Dear Friend and Gardener: June 27, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

It was another hot and dry week in the garden. I fed the beans with some nettle tea to perk them up. I’m starting to see flea beetle damage but the plants are big enough to be able to withstand it, I think. I have also sown a second crop elsewhere in the garden in case these do surrender their fight before long.

The tomatoes are showing signs of ripening, particularly the Principe Borgheses. I am so ready for them! I love dried tomatoes, particularly in the dead of winter, but have never tried drying any of my own. Another kitchen adventure awaits. The basil tastes splendid and there is plenty of it.

I noticed a little mildew on one of my honeyberries the other day. I shall spray it with a little milk spray if it gets truly bad, but I’m willing to let a lot go for the sake of avoiding toxic sprays. It doesn’t look terrible unless you get up close, and if you get that close, well, you shouldn’t be walking on my garden beds to begin with.

I transplanted a few Blue Hubbard squash seedlings sown from the packets I got at the seed library. I have heard that nasturtiums planted with squash will help deter squash bugs. Do you know if this is true?

Hope your garden is giving you joy and lots of tomatoes.







Dear Friend and Gardener: June 20, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

After a week of brutal heat, today we have a slight break. It will only be 90 today, humidity 68%, feels like 102. A storm last night brought some much-needed rain, although in temperatures like this, moisture evaporates from the ground rapidly. I finished extending the drip irrigation and topped off the mulch. Everything (except me) looks just a bit fresher.

My pickles turned out not too bad. I feel that the recipe I used is a good starting point. I used an off-the-shelf pickling spice but it is heavy on the cloves. I am thinking of mixing up my own, or at least picking out the cloves until I have used up this batch.

ground cherries (physalis)

I have tiny peppers on my jalapeno and anaheim plants. The ground cherries are now about 4′ by 4′ and covered with little paper bells where the fruits will form. They shade the lettuces well; I can’t believe the lettuce hasn’t collapsed completely in the heat. And most peculiarly, the peas are hanging on for dear life. I think I must get ruthless and cut them down in the next week or so–they’ll only get sad as the summer goes on, and I could use the real estate in the bed for something more productive.

Tomato 'Principe Borghese' is great for drying.

Tomato ‘Principe Borghese’ is great for drying.

Lots of tomatoes on my Principe Borghese plants and on ‘Sophie’s Choice.‘ The ‘Sophie’s Choice’ are slightly shaded by the peas and the cucumbers so I hope they’ll prove resilient, at least until the fruit ripens. They don’t care for high heat. I need to start another batch of plants in my seedling bed. The summer tasks never end, do they? (I wouldn’t be very happy if they did.)

Tomato 'Sophie's Choice'

Tomato ‘Sophie’s Choice’ is a short-season variety.

Hope you are well and that your garden is flourishing.





Dear Friend and Gardener: June 13, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

A hot and muggy week, with downpours every night. This is the summer weather I remember from childhood. I spent the morning building a trellis for the tomatoes, which have outgrown their stakes, and preparing containers for the second round of tomatoes that will come from the suckers I pinched off the first ones. I’m not wasting a thing!

The beans (‘Provider’ bush beans) seem to have taken a pause. I cannot blame them; I don’t want to work much in this humidity, either. I keep them picked and hope they’ll recover a bit when we’ve had a few days below 90. I’ve read that pollen dies above 86F, so that would explain why production is shallowing out. I saw a nice fat bee lurching from flower to flower as I picked a handful this morning. I hope he remembers to come back.

I acquired some new seeds from the local seed library and got them started in the house yesterday. Do you have a seed library in your town? I love it and I am telling everyone who’ll give me the time of day to stop and check out some seeds. My neighbor politely asked me not to tell his wife, a dear friend who shares my gardening compulsions, but I had to inform him that he was too late. She was already making her list. I am going to ask her to join me and Plant a Row for the Hungry.

I’ve harvested enough cucumbers to start making pickles. I found what I hope will be a good recipe for producing authentic, city-kosher-deli-tasting pickles. A good pickle is hard to find and I have never much cared for the sweet, bread-and-butter types. I will know in about a week whether the recipe is worthwhile and if it is, I will share it with you.

