July 29, 2006

Beans, Beetles and Eggplant

You know you've become obsessed with your garden when....2 minutes after arriving home from getting a haircut you do not look in the mirror once but, instead you head straight out to the garden to see what's going on.

I was alarmed when I first got out there because all of the tomato plants looked toppled over and were dragging on the ground. We had some pretty hard rain last night so I'm guessing that was what caused it so I spent 20 minutes tying things back to their stakes and cutting off a few more yellowing disease-y branches. The plants are still covered with about 10 times the number of tomatoes I had last year (although still green) so I think everything is going ok.

Then came the excitment!

I harvested 2 eggplants and lots of greenbeans. The eggplants were from a seedling I got in my seedling class and they were marked as Nadia Eggplant which would make them fat-ish and round-ish and just like the other two plants I have which have nothing harvest-able yet. In fact, these eggplants are long and skinny and I think they might be Ichiban Eggplant. One of them actually sprouted what I can best describe as a "handle." Very strange but, absolutely thrilling! This harvest represents the first non-leaf thing I've harvested since way back when I got a measly handful of strawberries in June!

When picking the greenbeans (which is kind of hard because they really blend right in) I noticed some lacy looking leaves which looked to me (burgeoning bug freak) like evidence of the Mexican Bean Beetle. I found one and after 3 attempts I managed to capture and kill it! Beetles.... it seems drop to the ground when touched, a nifty trick when you're being hunted by a hunched over human being trying to catch you from above. I know they're supposedly look-alikes but it didn't look much like a ladybug to me -- more orange than red. Speaking of which...one of my plot neighbors has this really strange, tall flower in her plot that attracts zillions of ladybugs. She has no idea what the plant is and neither do I but, its amazing to look at it and see all the happy bugs crawling all over it.

Sorry the picture is fuzzy but, anyone know what this plant is?

PS: I'm not holding my breath but the sole pepper plant that I assumed was a goner has a teeny tiny pepper on it.

PPS: My neighbors zucchini grew some little tendrils and was starting to climb up one of my tomato plants. I laughed out loud when I saw it but, seriously, that is not cool. I'm a plant lover but, I had to foil those plans with a scissor and quick. Its survival of the fittest out there....unless your keeper is a crazy garden lady with something sharp.

July 24, 2006

Lessons of a newbie

Here are a few things I've learned this summer:

1) California Poppies grow well in crappy soil. That means they grow well in my sink where the dirt is compacted and has a tendency to dry out AND flood. The only question I have to ask myself is: should I try to improve the soil or just grow the poppies there and not worry about it?

2) As plants grow, they really do take up more space than you think. I planted everything in my garden with plenty of room (I thought) but, for most of June I was feeling like my garden was very sparse and boring. Now that it's late July and I can hardly get throught the paths I created I feel better about the space I left. My plot is still lopsided in terms of tall things and short things but, I think I have some ideas for next year.

3) Eggplant and Basil go really well, Red Peppers are a struggle. For two years in a row now my basil and eggplants looked pretty bad in June but look damn good by the end of July. I've already got a few eggplants on the way and a bunch of flowers that should bring even more. Red Peppers are not my forte. Last year it was blossom end rot and this year its some mysterious wilting disease that may or my not be Southern Blight. I still have one plant that I'm hanging onto. Maybe a different type of pepper will go better.

4) Tomato plants are big and demanding and even the "small" ones need to be caged or staked. I feel really good about the staking I did for 5 of my larger tomato plants but, the other 3 really could have used something (they're sprawling around on the ground and spreading over to neighboring plots.) I underestimated how much pruning is needed and how early you have to start doing it.

5)"Bush" Beans do grow easily but they need more space than you think. I planted a row of lima beans next to a row of green beans and basically created a thicket of plants. I'm not even sure I'll be able to find all the beans to harvest them. Next year they either need more room or something to grab onto as they grow. I've yet to build anything in my garden (like a trellis) but, perhaps next year will be the year.

