Dear Friend and Gardener: August 1, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

How on earth can it be August? The summer is flying by, and I must start thinking about my fall garden. Already I am somewhat behind (what else is new?).

This past week I planted baby bush lima beans and pulled out the ‘Contender’ bush beans. The flea beetles abused the ‘Contenders’ horribly; next year I’ll do a better job of protecting them at the outset. I have two small eggplant growing, but something’s making eyelet out of the leaves. I do hate to spray but it may be time to pull out the neem oil. Oh, how it smells!

flea beetle damage beans

Flea beetle damage on ‘Contender’ bush beans

The tomatoes, however, are performing well. We’ve had cooler weather lately, in the mid-80s, which means the plants have a better chance of setting fruit. While the fruits do taste better when they ripen hot, I have to wonder, how hot is hot? What’s the optimal temperature for good-tasting tomatoes? The other challenging factor is that we’ve had lots of rain. I have to really keep an eye out and harvest the ripened fruits before they split.

I got my first fig on Wednesday! It was, I tell you, the best fig I have ever eaten. Do you grow figs? I intend to plant another one this fall because I have heard that they set better when there is another fig close by. And I also have ambitions to grow some more blueberries. Well, I have lots of ambitions.

One of my lingonberries died during a heat wave but the other is chugging along nicely. I’m starting kale this weekend and some lettuce as well. I should make room for carrots, garlic, and shallots. I’m fortunate to be able to harvest food year-round here, if I get organized in late summer and through the fall. How long is your harvest season?

Hope the weather is treating you well and the late blight stays at bay.

Best,

Amy

 

Tutorial: Propagating chrysanthemums from cuttings

In late June, I cut back my chrysanthemums to make sure they’re compact and full of buds when flowering time comes in September and October. You can root the pieces you cut back from your own plants, and have dozens more plants the following year. It’s very easy to do.

Rooting cuttings of chrysanthemums:

1. Cut back the stems of your chrysanthemum plants by about half, cutting just above a leaf node (where the leaves join the stem).

2. Separate the stems. Cuttings should include between 3 and 6 leaf nodes. Remove the growing tips to force the plant’s energy into making a vigorous root ball. Then remove the leaves from the bottom half to 1/3 of the stem.

3. Pour a small amount of rooting hormone into a container. Don’t dip stems directly into the container, which could contaminate the entire jar. Thoroughly coat the cut end of the stems with hormone.

4. Use a chopstick, pencil, or other tool to make a hole for the cutting in a pan of sterile potting mix. Insert the cutting into the hole, and firm back around the cutting. Water the cuttings gently, using a rose attachment on a watering can, a light setting on a hose nozzle, or a fine mist from a sink sprayer.

5. I keep my cuttings outside, weather permitting (i.e., it’s not freezing). I put them in a shady spot, like a north-facing wall, where they can get rainfall but not direct sun. Keep the tray watered if the weather is dry; do not allow the mix to dry out entirely.

6. Your cuttings will be ready when a gentle tug on the leaves gives resistance. If the cutting doesn’t come out easily, it has formed a good root mass. In early summer, the process takes me about one month. You can then transplant the cuttings into the garden. Keep them pinched back and watered, and you’ll have abundant flowers in fall.

 

Back to reality

Aside

I’ve returned from two incredible, back-to-back holidays and must now, like it or not, confront the weed farm and mosquito hatchery that has become my garden. Tackling such tasks can be daunting. The prospect of all I must do nearly defeats me before I begin. As with any project, the only way to tackle it is little bit by little bit. “Bird by Bird,” as Anne Lamott says.

 

Tropical punch: Ground cherries offer strong flavor in a tiny bite.

ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa)

Related to tomatoes, and more closely to tomatilloes, the ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa) goes by many names, including ground tomatoes, husk cherries, and cape gooseberries.

The fruits grow under the plant’s large leaves, encased in a thin calyx that dries to a crispy, papery husk. The husk and fruit fall to the ground when they are ripe (hence the name).

husks and fruit

Ground cherries grow encased in calyces that turn brittle when the fruit is ripe.

Large fruits measure about the size of an adult woman’s thumbnail, with a texture resembling a firm grape, and taste strongly of pineapple. I look forward to experimenting with them in cooking, if I can stop eating them by the handful, like popcorn.

In my Zone 7b garden, I transplanted seedlings about one month after the average last frost, or mid-May, and got my first fruits about six weeks later. This plant does like it hot–it seemed to double in size every day the temperature hit 90 degrees or higher.

For those who practice permaculture, this plant seeds itself easily and seems to require no inputs except for hot sunshine and whatever rain may fall. Do allow space for them–halfway through the growing season, mine are five feet tall and wide–or were, before the 8-year-old ran over a few inconvenient stems with a bicycle. The stems are rigid but not woody, a bit like basil in mid-season, and may crack or break under their own weight. Because my space is limited (and shared with bicycles), my plants are now supported with slings of garden twine, tethered to a bamboo pole.  You could perhaps grow lettuce beneath them, or root vegetables, if you wished to implement companion planting.

This is a fruit that has made it into my garden’s permanent rotation. I’ll share recipes later in the summer–assuming I can quit snacking.

ground cherries physalis fruits in bowl

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: July 2014

Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.rudbeckiasHigh summer means high heat and humidity. Water evaporates from the ground quickly, and mulch would be helpful but it’s too hot to move. Early mornings and short trips outside provide the means for a successful garden at this time of year.

Tough plants, too, are required. Crocosmia flowers better when there’s abundant water, but short thunderstorms suits it just fine.Crocosmia

The jewel of my July garden must be blackberry lilies, formerly Belamcanda chinensis, now Iris domestica. Looking like an iris only in its foliage, these orchid-like flowers provide delight in the hottest weather.

Blackberry lily, formerly Belamcanda chinensis, now Iris domestica.

Blackberry lily, formerly Belamcanda chinensis, now Iris domestica.