Wishing you just enough rain and hoping the tornadoes stay far away.





Dear Friend and Gardener: June 6, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

Just a quick postcard to tell you I’ve started harvesting my green beans. The peas continue against all expectations. Nasturtiums and squash blooming consistently now. The ground cherries grow exponentially and the fruits are charming, hanging below the massive leaves like little lanterns. Should I prune the suckers, as with tomatoes?

I’m planting a second round of beans for late-summer harvest and have started a few more paste tomatoes for late summer as well. Going to try a shade trick I learned from Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and hope it helps keep the plants going through the hottest weather. I’ll send pictures when I’ve set it up. I’m late in harvesting my garlic, but still got a reasonable showing. It was my first season growing garlic and I learned a lot about what it takes to get a good yield (tip #1: Don’t misplace the growing guide that tells you about the optimal harvest time). Next year I expect better results.

calendula bud

Look at this nice fat calendula bud! I watch it every day for signs of progress. If I’ve timed things just right, it’ll bloom the day after I leave to go to the beach.

Hope your garden is giving you as much joy as mine is!




Dear Friend and Gardener: 30 May, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

Memorial Day, the traditional if unofficial beginning of summer, was last Monday, and it definitely feels like summer. After a surprisingly long spring–for here, anyway–temperatures are beginning to hover around the 90s, humidity has returned, and the nights are warm as well. I wonder what the months of July and August will look like–more of the same, or substantially hotter and muggier?

And consistent with the advent of summer, the vegetable garden is coming on strong. I have small tomatoes on ‘Sophie’s Choice,’ a short-season variety I’m trying for the first time this year. Tomatoes ‘Black Prince’ and ‘Principe Borghese’ seem to grow three inches a day, and I pinch suckers every morning. I must get to work on finding some taller stakes.

little tomatoes 'sophie's choice'I’ve also got tiny little pickling cucumbers coming along. I’m the only one in the house who loves pickles, so every fruit is for me. Now I need to find the perfect recipe to make those cukes taste like the pickles I used to get from the deli in Chicago. I wonder if the deli would share their recipe? Must remember to ask.

small cukes 2

I can’t believe I’m still picking peas in June! Around here, spring usually lasts a week, and a few days in April in the 90s spell the end of the seasonal snap pea attempt. I didn’t plant very many peas but I’ve harvested at least a quart already. That many not seem like much, but in the past, I’ve felt fortunate if I could pick enough in a spring to add to a pasta salad. I’m trying not to let the success to to my head.

Bush beans are looking rather vital and vigorous, and so far, no sign of flea beetles. There; I’ve tempted fate. I’ve got tiny Anaheim peppers on two plants and am waiting for the jalapeños to catch on. Nasturtiums planted in the corner of the bed are green and healthy–but I think the soil may be a bit rich for them to produce many flowers. Or maybe I’m suffering my typical lack of patience.

bush beans 1

Do you grow calendulas? I’m trying those for the first time this year as well. I can’t explain why it’s taken me so long to get around to trying these.

Lots of basil–I never have enough. The lettuce is hanging on since I covered it with shade cloth. The 4-year-old next door thinks it’s crazy that my lettuce can get a sunburn, so I showed him the leaves that got a little crispy in the sun one day. I don’t think it was quite what he had imagined.

Physalis 'Cossack Pineapple' plant growing rapidly.

Physalis ‘Cossack Pineapple’ plant growing rapidly.

The shiso seedlings died, so I’ve got to start some more. And this year I’m trying another new thing: ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa). This plant likes it hot, for sure. It seems to double in size for every day we have over 90 degrees. This pattern cannot be sustainable, or it will be The Plant That Ate Durham before the kids are out of school for the summer. Tiny flowers already appear beneath the giant leaves, but I think the fruits will take a while to form. I’ll let you know.

physalis flower 2

I got the fig tree transplanted earlier in the spring, and it seems to be settling in nicely. I’ve got lots of little figlets already; I hope it will fruit more productively now that it’s out of the container. I can’t wait to have my favorite fig and goat cheese sandwiches!

Hope your garden is doing well. What’s the veg you’re most excited about this year?

May your tomato plants live long and prosper,