6) Carrots may "love tomatoes" but, if you plant them too close together, the carrots will never see the sun. The jury is still out on my success at companion planting. The tomatoes may be benefiting but, I think the carrots are probably a little annoyed living in the shadows.

Photos below are May 27th, June 27th and July 23rd. AMAZING! (I need more flowers though.)

July 20, 2006

I take offense

I have reluctantly accepted the fact that my plants have diseases. I might always get them too, simply because I choose to garden organically and I am confined to a tiny plot with "urban" soil issues. It has also been really rainy and really hot here for a while. So, my tomatoes have both Septoria Leaf Spot and also Early Blight. Big whoop! That said, I do someday hope not to have these problems and this year's tomato plants look waaaaaay better than last years. But this morning, I walked out to snip off some of the diseased branches and I saw another gardener who seems to really know what he's doing. He's definitely more of the "farmer gardener" though -- a young guy who knows how to "train" his plants, uses a black plastic sheet as "mulch" and grows enormous brandywine tomatoes and pretty much no flowers.

Knowing that he knows a thing or two I asked him if he was also having trouble with the lower leaves of his tomato plants (knowing that he is because I can SEE it).

My hope was to:
a) commiserate and b) hopefully get some advice because he has LESS of a problem than I do

His response was something along the lines of "maybe.... but I just look at it as one of the joys of organic gardening." Ouch! I know I'm being sensitive but, the comment struck me as a veiled version of "Dude, this is what gardening is all about and if you want a perfect green lawn and no diseases then move to the suburbs, pile on the chemlawn and be done with it, sheesh."
I felt judged.

I'm sure I'll get over it and he really is a nice person but, maybe a little macho and superior about his gardening. He'll probably have better tomatoes than me but, my plot is cooler to look at.

July 18, 2006

Another one bites the dust

I live in the north but somehow Southern Blight got me.

My 2 pepper plants (down from 3 after the friggin cutworms!) have not been looking good lately. They were wilting and some of the leaves have been falling off. I've been looking up all the "wilt" disorders and none of them seemed to fit. This morning I decided that one of the pepper plants was just too sad looking and too close to my eggplant to mess around. I pulled it up and there was this white crystal-y, moldy, fungus looking stuff at the base of the plant. A little googling turned up Southern Blight. I probably need to pull out the other pepper plant too so it doesn't affect my tomatoes and eggplants.

This sucks. For two years in a row now I can't grow red peppers for the life of me!

July 16, 2006

dang, that's pretty

Sunday at about 9AM I was still in my PJs but, its been so hot out that I wanted to get out and water the garden while it was still sort of comfortable out. Those of you with a garden in your yard or on your porch might not have these sorts of problems (or maybe you do) but, since I have to walk half a block to get to my garden and about 46 other people could be out there, attire that won't embarrass me is something I try to think about before venturing out. I decided to go for it and of course ran into 4 other people. The people you meet while gardening cannot be ignored. You need to chat and catch up a little and see what their up to. No one seemed to look me up and down so maybe it wasn't obvious that I was in pajamas. Either that or what I normally wear gardening isn't that different.

Anyway, it was a great day to be out and I saw some reeeeeally pretty things. First, I saw a monarch butterfly and a bunch of giant bees chowing down on some purple coneflower and bee balm (gotta get some bee balm next year!) I'm thinking about sending the picture out to all the gardner's since I am on the steering committee now and building enthusiasm for the garden seems like it should be part of my job. In an urban garden setting I feel like that's sort of a "girly" thing to do. I mean, I'm a big environmentalist and I like getting dirty and I use my garden to feed myself (the more serious and noble gardening principles is what I'm thinking) but, sometimes its just the flowers and the birds and pretty sights and smells that get me.

It was very sunny when I was watering too (which I've actually heard is bad because the sun can burn holes through droplets of water on the leaves like a magnifying glass......oh brother!) The combination of the sun and the water created these fantastic rainbows everytime I sprayed the hose. Ooooooooooh. So pretty.

