other side of the bed.  The peppers are doing fantastic also.  In fact, I've never seen them look this good.  It's a good thing the tomatoes are getting tall, because the peppers are blacking sunlight to the lower parts of the tomatoes (the peppers are on the south side of the bed).

This is a Fish pepper, just a mass of foliage.

And a Jimmy Nardello, thick with peppers.

So why, at this point, are the tomatoes free from disease?  I think it's a combination of things.  Better cultural methods, and ample nutrients are part of it, but mostly I think it's the weather.  Since the extended rains in late May, the weather has been fantastic for people and plants.  There have been timely rains, to be sure, but when the rains are done the days are sunny, nearly cloudless, and not excessively hot.  Day upon day of sunny, moderate weather and fresh breezes, is a recipe for good growth and few disease problems. 

I'm hoping that this year, finally, I get enough tomatoes to can a good bit of salsa and marinara.  Lord knows I'm due a decent harvest.  Then the question becomes:  how do I make sure of a decent harvest every year, even rainy, wet ones?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday, June 26

As the cole crops finish up, the summer crops are just starting to produce.  So far the weather has been splendid for growing vegetables - timely rains followed by sunny days. 

I harvested 2 heads of cabbage, a Golden Acre weighing 1 1/2 pounds, which went into a slaw, and a nice head of Point One cabbage weighing 2 pounds, which I haven't used yet. 

Last week I picked the first batch of Vertina pickling cucumbers, 3 3/4 pounds of them. 

The same day they were turned into refrigerator pickles.  At this point, half of a quart jar is gone.  I had forgotten just how fresh and crispy these pickles are.

The Vertina cucumbers are smaller than the Calypso that I grew in past years.  The larger ones fit nicely into a wide-mouth quart jar, which are a bit shorter than the normal quart jar from Ball.  The smaller cucumbers will fit into a pint jar, which will be useful for canning.

Yesterday I picked a few more cucumbers, which were again pickled.  The bottle of Leinenkugel Summer Shandy is there to help the reader gauge the size of the cucumbers. 

This is the first zucchini of the season.  It's a mystery zucchini, as the packet from Burpee's says it is an Italian heirloom with a picture that looks like Cocozelle squash.  It's obviously not that, but a modern F1 hybrid.  Anyway it's a pretty good squash so I grow it. This one did not develop at the flower end, poor pollination perhaps. 

It was time for the garlic to come out.   The aforementioned squash plant was covering most of it. 

There were 4 kinds of garlic in 4 rows.  I bought the buds last fall at the Garlic Fest in Bloomington, which is basically an excuse to have music, food and beer at a park.  But there actually is a local grower who sells garlic there.  There's Lorz Italian and Red Toch.  Another kind I wrote down as 'La Hontian' when I bought it, from what I could make of my handwriting, but can't find it anywhere on Google.  The fourth garlic is a mystery garlic since the name tag is missing at the end of the row.  The 'La Hontian' appears to have done the best, followed by the mystery garlic. 

To see what other gardeners are harvesting this week, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday, June 19

More cole crops this week, and some hot weather crops are almost ready.   I picked 3 heads of broccoli that added up to 2 pounds.  The smallest head is Green Magic broccoli, a very early variety. 

The Green Magic heads are smaller than in years past.  It's been a very good early variety and I'll continue to grow it.  The other 2 heads are from a new variety for me, Imperial.  It's about 10 days later than Green Magic.

Nice, well-formed heads.  I think I'll grow it again.

This is Minuteman cauliflower, another first.  The survival rate of these plants was not very good.  I set out a Minuteman and a Snow Crown in each set of cole crops, hoping to make a side by side comparison,  but this is the first Minuteman to make it.  It's a little later than Snow Crown, and makes a nice head, at almost a pound.

I also picked a 19 oz kohlrabi, not shown. 

Some Vertina pickling cucumbers are almost ready to pick.  The first ones will be turned into refrigerator pickles, as I want pickles ASAP.  Later I'll try fermenting some.  They are smaller than Calypso and should fit nicely into pint canning jars.

And the summer squash will begin producing very soon. The first ones will probably not mature since there were no male flowers on the plant when they were set.  For weeks this plant was very small, looking like it wouldn't amount to anything.  Then in what seemed the space of a week, it's growth exploded.  Suddenly it's covering over half of a 4 x 8 foot bed.   Good thing the garlic is coming out soon.

The winter squash have been problematic this year.  This is the second buttercup squash to rot at the base of the stem.

For the most part the garden is doing great so far this year, especially tomatoes and peppers.  To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Early summer successes, setbacks and failures

This is a critical time of the year in the garden.  Summer crops are growing fast, developing the root systems, vascular structure and foliage that enables them to capture sunlight and turn that energy into things that we can eat.   It's inevitable that microbes and insects will attack the plants, although that isn't much of a problem yet.  Plants that have established themselves well, and are healthy, are better able to fend off disease pressure with their own chemical response, or by simply outgrowing the damage caused by the pathogen. 

Getting the plants off to a good start this year means regular watering.  After the sustained rains of late May, this area has gone through nearly two weeks of dry, nearly cloudless weather, and the last few days have been hot, drying the soil even more.  Last week I began watering every second morning, using an electric pump to pull water from the pond.   Everything, including the flower beds and dry areas of the lawn, gets a soaking.  Some plants are looking great and others, not so great, but I'm hoping that by the end of the month that most everything will be growing well.  There will always be some failures, that's a given, but I'll make my best effort to give the plants a chance at success.  So here's the early summer tour:

The brassica bed is nearly finished.  There's some cabbages and broccoli yet to be picked.  This bed got 3 successive sets of seedlings, spaced 2 weeks apart.  It's funny how they all end up maturing in the space of a few weeks.  In a few days I'll plant another summer squash at one end of the bed, as a backup to the first plant, just in case it is felled by the borer.  I may plant a few rows of bush beans, too, since the pole beans always seem to have a production lag in late summer.

Speaking of summer squash, this one, the only squash in the garden, finally started to grow, and by that I mean squash growth, doubling in size every few days.  The Millionaire okra plants in the foreground are showing some growth now but are still behind the pace.  As seedlings the leaves were yellow, which may be the cursed potting mix again.  Okra has always grown like a weed in these beds, but these okra just seemed to sit there.  It got to the point where I planted okra seeds between each plant, just in case these would not grow.  Some plants will never do well if they do not get a good start.

Then there's cucumbers, in this case Vertina pickling cucumbers, a new one for me.  The 4 plants look very vigourous, but I don't know if they can support as many cukes as their flowers will make.  Until a week ago I was picking off all the flowers to get the plants established.   Now they are covered in flowers and small cukes.  I expect the first picklers in a little over a week. 

While the pickllng cucumbers are doing great, the lone Diva slicer hasn't fared as well.  None of the seeds planted indoors germinated.  Then I direct seeded a plant outdoors.  It was doing well, although behind it's Vertina neighbors, until a windy day last week broke it's stem.  I seeded more in it's place but so far nothing.  I only need one plant for slicing but less than one is unacceptable.

The Pontiac onions in the same bed got off to a rocky start after transplanting but have hit their stride.  They look like they will size up nicely.  I let dill grow in the spaces where the seedlings did not survive.  I always worry about not having enough dill to make pickles.

This bed got a hodgepodge of plants.  It got the last set of cole crops.  For some reason they are doing better in this bed than in the main brassica bed.  The broccoli and cauliflower are ready to harvest.   At the other end are 2 rows of Provider bush beans, to give me beans until the pole beans produce, and in the center some Javelin parsnips.

Then there's the main course, the top of the billing so to speak.  I'm speaking about tomatoes and peppers of course.  The last 2 years the tomatoes have been decimated by early blight, septoria leaf spot, or something else.  It always started at the bottom and worked its way to the top of the plant.

So far the tomato plants are looking fantastic, growing fast with no sign of any disease.  I've sprayed them twice with Mancozeb fungicide, and I'm growing them differently this year, using 5 foot tall cages made from remesh.  The cages are a smaller diameter, only 19 inches, than the old 2 foot diameter cages, and get one plant per cage.  With taller thinner cages the plants should get more airflow around the foliage.   The hot dry weather may be a benefit for the tomatoes.  When I water them I try to avoid wetting the foliage.

From left to right are 2 Mountain Magic plants, supposed to be blight resistant.  In the center, and the tallest plant for now, a Black Plum, then a Better Boy, and a Pink Girl.  I've already suckered them several times.  I want plenty of air space around the lower part of the plant.  I expect they will be to the top of their cages in July. 

The other (north) side of the bed has peppers, and they are also doing fantastic (knock on wood).  There is an eggplant at each end.  I planted the peppers much closer this year.  Remarkably, the eggplants were initially hit by flea beetles but they seem to have gone away.

This is a shot of the big bed.  In the foreground are 3 cages of determinate sauce tomatoes (the old, 2 foot cages).  On the trellis, the Musica beans are way ahead of the Fortex beans, and are already to the top of the trellis.  In the center of the bed is a patch of sweet corn, with winter squash growing at various points around the bed.

This is my first time growing determinate tomatoes.   I've read that you don't need to sucker them, but I've found it necessary to do some careful removal of suckers.  The plants just get too full at the base otherwise.  There are 2 plants in each cage, 2 cages of Plum Regal, a blight resistant hybrid, and a cage of Roma VF.   Determinate tomatoes are supposed to produce most of their crop over a period of a few weeks, which is great for canning.  I'm hoping for lots and lots of paste tomatoes this year.

I planted an eggplant between 2 of the cages.  Seeing how vigorous the plants are now, I'm not sure that was such a good idea, but there's no way I'm taking it out now. 

Happy gardening, all!