July 9, 2006

Green with Envy

There are many things I love about being part of a community garden. Just yesterday we had a "potluck BBQ" where I got to spend a lot of time with all sorts of people and enjoy wonderful, homemade food.

The biggest downside is jealousy. I can occasionally be overcome by strong feelings of gardening inadequacy just walking around and looking at other people's plots.

My coneflower above, someone elses below

I think its a little bit like High School (or even more like the High Schools I see on TV) where people compare themselves to each other and talk about what everyone else is up to. Or maybe caring how you measure up to your peers is just something you do forever. For example, yesterday I had a conversation that went something like this:

Black Eyed Susan: "Do you know if I should be adding something to my tomatoes right now? I didn't do very well with them last year."

Other Gardener #1: "Oh me either! No one did well, everyone had rot, except for Gardener X, he's just amazing, everyone knows that. And Gardener Y too who has the plot right next to his because the worms went over there. Your tomatoes look really good."

Black Eyed Susan: "Oh p'shaw, but, look at Gardener Z's right next to me. Her's are huge."

(Gardener Z walks over a few minutes later)

Black Eyed Susan: "What are you doing with your tomatoes? They look incredible."

Gardener Z: "Oh, (blushing) I really don't know, I think I put mine in after you but, it may be the type."

Other Gardener #1: "Yes, yes look at the type! Maybe that's it."

Anyway, you get the idea. None of it is mean spirited at all but, I do often walk around looking at what other's have done and wonder if I'll ever be as good at this as I want to be.

Here is my tomato plant below and someone elses on the right. I only have one green tomato so far and its sooo tiny.

Their lavender and my lavender. Where are my flowers?!

And then some things I don't even have.
Fabulous and strange looking flowers and onions.

The truth is, I benefit tremendously from all the gardening gurus in my neighborhood. They share their tips and tricks and often their plants too. I spoke to the woman responsible for these onions on the right and she said I can have some so.....its all ok.

July 2, 2006

A is for Aphid

Yesterday was a big day bugwise. I already knew I had flea beetles but, another gardener a few plots over mentioned that he had aphids on his zucchini, tomato and pepper plants so I decided to hunt for them on mine. Sure enough, I found a little nasty gathering of them on a tomato plant. You can see in the picture (look closely) that there is also some kind of white bug there too. Anyone know what that is? According to my excellent bug book they look a little like whiteflies but, I don't think whiteflies hang out on the undersides of leaves the way aphids do. I'm a little concerned that they are beneficial and were in the process of making a meal of the aphids and I ruined it. I hope I'm wrong.

Bug stuff is really interesting but, knowing what's good to leave alone is tricky. I tend to err on the side of leaving things alone unless I find it in a menacing cluster or know that its a bad guy. The superhero bugs seem to travel solo.

Speaking of which. I have hardly seen a single bee this summer and I haven't seen ONE ladybug. When are they getting here? Is it too hot? Has there been too much rain? What's the deal? In fact, I am a tiny bit worried now that killing the aphids myself makes my plot less attractive to ladybugs (they eat aphids by the way).

Anyway, I took out my spray bottle, filled it part of the way with water and then added a tiny bit of very mild soap (Dr. Bronner's Peppermint) and then spritzed the heck out of any leaves where I saw aphids.

In my search I also found what I'm pretty sure was a cabbageworm. It was hanging out on a brussel sprout leaf which gave me the tip off. I hesitated for only a second before I removed him from his hiding place BAREHANDED!

I still have those annoying flea beetles. They've mutilated the arugula and are now working on the kale and collard greens so...I spritzed them a couple times too. How much of this spritzing does it take? It seems to me that once the water dries all these bugs will happily carry on as they were. I might go spray again later today but, it might be an exercise in sysiphean futility.

Things still keep getting bigger though and despite the occasional aphid my tomato plants seem very happy. Oh and I now have a daylily!! Its even prettier than I expected!

P.S. All this bug identifying business makes me want a magnifying glass. Yes, I am a geek.